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Under the Volcano: Town’s Big Worry Is Tourism Losses With AM-Japan-Volcano

June 5, 1991

UNZEN, Japan (AP) _ In this hot-springs resort, residents say they aren’t worried about danger from the volcano whose name their town bears. But they are concerned about the loss of tourist revenues.

″Unzen, Unzen. Everyone thinks that just because our town has the same name as the mountain that we’re getting all the damage,″ said Shuzo Taguchi, manager of the Unzen Takahara Hotel, which has an outdoor hot-spring bath.

Unzen, a town of 1,800 residents, is only 2 1/2 miles from Mount Unzen’s Fugen Peak, which has been spitting rock, ash and gas. At least 38 people have died, officials say.

But the eruption is on the volcano’s eastern side, and the town is to the west. The mountain’s other three peaks are between Fugen and the town.

″Everything is happening on the other side of the mountain,″ Taguchi said. ″It’s not the volcano we’re worried about. It’s the business we stand to lose.″

The 63-room Unzen Takahara Hotel has had 3,000 cancellations the past two months. About half the people who had planned to stay in June have since decided otherwise.

″We’ve been flooded with calls,″ Taguchi said. ″Some people are wondering if they should cancel reservations a year in advance.″

Most of Unzen’s residents seemed to be going about their business as usual on Wednesday, chatting in front of souvenir shops or walking to and from work.

Several townspeople took time out to gather on sidewalks to look up at two plumes of white smoke and steam that rose in columns above the volcano.

The town of Unzen is not covered in the gray ash that blankets Shimabara, the largest city in the area and the only one that has suffered major damage.

Since the eruption began, Taguchi said no change has been noticed in the local hot springs, no increased temperatures or pressure.

Just off Unzen’s main street, steam bellows upward from several holes in the ground, leaving yellowish-brown sulfur deposits.

Across that street is another steam vent, around which has been built a small red shrine with a statue of a watchful Buddha, believed to protect the town from disasters.

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