Is tourism sustainable?
By any standard, global or otherwise, Mount Fuji is a mountain of rare beauty and charm. As long as the mountain is viewed from a distance, we can say that this fact has not changed down the centuries. However, if you try climbing it today, you will certainly notice that environmental damage is growing. Although the mountain is only open for two months of the year, the number of visitors climbing the mountain since 2008 has risen to 300,000 a year (Watanabe, 2014)! At very busy times, as many as 10,000 people a day climb the mountain. Due to the wear and tear, the climbing path has become wider and more uneven, increasing the likelihood of accidents.
A big part of the problem is that it is just too easy to make the climb. This fact can be traced back to April Fool’s Day, 1964, when the Subaru Line Road opened on the Yamanashi Prefecture side allowing people to travel very easily by car or bus to the Fifth Station. The Fifth Station is roughly half way up the mountain from the Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine so you only have half the mountain to climb if you start from here. Watanabe (2014, p. 28) sees this as the moment Mount Fuji changed from being a mountain of worship (信仰の山) to being a mountain of tourism (観光の山). It led to a massive concentration of visitors higher up the mountain, with relatively few visitors on the much prettier and generally more interesting parts of the mountain below the Fifth Station. In other words, visitors are catapulted to a tourist trap and spend the rest of their time climbing the barren higher reaches, walking in a queue, suffering altitude sickness, and missing a more interesting, far more enjoyable experience of the mountain.