Mount Mitake OKs dogs

by Itsuro Onishi

Kyodo

A project is under way to create hiking courses on Mount Mitake in Ome, northwest Tokyo, so hikers can take their dogs for walks around the mountain, which is home to a Shinto shrine honoring a mythical dog.

The Ome Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other local entities, which hope the plan will attract more hikers to the area, solicited participants for a trial run last Nov. 25. On offer were three courses — 60, 90 and 120 minutes — that lead to the top of the 929-meter peak.

The three courses were chosen from lesser-used paths to avoid bothering mainstream hikers.

The 30 spots initially offered for the trial were overwhelmed by 190 applications, reflecting the nationwide “pet boom.”

Early on the day of the trial, 43 pairs chosen by lottery gathered at Mount Mitake’s cable car station.

Masaru Noguchi, 43, from Kanagawa Prefecture, participated with a dachshund that he said he loves “like my own kid.”

“There are few mountains that you can climb with your dog at ease,” Noguchi said after finishing the 60-minute course. “I heard some mountains keep dogs off. So a program of this kind is welcome.”

Musashi Mitake Shrine is at the summit and enshrines a white wolf in the form of an “oinusama” (sacred dog) because it is said to have acted as a guide for the mythical hero Yamato Takeru when he became lost on the mountain.

Because of its mythical background, Mount Mitake has sometimes been referred to on TV and in other media in recent years as “friendly to dogs,” attracting dog lovers.

Mitake Tozan Railway Co., which runs the cable car system that takes people from the base of the mountain to just below the top, allows people to board with their dogs. When it began issuing special dog tickets four years ago, sales soared to some 11,500 in fiscal 2011 from 4,000 in fiscal 2009. This coincided with an increase in Mount Mitake’s popularity.

The shrine even offers prayer services for dogs for ¥3,000, while local shops are busy developing related snacks, such as oinusama crackers.

Participants who took part in the trial enjoyed it, Hideo Suda of the chamber of commerce said, referring to the results of its questionnaires. “We will promote preparations, including the commercialization of goods” to open the courses to hikers and dogs.

But other hikers responding to the questionnaire complained about finding dog poop in several places.

Hiroshi Nakamura, a professor of agriculture at Shinshu University, warned that dog feces contains worms that could adversely affect wild animals in the area and called for thoroughly disposing of any poop.

“Because the immunity of wild animals is weak in mountains higher than 2,000 meters, pets should be kept off of them,” Nakamura said.

Some state-designated conservation areas are off-limits to dogs and other pets, but each mountain has its own rules, the Environment Ministry says.

The managers of Mount Mitake now hand out free plastic bags to hikers with dogs so they can bring their droppings back and dispose of them properly.

The managers said they will consider other measures to enhance hikers’ recognition of the need to clean up after their dogs.