Mount Fuji’s heritage status worries some

Updated 13 September 2013
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Mount Fuji’s heritage status worries some

They trudge up well-trod cinder paths by the thousands, headlamps glowing in the dark, and then settle in, shivering, to await and cheer the sun’s blazing ascent over the horizon.
Climbing Mount Fuji, Japan’s most iconic landmark, is a group activity: Seldom is it climbed in solitude. The recent recognition of the 3,776-meter peak as a UNESCO World Heritage site has many here worried that it will draw still more people, adding to the wear and tear on the environment from the more than 300,000 who already climb the mountain each year.
Safety is another concern. At least seven people died and 70 were hurt climbing Fuji In 2012, and traffic jams of climbers in the pre-dawn darkness can add to the risks, says Shomei Yokouchi, governor of Yamanashi, the area to the west. The official climbing season runs July to August, and the trek — nine hours round trip in good weather — is especially treacherous other times of the year.
Mount Fuji’s near perfect cone was created by an eruption thousands of years ago that buried earlier peaks, and pilgrims have been climbing it for centuries — though women have been allowed only since 1868. It towers over the Pacific coast, ringed by lakes, national parks and a number of historical sites that are also part of the World Heritage site.
The new status, granted in June, will likely help area businesses — a welcome boost given the economic decline in most of rural Japan. Local authorities are puzzling, however, over how to preserve the mountain’s natural beauty while improving traffic access and other facilities to accommodate the anticipated increase in visitors.
Some have suggested limiting access by raising tenfold the 1,000 yen ($10) climbing fee. But that might lead climbers to risk hypothermia by roughing it outdoors instead of staying in the 16 huts along the top of the trail, which charge up to $100 a night for cheek-by-jowl communal accommodations.
“With more foreigners visiting, we will need to think of improving the facilities,” Gov. Yokouchi says, noting that the installation of composting toilets has helped. “They are cleaner than before but there are not enough of them.”
Then there’s the litter.
Each year 40,000 to 50,000 volunteers clean up garbage on the peak. Groups collected nearly 900 tons to prepare for June’s World Heritage vote by UNESCO, the UN’s cultural organization.
The designation is something to be proud of, says Hizataka Kurosawa, a 16-year-old high school student who recently joined a group of volunteers who climbed part of a trail and then scrounged around a car park near a visitor center, collecting several big bags worth of oil cans, cigarette butts, car parts and candy wrappers.
“It’s getting polluted and so many people are running around. I’m a bit disappointed about that,” he says.
The volunteers were led by Toyohiro Watanabe, a former local government official who runs a civic group called Groundwork Mishima.
It’s not just the crowds that worry him. He also frets over acid rain from sea water mixed with emissions from factories on the coast.

And over invasive plant species, such as the bamboo grass that grows thick along the roadsides, obscuring some of the litter tossed from passing vehicles.
Global warming may be contributing to huge fissures on Fuji’s slopes, prone to erosion and landslides, he says. “Although Fuji has a power of its own, it is being influenced by global warming and other factors,” Watanabe says as he looks for trouble spots in some of the most frequented areas. “It is getting weaker.”
Though it last erupted in 1707, Mount Fuji remains an active volcano and Japanese seismologists watch it closely. The bigger risk, though, is from accidents.
Fuji is hardly steep, but its high elevation and fickle weather can make it a hazardous climb. “There are rock falls, and sometimes people are unable to get out of the way,” Gov. Yokouchi says.
UNESCO has long acknowledged the risks to World Heritage sites, both from natural disasters and unsustainable levels of tourism. Even for a country as wealthy as Japan, tight budgets mean fewer resources available to support conservation.
Here’s a gallery of images from AP Chief Asia Photographer David Guttenfelder.


