Last Updated: September 12, 2023, 16:43 IST
Overtourism is ailing Japan and its highest peak- Mount Fuji. The mountain, which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites for its artistic inspiration, is now ailing from human traffic jams, garbage and too many hikers.
With millions of visitors every year and the buses and supply trucks, Japan’s Mount Fuji is no longer the peaceful pilgrimage site it once was.
The mountain was described as a historic place of pilgrimage that inspired countless artists and poets. However, with the growing number of visitors and reckless hikers, the scenic mountain is losing its aura.
Hikers More Than Doubled
There are 10 hiking stations on Mount Fuji, while the fifth is located roughly halfway up the 3,776-meter (12,388-foot) mountain. It receives 90% of the mountain’s visitors, most whom take buses, taxis and EV cars from Tokyo.
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 visitors in 2019, according to the Yamanashi prefectural government.
Since the annual climbing season began just a couple of months ago in July, around 65,000 hikers have already reached the summit, an increase of 17% from 2019, according to CNN.
Day and night
It’s not just during the day that a stream of people trudges through the black volcanic grit on their way up the 3,776-metre (12,388-foot) mountain.
At night, long lines of people — on their way up to see the sun rise in the morning — trek upwards with torches on their heads.
Masatake Izumi, a local official, said the high numbers of people increased the risk of accidents. Some people who climb at night “get hypothermia and have to be taken back to first aid stations”, he told AFP.
As tourist numbers get back to pre-pandemic levels, it’s not only Mount Fuji whose returning crowds have authorities worried. This week government ministers met to discuss measures to tackle what Kenji Hamamoto, a senior Japan Tourism Agency official, called “overcrowding and breaches of etiquette” across heavily touristed sites.
Overcrowding is placing huge pressure on the toilet facilities, creating mini mountains of litter, and increasing the potential for accidents.
For Mount Fuji, authorities announced last month that they would impose crowd control measures for the first time if paths got too busy. The announcement alone had an effect and, in the end, no such measures were taken, Izumi said.
Visitor numbers are expected to be down slightly this year from 2019, but in 2024 they could rise again as tourists — particularly from China — return. Yamanashi’s governor Kotaro Nagasaki said last week Japan needed to take measures to ensure Mount Fuji did not lose its UNESCO designation.
(With inputs from AFP)