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FLOCKING TO FUJI

As new UNESCO site, Fuji set to beckon to masses

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

The official climbing season for Mount Fuji kicked off July 1 amid added fanfare over the iconic peak’s inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage cultural site in late June.

Straddling Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, Japan’s highest peak, at 3,776 meters, has seen a surge in recent years in hikers heading to the top, and with this year’s heritage designation, more domestic and international attention is expected.

To deal with the expected throngs and keep the trails safe and clean of litter, the two prefectures are looking to charge a hiking fee this summer on a trial basis.

Following are questions and answers regarding the venerated volcano:

Will this season really draw more climbers than usual?

Officials are expecting a surge, but no estimates have been made by the two prefectures and the Environment Ministry, which oversees Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, wherein Fuji lies.

The ministry will release an official head count after the climbing season comes to a close at the end of August.

How many climbers does Mount Fuji usually attract each year?

Last year, 318,565 people came during the July-August hiking season, according to the ministry, which counts climbers via infrared sensors placed at around the eighth station on each of the four trails leading to the top. Each route has 10 stations.

In 2005, the tally was about 200,000, when the ministry began taking statistics. In 2008 it surpassed 300,000 for the first time, and went on to set a record of 320,975 in 2010. A breakdown by nationality was not available.

The steady increase in climbers may in part be attributed to the upgrading of toilet facilities in 2006 to make lavatories cleaner and safer for the environment, and perhaps to the hype surrounding its first attempt to get on the world heritage list.

The four routes to the summit are the Yoshida Trail, starting in Yamanashi Prefecture, and the Subashiri, Gotenba and Fujinomiya trails that start in Shizuoka Prefecture. It usually takes between five and eight hours to reach the summit from the fifth stations of the trails, but each route differs.

When will the trial fee begin and are other steps planned to deal with congestion?

The two prefectures plan to try charging a voluntary admission fee of ¥1,000 somewhere around the fifth or sixth stations from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. over a 10-day period starting July 25.

Climbers will receive a receipt and a commemorative gift, possibly a badge, officials said.

Why will a fee be effective?

Mitsuhiro Sakai, assistant director at the tourism resources division of the Yamanashi Prefectural Government, said the fee serves two purposes: to help preserve the environment and to introduce more safety measures for the climbers, whose numbers are expected to rise.

Hisao Kosaka, assistant director of Shizuoka’s exchange policy division, said climbers will be asked to fill out a questionnaire on the fee for future reference.

How will the money be used?

The prefectures haven’t decided yet, but a panel of experts they formed will come up with a concrete plan by December for the fees to be charged over the coming years.

Will fees be used to restrict access to the summit in the event of crowding?

No, according to Sakai and Hosaka. They say the fees will be used solely for environmental protection and public safety.

Regulating the number of climbers, however, may be necessary in the future, they admitted.

What steps have been taken to help hikers?

The Official Web Site for Mount Fuji Climbing was launched June 25 jointly by the Environment Ministry and Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures.

The website offers information in Japanese and English, ranging from basic tips on climbing the volcano to the expected congestion levels of the trails.

Environment Ministry official Takuya Fusamura of the nature preservation office in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, said the website was set up to consolidate several others and put special emphasis on safety.

It also increased the budget for maintaining one of the lavatories at the summit, which the ministry is in charge of, said Tomomi Yanagawa of the nature preservation office in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Is information available in other languages?

Yes. Although the official website is only in Japanese and English, there are fliers and signs written in other languages as well. For hikers starting in Yamanashi, brochures are available in English, Chinese and Korean, while English, French, Chinese and Korean information is available for those climbing from Shizuoka, according to officials of the two prefectures.

In addition, there are usually knowledgeable personnel who can speak English posted at the fifth stations of the trails.

Are any safety concerns being raised?

A recent phenomenon officials find problematic is “dangan tozan” (bullet, or power, climbing), a situation in which hikers set off for an all-night climb after arriving straight from work without taking a rest.

This type of ascent is considered quite risky and has resulted in some people getting ill en route to the top, said Sakai of the Yamanashi Prefectural Government.

Both prefectures have posted notices in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean urging climbers to refrain from such activity because it is dangerous and because any ensuing health problems might hold up other people’s ascents and descents.

Did any new requirements pop up because of the heritage listing?

Not for climbers. But UNESCO’S World Heritage Committee wants Japan to “submit a state of conservation report” by February 2016 to “provide an update on the progress with the development” of several measures, including “an overall vision for the property, a tourism strategy, (and) a conservation approach for the access routes.”

An official of the Cultural Affairs Agency, which is handling the report, said it will work with regional governments to conserve the natural environment and begin discussing the specifics for the report before its submission.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp

  • Jeffrey

    “Beckon to masses”? Isn’t the “park” as a whole already understood to be overrun and poorly managed? So, UNESCO status could be it’s saving?

  • Al_Martinez

    This whole UNESCO push was all about money–money money money. TV has been inundated recently with programs (really just advertisements barely disguised as TV programs) detailing all the places to stay, restaurants and attractions around the mountain. I think people care about Fuji mostly to the extent that it can make money for people.