Published On: Mon, Jun 29th, 2015

Mt. Fiji: Environmental protection vs. tourism

download (4)TOKYO, Japan – When Mount Fuji was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in June 2013, UNESCO asked relevant local governments to report to it on measures for environmental conservation, including controlling the number of climbers. Although the February deadline for the report is drawing near, Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures have yet to solve the challenge, finding it difficult to balance measures for environmental protection and their promotion of tourism. “Mt. Fuji is so crowded with climbers, their sticks are close enough to touch,” said Shiho Nakajima, 41, a “Fujisan ranger” designated by the Yamanashi prefectural government as a nature conservation ranger. Nakajima, who gives safety guidance to climbers on the mountain trails, expressed her concern about the increasing number of climbers before the start of climbing season of Mt. Fuji on Wednesday. As part of efforts to control the number, the Yamanashi prefectural government last summer extended the period during which there are restrictions on how many vehicles can enter the Fuji Subaru Line, a tollway to the fifth station of Mt. Fuji from the foot of the mountain. Compared to 31 days in 2013, the prefecture restricted vehicle entry for 53 days last summer. Due partly to this traffic control, the number of climbers from July to August 2014 was 243,662, or down 21.6 percent from the same period in 2013. However, the area around the summit remains crowded, as climbers rush there before dawn to see the early morning sunlight. The prefectural government intends to implement the same regulations this year. But some local municipality heads and members of the tourist industry have complained, saying the limits interfere with their promotion of tourism. The two prefectures are considering fully introducing a ¥1,000 climbing charge per person, but many say that amount would not lead to an effective drop in the number of climbers. Differing approaches The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an advisory organization to UNESCO, gives the main points of improvement needed on Mt. Fuji as follows: – Control development, including landscape conservation – Control the number of visitors by maintaining an appropriate number of climbers – Preserve trails and mountain lodges – Provide visitors with information on the values of the mountain – Manage disasters, such as eruptions The greatest challenge for local governments is to control the number of climbers. After the two prefectures produced their midterm reports for ICOMOS, the organization said in January this year that other measures were needed in addition to the traffic restrictions. ICOMOS urged them to cope with the issues and cited the example of Saihoji temple, a World Heritage site in Kyoto known as the “temple of moss,” which introduced a prior reservation system for visitors. The two prefectures see no problems with the toilets on the mountain trails because they have already taken measures to improve them, but ICOMOS sees them as problematic. “I wonder if ICOMOS can really understand the actual situation surrounding Mt. Fuji and our efforts there,” an official in charge of the Yamanashi prefectural government said with a perplexed look. The Shizuoka prefectural government also faces the challenge of preserving about 30,000 pine trees in the Miho no Matsubara pine grove in Shimizu Ward, Shizuoka city. To prevent pine trees from withering due to nematode roundworms, the Shizuoka city government in May last year resumed spraying agricultural chemicals from the air. Spraying had been suspended in consideration of surrounding residents. According to the city, the spraying was somewhat effective, but the damage continues. The roots in the sand of the more than 200-year-old Hagoromo no Matsu pine tree, which serves as the symbol of the pine grove, are damaged, as the visitors there doubled after the UNESCO registration and they tread down the sand around the pine trees. The city is discussing countermeasures.Speech