View of Mount Fuji blocked in latest problem caused by booming tourist numbers

The ukiyo-e artist Hokusai was famous for his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, woodblock prints deeply symbolic of Japan. But one famous view of the mountain, this time from the modern era, has just been blocked off.

Local authorities in Fujikawaguchiko, a holiday town in the mountain’s shadow, this week erected a barrier obstructing a view of the landmark that, from the right angle, made it appear to float above a convenience store in perhaps the ultimate illustration of traditional and modern Japan .

Visitors take photos of the view of Mount Fuji in front of a convenience store in Fujikawaguchiko.

Visitors take photos of the view of Mount Fuji in front of a convenience store in Fujikawaguchiko. Credits: AP

Although it might have been gold for your Instagram, the rush of tourists wasn’t appreciated by residents, who complained that visitors were littering, blocking access to services used by residents and spilling out dangerously onto the road in the quest for the perfect shot. The result: now no one gets to enjoy the view. It’s a solution to the problem that would cause The Simpsons′Mr. Burns proud.

The government has been promoting the country to foreign visitors for years with immense success: arrivals this year are expected to surpass the 2019 pre-COVID record, according to travel agency JTB Corp. Yet from increasingly unaffordable hotels to suitcase-clogged streets becoming nigh unwalkable, everywhere you see the downsides are mounting for ordinary residents.

This dissatisfaction was articulated by one acerbic restaurant owner who last month took to social media to express mounting frustration with having to deal with tourists looking for English menus and service in their native language. The time and hassle involved in dealing with them doesn’t make sense for travelers who don’t spend much anyway, the owner explained.

The complaints split opinion, with some sympathising, while others defended the country’s vaunted omotenashi hospitality – a word so synonymous with the Japanese welcome that it has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary (“good hospitality, characterized by thoughtfulness, close attention to detail, and the anticipation of a guest’s needs”, in case you were wondering).

Fujikawaguchiko has become overrun by tourists thanks to the famous Fuji view.

Fujikawaguchiko has become overrun by tourists thanks to the famous Fuji view.Credits: AP

But just as in Fujikawaguchiko, that courtesy may be reaching its limits. Frustrated authorities and small-business owners are turning to new solutions to preserve their way of life. In Kyoto, where overtourism is most acute, tourists have been banished from the backstreets of the geisha district of Gion (though it’s unclear how this will be enforced), while the city is belatedly adding special buses for travelers amid complaints that elderly residents can’ t access public transport. In Hiroshima, one restaurant serving the local soul food of okonomiyaki (coincidentally, another word just added to the dictionary) has declared visitors verboten on Friday evenings, limiting entrance to prefectural residents and regulars.

Part of the problem is that the pain of dealing with tourists is readily apparent, but the benefits – whether increased tax revenue or booming businesses – are often less visible. With about 40 per cent of visitors coming to Japan for the first time, and social media pushing people to the same locations, some destinations are deserted while others are well past capacity. Especially with the yen trading at about 100 to the Australian dollar (and even better if you’re an American tourist), foreigners can travel well without spending that much at all. This exacerbates the frustration in a country where real wages have been stagnant for decades and are now declining.