Japan's sacred mountain may charge climbing fee

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The Independent Travel

After the busiest climbing season in the history of Mount Fuji, local authorities are considering introducing a toll for anyone wanting to climb Japan's most famous peak.

Reaching the top of the country's sacred mountain - an activity that takes an average of about eight hours starting from the end of the roads that go halfway up the mountain's flanks - has become an increasingly popular challenge for summer visitors to Japan, supplementing the thousands of Japanese who want to make the same pilgrimage each year.

But the number of people climbing Japan's highest mountain at 3776 meters tall has added new stresses to local infrastructure. These are primarily being felt in increased use of first aid facilities, the construction and maintenance of toilets on the peak and the disposal of rubbish.

These are problems that are far from unique to Mount Fuji as other popular hiking and mountaineering destinations around the world have struggled to cope with rising numbers of visitors, with Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, a good example of the challenges that face those with preserving the local environment.

Between 2000 and 2006, around 200,000 people hiked to the top of Mount Fuji each year during the official climbing season - which opens on July 1 and closes on the last day of August. That figure rose to 350,000 in 2007 and reached 430,000 the following year. And even before the close of the climbing season this year, one route to the top of the mountain reported a record 250,000 people setting out for the peak of the dormant volcano.

Local authorities at the Yoshidaguchi base station in Yamanashi Prefecture, the most popular jumping-off point for an assault on the peak, said they had never before seen so many hikers passing through.

Many people blame the increase in traffic on improvements to local infrastructure, such as new public toilets and areas inside mountain lodges that are set aside for women.

But local authorities say that while they were happy to improve the facilities, they are not able to foot the bill for all the additional toilets, medical care and waste disposal that has resulted from their efforts.

The cost of taking care of Mount Fuji's needs already comes to around Y35 million (€330,000) each year. And that does not include the volunteer work that goes on at the conclusion of each climbing season, with close to 2 tons of plastic bottles and other debris collected last year after the last climber had vacated the mountain.

To help cover the costs of keeping Mount Fuji the most popular peak to climb in Japan, local authorities and the operators of the mountain huts are hoping to introduce a fee for using the Yoshidaguchi trail. A discussion panel will be tasked with deciding on the fee, which will probably be introduced at the outset of next summer's climbing season.