Visit to Fujikawaguchiko reveals the truth about the tourist situation.

The Japanese town of Fujikawaguchiko in Yamanashi Prefecture has been attracting worldwide attention recently, after the local government erected a blackout screen to block a view of Lawson in front of Mt Fuji that had become famous on social media.

According to the mayor, the screen is designed to protect both drivers and tourists who jaywalk across the road with little regard for traffic, and it also works to stop visitors from gathering at the front of the dental clinic where it was erected, as that had become the main vantage point for photographers.

In recent days, though, it’s become apparent that tourists have been poking holes in the mesh screen to photograph that prized image of Lawson and Mt Fuji together in one frame. Government representatives have said that the screen appears to be doing its job, though, with visitor numbers decreasing, but with so many conflicting reports online, we decided to send our reporter Tasuku Egawa down to the area, to give us a firsthand account on what the situation is really like at the moment.

▼ First stop for most visitors to the area, including Tasuku, is Kawaguchiko Station.

Exiting the ticket gate, Tasuku found that the station building was filled with tourists. Some people were carrying what looked to be mountain climbing equipment, which made him think they might be on their way to climb Mt Fuji.

The rotary in front of the station was also crowded with lines of people who seemed to be visitors, all waiting for buses or taxis.

Walking through the crowds, Tasuku could hear a wide variety of languages being spoken, including Chinese, Korean, and English, with the occasional Indonesian, French, and Spanish here and there, but there was no Japanese. There were around 500 visitors standing around the station building alone, with pretty much no Japanese people among them.

Kawaguchiko Station is a popular transit point for tourists making their way to Mt Fuji and other attractions like Fuji Five Lakes and Fuji-Q Highland, and there are a number of hotels in the area as well. These days, though, people are heading in the opposite direction to the main attractions and walking 1.4 kilometres (0.9 miles) to the Lawson, which is located near the town hall.

▼ After around 20 minutes, Tasuku arrived at the contentious spot, where he was greeted by the infamous black screen.

He immediately spotted evidence of an international presence, with signs in English reading, “Do not run out into the roadway!” and on the steps of the dental clinic, there were signs that read, “Patients only. Don’t sit down here.

The area between public and private property was now more clearly defined than it was previously, with barricades providing a thoroughfare for dental patients while keeping others on the public pedestrian path.

Previously, tourists would stand on private property, right up against the shutters of the building, so now there’s less room for them to congregate. The pedestrian path itself is narrow, so if photographers were to gather here now, it would become difficult for local pedestrians to pass. The giant screen makes taking photos from here a lot more difficult now, especially because, well, you can’t see the famous photo spot anymore, so there’s no real point in standing here.

▼ Plus, with a security guard now on site, and security cameras in operation, things are a lot less inviting.

However, as has been widely reported, there are a number of holes in the curtain at eye level, and the openings are just big enough for a smartphone lens.

▼ This is what the screen looked like when Tasuku visited on 28 May, a week after it was installed.

After getting a general understanding of the situation, Tasuku got talking to some locals, and they were kind enough to show him to a spot where he could safely observe the area around the blackout screen for about an hour, using his super-telephoto lens.

He wanted to see if tourists were still taking photos from behind the screen, and during that hour, he saw a few people discreetly pressing their smartphone cameras into the holes when the security guard wasn’t looking. He even saw one person, who was about as tall as an NBA player, stop for a moment, and with smartphone in hand, reach up over the 2.5-metre (8.2-foot) high screen to take a photo of the Lawson on the other side of the street.

From Tasuku’s observations, it was clear that the screen hasn’t completely deterred tourists from taking photos at this location, but it has stopped crowds from forming outside the dental clinic and flooding out into traffic, which was a major concern. In that respect, the screen is proving to be effective, and when he spoke to locals and the security guard on site, they echoed its effectiveness, saying:

“When there was no screen, the amount of people here was unbelievable.”
“I couldn’t pass through that area before.”
“The reduction in visitors wouldn’t have happened without this screen.”

Regardless of where you stand on whether the screen was a good solution to the problem, from a local’s point of view, it’s doing its job and is improving the situation for them.

Kudos has to be given to the tourists, too, who seem to be heeding the message for them to view Mt Fuji from safer locations that are designed to handle large crowds, making the experience better for everyone involved. In fact, Tasuku had half expected to see some tourists still stepping out onto the road in front of the screen to get a photo, but with large trucks and tour buses passing by, you’d have to be a total imbecile to do that.

No photo is worth dying for, and anyone standing in the space between the screen and traffic is likely to be injured, which would put a downer on the holiday.

If anyone needs any more incentive to stay on the right side of the law, there’s a police box across the road, next to the Lawson, keeping an eye on things as well. You can still take photos of Fuji and the convenience store together at the Lawson, and that’s where most of the tourists were gathering when Tasuku visited.

Interestingly, it appears that the Lawson itself has become something of an icon, because Tasuku saw a lot of people posing for photos in front of the entrance, where Mt Fuji wasn’t even in view.

Since the parking lot belongs to Lawson, it’s essentially Lawson’s responsibility to make a judgement call on whether they want people milling about their premises. While there’s a lot more room to move in the parking lot, the pedestrian path is a public thoroughfare, so if things get out of hand there, that’s when the government will be called to step in.

The potential for overcrowding in the area still remains, though, so the local municipality says it will remain vigilant. It’s also keen for people to get out and explore different areas around town, because you can see Mt Fuji from almost anywhere in the vicinity, giving you plenty of fantastic vantage points for great photos.

▼ This is just a sample of some of the other convenience stores that have Mt Fuji as a backdrop.

While it takes just one viral photo to turn a quiet location into a massive tourist spot, if crowds are able to disperse more evenly around town, things will be much easier to manage, keeping both residents and tourists safe and happy. After visiting the area, Tasuku passed by several spots within walking distance from Kawaguchiko Station that made his jaw drop, because Mt Fuji looks majestic from street level, with or without a convenience store in front of it.

▼ There are other things to grab your attention in the area too, like images of the local “Onsen Musume” (“Hot Spring Girl”) character, Takami Kawaguchiko.

▼ There’s a hot spring footbath near the station as well.

As Tasuku discovered, there’s more to see and do in the area than snap photos of a convenience store, so hopefully influencers on social media will start diverting attention towards these other hidden gems. Having visited the town many times in the past — once even after the trains stopped running — he can recommend getting up early to snap a photo like this one from the station.

▼ Or perhaps this one from the train?

Tasuku’s photography skills might not be up to snuff in the world of social media, but it goes to show that there really are plenty of other sites around town where Mt Fuji will wow you and your followers.

As for the blackout shade and its efficacy as a tourist deterrent, time will reveal all, but it seems to be working as hoped…for now. One thing’s for sure, though — the town is a lot busier than it’s ever been, so tourists and locals will be need to work together to keep the peace, because nobody wants the fines and street prohibitions from Kyoto’s Gion to spread to other tourist sites around the country.

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