KOFU -- The climbing season on Mount Fuji opened on July 1 for the first time in two years, with measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus including temperature checks and check sheets for people to state their physical condition on the Yoshida route on the Yamanashi Prefecture side of the mountain. But when climbing to the sixth station of the mountain, it is possible to ascend without a substantive health check -- an indication that the current system relying on the goodwill of climbers needs to be improved.
On July 5, after driving through the entrance of the Fuji Subaru Line toll road, I was directed toward a parking area about 3 or 4 kilometers away, located below the first station on Mount Fuji. I was stopped by three officials, and showed them a check sheet I had prepared in advance. The check sheet can be printed out from the Yamanashi Prefectural Government website. There are nine items for people to check, such as "I have a fever of 37.5 degrees Celsius or more or of 1 degree above my normal temperature," and "I feel lethargic or have trouble breathing."
My temperature before leaving home was 36.6 C, and the only thing I checked for the items regarding physical condition and health concerns was "none of the above." After looking at the sheet, a worker who was holding a thermometer let me through without taking my temperature. Behind me was a driver of foreign nationality who didn't have a check sheet. This driver had their temperature taken on the back of their wrist.
Initially, the Yamanashi Prefectural Government planned to conduct checks on the fifth and sixth stations of the mountain, but local authorities were concerned about the possibility of having to carry people down from the mountain or treat them if a coronavirus case emerged after the person had already entered the mountain area, and so they requested checks at the entrance. It was accordingly decided to conduct checks in the parking area below the first station. However, officials rely on people to fill out the forms themselves, and if people report no health concerns, their temperatures are not taken.
When I got out of my car at the fifth station, I was asked at the entrance of the Mount Fuji 5th Station General Administration Center in front of the entrance of the climbing trail whether I had a check sheet. When I replied, it's in my backpack, I was allowed to pass without showing it.
A lot of non-Japanese were around the area, and an interpreter was busy providing explanations. The group consisted of people affiliated with the U.S. military, who had come with family members from U.S. military bases in various areas including Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and facilities as far away as Okinawa. People working at stalls said that soon after the mountain opened for climbing, about 70% of customers were foreigners. They said the number of Japanese increases during the summer holidays.
One man in his 40s from the Yamanashi Prefecture capital of Kofu, who said he planned to summit the mountain in a day, commented, "With the problem of virus variants, I'm worried about people who are arriving from across the country (possibly being infected)." He pointed out that people's temperatures weren't being taken if they had a check sheet, and added, "The checks are lax."
In front of the Safety Guidance Center at the sixth station on Mount Fuji, I told three officials there that I had a check sheet in my backpack, and I was allowed to pass on the grounds that I had received a proper check at the first station. In the end, my temperature wasn't taken at all at any of the three checkpoints, and I only showed the check sheet once, below the first station. When I got onto the Yoshida climbing trail which merges about 50 meters ahead of the center, some climbers told me they had not received any checks at all.
One 48-year-old company worker, Masatoshi Tamura, from a nearby prefecture said he brought a check sheet, but there wasn't anyone around to check it. "There should be a check at least once," he said.
Another person connected to a hut on the mountain said there were far fewer people who climbed the Yoshida trail to the sixth station compared with those who ascend from the Subaru Line fifth station, but when looking at the point where the trail merges, there were indeed some people who had climbed up to the sixth station using the Yoshida trail.
When descending the mountain back to the Subaru Line fifth station, I met a woman in her 40s from Ibaraki Prefecture, who commented, "People have waited so eagerly to climb Mount Fuji for the first time in two years. Even if someone has a bit of a fever, I think it's human nature to want to take some medicine, pretend their temperature is normal and climb the mountain."
Regarding the possibility of checking everyone's temperature at the parking lot below the first station, Masatake Izumi, head of the world heritage Mount Fuji section of the Yamanashi Prefectural Government, commented, "It takes time to take everyone's temperatures, and there are concerns about traffic congestion along the Subaru Line as well as the budget issue. We have no legal authority to forcibly conduct temperature checks, and the only thing we can do is to ask people to cooperate on a voluntary basis."
But even if it's not possible to take everyone's temperature, it would be better to have people fill in their temperatures on check sheets, and provide more opportunities to inspect the sheets. Mount Fuji, which rises to an altitude of over 3,000 meters, is not merely a tourist destination. Surely urging climbers to manage their health will contribute to safe climbing on the mountain.
(Japanese original by Satoru Yamamoto, Kofu Bureau)