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World Recognition for Japan

On this past Saturday, June 22, the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held a meeting in Cambodia where it declared Mount Fuji in Japan to be a World Heritage Site. All Japanese are delighted for this international recognition of one of the most beloved symbols of the culture of Japan. It shows that there is something of a global consensus that the preservation of the mountain is important.

Mount Fuji is visited by crowds of tourists every year, approximately 300,000 of whom make the climb up the mountain. There are rest stations along the way up on a well-tread hiking path. People making the pilgrimage can stop to eat or sleep. The goal of many is to make it up to the summit in the early morning hours in order to see the sunrise from the highest point in Japan.

It reminds me of my childhood in New York. The Statue of Liberty was a renowned landmark that millions have visited. An elevator takes tourists much of the way to the top, but my friends and I wanted to climb the steps all the way up as a challenge. I look back on those days with nostalgia, although now it seems pretty senseless to do so much climbing with not much of a payoff. The same with climbing Mount Fuji. Those who have done it can brag to others about it, but few are inclined to make the trek again.

This morning, June 26, there was another item in the news that gave Japan a higher worldwide profile. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Tōkyō has been designated as a finalist for the city that will be hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics. It has been quite a while since Japan has held a Summer Olympics. That was way back in 1964, when the Japanese were eager to show the world how it had recovered from the devastation of World War II and had modernized the country. Of course, Japan played host to the Winter Olympics in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998, but those events were much less prestigious, and those two locations are off the beaten path, even in Japan.

On the other hand, the Japanese were delighted to hear that that IOC had included Tōkyō as a candidate city for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Mayor Inose Naoki of Tōkyō appeared on camera in newscasts to express his satisfaction. There is just one more hurdle to overcome before winning the Olympic bid. That is, there are two other cities that are also finalists, Istanbul, Turkey and Madrid, Spain in the running.

Istanbul might seem to be unlikely to be awarded the Games since the intense fighting in nearby Syria would be a tremendous distraction. The situation would probably be settled by 2020, but the IOC will be making its decision over this long, hot summer, when the bloodshed will be at its height. Members of the committee cannot help but be affected by it. After all, even today there are terrible memories of the terrorist actions at the Summer Olympics in Munich in 1972. It will be hard to block that out of one’s mind while there is so much turmoil in the Middle East.

Madrid is a different story. It is a modern European city with a rich heritage that many visitors would find attractive. And Spain’s economy could use a boost. Of course, the situation will surely change by 2020, but psychologically the country could use some good news right now. The IOC might award the Games to Madrid simply out of sympathy for its current condition.

The decision of the IOC will be announced on September 7.

One other thing should be mentioned. Japan in itself is quite attractive as a tourist destination. Just this past May it welcomed 875,200 visitors to the country. Altogether, more than ten million foreigners will travel to Japan over the course of this year. Even though there is a recessionary worldwide economy, and there have been widespread cancellations by Chinese tour groups due to political tensions as well. Tourist travel in Japan by Chinese nationals is down by more than 30% this year. It makes no difference. The fact is that there are many people who are attracted to the Japanese culture.

No doubt hundreds of those foreigners will hear about the UNESCO designation and travel to Mount Fuji as a result. Surely many of those visitors will be Americans. Back in 1984 the US withdrew from the organization due to disagreements over policy, but in 2003 it rejoined. However, it is doubtful that the US played any role in UNESCO’s declaring Mount Fuji to be a World Heritage Site.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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