The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee last month decided to put Mount Fuji, together with the Miho-no-Matsubara pine grove by Suruga Bay, on the U.N. agency’s World Heritage list.
The 3,776-meter volcano straddling Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, which is Japan’s highest and most famous peak, was designated a “cultural” rather than a “natural” site and registered under the title “Mt. Fuji: Object of Worship, Wellspring of Art.”
While the designation is something to celebrate, it also means that the central government, local governments in the Mount Fuji area and the general public have a moral obligation to protect the mountain’s nature and scenery.
Thanks to the designation, more people will be interested in visiting Mount Fuji than before. The central and local governments need to cooperate with businesses organizations to find ways to reconcile the needs of tourism with efforts to protect Mount Fuji’s environment.
Mount Fuji was opened to climbers for the summer on July 1 and about 300,000 people climb during this season every year. Sometimes congestions occur on its trails. Climbers should realize that the climb is not without dangers, including the possibility of being hit by falling rocks, slipping and suffering from altitude sickness. Some people climb it without taking a break, increasing their chance of injury or illness. The local governments in the area, mountain guide associations and tourism companies must take measures to improve the safety of climbers.
From July 25 to Aug. 3, the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectural governments plan to charge a ¥1,000 fee on a trial basis from every climber who goes to the fifth station or higher stations of Mount Fuji. They will use the resulting funds for improving trails, huts and guide signs. The prefectural governments should also use a portion of the funds to help protect the environment and to improve emergency medical services for climbers.
Currently Japan has 12 sites, including the ancient city of Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture, on a provisional list of candidates for designation as cultural sites of World Heritage. Local governments are also pushing for more than 20 other sites to be considered. But the designation process takes considerable time and money, and it is unlikely that all of these efforts will succeed.
Japan should consider publicizing on its own the attractiveness of its culturally important sites to people overseas as part of its strategy to promote tourism. It should select sites whose cultural and historical significance can be well appreciated by foreigners and make efforts to make the history and nature of these sites understandable and easily accessible.