- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

FUJIKAWAGUCHI, Japan (AP)

If you look up from the forests at the foot of Japan’s Mount Fuji, the volcano’s graceful slopes rise into the distance and peak in a nearly symmetrical, snowcapped cone.

If you look down in the forests, however, you see something much less elegant — trash. Lots of it. Just below the surface of leaves and topsoil are discarded microwave ovens, construction debris, broken office furniture, even rusting refrigerators.

Mount Fuji, the pride of the nation and symbol of the Japanese soul, is a huge garbage dump.

“We’ve found everything from household trash to broken TV sets and other appliances,” said Mayumi Wakamura, who heads periodic cleanups of the mountain. “Sometimes we find hazardous materials like leaky, old car batteries.”

Nobody knows how much trash is buried on Fuji, but Miss Wakamura’s Fujisan Club says it collected more than 187,000 pounds of illegally dumped garbage from the mountain’s slopes in the past year.

Fuji’s garbage problem is a potent symbol of the general environmental destruction wrought by decades of industrialization in a nation with one of the highest population densities on Earth.

The sorry state of Japan’s most-heralded mountain could also be a stumbling block in Japan’s campaign to get the United Nations to list Fuji as a World Heritage site. But the illegal dumping is hard to stop.

“It’s pretty easy for someone to come and dump trash on the roadside without being seen,” said Eishiro Sato, an official with the 1,100-member Fujisan Club, which organizes regular cleanups of the mountain.

Illegal dumpers are trying to avoid Japan’s hefty garbage collection fees, he said. Throwing out an appliance like a refrigerator, say, can cost about $60, and businesses have to pay for all of their trash pickups.

Local governments have arranged for special patrols and set up surveillance cameras. But education may be the key, some say.

“Picking it up is not enough — people have to learn not to create so much in the first place,” Ken Noguchi, a mountaineer and environmental activist, told volunteers over the Internet in mid-April from Mount Everest, where he led an extensive cleanup campaign.