Mt. Fuji Climbers Hit with New Fee as Overtourism Concerns Soar

Mt. Fuji Climbers Hit with New Fee as Overtourism Concerns Soar

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Mt. Fuji seen from Arakurayama Sengen
Picture: ぺっぱー / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Amidst escalating tourism (over-tourism?) at Mt. Fuji, local officials respond with a new fee to ensure a safe climbing experience.

Mt. Fuji is a canvas for artists and a haven for nature enthusiasts. Despite once thriving in its widespread appeal to both locals and outsiders, the mountain’s present story lacks the brilliance it once held. An overwhelming wave of tourism now casts shadows of overcrowding along the trails and fully booked night lodges.

A new toll proposed

On Feb. 1, the Yamanashi Prefectural Government stepped up its game to address Mt. Fuji’s challenges with a brand-new plan: introducing a 2,000 yen toll for those hitting the fifth station trailhead on the Yamanashi side.

In addition, the fifth station will now be on a time-out, shutting down from 4 pm to 3 am the next day. These actions are designed to mitigate some pressure, actively reducing summit congestion and taming the dangerous practice of nighttime “bullet climbers”.

This comes in the wake of persistent pleas from local communities, which prompted authorities to devise an initial proposal last Dec. 12 to address over-tourism. Governors putting forward alternative solutions is nothing new — recall the 2023 railway system plan.

Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures collaboratively crafted the latest measures, slated to take effect in July 2024. Keep an eye out for the official ordinance draft, scheduled for release in February.

Mt. Fuji: Fee-free until now?

Picture: ライダー写真家はじめ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Now, was exploration ever free? In reality, after securing World Heritage status in 2013, Shizuoka and Yamanashi introduced a full-scale entrance fee. The Conservation Cooperation Fund has climbers willingly chipping in 1,000 yen each at the fifth station height. The funds set out to ramp up safety measures, cover first-aid costs, and champion awareness projects. As a token of gratitude for generous donations, participants receive a unique wooden tag strap crafted from Fuji cypress – adding a fun touch to the exchange.

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While donations peaked at 52,047,583 yen in 2017 for Shizuoka trailheads, the generosity seems to be on a downhill slide. In 2021, the collection rate at Yoshida-guchi dropped to 65.2% from 67.2% in 2019, with one out of three people declining to participate. Fast forward to 2022, and the collected amount further plummeted to 37,078,462 yen. Looks like the goodwill is running low!

Initially envisioned as a voluntary gesture, the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Council is pondering making it compulsory due to the recent drop in spontaneous donations. Coupled with the newly announced climbing fee, this would tally up to a total of 3,000 yen for the entire excursion. But not everyone is on board with this idea. According to a Shizuoka Shinbun survey, 60% of night lodges (12 out of 20 structures) were against the fee. Owners expressed concerns that the added burden on climbers could deter them from making the trip.

“We are confident that we can obtain the understanding of the climbers, as we believe that the area is well worth it even at that price,” Yamanashi Prefecture Governor Nagasaki said.

While Japan is new to mountain fees, exorbitant hiking costs are a global norm. Mt. Everest demands a substantial USD 10,000 entry toll, coupled with the necessity to hire local Sherpas. Kilimanjaro adds a USD 70 daily conservation fee.

Until now, Japanese mountain trails, safeguarded by the Road Act, resisted management changes. The innovative move to treat Fuji trails as a prefectural facility brings it in sync with worldwide peak policies.

UNESCO Crowned Gem Nearing Overload

Mt. Fuji’s charm knows no time. This iconic mountain proudly stands among Japan’s beloved spots, captivating hearts since the Heian period. Its timeless allure earned it the prestigious title of a World Cultural Heritage Site. UNESCO, acknowledging Fuji as an “object of faith and source of art,” bestowed this honor in 2013 after opting it out of the Natural Heritage category.

International recognition marked a historic milestone for the Japanese people, validating their deep artistic and spiritual connection with Mt. Fuji. Initially revered for its religious significance, the mountain inspired artists like Hiroshige and Hokusai in their ukiyo-e series, leaving a lasting impact on impressionists Van Gogh and Monet. While always treasured by visitors, this new honor sparked a surge in Mt. Fuji’s popularity.

Post-2013, Mt. Fuji’s visitor count stayed above 200,000, fueling a flourishing business. Despite the 2020 pause and a slow tourism rebound, 2022 marked the mountain’s comeback with 160,145 visitors. Celebrating its 10th year as a World Heritage site, last year hit the second-highest peak in a decade, reaching 221,322 tourists by the end of the climbing season.