Lost phone returned with smiling surprise as Scotland-Germany love-in blossoms

Updated 21 June 2024
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Lost phone returned with smiling surprise as Scotland-Germany love-in blossoms

  • “Kieran left his phone in a portaloo. These Germany fans found it, took a selfie, then handed it into the police,” supporters’ body the Tartan Army Group posted on X
  • The Scotland fans have not just been confined to cities where the team is playing

STUTTGART, Germany: When you lose your phone abroad you hardly expect to get it back, let alone with a smiling selfie on it from the good-natured rival supporters who handed it in to the police.
But that’s exactly what happened to a Scotland fan in Germany who was reunited with his lost phone and discovered a pleasant surprise in the camera roll, the latest entreaty in a blossoming love-in between the two countries.
Thousands of Scottish fans have made the long journey to the Euros, in their kilts and sporrans, and have endeared themselves to their hosts with their infectious enthusiasm and 24-hour carousing.
Where once German city centers would have the sound of an oom-pah band echoing through the streets, now it’s the skirl of bagpipes ringing out along with deafening chants of “No Scotland, no party.”
“Kieran left his phone in a portaloo. These Germany fans found it, took a selfie, then handed it into the police. He has his phone back. What a country,” supporters’ body the Tartan Army Group posted on X on Thursday alongside the picture of the five smiling fans.
The two nations may not be famous for their bilateral relations, though there is a connection that dates all the way back to William Wallace’s letters to the Hanseatic League in 1297.
However, there are now calls for a new special relationship to be formed in Europe.
“And we definitely need you guys back in the EU! We’ll always leave a light on for you!,” a German poster wrote underneath the Tartan Army Group post.
“I didn’t know that the Germany-Scotland-Love is what I needed. Please don‘t ever leave, Scots!,” another wrote, adding: “Can we build a direct tunnel? Or a gigantic bridge?“
“There’s something special between Scotland and Germany, I don’t know why, or what it is, but I can feel it,” said another post.
The Scotland fans have not just been confined to cities where the team is playing, with many spread across the country simply happy to soak in the atmosphere — and indeed the beer.
“Dear Scots, these have been a wonderful couple of days with you. I could not be a happier mayor. You are always welcome to Cologne,” Henriette Reker, mayor of Cologne, said on X.
The Tartan Army descends on Stuttgart as Scotland hope to extend their stay in Germany with a win against Hungary on Sunday. No doubt they’ll now have the locals cheering them on, as well.


Albanian player apologizes for encouraging offensive fan chants

Updated 21 June 2024
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Albanian player apologizes for encouraging offensive fan chants

  • Daku was caught on camera whipping up fans after Albania’s 2-2 draw with Croatia in Hamburg
  • Albania are at only their second major tournament and have been roared on by some of the most fanatical supporters seen so far

HAMBURG: Albanian forward Mirlind Daku, who led fans in derogatory post-match chants about North Macedonia with a megaphone, apologized on Friday citing the intense emotions of playing at Euro 2024.
Daku was caught on camera whipping up fans after Albania’s 2-2 draw with Croatia in Hamburg. That triggered a demand for an apology from North Macedonia’s football federation plus an investigation from Europe’s soccer body UEFA.
“Apologising is manly, and I feel a moral and professional obligation to do so, for all those who have been hurt,” he said in an Albanian-language statement on social media.
“Like any footballer, in those moments the emotions are on another level, which can only be understood on the field. It is difficult to describe the feeling of playing for this national team, for these wonderful fans who give us unlimited love.”
Albania are at only their second major tournament and have been roared on by some of the most fanatical supporters seen so far during the month-long tournament in Germany.
“Sorry if I offended anyone after the match with Croatia, the effect of the game does its thing,” the 26-year-old added in his post. “I continue to work together with the whole group for our dreams.”
Kosovo controversy
Rows are proliferating at the tournament over insults relating to bitter rivalries in the Balkans region.
Serbia is demanding punishment for Croatia and Albania over hateful language, saying both sets of fans chanted “Kill, kill, kill the Serb” during their match on Wednesday. Serbia have also been admonished by UEFA for their fans’ behavior.
Most of the controversies center on Albanian-majority Kosovo, whose independence Serbia does not accept.
Kosovo-born Daku represented his homeland before switching to Albania in 2023. Ethnic Albanians revolted in North Macedonia two decades ago.
“An investigation has been opened in relation to the alleged inappropriate behavior of the Albanian Football Association (FSHF) player, Mr. Mirlind Daku,” UEFA said in its statement.
North Macedonia’s football federation said his “nationalist chants” were “scandalous.”


