Peak Japan: why foreign tourists are going mad for Mount Fuji

<span>The picture-perfect Mount Fuji has become a must-see in Japan and has soared in popularity since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. But its popularity has brought its own problems.</span><span>Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA</span>
The picture-perfect Mount Fuji has become a must-see in Japan and has soared in popularity since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. But its popularity has brought its own problems.Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA

Japanese artist Hokusai famously produced a series of woodblock prints titled Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, and centuries later, the majestic mountain still captures the imagination. However, now that translates into record numbers of tourists eager to commemorate their visit with painstakingly staged photos.

Related: ‘Everyone has the same dream’: Mount Fuji grapples with rise in tourism

An unencumbered view of Fuji is something to treasure – so much so that a real estate developer this week agreed to tear down a nearly completed apartment block in western Tokyo because it blocked residents’ view of the mountain. Developer Sekisui House said it decided to take down the 10-storey building due to “insufficient consideration for the impact on the scenery”.

The mountain’s popularity is also causing problems in other parts of Japan, with huge barriers installed to block the view at popular photo spots by authorities exasperated by crowds of badly behaved foreign tourists.

What is Mount Fuji and where is it?

The 3,776-metre peak – an active volcano that last erupted in 1707 – is the most recognisable mountain in Japan, and arguably the world. That’s down to its satisfyingly conical contours, which straddle the prefectures of Shizuoka and Yamanashi, and its inimitable place in the Japanese psyche. It is place of religious pilgrimage, a harbinger of good fortune, and the inspiration for countless artists and writers. It is no coincidence that the mountain, which is visible from Tokyo on clear days, made cameo appearances at the opening ceremonies of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Why has it become a must-see for visitors?

Its popularity is the inevitable result of the surge in tourism to Japan since the country lifted travel restrictions after the Covid-19 pandemic. Aided by a weak yen and Japan’s reputation for safety, hospitality and delicious food, more than 3 million people visited in March and April, with the annual number expected to break the previous record of 31.9 million set in 2019. Skipping Mount Fuji on a visit to Japan would be like giving the pyramids a miss on a trip to Egypt. While the mountain is visible from bullet trains for long enough to take photos, many tourists are eager to get much closer for that perfect holiday memento.

Why are towns blocking popular views of Fuji?

The Unesco world heritage site has become the target of visitors hoping to capture a quintessential Japanese photo for their social media accounts. That’s why this month a mesh screen was put up in the town of Fujikawaguchiko to deter hordes of visitors planning to capture the mountain rising in the distance, with another Japanese icon – a Lawson convenience store – in the foreground. But the measure, introduced after complaints that visitors were littering, trespassing and breaking traffic rules, has had mixed results. Within days, holes large enough to accommodate a smartphone camera lens started appearing in the mesh screen. There are plans to erect a new barrier made of tougher material. Authorities in a nearby town say they will erect a tall metal fence by the end of the month after smartphone-wielding visitors strayed onto a busy road to take photos from Mount Fuji Dream Bridge.

What have authorities done about overcrowding on the mountain itself?

People hoping to hike to Fuji’s summit, or at least to one of its loftier stages, will soon have to book in advance and pay a fee of ¥2,000 (£10). The measure, which applies to the popular Yoshida trail up the mountain, will go into effect at the start of the annual climbing season in July. Authorities hope the fee will ease concerns about overcrowding and littering, and discourage “bullet ascents”, in which climbers, often inexperienced and inappropriately dressed, begin their ascent at night so they reach the summit in time to watch the sun rise, then descend without taking proper rest. Entries to the route will be capped at 4,000 a day to ease congestion, and no climbing will be permitted between 4pm and 3am.