Japan blocks view of Mount Fuji after backlash over crowds of tourists

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Just before 11 a.m. Tuesday, a small work group of Japanese builders completed their mission: erecting a 2.5-meter-high barrier to ruin a view of the country’s most prominent natural landmark.

The view of Mount Fuji rising over the facade of a convenience store in Kawaguchiko had gone viral in recent months on Instagram, TikTok and other social media platforms. Thousands of tourists had crowded a narrow road at the foot of the mountain to take photographs, prompting local authorities to try to tackle what they considered a traffic hazard.

“On Facebook, Insta, everyone who comes to Japan knows this photo, so I had to get it myself,” said Cristina, a visitor from Panama who arrived in Kawaguchiko the day before the barrier went up and managed to take a photo. .

“It’s crazy that they feel like they have to do this, because everyone comes here to take this photo,” he said, adding that his two-week tour of Japan was planned around recommendations from Facebook groups.

A convenience store at the foot of Mount Fuji has become a popular photo spot for tourists. © Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images
A worker installs a barrier to block the view of Mount Fuji
Local authorities installed a barrier to block the view of Mount Fuji in Kawaguchiko on Tuesday. © Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

The authorities’ determination to block views of Mount Fuji highlights the friction generated by Japan’s sudden wave of tourism. Boosted by the most favorable exchange rate in decades, a record 11.6 million visitors have arrived in the country since the beginning of 2024, but not all are prepared.

“We need to strike a balance between accepting tourists and ensuring the quality of life of local residents,” Ichiro Takahashi, director of the Japan Tourism Agency, said at a recent news conference.

In Kawaguchiko, some locals complained about foreigners weaving dangerously into traffic, leaving trash and entering residents’ yards in search of the perfect photo for social media. But some visitors have been perplexed by the authorities’ response in a city where most businesses want visitors to spend more.

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“Everything here seems to have to do with Mount Fuji. There are restaurants with views of Fuji, places that rent Fuji climbing equipment, and every shop sells Fuji-shaped cakes. It’s hard to understand why the view of Fuji is blocked here,” said one French visitor, adding that several websites now suggest alternative locations nearby to take similar photos.

For years, Japan has tried to increase the number of tourists, who are often deterred by the language barrier and the country’s perceived high costs. Since the pandemic, and aided by the weak yen, those efforts have paid off. The number of incoming tourists in March and April surpassed the 2019 record. While the majority of visitors pre-Covid were from China, South Korea and Taiwan, there are now crowds from a wider range of places, including the United States, France and the Philippines.

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But that success has generated friction, prompting signs of backlash in popular spots, such as the former imperial city of Kyoto. The growing number of visitors to key sites has been exacerbated by rising living costs and travel expenses for Japanese households, leading to a much slower post-pandemic recovery in outbound tourism and bringing more people to spend the holidays at home.

The increase in foreign travelers has also exposed the acute labor shortage in the hotel and restaurant sector, leading to a sharp increase in foreign workers and government subsidies to install self-check-in machines.

In October, the government compiled a package of measures to tackle “overtourism” amid concerns that visitors were concentrated in a small number of towns, putting pressure on local communities and infrastructure.

According to government figures, 72 percent of foreign tourists stayed in the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya last year, compared to 63 percent in 2019.

Measures range from the introduction of ride-sharing to security cameras to protect cultural heritage. Starting this week, those who want to climb Mount Fuji will be charged a 2,000 yen ($12) fee and asked to make an online reservation to reduce congestion.

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Pictograms are being used as part of efforts to explain local manners. “We hope to see you at the promised time,” said an etiquette brochure produced by one of Tokyo’s districts. “It’s great to stand in line.”

Another important pillar of the package is providing government subsidies to attract higher-spending travelers to less popular areas, where many UNESCO World Heritage sites remain barely visited.

Analysts said that while Japan needed to encourage more people to come and spend to boost the economy, it needed to ensure that visitors did not trigger the kind of local backlash against overpopulation and rising rents seen in some of the hotspots. most popular tourist attractions in Europe.

“There is no single magic measure,” said Norihiko Imaizumi, a senior researcher at the Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute.

But he noted that Japan’s own policy was to increase the number of foreign tourists to 60 million annually by 2030. “Tourists should not be seen as enemies. . . and they should not be described as a problem,” Imaizumi said.

In Kawaguchiko, several people said the hastily assembled screen — a thin sheet of opaque black material — was an extreme but necessary response in a city where infrastructure was suddenly under strain.

“In the time (two hours) that they have been building that screen, I think I have seen more than 100 tourist buses that have passed through this small street,” said a local who works in a restaurant. “There is a small sidewalk, so it is dangerous. Now people think that our people hate foreigners, which is not true at all.”

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