A US veteran died at a nursing home, abandoned. Hundreds of strangers came to say goodbye

US Marine Gerry Brooks is laid to rest Thursday, June 20, 2024 at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta, Maine. (AP)
Updated 21 June 2024
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A US veteran died at a nursing home, abandoned. Hundreds of strangers came to say goodbye

  • Hundreds of people who knew nothing about the 86-year-old beyond his name showed up on a sweltering afternoon and gave Brooks a final salute with full military honors Thursday at the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Augusta

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Former U.S. Marine Gerry Brooks died alone at a nursing home in Maine, abandoned and all but forgotten. Then the funeral home posted a notice asking if anyone would serve as a pallbearer or simply attend his burial.
Within minutes, it was turning away volunteers to carry his casket.
A bagpiper came forward to play at the service. A pilot offered to perform a flyover. Military groups across the state pledged a proper sendoff.
Hundreds of people who knew nothing about the 86-year-old beyond his name showed up on a sweltering afternoon and gave Brooks a final salute with full military honors Thursday at the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.
Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles escorted his hearse on the 40-mile route from the funeral home in Belfast, Maine, to the cemetery. Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars paid tribute with a 21-gun salute. Volunteers held American flags next to the casket while a crane hoisted a huge flag above the cemetery entrance.
Some saluted while filing by. Others sang The Marines’ Hymn.
“It’s an honor for us to be able to do this,” said Jim Roberts, commander of the VFW post in Belfast. “There’s so much negativity in the world. This is something people can feel good about and rally around. It’s just absolutely wonderful.” He said Brooks’ son, granddaughter and son-in-law came to the funeral but did not speak during the service.
Roberts said the VFW is called a couple times a year about a deceased veteran with no family or with one that isn’t willing to handle the funeral arrangements. But “we will always be there." Like other veterans helping out Thursday, he hadn't known Brooks.
So many groups volunteered to take part in paying tribute that there wasn’t enough space to fit them into the 20-minute burial service, said Katie Riposta, the funeral director who put out the call for help last week.
“It renews your faith in humanity,” she said.
More than 8 million of the U.S. veterans living are 65 or older, almost half the veteran population. They are overwhelmingly men. That's according to a U.S. Census Bureau report last year. As this generation dies, it said, their collective memory of wartime experiences "will pass into history."
Much about Brooks' life is unknown.
He was widowed and lived in Augusta. He died on May 18, less than a week after entering a nursing home, Riposta said. A cause of death was not released.
The funeral home and authorities reached his next of kin, but no one was willing to come forward or take responsibility for his body, she said.
“It sounds like he was a good person, but I know nothing about his life,” Riposta said, noting that after Brooks' death, a woman contacted the funeral home to say he had once taken her in when she had no other place to go, with no details.
“It doesn’t matter if he served one day or made the military his career," she said. "He still deserves to be respected and not alone.”
The crowd on Thursday wasn't all strangers — and it turned out Brooks hadn't been one, either.
Victoria Abbott, executive director of the Bread of Life shelter in Augusta, said he had come every day to eat at their soup kitchen, always ready to crack “dad jokes” and make the staff smile. He had a favorite table.
“Your quintessential 80-year-old, dad jokes every day,” Abbott said. “He was really great to have around. He was part of the soup kitchen family.”
But most people there Thursday met him too late. The memorial book posted online by Direct Cremation of Maine, which helped to arrange the burial, had a few strangers' good wishes.
“Sir,” one began, and ended with “Semper Fi.”
The two others, a couple, thanked Brooks for his service. “We all deserve the love kindness and respect when we are called home. I hope that you lived a full beautiful life of Love, Kindness, Dreams and Hope,” they wrote.
They added: “Thank you to all those who will make this gentleman’s service a proper, well deserved good bye.”
Linda Laweryson, who served in the Marines, said this was the second funeral in little over a year that she has attended for a veteran who died alone. Everyone deserves to die with dignity and be buried with dignity, she said.
Laweryson read a poem during the graveside service written by a combat Marine who reflects on the spot where Marines graduate from boot camp.
“I walked the old parade ground, but I was not alone," the poem reads. "I walked the old parade ground and knew that I was home.”
 

