Crowd control at Japan's Mount Fuji as hiking season begins

By AFP   June 30, 2024 | 06:54 pm PT
Crowd control at Japan's Mount Fuji as hiking season begins
A stream of people trudges through the volcanic grit on their way up the 3,776-meter Mount Fuji mountain. Photo by AFP
Mount Fuji's summer climbing season begins on July 1 with new crowd control measures on the Japanese volcano's most popular hiking trail to combat overtourism.

An entry fee of 2,000 yen (US$12.43) plus an optional donation will be charged for those taking on the Yoshida Trail, and numbers will be capped at 4,000 per day.

Online reservations for the popular path have also been introduced in 2024 for the first time by authorities concerned about safety and environmental damage on Japan’s highest mountain.

Record tourist crowds are flocking to Japan post-pandemic, with many wanting to see or scale Mount Fuji, which is covered in snow most of the year but draws more than 220,000 visitors during each July-September climbing period.

Regional officials have raised concerns linked to overcrowding on the mountain, which is a symbol of Japan and a once-peaceful pilgrimage site.

Many climb through the night to see the sunrise from the 3,776m summit.

Some sleep on the trail or start fires for heat, while many attempt to complete the hike without breaks, falling sick or getting injured as a result.

The new measures were introduced "first and foremost to protect lives" of climbers, not to block tourists from coming, governor Kotaro Nagasaki of Yamanashi prefecture recently told reporters.

Each summer, reports in Japanese media describe tourists climbing Mount Fuji with insufficient mountaineering equipment.

"I personally feel like I’ve over-prepared," said Mr Geoffrey Kula from the United States, who plans to climb Mount Fuji on July 1.

"I’m trying to err on the side of caution. Having looked at the forecast, being ready to swop out multiple outfits if clothes get wet and things like that. Yeah, it just seems like another crazy adventure."

Tourist hotspot

The active volcano has three other main routes that will remain free to climb.

But the Yoshida Trail – accessed from Tokyo relatively easily – is the preferred option for most holidaymakers, with around 60 per cent of climbers choosing that route, according to official data.

Mount Fuji is about two hours from central Tokyo by train and can be seen for miles around.

The mountain has been immortalized in countless Japanese artworks, including Hokusai’s world-famous "Great Wave".

In 2023, Japan attracted over 25 million tourists from abroad, in part buoyed by the lifting of pandemic-era border restrictions. Its tourism chief said last month that its ambitious goal of luring 60 million foreign tourists a year was well within reach.

But as in other tourist hotspots, such as Venice – which recently launched a trial of entry fees for day visitors– the influx has not been universally welcomed.

In May, Fujikawaguchiko, a town near Mount Fuji, mounted a large mesh barrier at a popular viewing spot for the volcano in an attempt to deter photo-taking by an ever-growing number of tourists.

Town residents were fed up with streams of mostly foreign visitors littering, trespassing and breaking traffic rules in their hunt for a photo to share on social media.

And in June, Fuji, a city near Fujikawaguchiko, said it would build a tall metal fence to control unruly tourists who have annoyed locals at another popular Mount Fuji photo spot, "Dream Bridge".

Overtourism issues have been reported elsewhere in Japan, including in the country’s ancient capital of Kyoto, where locals have complained of tourists harassing the city’s famed geisha.

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