1.Mount Fuji in jeopardy: How Japan’s highest mountain became a victim of over tourism

Japan Highest Mountain Become A Victim Of Overtourism:

Mount Fuji, Japan — Few would link human traffic jams, garbage-strewn foothills, and improperly dressed hikers – some attempting the trip in sandals – with Japan’s highest mountain.

These scenes, however, are all too familiar for Miho Sakurai, an experienced ranger who has patrolled Mount Fuji’s slopes for the past seven years.

“There are definitely too many people on the mountain at the moment; the numbers are much higher than before,” Sakurai tells CNN Travel.

When Mount Fuji was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2013, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), UNESCO’s advisory body, advised mountain officials to regulate crowds.

According to the Yamanashi prefectural administration, the number of visitors to the mountain’s popular fifth hiking station has more than doubled from two million in 2012 to over five million in 2019.

And, since the annual climbing season began just a few months ago in July, approximately 65,000 hikers had reached the top, a 17% rise from 2019.

According to officials, a post-Covid tourism boom has drawn thousands of visitors to the mountain, which spans Japan’s Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. And, as Mount Fuji celebrates the tenth anniversary of its UNESCO classification this year, they are concerned that the environmental condition has reached a “critical point.”

“The biggest problem facing Mount Fuji is overtourism, with all the consequences like litter, rising CO2 emissions, and reckless hikers,” says Masatake Izumi, a Yamanashi prefectural government official and Mount Fuji specialist.

In an email, Yasuyoshi Okada, president of ICOMOS Japan, told CNN TRAVEL that “overtourism must be addressed” in order to “preserve the sacredness” of Mount Fuji and its importance as a World Heritage site.

‘Like Disneyland,’ says one.

The fifth of Mount Fuji’s ten hiking stations (named “Gogome”) lies about halfway up the 3,776-meter (12,388-foot) summit. According to Izumi, it receives 90% of the mountain’s tourists, the majority of whom use buses, taxis, and electric vehicles from Tokyo via the Fuji Subaru Line mountain road.

Nearly sixty years ago, during Japan’s age of motorization, the Fuji Subaru Line was constructed, providing direct access for tourists and families to a point halfway up the mountain. According to Izumi, “it gave people all over the country a chance to see Mount Fuji.”

Hikers heading to the fifth station on that line from Tokyo will now hear a folk song play briefly as their vehicle passes a series of sensors on the route.

“Fuji no Yama,” or “The Mountain of Fuji,” was written by Sazanami Iwaya in 1911 to commemorate the popular tourist destination. Mount Fuji is referred to as “Japan’s greatest mountain” in the lyrics, as it “pokes its head above the clouds” while “clad in a kimono of snow.”

These words stand in stark contrast to the reality on the ground, with experts claiming that the mountaineering experience at Mount Fuji is deteriorating due to crowds.

According to Izumi, the Yamanashi official, tourists can no longer drive up to the fifth station unless they are totally electric, although this has resulted in additional buses ferrying huge groups of visitors to the station.

The swarms of hikers are also putting a strain on the mountain’s few restroom facilities and four medical stations, he adds.

As busloads of hikers throng toward the Yoshida trail, the most popular of Mount Fuji’s four routes, Tomoyo Takahashi, a Mount Fuji conservation fund staffer, begs people to give 1,000 yen ($7) to keep the mountain clean.

“It’s like Disneyland here because there are so many people,” she says, according to CNN Travel. “. It saddens me that not everyone pays the 1,000 yen. There should be a significantly higher mandatory entrance price so that only visitors who sincerely appreciate Mount Fuji’s legacy come.”

Erratic hiking

According to Kiyotatsu Yamamoto, a national parks and Mount Fuji specialist at the University of Tokyo, the mountaineering experience is notably declining among more experienced hikers.

According to officials, a post-Covid tourism boom has brought thousands of new visitors to the mountain this year.

According to officials, a post-Covid tourism boom has brought thousands of new visitors to the mountain this year.

Yamanashi Prefectural Government,

It takes four hours to ascend a stretch that used to be climbed in two hours due to the congestion and traffic bottlenecks on the mountain paths, he adds, adding that this is a big source of unhappiness among climbers.

A hiker from Hong Kong, Vito Fung Yiu Ting, claims he booked a stay in a mountain lodge at least three months before visiting Fuji.

“I was so lucky to get a place,” after coming back from the top of Mount Fuji.

However, not everyone plans ahead of time. According to Sakurai, the Mount Fuji ranger, the risk of altitude sickness and hypothermia has increased due to a trend known as “bullet climbing,” in which hikers begin their ascent at night and continue until dawn without staying in a mountain lodge to acclimatise their bodies to the air pressure.

Yamamoto goes on to say that some unskilled hikers even sleep in the restrooms to stay warm, toss away climbing gear on the trail, or camp in banned areas.

Tourism’s transition from ‘quantity to quality’

Countermeasures have been implemented over the years to protect Mount Fuji.

For example, between 2004 and 2018, volunteers from the Fujisan Club, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of Mount Fuji, carried out 992 clean-up events along the peak’s foothills, with 74,215 participants collecting 850 tonnes of waste.

Last year, the organisation began conducting garbage patrols on electric bikes outfitted with cameras that record GPS data and build maps that chart the sorts and quantities of trash in a given area.

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