The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) raised the volcanic alert level for Mount Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, before dawn on May 19, warning people not to approach the crater.
The Hakone Municipal Government restricted entrance to some parts of the town, a popular hot spring resort area. The alert level was raised from 1 on a 5-point scale -- potential for increased activity -- to 2 for the first time since 2015. The alert level was temporarily raised to 3 in June that year, and visitors were warned not to approach the volcano due to activity including small eruptions.
The number of volcanic earthquakes centered on the west bank of Lake Ashi near the base of the mountain and areas near Mount Komagatake, a smaller peak that is part of Mount Hakone, increased from 5 a.m. on May 18. The JMA is urging the public to be on alert for ash emissions within the assumed volcanic vent area.
It was announced on the morning of May 19 that the Hakone Ropeway would temporarily suspend operations between Souzan and Togendai stations. A prefectural road and hiking trails leading to Owakudani, a local volcanic valley popular with sightseers, have also been closed.
Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa emphasized that the warning applies to only a small part of the wider Hakone area. "Please look for information released by the prefectural or municipal governments and respond calmly," he said.
Restricted entry to areas around Owakudani, which attracts about 3 million visitors every year, has a heavy impact on the tourist industry. When entry to areas around Owakudani was restricted in 2015 to 2016, the number of day trips and overnight stays in Hakone decreased by 18% compared to the previous year, directly impacting the local economy.
(Japanese original by Ikuko Ando, City News Department, and Haruo Sawa, Odawara Local Bureau)