Alpinist Ken Noguchi was devastated by Mount Fuji’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site last year because the mountain’s problems, including its excessive garbage and the irresponsible people who climb and manage it, had not been resolved.
“When Mount Fuji was designated on the list, people immediately thought that the mountain had received a 100 percent appraisal as is. People thought the mountain was completely clear of garbage, but that is not the case,” Noguchi said in a recent interview.
In his book “Sekai Isan ni Sarete Fujisan wa Naiteiru” (“Mount Fuji is Crying, Being Made a World Heritage Site”), published in June, Noguchi warns nothing is being done to preserve the volcano.
After setting the record for youngest alpinist to scale the highest peaks on all seven continents at 25, including Mount Everest in 1999, Noguchi has spent the past 15 years trying to clean Mount Fuji, waging campaigns and recruiting volunteers to take part in cleaning excursions on the iconic peak.
“Toilet paper from mountain hut toilets rolls down to the base of the mountain, as well as empty cans. Even old tires have been illegally dumped there. Lots of people knew about it — including the staff at the Foreign and Environment ministries and university professors — but nobody wanted to take charge of dealing with it,” he said.
Since it’s not clear who is in charge of the mountain as a whole, nobody is really playing a leading role in its management, Noguchi said.
The volcano straddles Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, which have always been divided over jurisdictional issues, including what to do about the dirty toilets in the mountain huts and whether to allow the use of cars.
The two prefectures set different dates for opening their hiking routes and don’t even cooperate on how to spend the new fees they have begun collecting from hikers, Noguchi said.
He said the two prefectures have not had good relations because Yamanashi relies much more on tourist revenue from Mount Fuji sightseers than Shizuoka does.
Although the governors of the prefectures hold talks now and then, they are actually not working together when it comes to preserving Mount Fuji, he said.
Noguchi warned that if the situation is left as is, Mount Fuji risks being deleted from the World Heritage site list.
“In a way, it might be good that the mountain was designated (a World Heritage site) before its problems were resolved, because now the people involved face a situation in which they have to deal with the problems immediately,” he said.
Noguchi said it’s a lesser known fact that Mount Fuji was listed on condition that the Cultural Affairs Agency submit a state of conservation report to the UNESCO World Heritage Center by Feb. 1, 2016.
The report must list specific measures to preserve the mountain, with advice from the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a nongovernmental organization that helps protect cultural heritage venues worldwide.
In recent years, there have been two cases in which sites were withdrawn from the list because they were not properly preserved.
One is the Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany, which was struck from the heritage list five years after it was designated in 2004, because a bridge was being built at the center of the site — going against ICOMOS’ advice.
The other is the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman, which was designated as a Natural Heritage site in 1994. The sanctuary was removed from the list in 2007 because of the development of oil resources in the area.
Noguchi said that now is the time for the people of Japan to take a hard look at Mount Fuji and for those involved to unite to resolve its problems.
He said that he helped Mount Fuji and Mount Everest become sister summits in May to promote the mutual cleanup of both of the famous peaks.
“It’s a good chance for the Japanese people to realize how much value Mount Fuji has for Japan. It is said to be a ‘sacred’ mountain — not just a place for leisure — and it is important to preserve its nature and tradition,” he said.