National

Popular Mount Hakone tourist site reopens after volcanic alert level drops

Kyodo

A popular tourist site on Mount Hakone was reopened Friday, ending a six-month closure caused by an increase in the volcanic alert level in the hot spring resort area, local authorities said.

The Owakudani valley district, famous for its sulfur vents and geothermal hot springs, had been closed to visitors since the Meteorological Agency raised the alert level for Mount Hakone to 2 on its 5-point scale on May 19, warning people not to approach the crater.

Restrictions on entry were lifted after the agency lowered the alert level to 1 on Oct. 7, deeming that the mountain still had potential for volcanic activity but was basically safe.

The town of Hakone decided to reopen the Owakudani area about a month after the warning was lifted due to the completion of repairs on volcanic gas detectors that were broken by the violent weather caused by Typhoon Hagibis last month.

The Owakudani site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but some walking routes remain closed due to the possible danger of volcanic gas releases.

From Friday, Hakone Ropeway passengers were permitted to alight at Owakudani Station. The ropeway resumed operating in late October, but the station was only used for transfers and visitors were not allowed outside.

Souvenir shops and restaurants also reopened in the area, which is famous for eggs boiled and blackened in the sulfur-rich hot spring water. Local legend says that anyone who eats the eggs will extend their life by seven years.

“I was waiting for this moment for a long time and left my home late at night. I cannot wait to buy the black eggs,” said a 47-year-old man from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, who drove some 130 km for the visit.

The town hopes to attract an influx of tourists with the impending peak of the fall foliage season. Hakone attracted 21.26 million visitors in 2018, including 596,000 foreign people, up 9.2 percent from the previous year.