National

As more international visitors get into trouble on Hokkaido mountains, police introduce multilingual safety messages

Kyodo

With an increasing number of foreign tourists enjoying mountaineering and winter sports, the Hokkaido Prefectural Police have started airing announcements on mountain precautions in English and Chinese as well as Japanese.

Earlier this month at Sugatami Station, a cable car stop at the fifth station of Mount Asahidake, most of the passengers for the day’s first run were foreign tourists. Station announcements calling on visitors to check climbing routes and weather conditions before departure, and make sure to carry items such as a GPS-equipped device, a compass and a smartphone with them, were made in three languages.

According to the town of Higashikawa, where Asahidake is located, the area hosted a total of 13,122 foreign visitors in fiscal 2016 — 2.3 times the number seen five years ago.

The town has become popular among foreign tourists for mountaineering and winter sports such as back-country skiing, and the area attracts many tourists from Asian countries, particularly Chinese and South Koreans, throughout the year. Western visitors also show up during winter to climb snow-covered Asahidake.

But the number of people who managed to get themselves lost on the mountain surged to 15 last year, up 2.5 times from the number of incidents seen five years ago. Four out of 20 people who became lost on the mountain last year were foreign nationals.

In October, rescuers had difficulty locating a group of two Japanese and two foreign visitors lost their way while descending the mountain in bad weather.

A 41-year-old researcher from Germany, who came this year to enjoy snowboarding in Asahidake, said the announcements at the station are “effective” as it raises people’s awareness about possible risks. He said he was equipped with a GPS device and had a locator beacon with him in case he was buried in an avalanche.

Behind the multilingual warnings are increasing burdens on local police officers, who are also serving as mountain rescuers, said Hokkaido Prefectural Police officer Kazutomo Takahashi.

“We have become busier as the number of people who get lost has increased. We want people to be well-equipped and choose a mountain that they are physically capable of climbing,” he said.