Mt Fuji, which has been adored as a symbol of Japanese culture since ancient times, will most likely be registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site.
The official decision on the registration will be made at a meeting of the Unesco World Heritage Committee next month.
It is gratifying that Mt Fuji is set to become a global treasure. With the listing, Mt. Fuji will be the 13th World Cultural Heritage Site in Japan, and the first since the Hiraizumi historical area in Iwate Prefecture was listed in 2011.
The government had applied for Mt. Fuji to be registered as a heritage site, with 25 asset components including religious monuments at its peak, Fuji-goko five lakes at the base, and the Fuji Sengen shrines.
The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an advisory panel to Unesco, recognised in its recommendation a distinguishable universal value to the asset components – with the exception of the Miho no Matsubara pine grove in Shizuoka Prefecture.
ICOMOS also said in its opinion that the significance of Mt Fuji reaches far beyond Japan.
The Japanese people have long worshiped the beautiful, towering Mt Fuji as an awe-inspiring mountain. During the Edo period (1603-1867), commoners would climb the mountain en masse as members of a religious association centring around Mt Fuji.
Since ancient times, the mountain has also been the subject of literature and poetry. This includes waka, traditional 31-syllable Japanese poems, as contained in the works of Manyoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry.
It has also been an indispensable theme in ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings from the Edo period and other artworks that have greatly influenced foreign artists, such as “The 36 Views of Mt Fuji” by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).
Should Mt Fuji, which is an integral part of the Japanese spirit, be listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site, it would help promote a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture around the world.
The governments of Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, where Mt Fuji is located, initially tried to register the mountain and its surrounding areas as a World Natural Heritage Site. However, serious environmental problems, due mainly to illegal garbage disposal, caused them to give up on the plan. It can be said that switching gears toward gaining registration as a cultural heritage site has proven effective. Nonetheless, ICOMOS’ concerns over environmental problems should not be taken lightly.
In its recommendation, the panel pointed out that curbing the expansion of development in the surrounding area, as well as limiting the increasing number of visitors to Mt Fuji, were urgent tasks. ICOMOS also requested a report on the site's conservation status by 2016.
During the peak season, approximately 300,000 people climb Mt Fuji. That number is sure to increase once it is registered as a heritage site.
To stem environmental degradation, the central and local governments need to discuss issues such as admission fees and ways to restrict entry into the area.
The panel recommended the exclusion of “Kamakura, Home of the Samurai” in Kanagawa Prefecture, which was also put forward by the government as a candidate for heritage site registration. One reason cited by the panel is that the significance of samurai culture of the Kamakura shogunate is not fully evidenced in the asset components.
This will serve as a lesson for other domestic candidate sites that aim to be recognised as World Cultural Heritage Sites.