 


After Drake battle, Kendrick Lamar turns victory lap concert into LA unity celebration

Updated 20 June 2024
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After Drake battle, Kendrick Lamar turns victory lap concert into LA unity celebration

  • The audience of 17,000 people at the Forum in Inglewood, California included The Weeknd, LeBron James, Ayo Edebiri and Rick Ross
  • The 37-year-old rapper curated a three-hour livestreamed concert featuring a mix of up-and-coming LA rappers and stars

INGLEWOOD: Not content with merely taking a victory lap after winning his battle against fellow rap superstar Drake, Kendrick Lamar turned his Juneteenth “Pop Out” concert at the Forum into a cathartic livestreamed celebration of Los Angeles unity.
Lamar curated a three-hour concert featuring a mix of up-and-coming LA rappers and stars including Tyler, The Creator, Steve Lacy and YG. When it was his turn to take the stage, the 37-year-old rapper powered through a set with Black Hippy collaborators Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, performed his Drake diss songs “Euphoria” and “6:16 in LA,” then was joined on-stage by Dr. Dre.
The two West Coast titans performed “Still D.R.E.” and “California Love” before Dre quieted the roaring crowd by calling for a moment of silence. It was a misdirect. He then delivered the “Sixth Sense” quote that opens Lamar’s chart-topping “Not Like Us”: “I see dead people.”
A crowd of 17,000 that included The Weeknd, LeBron James, Ayo Edebiri and Rick Ross rapped along to every word of the biting-but-jubilant DJ Mustard production, which Lamar restarted twice after the first verse and performed four times in full.
Shuffling, frolicking, dancing and spinning around him as Lamar strode the stage in a red hoodie: NBA stars Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan, Mustard, rapper Roddy Ricch and even a teenage dance troupe led by the krumping innovator Tommy the Clown.
Lamar reveled in the moment: “Y’all ain’t gon’ let nobody disrespect the West Coast. Y’all ain’t gon’ let nobody imitate our legends, huh,” he said, referring to Drake’s use of an AI tool to mimic 2Pac’s voice on one of his diss records.
But Lamar had more on his mind, calling out to specific men and women to join him on-stage for a group photo.
“Let the world see this,” he said. “For all of us to be on this stage together, unity, from East side ... LA, Crips, Bloods, Piru — this ... is special, man. We put this ... together just for ya’ll.
“This ... ain’t got nothing to do with no song at this point, ain’t got nothing to do with no back and forth records, it’s got everything to do with this moment right here. That’s what this ... was about, to bring all of us together.”
After the final song, Lamar exited, saying “I promise you this won’t be the last of us.” The stabbing horns of the “Not Like Us” instrumental kicked in once again and the crowd rapped the lyrics without Lamar as they filed through hallways out to the parking lot.


Two beluga whales evacuated to Spain from war-torn Ukraine

Updated 19 June 2024
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Two beluga whales evacuated to Spain from war-torn Ukraine

  • The whales, a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda, arrived “in delicate health” at the Oceanagrafic aquarium
  • They were first transported overland from the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southern port of Odesa

MADRID: Two beluga whales have been evacuated from an aquarium in war-torn Ukraine to Spain by road and plane in a “high-risk” operation, officials at their new home said Wednesday.
The whales, a 15-year-old male named Plombir and a 14-year-old female named Miranda, arrived “in delicate health” at the Oceanagrafic aquarium in Spain’s Mediterranean port of Valencia on Tuesday evening officials there said.
They had completed “a gruelling journey across the war zone,” the aquarium said in a statement.
They were first transported overland from the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southern port of Odesa, a 12-hour drive.
After health checks, they were taken across the border to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, from where they were flown in a six-seat chartered plane to Valencia.
“The high-risk, complex rescue operation presented numerous challenges and required multi-national collaboration,” the statement said.
Experts with the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld in the United States took part in the rescue.
A team of medical and nutritional experts are looking after the belugas in Valencia, and two Ukrainian caregivers will stay with them for several weeks to help with their transition.
“This courageous rescue constitutes a historic milestone worldwide in terms of animal protection,” said the head of the regional government of Valencia, Carlos Mazon.
Russian artillery fire against Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, had intensified in recent weeks, with bombs falling just a few hundred meters from the aquarium where the whales lived.
The director of zoological operations at Valencia’s Oceanografic aquarium, Daniel Garcia-Parraga, said if the whales had stayed on in Kharkiv “their chances of survival would have been very slim.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the NEMO Dolphinarium in Kharkiv has evacuated several seals, sea lions and dolphins, but evacuating the belugas required months of preparations due to their size.