Mount Fuji, Japan’s most iconic peak, has been increasingly crowded with tourists, leading to human traffic jams, accumulating garbage, and ill-prepared hikers – some even attempting the climb in sandals. While once a place of solitude and serenity, Miho Sakurai, a ranger with seven years of service, voices her concerns to CNN Travel, emphasizing that the current numbers of visitors are alarmingly higher than in previous years.
The UNESCO Conundrum
After the prestigious mountain’s inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2013, there were urgent calls to manage its increasing crowds. Notably:
- The visitors to the mountain’s popular fifth hiking station, also known as the “Gogome”, surged from two million in 2012 to over five million in 2019, as per the Yamanashi prefectural government.
- In just a few months since the annual climbing season opened in July, around 65,000 hikers have already reached the summit, marking a 17% jump from 2019.
Post-Covid Tourism Boost
The post-pandemic era has seen a surge in tourism, leading thousands more to visit Mount Fuji, which spans both the Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. This year, as the mountain celebrates a decade of its UNESCO designation, officials express concerns over the deteriorating environmental conditions, hinting that a “critical point” might be near.
The Need for Intervention
With “overtourism” resulting in multiple environmental concerns, such as increasing garbage, rising CO2 emissions, and reckless hikers, there have been significant calls for action. Highlights include:
- Yasuyoshi Okada, the president of ICOMOS Japan, underscores the urgency of preserving Mount Fuji’s sanctity by addressing over-tourism.
- The fifth station alone accounts for 90% of the mountain’s visitors, with most taking transport from Tokyo along the Fuji Subaru Line mountain road.
- Large influxes of tourists are putting a strain on the mountain’s limited facilities, including toilets and medical stations.
Tomoyo Takahashi, a Mount Fuji conservation fund employee, compares the current scenario to “Disneyland” and suggests imposing a higher mandatory entrance fee to ensure only genuine enthusiasts visit.
Japan’s Venerated Peak: A Tourist Magnet
From inspiring poets and painters to being the namesake of multinational corporations like Fuji Film, Fujitsu, and Fuji Xerox, Mount Fuji’s iconic status has understandably drawn millions to its majestic slopes. Tourists from various parts of the world, like Australia and the United States, express their joy and nostalgia associated with visiting this iconic mountain.
However, the increasing human traffic has raised alarms, with the Yamanashi prefecture Governor, Kotaro Nagasaki, stating that Mount Fuji is “screaming.”
Addressing the over-tourism dilemma, several potential solutions have been tabled:
- Nagasaki suggests replacing passenger bus and car traffic with a public-private light-rail train service, charging a 10,000 yen ($68) roundtrip fare.
- Plans have been unveiled to renovate the 5th station, replacing current facilities with a greenery-laden, upscale hotel and train station.
- While there’s consensus on the need for intervention, defining the actual carrying capacity of the mountain remains debated, as pointed out by Thomas Jones, a professor of sustainability and tourism.
- Adopting the model of other major standalone mountains, there’s been a push to cap hiker numbers by imposing fees.
A Blend of Preservation and Accessibility
While there’s unanimous agreement on the urgent need to address the mounting pressures on Mount Fuji, finding a middle ground that ensures both preservation and accessibility is the real challenge. It’s essential to strike a balance where the mountain remains a symbol of Japan’s cultural heritage, open to all who wish to experience its beauty, yet not overburdened to the point of ecological degradation.
As Mount Fuji grapples with the challenges of over-tourism, it’s evident that a balanced solution, preserving both its environmental sanctity and its status as a global tourist magnet, is imperative. The mountain has served as a symbol of Japan’s cultural and natural heritage for centuries, and its well-being is crucial for future generations, ensuring that its legacy remains untarnished and revered in the annals of history.