HAKONE, Kanagawa - Foreign tourists can access information about Mt. Hakone's volcanic activities in English and other languages thanks to the efforts of Hakone's tourism industry to keep unsubstantiated rumours in check.
The local government and tourism business operators are now being pressed to take measures against the negative impact caused by fears following the Japan Meteorological Agency's decision to raise Mt. Hakone's eruption alert level from Level 1, indicating a normal situation, to Level 2, which restricts access around the volcanic vent.
Foreign tourists lodging in Hakone in 2013 increased by 80 per cent from a year earlier, mainly on the back of the weak yen. Since then, Kanagawa Prefecture has been working with the town to provide information in foreign languages.
A tourist information office official told a group of Thai tourists in English that the Hakone Ropeway is off-limits but other spots offer great views of Mt. Fuji, at an office located at the precincts of Hakone-Yumoto Station on Friday morning.
After thoroughly explaining the upgrading of the alert, the official pointed out there were still plenty of scenic spots to visit.
The tourist information office employs full-time English-speaking officials to cope with surging numbers of foreign tourists.
According to the office, many foreign tourists were aware that the alert level had been raised.
Tim Anderson, a 66-year-old American, said he unfortunately was not able to try a hot spring-boiled black egg, a local delicacy, but was happy that he could still visit the Ashinoko Lake.
"Entry restrictions only apply to a limited number of areas. We'd like to continue conveying the attractiveness of Hakone to foreign tourists as we've always done," said Momoko Yoshida, an official at the tourist information office.
According to the town government, about 168,200 foreign tourists stayed in Hakone in 2013, an all-time high since the town started collating statistics in 1972, a year that saw 104,100 visitors
Hakone is popular among foreigners since the town is located close to Mt. Fuji and offers a range of experiences such as hot spring tours.
At three starting points of a trail leading up to the Owakudani area, the town has erected a sign saying "off-limits from this point to Owakudani" in English, Chinese and Korean.
The town's website also displays information on the alert level and evacuation directive zones in the same three languages.
Odakyu Hakone Holdings Inc., which handles Hakone Tozan Railway Co. and Hakone Tozan Bus Co., is also stepping up efforts to provide eruption-related information in foreign languages.
At Odawara and Hakone-Yumoto stations on the Odakyu Line, large monitors regularly display key information in English, such as the fact that the entire operation Hakone Ropeway has been suspended since Wednesday.
"Amid an economic downturn, these surging numbers of foreign tourists are important as they support the local economy," a Hakone municipal government official said. "We want people to be able to visit Hakone without being worried by accurately conveying such messages as '[the eruption] only affects a limited area.'"