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As a holiday location Hakone is a little over-rated, but as a zombie survival spot it has some good points. It lacks the defensibility of Mount Takao, but its relative remoteness, inaccessibility, climate and water features offer some survival opportunities. It’s also quite a beautiful spot to be torn apart by zombies in, though that’s not our intention here. Hakone is located about 2 hours’ journey West of Tokyo (if you catch the bullet train part way) in the province of Kanagawa, and consists of an ancient volcano caldera, with a lake in the middle of thickly forested hills. From some locations within the caldera it is possible to see Mount Fuji, though the weather around here is quite bad and it is often cloudy or obscured. The nearest large town is Yumoto, which is on the far side of the hills from the lake. Hakone itself is accessible through one or two twisting, winding roads that ascend and then descend the caldera. There is also a train and a cable car. The lake is a tourist resort in spring, summer and autumn, and features a rather amusing ferry fashioned on a pirate theme (see below), as well as a variety of paddle boats and smaller cruisers. There are three towns on the lakeside, linked by a single road that winds through thick forest, and by the pirate ferry.

Pirates vs. zombies!

Review

Location: Hakone is reached by only a small number of winding roads, which feature many switchbacks and narrow, easily blockable chokepoints. The road is, of course, lined with towns, but these are small and easy to pass through and mostly lower down the mountain – also unlikely to be zombified before the larger towns closer to Tokyo. It would be quite easy to pass beyond a certain point and block the road against zombie encroachment, forcing them to work around the blockade and struggle up through densely forested steep mountains.

This brings us onto a new aspect of zombie hording theory: how do zombie hordes proceed? I presume they flow along the path of least resistance, which in an urban setting would mean that they flow along roads, with more zombies on wider roads. Furthermore, all the work I’ve read and seen on zombies suggests that they have very limited, if any, information exchange. This leads to some interesting dynamics, because it means that they don’t behave like ants or bees – they don’t lay paths and follow them. So it seems reasonable to suppose that as they leave cities they are more likely to move down major roads, and if they don’t find prey they will slowly disperse. Thus, only small numbers can be expected to proceed along narrow, winding, low-prey-density country roads, and at some point they can be expected to stop and mill around – as we see in quite a few scenes from the major documentaries. This suggests that a remote location reached only by narrow, winding roads with low-density settlements sparsely located (as is the case on the higher reaches of Hakone) is likely to be missed by the majority of zombies.

Defensibility: Hakone has a harsh winter – right now, in mid April, the cherry blossoms have not yet bloomed, for example, which must mean that between December and March it is very cold – it even snowed when I was there last weekend. A lot of people think that zombies freeze in the cold, which in the case of Hakone evokes the possibility of a kind of “zombie line,” above which zombies can’t pass. Defenders of Hakone could venture into the snows of late winter/early spring and slaughter frozen zombies on the slopes of the mountains. Additionally, this winter cold, though harsh on people living in Hakone, offers the possibility of a three month respite from zombie attacks – surely a valuable haven of stability in a zombiepocalypse.

Also, Hakone has the lake, and the pirate ships. In a pinch, one could sail one of these pirate ships to the middle of the lake, dragging a couple of pedal-powered swans with it, and set it up as a safe haven far from the zombie hordes. The pedal boats could be used to travel to the shore for supplies. At least in the short term this offers an opportunity to ride out the worst of the initial period of the apocalypse, and to work out what to do next. Then, there are many areas of the shore which are so thickly forested that they are almost impossible for a zombie horde to enter rapidly without making a noise. One could clear a section of this forested area and set up some fields and a house, combining potato crops and potentially a rice field or two with fish from the lake (and seabirds). If zombies attacked, a quick hop onto a pedal-boat would get one out to the pirate ship and temporary safety. There are also, of course, buildings higher up the hillsides, which could be quite easily fortified. Unfortunately a lot of these are large hotels, which offer the advantage of being able to hide deep inside, but the disadvantage of being extremely difficult to secure.

Concealment: Being in a bowl, most of the locations inside Hakone are visible when one enters the valley, so things like smoke and lights at night might be visible to zombies cresting the mountains. However, from the valley base each town is largely disconnected from the other towns, with the bulwark of the mountains and thick forests preventing zombies in one town from seeing another. Setting a barricade on the roads between the towns, it would be quite easy to ensure that the only zombies that approached the town did so along a narrow and defensible road – those that entered the forest would likely soon lose sight of human habitation and wander listlessly, losing their horde properties and becoming less threatening to a community.

Sustainability: Hakone has a lot of tourist establishments, offering short-term sources of food, and it has a guaranteed supply of water (the lake and its tributary streams) as well as the opportunity to fish for food for most of the year. However, the steep mountains and harsh winter weather may make long-term survival here difficult, and it is likely that, outside of fire wood, there are no more reliable sources of energy – perhaps a dam could be built, but it would be a significant engineering task. Enterprising survivors could turn the many onsens in the region into a power source, but this would likely require the support of some skilled engineers. Thus, if one wants to make Hakone sustainable as a survival location, one would need to ensure that one had at least one engineer and someone with a fairly robust knowledge of farming when one arrived. Otherwise, it is likely that Hakone would serve best as a winter redoubt, somewhere to retreat for the first winter after the apocalypse while one attempted to work out a long term survival strategy. Things could get bitter here in winter, and not all survivors could be guaranteed to emerge at spring, depending on how well stocked the hotels were and how many survivors fled here.

Conclusion

Hakone offers short-term survival opportunities, the chance to build a home and spend a winter free of zombie harassment while a group of survivors tries to develop a long-term plan. The steep hillsides, harsh winter and lack of local power supplies mean that it may not be a viable long-term survival location, but its secluded location and the presence of many hotels means that it may be a suitable location for a small number of survivors to sit out the worst of the initial stages of the apocalypse. It’s worth remembering that in the first stages of the apocalypse, 30 million or so Tokyo residents are going to zombify and head into the country – having a secluded location to wait for this process to stabilize is a very useful first plan. So there are worse places to go than Hakone, but it is potentially less defensible and more difficult to survive in than Takao. It lacks one significant aspect of Takao – height, and the ability to make low-tech zombie traps. But it has one significant advantage – the opportunity to retreat to the lake centre if a horde approaches. As a short term survival choice, it is not perfect, but definitely better than attempting to survive within Tokyo.

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