Railway line up Mount Fuji: Environmental Protection?

A local Japanese tourism firm is considering building a railway line, 30 kilometres in length to an altitude of 2305 metres, to the fifth station of Mount Fuji. Human construction on Japan’s most iconic natural feature and environmental protection are two contradicting concepts which this article [1] attempts to reconcile.

Koichiro Horiuchi, who holds authoritative positions in Fujigoko Tourism Association and a major railroad operator, describes the railway line as a “long-held dream”. The desire to make the great heights of Mount Fuji accessible is a continuation of Japanese longing to control symbolic forms of nature.

Mount Fuji was designated a World Heritage Site last year in June 2013; perhaps this helps to explain why the strong association of environmental protection is being incorporated into the railway scheme. Surprisingly, recognition of Mount Fuji’s international importance was based on its cultural and religious significance in Japan rather in its natural features [2]. Mount Fuji is important to the Japanese mainly because of its depiction as sacred in several arts.

Many advantages of the railway are focused on in the article such as: controlled number of visitors to the mountain (and undoubtedly increased numbers), less disturbance to animals, less air pollution, ability to operate in winter and most obviously access to beautiful scenery. The article avoids addressing any specific negative environmental impacts of the scheme; it only mentions that as the railway line will be constructed on an existing public road “almost no environmental destruction” will be caused. However, environmental disturbance will undoubtedly occur with the construction and operation of a railway.

The article vaguely suggests that some eco-friendly technologies and practices will be implemented in the design of the railway. However, this appears to stem from appreciation of the work of a Swiss railway firm, whom they are in a partnership with. Interestingly, as noted by Moon [3], traditionally the Japanese saw the West as often exploiting nature, but presently most practices of environmental protection are taken from the West.

Although the article attempts to present the railway scheme as an environmental protection project, it is obviously driven by the potential to grow Japan’s tourism industry. If the railway plan is approved, Horiachi expects the completion of the line to be in advance of the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020. With an influx of tourists, and many willing to pay for unique experiences, there will be a large opportunity for economic profit.

News Article: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/08/13/national/environmental-protection-key-to-proposed-railway-up-mount-fuji/#.VALlCvmSyN0


[1] M. Sakamoto, “Environmental Protection key to proposed railway up Mount Fuji,” 13 August 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/08/13/national/environmental-protection-key-to-proposed-railway-up-mount-fuji/#.VALlCvmSyN0. [Accessed 30 August 2014].
[2] “Mount Fuji named World Heritage site,” 23 June 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/06/23/national/mount-fuji-named-world-heritage-site/#.VALYTvmSyN2. [Accessed 30 August 2014].
[3] O. Moon, “Marketing Nature in Rural Japan,” in Japanes Images of Nature, P. J. Asquith and A. Kalland, Richmond: Curzon, 1997, p. 228.

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