Recently, there have been news reports of volcanic activity near the peak of Owakudani (one of the mountains in Hakone). As there aren’t many English sites with information on Hakone, could you be thinking that “Is Hakone actually really dangerous?”
To answer that question, “Hakone is SAFE!”.
Well then, let us explain what exactly is going on at Owakudani, and why you don’t have to be worried about anything at Hakone.
1. Volcanic activity at Owakudani
Currently, there are many reports about volcanic activity at Owakudani (one of the mountains that Hakone is comprised of). Since 26th April 2015, there have been multiple small tremors related to volcanic activity on Owakudani. In response to that, JMA (Japan Meteorological Agency) released a Level 3 eruption warning on 30th June 2015. Afterward, on 11th September 2015, JMA lowered the level to Level 2, because the volcanic activity was reducing. Finally on 20th November 2015, JMA lowered the level to Level 1, because the volcanic activity has come back to the normal level.
2. What is Owakudani?
Where and what kind of place is Owakudani? And how will not visiting Owakudani affect your Hakone trip?
Hakone is a huge town with a complicated structure. Mt Hakone refers to the group of more than 10 mountains located in Hakone. Owakudani is located at Mt Hakone’s central volcanic area and is the largest eruption site in Hakone. The underground water is heated up by the volcanic activity, and appears on the surface as water vapour. The white steam you see on the news clips and images is not something new, and is actually an usual,everyday sight.
3. What are the eruption warning levels?
Next, what are the “eruption warning levels”? It’s a set of disaster warning guidelines by Japan Meteorological Agency, and there are 5 levels in total which tells the locals what to do. Level 1 is for normal situations, Level 2 is when the area around eruption vents should be cordoned off, Level 3 is when the the mountain ( this still doesn’t mean “Whole Hakone”. It means just ONE OF the mountains in Hakone) itself should be cordoned off, Level 4 for preparation for evacuation and Level 5 for evacuation.
This time, the Level 1 just means that volcanic activity is in normal situation.
4. Volcanic activity at Hakone
Hakone is an active volcano that has always experienced volcanic activity. According to data, the most recent eruption was around 3000 years ago. There are reports of a steam explosion in the 12th century. Of course, volcanic activity has still been observed. Recently in 2013, 2008 and 2006, small volcanic earthquakes were observed for about 1-2 months each time. However, there have been no casualties or damages to property. To the locals, minor earthquakes like these are common and no cause for panic. In fact, this volcanic activity helps water for hot springs to gush out, enriching Hakone’s culture.
5. Preventive measures
There may be people feeling like there’s a difference ( gap ) between media reports, and the actual situation. Compared to previous minor earthquakes at Hakone, the media has over-sensationalised the news this time. Actually, there was a steam explosion in the middle of Mt Ontake in 2014 which resulted in several mountain climbers being injured. It is said that, as a result, the media is over-sensitive to volcanic activity now.
Hakone has always been a popular hot spring site and tourist destination. Also, many research facilities and researchers have been investigating and monitoring Hakone’s unique volcanic activity. As such, there are plenty of materials regarding Hakone’s volcanic activity, and the monitoring system is complete. Furthermore, the local town council and tourist organizations are able to react quickly to protect the safety of guests in the case of an emergency. So don’t worry about anything.
6. Transport, tourist attractions and accommodation
Many tourists come to Hakone by the train. The main route here is the Hakone Tozan Railway, and it is operating as per normal all the way to the last stop, Gora station. The Hakone Tozan Cablr Car that links Gora and Sounzan is also operating as per normal. Unfortunately, the Hakone Ropeway linking Sounzan and Togendai has been out of service as it passes through Owakudani, but, as the level is now lowered to Level 1, in soon future the operation will be back to normal.
Hakone-yumoto, Hakone Shrine, Kuzuryu Shrine, Hakone Sekisho, Lake Ashi, Onshi Hakone Park, Gora Park and the many art museums…there are countless of tourist attractions in Hakone. None of these places are affected and you can still visit them with no problems. The only unfortunate thing is that you won’t be able to visit Owakudani. Do bear with this for now.
You don’t have to worry when choosing a place to stay at. Hot spring cum accommodation facilities like Gora Hot Spring, Hakone-yumoto Hot Spring, Sengokuhara Hot Spring and Lake-Ashi Hot Spring are open as per normal, and will provide you with excellent service.
7. Things to take note of
It may be worrying to go to a foreign place unsure of what may happen even if you understand that it is safe. For that, we recommend interacting with the local Japanese there.
Currently, the only restricted area is around Owakudani. The Ropeway and hiking route that passes by that area have been shut down. As long as instructions are followed, you will not accidentally wander into the restricted area.
There are probably many who will stay at a hotel or a ryokan when visiting Hakone. It will be good to confirm with the staff there about the places that are out of bounds and things to take note of. While most Japanese aren’t able to speak foreign languages well, they will try their best and give you a sincere answer .
For those who would like to check beforehand, do take a look at the Hakone Tourist Association’s website (English).
If you are still worried after that, you can drop us a message on our Facebook page, Enjoyhakone.com . We’ll try our best to clear your worries.
Japan has a system and information service that is well prepared for disasters, and you will definitely be safe if you follow the instructions.
Right now, Hakone is now experiencing a season full of lush greens. Although you have to take caution around Owakudani, you’ll be able to enjoy the other hot springs, sightseeing, nature, shopping, art museums and much more.
So please don’t worry and come to Hakone to play!
If you have any worries, do feel free to drop us a message. We’ll help you any time!
Made reference and special thanks to;