Mount Fuji Prefectures Differ in Approach to Overtourism; Attention Focused on Effectiveness of Entry Toll

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The fifth station of Mt. Fuji on the Yamanashi Prefecture side is crowded with tourists on Saturday.

KOFU / SHIZUOKA ― Overtourism has become a serious issue on Mt. Fuji, but the two prefectures that are home to Japan’s highest peak are handling the situation in different ways.

Mt. Fuji is a World Heritage site visited by more than 200,000 people every summer. Recently, however, problems such as dangerous overnight climbing, crowds and litter have become conspicuous.

To combat congestion, Yamanashi Prefecture is scheduled to begin charging a toll this summer to use its Yoshida Trail to the summit. However, Shizuoka Prefecture is not imposing any restrictions on its three trails.

Observers are watching to see whether Yamanashi’s measure will be accepted by climbers and ultimately prove effective.

Congestion at sunrise

“It’s like we’re in some downtown area. I heard a crowd of tourists yelling, and raincoats, food and drinks were dumped here and there,” said the manager of the Kamaiwakan mountain lodge on the Yoshida Trail, recalling the situation last summer.

At predawn, climbers trying to catch the first rays of the sun on the summit were backed up from around the mountain’s eighth station. Such crowded conditions heighten the risk of falling rocks and people slipping and falling.

Many climbers were napping on the side of the trail, as they had gone to the summit overnight without staying at a lodge. Those who do are at high risk of altitude sickness and hypothermia, as the sudden rise in altitude and a lack of sleep can reduce a person’s stamina.

Last September, two male university students from the United States and Mexico aimed for the summit in just light jackets, jeans and sneakers. Ultimately, they were immobilized by fatigue and cold, and ending up calling for a rescue.

According to the Fujiyoshida first-aid center, where medics are stationed, 332 people were treated last season, and nearly 60% of them had symptoms of altitude sickness. Some were found to have followed climbing plans that were quite physically strenuous for the 3,776-meter-high mountain.

4,000 climbers a day

To prevent crowds and overnight climbers, the Yamanashi prefectural government will set up a gate at the fifth station of the Yoshida Trail ― which is used by about 60% of all Mt. Fuji climbers ― and charge a ¥2,000 entrance fee per person from July 1. There will also be a daily limit of 4,000 climbers passing the gate.

The daily reservation quota is set at 3,000 people, and people without reservations can pass the gate if they are under the 4,000 limit. Up to 20 staff members, including toll collectors and security guards, will be assigned.

The gate will close from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. Reservations have been accepted on Mt. Fuji climbing official website since Monday.

Gov. Kotaro Nagasaki said the amount of the toll was based on the expense of handling crowds, and that the funds would be used for safety measures.

The limit of 4,000 people was reportedly calculated based on past levels of congestion and other factors. However, there were only 10 days in the pre-pandemic year of 2019 when the number of climbers exceeded 4,000, and only five such days in 2023.

It is therefore unknown whether this regulation will be effective throughout the 72-day season this year.

The reservation site is available in English and Chinese, but it is not clear if the relevant information will sufficiently reach foreign tourists, who account for about 30% of the total.

Different ideas

Mt. Fuji has long been the object of religious worship. An UNESCO advisory body has called for curbs on the large number of climbers, for fear of harm to the mountain’s sacred atmosphere. On the other hand, having many visitors enriches the local economy.

The manager of the Mannenyuki mountain lodge on the Shizuoka side said he has received a growing number of inquiries from Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and elsewhere.

“It’s become important to also disseminate information about the sacred nature” of the mountain, he said.

The manager of the Komitake Baiten vendor on the Yamanashi side expressed mixed feelings. “Appropriate restrictions are necessary, but I’m concerned that customers will flow to the Shizuoka side,” the manager said.

According to the Shizuoka prefectural government, most of the trails between the fifth and eighth stations on the Shizuoka side are on state-owned land, making it difficult to regulate them via prefectural ordinances.

Starting this season, Shizuoka will encourage climbers to register their plans online and ask them to refrain from ascending the mountain after 4 p.m.

Fujinomiya Mayor Hidetada Sudo has complained that the restrictions are not in line with those of Yamanashi Prefecture.

“I’m in favor of the restrictions, but Yamanashi is moving ahead with discussions without taking Shizuoka’s situation into consideration,” he said.

World-renowned alpinist Ken Noguchi, 50, said, Yamanashi Prefecture “made a good decision to restrict climbing by charging a toll, even though its economy is heavily dependent on tourism.

“Entry fees overseas are usually tens of thousands or even millions of yen. Effective restrictions also require penalties [to be effective], and the administrations concerned should take the initiative to create the final version of restrictions through a process of trial and error,” Noguchi said.

Overtourism a nationwide issue

KOFU ― Overtourism is a major problem, and municipalities nationwide are pushing back against it.

The Shiretoko Peninsula is known for its magnificent natural beauty, and has attracted many visitors thanks to a tourism boom in Hokkaido and the peninsula’s registration as a World Natural Heritage site in 2005.

However, there have been problems with environmental protection and safety. Plants in the scenic Shiretoko Goko Lakes have been trampled, and brown bears are being spotted one after another.

After repeated discussions with relevant municipalities, the Environment Ministry began controlling the number of visitors to the peninsula in 2011, allowing only tours accompanied by a nature guide to enter the area between May 10 and July 31 when the bears are active. The reservation fee is around ¥5,000 for a 3-kilometer round trip.

During the rest of the year, visitors must attend a paid lecture on safe hiking. This can be viewed as a model case for environmental protection, as it has brought increased income for the guides.

Yoshino-Kumano National Park has also introduced a reservation system to enter its Nishi-Odai Area, where rare forests remain. The number of daily visitors is limited to 50 on weekdays and 100 on weekends during the peak season.

“All parties concerned should examine the negative effects of overtourism and discuss how restrictions should be implemented,” said the Natural Parks Foundation’s director Toshio Torii, who formerly headed the environment ministry’s Nature Conservation Bureau.

“It’s difficult to reach an agreement that will satisfy all parties, but if safety and comfort are ensured and the environment is protected, visitors will understand and the region’s image will improve.”