NAGANO – Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan, is becoming an increasingly popular destination as tourism numbers continue to break records.
The 3,776-meter volcano, which straddles Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures west of Tokyo, was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2013 as an “object of worship” and “wellspring of art.”
Some 200,000 people climb Mount Fuji each year via the Yoshida Trail, which leads to the summit from the volcano’s north side in Yamanashi. Foreigners account for some 30 percent of the trekkers on weekdays and 20 percent on weekends, according to an Environment Ministry survey conducted last August.
Willer Travel Inc., based in Osaka, recently arranged a group tour to Mount Fuji consisting of 23 tourists from the United States and eight European, Asian and other countries.
Mike Powell of the U.S. said he and his wife wanted to climb the most famous mountain in Japan. Powell, 31, suggested that tourists often view Mount Fuji as a sightseeing spot rather than a peak to conquer.
On the bus, tour guide Eri Kodama, 23, used illustrations to encourage the participants to climb slowly to avoid altitude sickness.
“It’s important to give instructions together with their reasons,” Kodama said. “As many foreign tourists have no experience of mountain climbing, I take more care in guiding foreign visitors than Japanese.”
Members of the tour group spent ample time on warm-up exercises and formed a huddle to get psyched up before the climb.
At the seventh station, where the trail gets steeper, the climbers were awed as a sea of clouds spread out below them.
“Beautiful,” said Toh Xiao Yu, 26, noting that her native Singapore has no place providing such a scene.
The group took 6½ hours to reach the mountain lodge for their overnight stay.
Foreigners account for 40 percent of the overnight guests, the lodge’s manager Akira Kajihara, 71, said. “I thank them for coming here, as the number of Japanese guests is declining,” he said.
In last year’s Environment Ministry survey, more than 70 percent of the lodge operators on Mount Fuji said they had received more foreign guests than in the previous year.
The tour’s members woke up at 1 a.m. the following day and began their ascent to the summit wearing head lamps, reaching the summit in about two hours.
“It’s like heaven,” one said as the sun’s rays peeped through the clouds.
Some 75 percent of the foreign trekkers who responded to the survey said they saw the sunrise and nearly 80 percent said they were “very satisfied” with the experience.
After the descent, the tourists took a soak in a hot spring and felt closer to each other than when they began.
“The biggest attraction of climbing Mount Fuji is allowing people of different cultural backgrounds to go hand-in-hand toward a common goal while understanding each other,” Kodama said.
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