This area is home to the Hotaka Mountain Range which includes Japan’s third and fifth-highest mountains - Mt. Hotakadake (3,190 m) and Mt. Yarigatake (3,180 m) - making it a top destination for avid climbers from around the world. Many climbers make use of the wonderful network of mountain huts (yamagoya) to plan and support their multi-day journeys through the Northern Japanese Alps. Every year, thousands of climbers come here to escape the convenience of city life, to challenge themselves, and find rest in the great outdoors.
For over one hundred years, these trail systems have been maintained by mountain hut owners, mountain climbing clubs, and individual hikers interested in protecting the environment. In recent years, local officials have begun to partner with the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to create a crowdsourced platform where hikers can use a QR code to donate funds that are used to maintain the trails.
Information from the Northern Alps Mountain Hut Friendship Association on mountain huts and trails in the Northern Japanese Alps in English is available at the link below.
What was learned from last year's trail maintenance funding experiment
Throughout the world, it is not uncommon to pay an entrance fee per person or per vehicle to enter a national park. Those fees are collected and used to maintain facilities, trails and protect the environment so that future generations can enjoy the great outdoors.
The Natural park system in Japan differs considerably from those in the United States and Australia. Japan is densely populated with a long history of private land ownership so the Japanese government created natural parks not necessarily where it owned land but where it recognized the need to preserve nature. Parks here are made up of national, prefectural, local government, and private land. In fact, the government only owns about half the national park's land. Another notable mention is that the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), which is responsible for the management of national parks, only owns a small portion of the land in the national parks. It is distinctive of Japanese natural parks that various landowners cooperatively maintain the landscape of a national park.
So the MOE, local officials, community members, and recreational mountain climbers working together to protect and maintain the trail system in Chubusangaku National Park along with the network of supporting yamagoya (mountain huts) is a quite natural outcome. It was with this cooperative mindset that a test run of a crowdsourced trail maintenance donation system was run during the 2021 climbing season with pleasing results.
Signs with QR codes were set up at key trailheads where hikers could easily scan the QR code and make a donation from smartphones. During the test period in 2021, a total of over ¥5,000,000 in donations were collected. Hikers were encouraged to give a recommended donation of ¥500 per person.
Funds collected from the test phase were used to repair and improve trails throughout the Northern Japanese Alps region.
Similar to the 2021 season, the test will run again during the 2022 season with a few points of kaizen (improvements). The initial ¥500 recommended donation of ¥500 per person will be increased to ¥1,000 per person as well as improvements to promotion and marketing to help more people learn about the program. If this program takes root, a steady stream of funding will allow essential trail maintenance to be done in a timely manner which in turn will help many more people to come and enjoy this beautiful place.
If you are hiking in the area and happen to see a sign asking for donations, please get out your smartphone and make a donation to help leave this place better than you found it.