Managing Mount Fuji’s fame

Chances have increased that Mount Fuji will become a World Heritage site in June following an April 30 recommendation by a UNESCO panel. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) noted that the volcano is a national symbol of Japan and blends religious and artistic traditions.

Mount Fuji is regarded as a symbol of nature worship in Japan and has long served as a source of artistic inspiration, including in ukiyo-e woodblock prints by such artists as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige.

It is expected that once the 3,776-meter high volcano becomes a World Heritage site, the number visitors will rapidly increase. About 300,000 people climb Mount Fuji every summer, and several million people visit its fifth station every year by bus or car.

ICOMOS expressed its concern about the effects of tourism and development projects on Mount Fuji and called for details to be worked out by 2016 on how to deal with a larger number of visitors, and how to keep its trails in good condition.

The Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectural governments are considering imposing fees on visitors to Mount Fuji from the summer of 2014. They must decide how much to charge and how to collect the fees. Some people may oppose such a plan, but it would help control the number of visitors and generate funds that can be used to protect Mount Fuji’s environment.

The two prefectural governments must explain how they would use such fees and how they will gain the public’s acceptance for such a plan. Both the central government and local governments concerned must also improve measures to prevent climbing accidents.

In the past, Japan had abandoned efforts to get Mount Fuji accepted as a World Heritage site due to anticipated problems related to waste disposal. This will not be an easy task due to the vast size of the area involved. It will be important to educate climbers and visitors about the need to protect Mount Fuji’s environment. In addition, the number of privately owned cars entering the area should be restricted and signs and buildings that would damage Mount Fuji’s natural beauty must be prohibited.

In the same decision, ICOMOS decided not to add a group of cultural assets in the ancient city of Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, to the World Heritage list. The central government should figure out what factors led to the rejection and apply the lessons learned to future World Heritage application efforts.