Fuji traffic jam to grow even worse this season

JIJI

Mount Fuji will likely see its summer traffic jam of hikers get even worse this year thanks to its expected addition to the World Heritage list.

A symbol of Japan, the 3,776-meter peak is widely expected to be approved for the list at the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee, which opened Sunday in Cambodia.

“Any serious accidents would undermine the mood of celebration,” Yamanashi Gov. Shomei Yokouchi said of the likely surge in hikers.

About two-thirds of the people looking to walk to the summit start out from the Yamanashi side of the mountain.

The climbing season starts July 1.

According to the Environment Ministry, about 300,000 people hike to the top between July and August each year.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites has recommended Mount Fuji as a World Heritage site but has warned that the current number of hikers is having a detrimental impact on its trails.

Shigeru Horiuchi, mayor of Fujiyoshida at the foot of the mountain on the Yamanashi side, said it is impossible to predict the number of climbers this year, but it may be unexpectedly large.

“If possible, we want to limit the number of climbers, but that is legally difficult,” Gov. Yokouchi said.

The prefecture will ask hikers not to make nonstop overnight attempts to reach the summit, an activity known as “dangan tozan” (bullet climbing), and will increase the number of safety guides.

With no obvious perfect solution in sight, a senior Yamanashi prefectural official said, “we’ll just have to do whatever we can.”

To prevent bullet climbers, the Fujiyoshida Municipal Government proposed in May that the Fuji Subaru Line toll road leading to the mountain be closed at night. But Yamanashi prefectural officials say the proposal lacks a legal basis because the problem doesn’t involve the road itself.

Yamanashi and neighboring Shizuoka Prefecture are planning to charge hikers a ¥1,000 entrance fee on a test basis this summer.

But Fujiyoshida Mayor Horiuchi said the fee won’t be effective unless it is raised to somewhere around ¥10,000.

Comparing the weekend congestion on the mountain with the streets of Tokyo’s Harajuku shopping district, a Yamanashi official said the prefecture is studying ways to lure climbers on weekdays to alleviate the foot traffic on Saturdays and Sundays.

In July, Fujiyoshida will start an overnight tour that features trekking on the lower half of the mountain to visit historical sites. The number of participants will be 223, or “Fujisan,” as the mountain is known, while the fee — ¥3,776 — will match the peak’s height.

The city wants people to discover Fuji’s beauty below the fifth-station level, which is different from the rocky upper half, an official said.