KOFU, YAMANASHI PREF. – Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures started collecting a ¥1,000 fee from climbers of Mount Fuji on Thursday to generate money for preservation efforts at the new UNESCO world heritage site.
Prefectural officials approached climbers at the starting points of four trails on the iconic volcano with signs saying: “Convey your feelings to Mount Fuji.” But the request was ironically ignored by foreign climbers because the signs were written only in Japanese.
While payment is voluntary, streams of hikers were seen dropping ¥1,000 bills into the collection box before making their way to the summit.
The fee will be collected on a trial basis from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Aug. 3. The prefectures are using the trial period to evaluate climbers’ concerns before making it official next summer.
The charge is being introduced as part of the Cooperative Fund for Environmental Conservation of Mount Fuji, the officials said. It will be collected at the beginning of the Yoshida route in Yamanashi Prefecture and the Gotemba, Subashiri and Fujinomiya routes in Shizuoka Prefecture. The volcano straddles the two prefectures.
Those who pay the fee receive a metal badge illustrated with Mount Fuji as a souvenir. The badges come in different colors.
“I paid the entrance fee because I wanted to give my support to the project,” said Mieko Yamada, 65, from Nagoya, after forking out for a badge on the Yoshida trail Thursday. “I hope the money will be used for environmental preservation.”
Meanwhile, climbers who were descending between 9 a.m. and noon were asked whether they approve of the fee and consider it reasonable. Those who responded received souvenir pens.
“I paid because I wanted Mount Fuji to be well preserved now that it’s a world heritage site,” said Eiji Masamoto, 63, a former teacher from Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture.
Masamoto was the first one to pay on the Fujinomiya trail and was climbing with his grandchildren, who he said should pay less.
“I think children should be charged half the fee, because it will be pretty expensive if people come with children,” he said.
The fee emerged from fears that the UNESCO listing will trigger a tsunami of climbers who will cause environmental damage. The prefectures have been asked by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to report on the status of their environmental protection efforts by February 2016. The trial fee is aimed at organizing the actions that need to be taken by next summer.
While many visitors said they were willing to pay an even a higher amount, a 70-year-old mountain guide from Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, refused to pay because he doesn’t see the money making any difference.
“I don’t believe it would change anything. It’ll be better to educate the climbers,” the guide said.
Foreign climbers who could not read the signs — which were written only in Japanese — didn’t pay the fee, either.
Brandon Trimble, a U.S. serviceman based in Japan, pointed out that it was not a good idea to display signs written only in Japanese when a flood of people from around the world are supposedly looking to climb Mount Fuji.
Justin Vanleer and Stacy Probasco, both from the United States, said the signs should be written in English as well. They also said the fee appeared to be about the same as that charged by U.S. national parks.
The governors of Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures revealed the fee sytem in February, but the timing wasn’t decided until June out of concern that it might affect tourism.