Four hikers, including a Singaporean woman, who went missing while descending Hokkaido's tallest mountain Asahidake on Tuesday have been found alive.
They were located at 5.45pm (4.45pm Singapore time) yesterday, some 22 hours after they made a distress call to the police, and after spending a night on the mountain without a tent as temperatures fell to below minus 7 deg C.
Asahidake, at 2,291m tall, towers over a hot springs resort village by the same name in Higashikawa town in central Hokkaido.
The hikers were found conscious near a water source, about 1.5km south-east of the mountain's ropeway station at about 1,600m above sea level.
The group included an elderly Japanese couple, and a duo in their 20s who reportedly identified themselves to police as a Malaysian man and a Singaporean woman.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK said that the four hikers were able to converse with emergency responders when they were found, although the younger man was showing symptoms of hypothermia.
Number of distress cases as of last month for Asahidake mountain, three times more than the five recorded for the whole of last year.
Number of distress calls from Hokkaido mountains this year, reported NHK citing police figures, on course to exceed last year's all-time high of 119 cases.
Given their extreme exhaustion, they were due to spend last night on the mountain under the watch of rescuers, before being taken to hospital in the morning after descending from the mountain.
About 130 personnel from the Hokkaido police force's mountain rescue team and from the military Ground Self-Defence Force were reportedly involved in the successful search operation.
There have already been 113 distress calls from Hokkaido mountains this year, reported NHK citing police figures, on course to exceed last year's all-time high of 119 cases.
As for Asahidake, there were already 15 distress cases as of last month, three times more than the five recorded for the whole of last year.
Hokkaido police urged mountaineers not to underestimate the climb up Asahidake, which under perfect conditions would be a fivehour hike starting and ending at the ropeway station.
Japanese media also noted snow cover on the peak has been unseasonally thick for this time of the year.
In yesterday's case, the older couple were Yokohama native Masahiko Kato, 71, and his wife Yumiko, 65. They got acquainted with the younger duo, whose names are not yet known, on the mountain.
They decided to make a U-turn near the eighth station as the weather took a bad turn. But as visibility dropped and night fell, they took a wrong turn near its seventh station - at an elevation of about 1,930m - and found themselves stranded.
Mr Kato made the first call to police at about 7.35pm on Tuesday, saying that the four of them did not know where they were. He added that they had no food, and very little water on them.
He called the police again after 8am yesterday, saying that all four were conscious and alive although the younger man "had difficulties moving due to hypothermia".