Photo/IllutrationThe Owakudani valley and the surrounding areas on Mount Hakoneyama in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture on May 19 (Kazuyoshi Sako)

HAKONE, Kanagawa Prefecture--The Japan Meteorological Agency raised the volcanic eruption warning on Mount Hakoneyama to a Level 2 on May 19, prompting the closure of the Owakudani valley and the Hakone Ropeway.

Visitors are warned to stay clear of the crater, as an eruption that will damage the area could occur, the JMA said.

The number of volcanic earthquakes has increased since the morning of May 18, along with fumarolic activity in Owakudani and the surrounding areas, which are located within the assumed volcanic vent.

In response, the Hakone town government announced on May 19 that it has prohibited visitors from entering Owakudani, a popular spot for foreign tourists.

Hakone Ropeway Co. also announced on that day that it suspended operations between Sounzan and Togendai stations, the starting to final stops, for the time being.

Alternatively, Hakone Ropeway started to provide bus service between these stations by way of Ubako Station from 9 a.m. on May 19.

The JMA's 5-point scale warning level had been at the lowest Level 1 for Hakoneyama, which asks visitors to be mindful that the mountain is an active volcano.

The level was last raised to Level 2 in May 2015 and Level 3 the following month. It was lowered to Level 1 in November that year.