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Natural disasters

Tourist spots in Japan still smarting from typhoon damage

Hagibis leaves a mountain railway paralyzed and hot springs high and dry

Wreckage is all that remains of the Hakone Tozan Railway's Jakotsu Bridge, as seen in this Nov. 6 photo: Typhoon Hagibis destroyed the bridge and damaged the line in mid-October.

TOKYO -- November is usually peak travel season in Hakone, one of the most popular resorts within easy reach of Tokyo. Visitors flock to the area in autumn to watch the leaves turn and enjoy a dip in the hot springs.

Not this year. Typhoon Hagibis, which swept through central and northern Japan in mid-October, left Hakone's mountain railway service paralyzed and cut off spring water to many hotels and inns. The powerful storm touched off landslides along the Hakone Tozan Railway line, forcing the operator of the mountain-scaling electric trams to suspend service between Hakone Yumoto and Gora stations.

"We want to return to normal operations as soon as possible, but we still don't know when and how to resume business," said Kenichi Miyahara, who sits on the railway's board of directors. "Our total financial damage is also unclear."

The railway was damaged in about 20 places between the two stations. The Jakotsu Bridge, located between Miyanoshita and Kowakidani stations, was washed away by a landslide. Repairs have yet to begin.

A rail bridge over the Chikuma River, in Nagano Prefecture, was washed out after heavy rains from Typhoon Hagibis caused the river to spill its banks.   © Kyodo

The railway operator plans to work out a rough rebuilding schedule later this year, but it will likely be a few more months before service resumes.

Hotels and tourist facilities along the suspended section of the tracks are suffering. Mizu no Oto, an inn near Kowakidani Station, has been forced to hire additional buses to shuttle guests between Hakone Yumoto Station and the inn.

Several roads remain closed in Hakone, including National Route 138 between the neighboring towns of Miyagino and Sengokuhara. Visitors who come by car often have to make a detour.

At one point, as many as 100 lodgings had no spring water because pipes and other equipment were knocked out of commission. Several dozen inns still have no spring water.

Nagano Prefecture, in central Japan, was also hit hard by the typhoon: One rail yard where Hokuriku Shinkansen high-speed trains were parked was inundated by floodwaters and a bridge along a Uedadentetsu railway line collapsed.

With the fall season looking like a write-off, hotels and inns in the area are focused on drawing winter visitors. "It is a good start," said the general manager of the Prince Hotel, at an event on Nov. 2 marking the opening of the ski season at the Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Resort. The storm did not scare people off: Nearly as many people attended this year as last. For the first five days of the season, visitor numbers were actually 10% higher than last year, thanks to a three-day weekend.

The typhoon hit just as the leaves began to turn, resulting in a flood of cancellations. People in the area watched visitor numbers at the ski resort anxiously. It was one of the first to open for the season and there were fears that the typhoon might cause people to stay away, even after reconstruction.

Skiers and snowboarders flock to the Karuizawa Prince Hotel Ski Resort in Nagano Prefecture on Nov. 2, the first day of the season.

Hotels and inns in Nagano and elsewhere are counting on a public subsidy to help make up for the drop in tourist arrivals in October. The government will offer each traveler up to 5,000 yen ($46) a night in areas hit by the typhoon. A local industry association and municipalities also plan to launch discount campaigns and events aimed at bringing tourists back.

But transportation networks are still disrupted in many areas in the Kanto region, of which Tokyo is a part, and in Tohoku, farther north. Tourist spots, including popular destinations for viewing autumn foliage, are struggling. As of Nov. 11, service on parts of 11 lines, run by seven railway companies, was still suspended.

One destination, Yonako Falls in Suzaka, Nagano Prefecture, saw its access road washed out. Landslides also severed roads in the Nakatsugawa district in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, another popular spot for viewing fall colors. The roads are expected to reopen to regular traffic in late November.

The suspension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen -- which was forced to halt service between Tokyo and Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, for about two weeks following the typhoon -- continues to cast a shadow over the local economy.

"Tourist numbers have been slow to recover, even after the shinkansen resumed operation," said Tateki Ataka, president of Hokkoku Bank. "It seems that tourists remain reluctant to make trips as the impact of the typhoon lingers."

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