Expected Flood of Climbers on Mt. Fuji Raises Safety Concerns

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The fifth station on Mt. Fuji’s Yoshida Trail is crowded with climbers in August 2022.

Mt. Fuji is expected to see a flood of climbers this summer, as it will be the first climbing season since the downgrading of COVID-19, and this month marks the 10th anniversary of the venerated mountain’s registration as a World Heritage site.

Reservations for mountain trail lodges are quickly filling up, raising concerns about an increase in “bullet climbing” — making a non-stop overnight ascent to the summit without breaks — as well as accidents stemming from congestion.

The Goraikoukan lodge, located at the 8.5th station of the Yoshida Trail on the Yamanashi Prefecture side 3,450 meters above sea level, began accepting reservations on May 8, but the website became overloaded with access requests and its server went down. The Yoshida Trail attracts about 60% of climbers.

The lodge restarted the site the following day, and within one hour, every room available for this year’s season, which runs from July 1 to Sept. 9, was fully booked. “We’ve never had all the rooms reserved before the mountain opened,” said the person in charge.

A main factor is that a pandemic countermeasure of a 40% reduction in lodging capacity remains in place. The reservation sites of many other lodges show them to also be fully or nearly fully booked on all dates.

There are four main trails to the summit of Mt. Fuji, which straddles Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures. The Fujinomiya, Subashiri and Gotemba trails on the Shizuoka side will open on July 10.

Some lodges on the Fujinomiya Trail have already seen more than twice as many reservations as usual. Among them, the Yamaguchi-Sanso Old 7th Station, said it is fully booked most weekends.

According to Environment Ministry statistics, roughly 200,000 to 300,000 people climbed Mt. Fuji annually after its listing as a World Heritage site in 2013. However, the mountain was closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, and the number of climbers dropped to only about 80,000 in 2021 and about 160,000 in 2022.

“With the pandemic drawing to a close, we expect more than double the number of customers this year compared to last year,” said Shoichi Osano, 56, who runs a shop at the Yoshida Trail’s fifth station.

With the lack of lodging spaces, the fear is that more people will attempt the overnight bullet climb, resulting in more incidences of injury and illness. Bullet climbing increases the risk of hypothermia and altitude sickness.

And the massive gathering of climbers at the summit early in the morning could lead to accidents from rockfalls.

As such, the association of Yoshida Trail lodge owners in May made a request to the Yamanashi prefectural government and other entities to optimize the number of climbers and take measures to discourage bullet climbing.

“We’re worried that there might be accidents in this, the year commemorating the 10th anniversary of the World Heritage site listing,” said Osamu Nakamura, 74, who heads the association.

In response, the Fuji Subaru Line roadway that runs from the foot of the mountain up to the fifth station will be closed at night to deter bullet climbers. The city of Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, plans to extend the period that the first-aid station at the Yoshida Trail’s eighth station will remain open, from late August to Sept. 10.

“We are working with the tourism industry to find ways to raise awareness not to attempt bullet climbing,” said an official of the Shizuoka prefectural government’s Mt. Fuji World Heritage division.

“I’d like climbers to consider using the relatively less crowded Subashiri and Gotemba trails, or change their plans to weekdays,” said Kiyotatsu Yamamoto, associate professor of park planning at the University of Tokyo.