National

Hakone issues wider map to ease eruption zone fears

Kyodo, Staff Report

To limit damage to tourism from Mount Hakone’s surge in volcanic activity, the town of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, has posted a new “eruption alert level map” on its website to show that only a small part of the popular hot springs resort is off-limits.

The map is not intended to emphasize the dangers of potential eruptions in Owakudani, the district popular for its volcanic vent, but is aimed at showing how small the no-go zone is to prevent tourists from ditching the Hakone area as a whole, municipal officials said.

The Meteorological Agency on Wednesday raised its eruption alert level from 1, denoting normal, to 2, a level regulating entry to areas by the vent, to warn of the risk of a small eruption and urge people to stay away from risky areas.

On Friday, the town started handing out leaflets in English.

The alert level “is effective only for the limited area near the Owakudani vent, not expanded to the other Hakone area,” it says.

Restaurants, hotels and transportation services are operating as usual outside Owakudani, it adds.

“This is why we wish the tourists (will) stay and enjoy the Hakone, while carefully listening to information from the local government and agencies,” it said.

The leaflets are being handed out at train stations and tourist information centers, a Hakone official said. The office is also planning to make a Chinese and Korean version soon.

The closed-off area represents only about 0.3 percent of the town, according to Hakone. Isao Yoshida, chief of Hakone’s tourist promotion division, said the map was drawn up because “it may have given the impression that all of Hakone is in danger.”

The previous map was only a few kilometers square and focused on the vent in Owakudani, as if it were a close-up of the banned area.

By contrast, the new map shows nearly the entire town covering Hakoneyumoto Station, Lake Ashinoko and other prominent landmarks in a rectangular area covering 10 km from east to west and a little less than 10 km from north to south. On this map, the circled off-limits area occupies just 300 meters in diameter.

The town website also says: “Facilities and transportation systems outside the area of volcanic vent are functioning normally, and local residents’ lives have not changed.”

It also explains that the name “Mount Hakone,” which the Meteorological Agency uses, is a general term that actually refers to the entire range, including Souunzan and Kamiyama mountains, as well as Mount Komagatake, about 2 km away.

In a similar move, the Kanagawa Prefectural Government plans to set up a webcam in the Owakudani hot spring district and stream video showing its fumes, but accompanied by promotional photos and videos emphasizing that everywhere else is safe.

The prefecture has not yet decided where to place the camera or when to start streaming the video, officials said.