Swarmed with tourists, Japan town blocks off viral view of Mt. Fuji

May 21, 2024 - 2:56 PM
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Workers erect a barrier to block the view of a popular Mount Fuji photo spot, near a convenience store in Fujikawaguchiko town, Yamanashi prefecture, Japan, May 21, 2024. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

 Japan’s majestic Mt. Fuji was some 700,000 years in the making, but on one sultry May morning, it was gone.

At least on one side of a busy road, views of the 3,776-metre (12,388 foot) symbol of Japan and the Lawson convenience store beneath it have vanished, as officials finished a 20-metre by 2.5-metre barrier to obstruct a photo spot that had become viral among tourists.

For locals, the mass of visitors and their refusal to obey rules on littering and parking had become a nuisance and traffic hazard.

“I’m really happy that foreigners are coming to our town,” said Kikue Katsumata, 73, a lifelong resident of Fujikawaguchiko. “But when it comes to taking pictures from the Lawson, the road is a bit narrow and it can be dangerous when people dash across without using a crosswalk.”

March and April set all-time records for visitor arrivals, driven by pent-up demand after the pandemic and as the yen’s slide to a 34-year low made Japan an irresistible bargain. That’s been good news for the economy, with travellers spending a record 1.75 trillion yen ($11.2 billion) in the first three months of 2024, according to the tourist agency.

The drastic decision to block the view of Mt. Fuji symbolizes tensions across the country as Japan reckons with the consequences of its tourism boom. The western metropolis of Osaka and the hot spring resort town Hakone are among municipalities considering new tourism taxes to deal with deluge of visitors.

Cyril Malchand, a 45-year old visitor from France, found out about the fence online and made a special trip to be among the last to take in the view. He said he empathized with the locals.

“When I see that there could be problems with people crossing the road without watching cars, I don’t find it that bad that they’re setting up that fence,” he said.

($1 = 156.4200 yen)

— Reporting by Tom Bateman. Writing by Rocky Swift. Editing by Gerry Doyle