How Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan's tourist industry

People across Japan are counting the cost of one of the strongest typhoons ever to hit the country. For some in the sightseeing industry, it's had a devastating impact -- and not just in the obvious ways.

The town of Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture is renowned for its hot springs. It drew more than 20 million visitors last year. But when Typhoon Hagibis tore across the region, it dumped about 1,000 millimeters of rain in just 2 days. Lake Ashinoko overflowed and flooded the surrounding area. The pier was submerged, as were nearby roads and parking areas.

Hakone and Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture were hit by powerful winds and strong waves as the typhoon approaches.
12 Oct. 05:00 p.m. (01:08)

The Hakone Tozan Railway connects popular sightseeing spots in the area. But it's been out of service since the typhoon. More than a dozen landslides hit the tracks, damaging the rails and sweeping sleepers into a ravine. The railway operator says it's unlikely to be running again this year.

And that could be devastating for Hakone's tourism industry as we enter autumn, the most popular time of the year to visit.

The owner of a souvenir shop in the area says he's been in business for 33 years and he's never seen so few customers. He estimates that the number of tourists has dropped to less than 10 percent of the norm for this time of year.

Hakone in its finest autumn foliage.

Nearby, the hotel Kuranoya usually attracts sightseers with its hot spring baths. But a landslide destroyed the pipes that deliver the spring water, so the hotel is using warm tap water as a temporary measure.

"Our hot spring water has a great reputation and that's what people come here for. All we can do is try our best to serve our customers without it," says Kuranoya manager Toshinori Yamada. "We don't know when we can finish the repairs."

The Karuizawa resort in Nagano Prefecture survived the typhoon without any major physical damage, but that doesn't mean its tourism industry was unscathed.
Toshihiko Yamada, general manager of the historic Mampei Hotel, says he's had more than 260 cancelations, about 20 percent of the total, in the last couple of weeks, though the hotel wasn't damaged at all.

The Manpei Hotel in Karuizawa was founded in 1764.

Yamada believes that guests are canceling after seeing reports of flooding elsewhere in the prefecture and imagine the whole area has been heavily damaged, or worry that a river could overflow if it rains.

"It's business as usual here, so there's no need to worry," he says. "I want people to come visit here and enjoy the beautiful autumn leaves."

Hiroshi Tabata, head of the Japan Tourism Agency, held a news conference on Wednesday and attempted to reassure people in the tourism industry. He said the government's top priorities include repairing roads, and restoring transport systems. He promised that the government will then work with the private sector to promote and revitalize tourism.