After Japan lifted all COVID-19 restrictions, Mount Fuji’s first climbing season saw a return of visitors from around the world, but it was marred by a series of incidents where some tourists failed to follow etiquette and others dangerously underestimated the climb.
One such case almost ended in disaster when improperly clad climbers were forced to shelter from the cold in a lodge while climbing Japan’s highest peak. Experts point to the need for better coordination between local and national governments to improve conditions for next year.
Overcrowding was expected before the start of the season, creating headaches for officials in Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures, whose borders straddle the mountain.
Officials on the Yamanashi side said the number of climbers who passed through the mountain’s 6th station in July was more than double that of 2019, leading them to announce in August that they were limiting the number of climbers who could use the route. If the summit becomes dangerous due to overcrowding.
People begin their ascent near Mount Fuji’s fifth station on the Yoshida Pass on the Yamanashi Prefecture side of the mountain on September 2, 2023. (Editorial Use Only)(No Reuse Permitted)(Kyoto)
The Shizuoka prefectural government sought to educate prospective climbers by creating videos outlining climbing rules in Japanese and English, while it translated relevant articles into various languages.
Before the season ends on September 10, busloads of trekkers flocked to the area around a square at the hill’s 5th station earlier this month.
„Just like I saw on TV, it was very crowded,” said Yasukazu Ito, a Tokyo resident who spent the night at a lodge on the mountain to watch the sunrise.
As there were no express rules against doing so, some climbers, tired of not being able to afford accommodation in lodges, slept on the hiking trails, exacerbating overcrowding problems.
Meanwhile, two university students, an American and a Mexican national, were rescued in early September after attempting a „bullet climb,” or trying to reach the summit for sunrise without a full night’s sleep before getting lost.
The two male students had no food or water and were dressed „as if they were going on a picnic,” Yamanashi police said.
The Shizuoka Prefectural Government’s Mt. A website operated by the Fuji World Heritage Division notes that temperatures at the summit „can drop below freezing even in mid-summer”.
Yuhei Akaike, a 41-year-old lodge worker at Mount Fuji’s 7th station, said scantily clad foreigners trespassed into an area with a power generator to keep warm, while at another point a group of about 20 to 30 people, including Japanese and non-Japanese, took shelter from the wind and rain in toilet cubicles.
Akai described facing protests when he tried to warn the groups, arguing that there were no signs prohibiting the behavior or that it was unavoidable because of the cold.
„Being unprepared can be troublesome. I would like (authorities) to stop allowing (lightly dressed) people beyond Station 5 and rent equipment for them,” Akaike said.
Photo taken on August 27, 2023 shows a crowd of climbers climbing Mount Fuji to watch the sunrise. (Courtesy of Yamanashi Prefectural Government)(Kyoto)
As June marks the 10th anniversary of Mount Fuji being registered as a World Heritage Site, the International Council on Monuments and Sites has called for a limit on the number of climbers to protect the environment.
Yamanashi Governor Kotaro Nagasaki expressed a sense of crisis in late August, telling a press conference that the mountain „could be stripped of its World Heritage status in the worst case scenario.”
In addition to passing a law against bullet riding, the Yamanashi Prefectural government plans to establish a light rail transit service from the foot of the mountain to Station 5 to replace car use.
Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu told a press conference that „countermeasures against unauthorized climbing are an urgent issue,” and in addition to mountain entry regulations, a 1,000 yen fee to Mt. The prefectural government will consider increasing the climbing fee for Fuji ($6.80), in principle.
„The current situation at Mount Fuji is extraordinary, with more people climbing it than can be done safely,” said Masanori Take, a professor at Toyo University’s Department of International Tourism Management.
„Whatever steps are taken next year, it is important that Yamanashi, Shizuoka and the national government work together,” he added.
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