Two workers are filmed dumping garbage and then covering it with incinerated ash in the Southern Japan Alps in Shizuoka Prefecture on Oct. 19. (Junko Miyasako)

SHIZUOKA--A company that operates a lodge for climbers in the Southern Japan Alps admitted it dumped incinerated ash waste on a mountain slope listed as part of a UNESCO biosphere reserve, but claimed it didn't realize it was illegal to do so.

A senior representative of Tokushu Tokai Forest Corp., which operates Sawarajima Lodge, said the practice had been going on for at least five years.

The Shizuoka city government is investigating the company on suspicion of violating the waste disposal law.

Disposing of refuse, even at an owner’s private property, is illegal unless the owner aims to convert it to compost.

As incinerated ash is regarded as waste, companies authorized by the prefectural governor or the mayor of a municipality must be commissioned to transport and dispose of it.

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, the chief of Tokushu Tokai Forest's project development division acknowledged that the company had been discarding ash waste on the mountain. He said its employees have also dumped raw kitchen waste since five years or so ago as it tended to pile up during the high hiking season.

“Our staff took the decision on their own because they thought it was too difficult to burn the kitchen garbage,” he said. “They were not aware that what they were doing was illegal.”

He said the company will move to dispose of the waste properly, and recover garbage dumped in a mountain pit and remove it.

The company is affiliated with Tokushu Tokai Paper Co. based in Shimada in Shizuoka Prefecture and listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The mountain disposal site, about 50 kilometers north of JR Shizuoka Station and close to the Oigawa river, is owned by Tokushu Tokai Paper.

Sawarajima Lodge can accommodate 180 guests and sits about 1 km west of the dumping site. The Shizuoka municipal government is a part owner of the lodge buildings.

Municipal officials conducted an on-site investigation Oct. 25.

“We confirmed the presence of incinerated ash and raw garbage,” an official said. “We will look at options to take against the company after investigating the matter further.”

According to the operator, its workers dug a pit 2 to 3 meters wide and 1 meter deep to dump incinerated ash generated by burning trash from mountain cabins owned by the prefectural and municipal governments and operated by the company.

About 3,000 square kilometers of the Southern Japan Alps straddling Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures is designated by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve, a special area to promote conservation and utilization of nature. It is one of nine such areas in Japan recognized by UNESCO.

Sawarajima Lodge serves as a base for climbers trying to scale peaks from the Shizuoka side, as well as mountain rescue units.

Last year, between 4,000 and 5,000 people stayed in the lodge, one of 14 such establishments and shelters partly owned by the prefectural or city government in the Southern Japan Alps.

Tokushu Tokai Forest manages 10 of them and receives a commission for that.

(This article was written by Takefumi Horinouchi, Junko Miyasako and Takafumi Yabuki.)