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Thursday, 26th June 2014
In General Japan News,

Mt Fuji World Heritage registration is mixed blessing

Mount Fuji has long been considered a natural symbol of Japan, with the snowcapped peak being the subject of many a painting and photo. This incredible landmark is often seen on posters in hotels, pictures in travel guides and is even on the back of the Japan Rail Pass holder given to tourists. It is an example of the country's abundance of natural beauty and, one year ago, this was recognised by UNESCO, who accepted an application from the Japanese government to add it to their World Heritage list.

Last Sunday (June 22nd) marked the actual day of the anniversary, and local people and tourists alike were quick to celebrate the occasion. There was plenty of dancing, music and much celebratory cheering in both the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures, which Mount Fuji straddles. Commemorative ceremonies were held which were attended by famed Japanese artists and creatives, among them philosopher Takeshi Umehara, who lectured at an event held by the municipal government of Numazu in the Shizuoka prefecture.

"Among World Heritage sites in Japan, sites such as Himeji Castle and Horyuji temple are cultural heritages produced by the nation. But Mt. Fuji is a symbol of Japan, a country replete with wooded areas," he told listeners.

But while the news will come as a relief to the nation's tourist industry - which is readying itself for an influx of visitors for the 2020 Olympic Games which will take place in Tokyo - they are regarded as a mixed blessing by many locals.

Since achieving recognition from UNESCO, the number of visitors to Mount Fuji has increased dramatically, although the number of people climbing all the way to the summit actually fell thanks to restricted road access that prevented people travelling by car or coach most of the way. It was natural assets such as the Shiraito no Taki waterfall in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka prefecture, that came under the microscope from tourists. A rise of 20 per cent in visitor numbers was recorded by the Japanese Tourism Association.

The number of tourists witnessing the Suyama Sengen Jinja shrine near the base of Mount Fuji also quadrupled. Chief priest Yuji Watanabe told the Japan News: "Before the registration, only local residents came here to pray."

Environmental damage from the increased number of tourists could develop into a serious problem in the future, although the prefectural governments of the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures have already instigated a toll for climbers in order to counter the increasing costs of keeping the mountain clean. Also problematic is the rise in reckless climbers, who later have to be rescued at a high cost. 

The government has recently announced plans to extend the Narita railway service all the way to Mount Fuji, allowing travellers to get off their flights and head straight to the World Heritage Site after disembarking from their plane at Narita Airport. This may prove particularly useful for those staying in hotels at the base of Mount Fuji rather than in the Japanese capital.