Obviously, we are happy to have lots of tourists coming here to climb Mount Fuji. However, can we keep this going into the future? Tourism must be sustainable. If the effects of tourism are too destructive, there is a serious problem. We need to avoid overuse of the tourist site.
April Fool’s Day, 1964, saw the opening of the Subaru Line Road to the Fifth Station. As a result, people’s relationship with Mount Fuji changed. Mount Fuji was no longer to be an object of worship. It became a tourist mountain. Those tourists are nearly all between the Fifth Station and the summit.
The middle of what?
Naka no Chaya (中ノ茶屋・the teahouse in the middle) occupies a position between the main Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine and Umagaeshi (馬返し・horses turn back). Umagaeshi was where the horses were traditionally turned back on the way up to the summit. The teahouse has a long history as a place where people could refresh themselves. It is still a nice place to get something to eat and drink. It is easily accessed by car or bus so reasonable numbers of visitors still go there.
In the past, many visitors to the teahouse were engaged in pilgrimages up Mount Fuji. Some visitors were participating in other forms of religious devotion. However, today, the visitors are mostly casual sightseers. For modern visitors, even the name of the place, “teahouse in the middle” does not really make any sense. Nobody goes up the mountain by horse any more, of course, so umagaeshi is not really important. In fact, not very many people walk up the mountain from here at all any more.
A mountain of two halves
Mount Fuji has become a mountain of two halves. Between the Fifth Station and the top, crowds jostle for position and suffer altitude sickness, competing for the thin air. Between the Fifth Station and the bottom, you will probably walk alone in rich, luxuriant forest. It is so quiet that you may feel that you are walking with spirits. The historic buildings in the bottom half of the mountain are all closed up, and many of them have collapsed.
The three teahouses (三軒茶屋) at the Third Station are a good example. One of the three teahouses was particularly famous for its wonderful views of the Five Lakes and used to attract large numbers of visitors. The view has not changed, of course. Is it really not possible to attract more tourists away from the top half of the mountain? Are all these tourists to Mount Fuji not at all interested in the bottom half? Do they even know about it? Giving them more information about the beautiful, historic, quiet half of Mount Fuji might be a good idea.