Mount Fuji at springtime // © 2013 Japan National Tourism Organization
As I write this, Mount Fuji is on the verge of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site following an April recommendation by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (the UNESCO advisory panel). While the decision looks to be inevitable, it will be made final when UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meets this month in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for its 37th session.
Mount Fuji is an active volcano and Japan’s highest mountain at an elevation of 12,388 feet. Fuji’s last eruption occurred in 1707, but it remains active. Mount Fuji is also a spiritual icon for the people of Japan, and a trek up its slopes is a literal ascent to the gods. The mountain has inspired many artists to do their best work, including masters of the Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock print, Hokusai and Hiroshige.
There are a lot of positives when a historic site becomes a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there’s a general glow from being including in such an august group of heritage attractions. Travelers from around the world take notice and visitation spikes. Surrounding businesses — from hotels and restaurants to tour operators — receive a windfall in profits. In addition to the benefits of increased awareness, Mount Fuji will also have to deal with the downside of its newfound status.
More than 300,000 people climbed Mount Fuji last summer. The mountain’s more easily accessed fifth station, which can be reached via vehicle, receives an additional several million people annually. When the news hits of Mount Fuji receiving World Heritage status, it’s expected that visitation will literally go sky-high. One of the proposed measures to control the number of climbers is raising the admission fee to hike the mountain’s trails. Advance reports have the price going as high as approximately $72 per person, and the raise might go into effect as early as this summer.
The higher fee would also contribute to maintaining the mountain which, in the past, has been the scene of indiscriminant dumping of trash by hikers. Toilets have been added and, as of 2012, there were adequate facilities for up to 15,000 hikers a day. A portion of the money raised from the increased prices to hike Mount Fuji will be used to educate hikers about responsible waste disposal. The increase in fees will also fund initiatives to make the trails safer for climbers in an attempt to diminish the number of hiking accidents.
July and August make up the official Mount Fuji climbing season, since the weather is mild and school is out. Some climbers consider the weekend crowds part of the appeal of climbing Mount Fuji — the trek becomes an almost communal experience. Those who want a less people-packed encounter with the mountain should plan their visit on a weekday, preferably in early July. Many who make the ascent up Fuji do so at night, in order to observe the dawn sunrise from the summit.
Mount Fuji is ringed by five lakes. Accommodations choices are plentiful, including overnighting in ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), hotels with hot springs, mid-market and budget properties and even lodgings in a brand familiar to travelers from the U.S., the Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort & Spa.