Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji has temporarily closed its trails to visitors for the rest of the year as authorities grapple with an onslaught of tourists defiling the revered mountain.
Too many tourists: Local officials have lamented how the 12,388-foot UNESCO World Heritage site has faced escalating environmental challenges from a surge in visitors since the post-pandemic tourism boom. The fifth base station, known as “Gogome,” located halfway up the mountain, bears the brunt, receiving 90% of visitors. A mix of buses, taxis, and electric vehicles clog the Fuji Subaru Line, the main access route from Tokyo.
Threat of reckless hikers: The popularity of “bullet climbing,” where hikers ascend and descend within a day, has led to an increase in rescue requests, with non-Japanese tourists accounting for a significant share. Cleanup efforts, despite the dedication of janitors, businesses and volunteers, continue to struggle with soiled bathrooms and litter along the paths.
Radical measures: Governor Kotaro Nagasaki of Yamanashi prefecture, elected in 2019 with a mandate to manage overcrowding, has proposed radical measures, including a ban on passenger buses and cars, replacing the Fuji-Subaru access road with a light-rail train service. The proposal includes a significant roundtrip fare hike to 10,000 yen ($68), aimed at attracting a more discerning demographic.
A call to change: The overcrowding crisis has prompted serious concerns among preservationists and officials. Yasuyoshi Okada, president of ICOMOS Japan, stressed the urgency of addressing overtourism to protect Mount Fuji‘s sacredness and maintain its UNESCO status. Masatake Izumi, an official from Yamanashi prefecture, highlighted littering and rising CO2 emissions as its most pressing problems.
“Fuji faces a real crisis,” Izumi told reporters on Saturday before the trails were temporarily shut down. “It’s uncontrollable and we fear that Mt Fuji will soon become so unattractive, nobody would want to climb it.”