HAKONE, KANAGAWA PREF. – While local tourists have been shying away from the Owakudani district after volcanic activity was detected in the popular hot spring resort town of Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture, foreign tourists seem to be undeterred by the news.
It’s likely that their travel plans have already been set and that, after checking the news and reading information on the websites of their own governments, they simply decided that it won’t be a problem if they stay away from restricted areas.
According to data collected at four of Hakone’s five tourist information centers that received inquiries from worried visitors about Mount Hakone’s safety in May, the number of inquiries from Japanese dropped about 31 percent from the year before while inquiries from foreigners rose about 26 percent.
Even on Wednesday, the day after the weather agency raised the volcanic alert from 2 to 3 on the 5-point scale, many Japanese tourists called Hakone’s biggest tourist information center to check if the area was safe, whereas foreigners called to ask how they could get there.
“Foreigners have fewer opportunities to come back and travel around Japan, so most of them decide to visit Hakone as planned, despite the threat of volcanic activity,” said Kiyohiko Yuzurihara, an executive at the Hakone Tourist Association.
On Wednesday, the weather agency said a small eruption occurred again on Mount Hakone in the morning and further eruptions could follow.
The agency detected the latest eruption between around 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Wednesday using a device that measures air movements. Volcanic ash was also seen in camera footage taken in the Owakudani area from around 5:10 a.m.
“We got information about Hakone through the Spanish foreign ministry website and I don’t expect something big will happen,” said a 45-year-old man from Spain who was visiting Hakone with his wife on Wednesday.
The man, who was perusing souvenir shops near the Hakone-Yumoto Station, which provides an easy access to the mountain’s hot springs resorts, added: “The information accessible by foreigners might be limited but I’m not that scared.”
Another couple from China said they watched a TV news program on Tuesday but assumed the area is safe if you stay away from the restricted area.
“We just want to enjoy our trip,” they said, laughing.