|Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 55 (pp.26–29)
Feature: Railways and Tourism (part 3)
Fuji Kyuko and Tourism in Mt Fuji Area
The 26.6-km Fuji Kyuko Line is the closest railway to Mt Fuji (Japan’s highest mountain at 3776 m) and connects Otsuki Station on JR East’s Chuo Line about 70 km from Tokyo with Kawaguchiko Station in Fujikawaguchiko, a lakeside town at the base of Mt Fuji.
|Photo: Fuji Kyuko passengers enjoy spectacular views of Mt Fuji (Fuji Kyuko)
Photo: Fuji Kyuko’s Series 1000 EMU running with Mt Fuji in background (Fuji Kyuko)
|Although still in the early days, a few sightseeing buses have started incorporating Mt Fuji Climbing Train services into their schedules and the line is managing to start a full transition to tourism. The trackside boasts a host of beautiful nature spots and is great for studying Japanese history and
culture as well as experiencing the excitement of Mt Fuji from a train window.
In addition to the line improvements, the attractions of regional tourism and need for tourist infrastructure must be promoted through cooperation with the local community. The railway can also be the regional gateway and if the line and station are well known, passengers will probably use them as their starting point when considering how to get around, bringing business spinoffs for others besides the railway.
Currently, Fuji Kyuko is working with the Fujiyoshida Chamber of Commerce to revitalize the shopping street in the Shimoyoshida area of Fujiyoshida City from where Mt Fuji is easy to see. This year, Shimoyoshida Station was updated to a retro-and-modern station similar to the Mt Fuji Climbing Train. However, the station alone is just one point in the entire tourist infrastructure. To grow, the local government, community residents, and others must have a single shared clear business vision. Although Fujiyoshida City is at the base of Mt Fuji, it is still a quiet country town and a central key player is needed to go forward as one—Fuji Kyuko seeks to be this bridge to the community.
Tsuru University in historic Tsuru City at the heart of the Fuji Kyuko Line has students from across Japan and the university and railway are working together to renovate the station building, produce pamphlets about trackside areas of special interest, and run eco-tours. Educational programmes at the university focus on historic areas and museums, helping invigorate trackside communities and Fuji Kyuko ridership levels. Tsuru City government is also working with the company on spreading information, and has established walking courses based on its history as the only spring-fed castle town on the line. In other words, industry, academia, and government are all cooperating in efforts to raise awareness of the entire region as well as the attractiveness of the line to tourism using the train.
Mt Fuji is on the provisional list for inclusion in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list, and the local and national governments are leading activities to promote registration. At the same time, the community is uniting to form a tourism zone, and working to encourage overnight tourist stays. The Mt Fuji and Fuji Five Lakes area was certified by the Japan Tourism Agency in FY2008 as a tourism zone, and the six local municipalities of Fujiyoshida City, Fuji Kawaguchiko Town, Nishi-Katsura Town, Yamanakako Village, Oshino Village, and Narusawa Village, along with Yamanashi Prefecture and tourism operators such as Fuji Kyuko have joined the initiative. Together, they are educating tourism operators, developing immersion programmes, developing locally oriented travel products, building transportation infrastructure, and creating the means for spreading information.
Instead of pursuing individual interests, it is important for the government, private sector, groups, and individuals to work at building and sharing a common vision to attract tourists. This year, Fuji Kyuko, tour bus operators and others issued 3-day joint travel passes and ran the Fuji Five Lakes Momiji Liner Bus on a limited basis, connecting Lake Yamanaka and Lake Motosu across a broad area. As Japan’s society becomes more aged, more senior citizens seem likely to shift to public transport, so enhancing feeder connections to destinations will play a major role in the success of tourist areas. Hakone is a good example of such a tourist area; it has well-established secondary transport in place, including different routes with trains, cable cars, ropeways, excursion boats, and buses. As a result, it has a high number of tourists year-round.
This needs considering for the Mt Fuji area too. The relationship between the Fuji Kyuko Line and tourism is close but the number of passengers will not increase by simply being a local railway with just tourist attractions. And even if the railway can successfully transform into a sightseeing the line, there will be a limit to the increase if the tourist area is unattractive. In summary, the region and railway must share a common goal while promoting their own visions.
|Photo: Front of renovated Shimoyoshida Station (Fuji Kyuko)|
Mr Ishii is a manager of the Railway Group in the Transit Division at Fuji Kyuko. He joined the company after graduating from Shibaura Institute of Technology in 1992. Prior to his current position, he was in the Rolling Stock Maintenance Group.