Mount Fuji is Japan's highest and most iconic mountain, and a popular tourist destination. But in recent years, overcrowding has become a growing problem.
In 2012, over 2.3 million people visited Mount Fuji. By 2019, that number had more than doubled to over 5 million. Most visitors arrive at the fifth hiking station, called Gogome. Private cars are no longer allowed to drive to the fifth station unless they are fully electric, but this rule has resulted in more buses carrying large groups of hikers.
The crowds bring problems: too much litter, not enough toilets, and human traffic jams on the trails that lead up the mountain. And then there are visitors who come without properly preparing for the climb. Some turn up in shorts and sandals and then face difficulties on the way up. Others try to climb too quickly and get sick because of the lower oxygen levels higher up the mountain.
This puts pressure on the limited number of rescuers and medical facilities. One conservation worker for Mount Fuji told CNN Travel, "It's like Disneyland here as there are too many people."
Yamanashi's governor, Kotaro Nagasaki, told a news conference in August that "Mount Fuji is screaming!"
He has suggested a plan to close road traffic to the fifth station completely, and to build a light railway instead. A more expensive round-trip fare on the railway would help limit the number of people who access the mountain. Nagasaki wants to attract smaller numbers of high-paying tourists, which he calls a move from "quantity to quality," and hopes to build an expensive hotel at the fifth station. However, others have suggested having visitors start their climb from the bottom of the mountain, instead of the fifth station, to attract only serious climbers.
It is a difficult balancing act for the Japanese government: how to protect Mount Fuji's environment and safety, while still making it accessible to visitors. There are no easy answers, but it is clear that overcrowding is a problem that needs to be addressed.