Image from oldphotosjapan : Mount Fuji in Clear Weather by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)
Mt. Fuji in Japan is one of the most famous and iconic mountains in the world; it has been the subject of endless photographs, poems and paintings over the centuries. It is also a spiritual symbol, sacred in the Shinto religion.
But it has become a huge site of tourism, growing in popularity yearly. There were 200,000 visitors a decade ago and 430,000 in 2008. With that growth comes garbage, noise, tacky tourist shops, more garbage and a lack of toilet facilities.
Image from rakuten: Yamasuka Skirts and Patterned Tights
There are increased numbers of tourists coming from South Korea and China which is contributing to the boom, as well as more Japanese women. It used to be forbidden for women to climb the sacred mountain but the ban was lifted in 1872 after the wife of a British diplomat climbed Fuji in 1867. Now it has become fashionable for women of all ages, not just oldsters, to climb. There is even a name for them "yama" girls, named after the trendy mountain skirts that they wear yamasukkas, culottes, with brightly patterned tights.
But the real problem is the lack of toilets and the uncontrolled numbers of visitors. The lower levels are easily hiked. So much so that tourists are often shuffling along, one behind the next in peak season which is July and August. There are hour long waits for the toilets so many are going off-piste and leaving quite a mess behind.
At the higher levels, which are more difficult, there has been an improvement with mountain lodges and hostels being built. But things are still dicey: there are only 17 toilets on this part of the route leading up to the top, but only one on the way down. You get the picture.
There has been talk of instituting a fee for climbing (up to $10 per climber) and using the money for trail repairs, garbage collection and additional staff at first aid stations.
Image from Fuji-san Club
The Fuji-san Club was established in 1998 to address the issue of the garbage on the sacred mount. Club members organize various events to achieve their mission which is "Keep Mt. Fuji beautiful for future generations." Student and adult volunteers have worked to clean up the mountain, install eco-toilets and organize activities to protect the environment there.
The fragile ecosystem of the mountain has also been threatened due to the hordes. Work is being done to analyse the flora and fauna and replant trees along the route.
It is astonishing because Japan is a nation that considers itself scrupulously clean; the cities are spotless, and the nation is in awe of the mountain. The government once considered recommending Fuji as a UNESCO Natural Heritage site but did not because of their shame over the garbage dumped at the base of the mountain. Now that the site is getting cleaner, the government is asking UNESCO to make Fuji and its surroundings a Cultural Heritage site, instead of a Natural Heritage site, in view of the deep religious, artistic and cultural influence that it has had on the Japanese people