As the Mount Fuji climbing season drew to a close earlier this month, authorities were assessing the success of a new ¥1,000 voluntary climbing fee, which almost half of hikers skipped paying. It was introduced this year following a trial in 2013.
Formally called the Fujisan Preservation Fund, the optional fee applies to all four climbing routes. Because the 3,776-meter mountain straddles Yamanashi and Shizuoka, both prefectural governments were responsible for collecting the cash.
Here is how the project went, with a summary of problems facing trail administrators:
Why was the fee introduced?
It was formally introduced for the climbing season this year to raise additional funds for protection of an environment scoured by heavy foot traffic and to afford better help for climbers in trouble. It followed a 10-day trial in 2013.
When Japan’s highest mountain was declared a UNESCO World Heritage cultural site in June last year, domestic and international attention rocketed. This raised expectations of a new influx of climbers — along with the added environmental impact and further worries for hikers’ safety.
The Yamanashi Prefectural Government plans to construct new lavatories and repair existing ones, increase the number of personnel engaging in conservation efforts and to expand the number of first-aid centers.
Although Shizuoka Prefecture has not yet come up with concrete plans for how it will use the cash, Hisao Kosaka, section chief of the prefectural government’s Mount Fuji world heritage division, indicated the fee might fund the study of new toilet technologies and for surveys on how to manage climbers better.
How many people paid the fee and how much was raised?
Yamanashi Prefecture collected about ¥113.94 million from 116,184 walkers between July 1 and Sept. 14, the period in which its Yoshida Trail was open. Shizuoka Prefecture received some ¥43.82 million from 43,312 people who used the Subashiri, Gotenba or Fujinomiya routes when they were open to climbers from July 10 to Sept. 10.
The fee was optional. Climbers who paid received a commemorative badge, while those using the routes in Shizuoka Prefecture also received a guidebook with other information and climbing tips.
Hikers could pay in advance online and at convenience stores, or at toll collection booths at each route’s fifth station.
Climbers from Yamanashi could pay the fee at any hour at the fifth station on the Yoshida route, but booths on the three routes in Shizuoka were open only between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., which means those who passed outside those times were not approached for payment.
Did the prefectures have collection targets?
They set goals based on the results of last year’s trial.
Yamanashi estimated it would collect ¥200 million, expecting that about 200,000 climbers would agree to pay the ¥1,000 fee. Shizuoka predicted it would receive ¥79 million from 79,000 people.
Yamanashi managed to collect only about 57 percent of the targeted amount, and Shizuoka only 55 percent.
A total of 208,328 climbers used the Yoshida Trail in Yamanashi this season, which means 44.3 percent ignored the request. In Shizuoka, 58.9 percent snubbed it. The Shizuoka figure is for the period leading up to the end of August, as the totals for the season are still not available.
Why did they miss their targets?
Kosaka of the Shizuoka Prefectural Government said the operating hours of the toll collection centers may be reconsidered.
“About 40 percent of all the climbers began their climb outside the 9 a.m.-6 p.m. opening hours. We received many complaints from climbers that they were unable to pay the fee as the centers were closed at the time they passed on their ascent,” Kosaka said.
He added that the prefectural government should also explain the toll to foreigners better.
“It was difficult to inform them of the admission fee,” Kosaka said. “We have to increase the number of foreign-language-speaking staff to urge climbers to pay.”
What can be done to increase the number of people willing to pay?
Koichi Kuriyama, a professor of environmental economics at Kyoto University, said improvements could include unifying the two prefectures’ systems.
“Collection hours need to be 24 hours a day,” Kuriyama said.
The discrepancy between the two prefectures’ booth staffing hours could account for the difference in fees raised, he said.
“A sense of unfairness risks lowering climbers’ motivation to pay voluntarily,” Kuriyama said.
He added that if collection staff aren’t on duty at night, it might encourage those hikers inclined not to pay to begin their climb in the dark and thereby risk a greater number of accidents.
Kuriyama suggested setting up physical gates to create the pressure on hikers to pay up. He cited the example of Yakushima, one of the Osumi Islands in Kagoshima Prefecture. There, most visitors pay a voluntary fee because it is collected at gates.
What other problems came to light during this year’s climbing season?
Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu said Wednesday that the main concerns stem from hikers’ behavior, citing graffiti and piles of excrement left along the trail. Kawakatsu said he will take steps to ensure better manners in cooperation with Yamanashi Prefecture.
Excrement was found at 17 places along the Subashiri route, said Shinichi Okawa, senior staff at the wildlife conservation division. The cases were all between the fifth and sixth stations.
“A minimum climbing etiquette is to bring back what you took with you,” Okawa said. “We will fortify educational activities on good manners.”
It is not known why hikers failed to scoop up their excrement, but Okawa said officials believe they wanted to avoid the ¥100 to ¥300 fee for toilets on the trail. Other culprits might be night-time climbers unable to use lavatories because they were shut.
Meanwhile, Toyohiro Watanabe, a professor at Tsuru University in Yamanashi Prefecture who studies issues surrounding Mount Fuji, blamed the prefectural governments for their management of hikers, saying he saw more excrement than is reported.
“I have checked three mountain routes, including the one in Yamanashi, at the end of August and early September. I spotted excrement in more than 17 places,” said Watanabe, who has been helping to collect garbage from the mountain for the past 25 years. “The reality is very severe.”
Watanabe suggests imposing a fine for people who answer the call of nature and not the call of good manners.
“(The prefectures) need to establish such an ordinance by next year at the latest,” given the fact the country is required to submit a state-of-conservation report to UNESCO’s World Heritage Center by February 2016, Watanabe said.
The Shizuoka Prefectural Government also reported graffiti at 12 locations, mostly on rocks along the Subashiri and Fujinomiya routes and at the summit.