What do these numbers truly mean for Mt. Fuji? While one side of the coin reveals a positive flow of money into local businesses, the other side tells a different story.

With more explorers converging on the same path, the risk of severe overcrowding escalates. For some time, Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures have actively investigated the optimal climbing capacity for a safe experience.

A study culminated in a 2018 report submitted to UNESCO, pinpointing 4,000 climbers per day as the appropriate limit. This report laid the groundwork for the December 2023 draft, proposing restrictions on new climbers upon reaching the 4,000 ceiling at the fifth station.

Kazumasa Watanabe, representing Mannen-yuki Sanso lodge at the ninth station of the Fujinomiya route, recounted the overcrowded conditions during the 2023 season, with lodges operating at full capacity.

Beyond space constraints, officials are also looking to curb the dangerous practice of bullet climbing (弾丸登山). Many people – both domestic and inbound tourists – may opt for nocturnal ascents, aiming to conquer the summit in a single push, in order to see the sunrise. Additionally, with accommodations on the mountain stretched thin, many are opting for bullet climbing in lieu of taking an overnight rest.

The two-day, zero-night formula — widely popular last season — has been consistently discouraged and deemed unsafe. This flier from Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures warns of heightened risks, including altitude sickness, summit traffic jams, and slips in reduced night visibility.

Another less advisable trend, known as light gear climbing (軽装登山), involves wearing inadequate clothing and footwear for mountaineering. Asahi TV interviewed daring climbers, some scaling slopes in sandals and others going bare-chested. When it comes to hiking, the right gear isn’t just a choice; it’s a lifesaver — preventing hypothermia and ensuring a secure climb on steep slopes.

“It’s time to stop behaving this way… Even if the weather changes suddenly, there is no guarantee that you’ll be allowed to spend the night in the lodge. Light clothing means you risk hypothermia. The summit is winter temperatures,” said the Fujinomiya-guchi Guide Association on X.

富士宮口ガイド組合 on Twitter: “そろそろこういうのやめませんか。。。天候が急変しても、山小屋に泊まったり入れてもらえるとは限りません。軽装は低体温症のリスクがあります。山頂は冬の気温です。#富士山#mtfuji #富士登山 #富士宮口 #富士山2023#静岡 #shizuoka pic.twitter.com/xyHBx0el6v / Twitter”

そろそろこういうのやめませんか。。。天候が急変しても、山小屋に泊まったり入れてもらえるとは限りません。軽装は低体温症のリスクがあります。山頂は冬の気温です。#富士山#mtfuji #富士登山 #富士宮口 #富士山2023#静岡 #shizuoka pic.twitter.com/xyHBx0el6v

Tips For Your Next Fuji Adventure

Now, don’t let this deter you from embracing the beauty of Mt. Fuji. Just plan ahead and secure a reservation at a mountain lodge – entry is restricted without one! Pack essentials like helmets to protect against falling rocks and warm layers to handle temperature changes from base to summit. Opt for less crowded days and times, and consider joining guided tours for added convenience.

If you’re still unsure, explore our list of stunning spots where you can admire the view of Mt. Fuji without climbing it. Minimal effort, maximum reward!

Sources

[1] 環境省 2022 年夏期の富士山登山者数について(詳細版)(4年9月30日) 

[2] 世界遺産富士山とことんガイド 富士山保全協力金の受入について

[3] 世界遺産富士山とことんガイド「これまでの富士山保全協力金の実施状況」令和4年度の受入状況

[4] 今年はガラガラ「富士山」入山料が義務化される訳 任意の「協力金」は3人に1人が支払い拒否の現実(2021年10月30日)Toyo Keizai

[5] 富士山入山料義務化6割反対 登山者負担増を懸念【富士山世界遺産10年 山小屋アンケートから】(2023年6月30日)Shizuoka Shinbun

[6] 世界遺産富士山とことんガイド 富士山が世界遺産に選ばれたわけ

[7] 富士山が「自然遺産」ではなく「文化遺産」の理由とは?(2021年2月3日)Weather News

[8] 富士山 環境・観光の両立 登山の課題は? 世界遺産10年(2023年06月22日)NHK

[9] 富士山が大混雑 初の規制を検討 登山者4万人超 「軽装登山」「弾丸登山」に危険も(2023年8月4日)Asahi TV

[10] 環境省 関東地方環境事務所 2023年夏期の富士山登山者数について (2023年09月19日)

[11] 今夏の富士登山、混雑予想 「ほぼ満室」の山小屋、弾丸登山に懸念(2023年6月12日)Sankei Shinbun

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