Earthquakes and volcano eruption are very common in Japan. This is largely to those natural disasters that the country owes its present beauty and landscape values. The country lies in 90% among mountain tops. However, those are not the types of mountains that the OYAKATA Master has seen in Poland, Japan’s highest and most beautiful peaks are either active or dormant volcanoes.

Japan in the Ring of Fire

The location of Japan is highly problematic for its inhabitants. The country is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire (環太平洋火山帯 – Kantaiheiyō kazan-tai). It is a zone where earthquakes and volcano eruptions are an almost daily phenomenon. About 90% of all earthquakes happen within that area and they are primarily responsible for volcano eruptions.

The Country of Cherry Blossoms has as many as 110 active volcanoes, which represents 10% of the global resource. Earthquakes occur every day, with 1000-3000 recorded annually, even though not all of them are actually perceptible. This is highly significant for Japanese housing, and primarily for the local volcanoes.

Mount Fuji – the majestic volcano on Honsiu

Mount Fuji (富士山 – Fujisan) is a Japanese volcano on Honsiu – Japan’s largest island. Besides, it is known as THE volcano – the tallest peak of Japan and also the tallest (inactive) volcano in the whole Asia. It has the overawing altitude of 3766 m a.s.l., which is twice the Polish Giewont. The volcano is less than 60 miles from Tokyo and it can be seen all the way from there if the weather is good. The most recent activity of Mount Fuji was recorded in 1707. It is recognizable due to its symmetrical quality and the snow cap present for 5 months a year.

The cultural heritage of Mount Fuji is very rich. The region has 25 cultural landmarks, with the Shintō sanctuary and the Taisekiji Head Buddhist temple. Mount Fuji has always inspired artists and poets. It is additionally a contemporary symbol of Japan and an inseparable element of many Japanese souvenirs. In 2013, the volcano was entered on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.

The trails leading to Mount Fuji are not the most difficult ones. The initial sections consist of a tarmac road and can be travelled in a horse cart. The trip along the trail is not the most peaceful one either. You can forget about solitude and quiet on your way to the top of the volcano. It is a very popular place and it is a sacred site for the Japanese. Tourists and pilgrims from organised trips take thorough preparations before the ascent. They have large backpacks, trekking poles, oxygen tanks, or even gas tanks to brew green tea during breaks. There is a saying in Japan that whoever climbs Fujisan is a great man.

The Japanese often stay overnight in base 10, which is before the peak, to resume their climb in the middle of the night and reach the top right before the sunrise. The view is spectacular, and if accompanied by the morning mist and clouds it creates a transcendent atmosphere.

Sakurajima – the most active volcano in Japan

Sakurajima (桜 島 – Sakurajima) literally means “Cherry Island.” The tallest of the volcano’s three peaks is 1117 m a.s.l. Sakurajima is not as appealing as Mount Fuji. Despite its many tourist attractions and amenities, it is not as popular as Mount Fuji. The Japan Meteorological Agency has assigned the Cherry Island warning level 3, which means that you cannot come close to the volcano. Nonetheless, the volcano slopes are still inhabited by several thousand Japanese, who rinse the dust coming from the Sakurajima crater from their bodies every day.

The volcano is situated near the city of Kagoshima, which is often called the Japanese Naples due to its warm climate and the presence of palm trees. The inhabitants of Kagoshima live in constant fear of the merciless neighbour. The Country of Cherry Blossoms does not have a more dangerous and active volcano. The most recent eruption of Sakurajima took place in 2016 and it reached the altitude of 3 miles. The volcano demonstrates its activity on a daily basis with minor explosions. Experts from the Japanese Volcano Research Centre suggest that the next serious eruption may take place somewhere over the next 30 years.

Ontake – the culprit of the greatest volcano disaster over the past 100 years

Ontake (御嶽山 – Ontakesan) is Japan’s second highest volcano. Just like Mount Fuji, it is a sacred mountain. It is 3067 m a.s.l. While climbing up Ontake, you can enjoy magnificent views and take the opportunity to see five crater lakes, with Nino Pond (二ノ池 – Ni no ike) – the highest elevated lake in the country (2905 m a.s.l).

Ontake used to be considered as a safe and convenient place for beginner climbers. Additionally, it became a destination of many Japanese pilgrims. This is why it was frequently visited for many years. Its assets included onsens (温泉 – Onsen) – Japanese hot springs, with public baths (銭湯 – Sentō) developed around them. In 2014, the hills of the region were the hiking sites for hundreds of happy tourists. And then, suddenly, Ontake erupted hundreds of thousands tonnes of ash and volcanic gases, speeding with a velocity of even 190 mph, with a temperature of 1000°C. This was so unexpected that 63 people died as a result.

Aso – a volcano with the first cable car to the top

Mount Aso ( 阿蘇山 – Asosan) is Japan’s largest active volcano. Its caldera perimeter is 130 km and its elevation is 1592 m a.s.l. The trail to the top of Mount Aso is not difficult. It is marked with yellow arrows painted on the rocks, which lead to the very top. However, beware of rocks with red crosses as they mean the trail of death.

For those who are not too fond of hiking, the Japanese have prepared The Mount Aso Ropeway (阿蘇山ロープウェイ – Asosan rōpuu~ei) – the first cable car on an active volcano. The trip to the top takes just 4 minutes, and the glass cars permit admiring the wild nature and landscape of the Aso National Park.

The volcano erupted in 2016, which is why it is currently impossible to reach it by cable car. It is currently assigned warning level 3, and toxic gases keep coming from the crater, so the volcano can only be seen from afar.

Japanese volcanoes in films.

Mount Fuji is not the only object of affection of artists. Shinmoe-dake and Mount Mihara are other special volcanoes. Due to the indisputable landscape values and mountainous terrain, their scenery is present in many works and productions.

Shinmoe-dake ( 新燃岳-Shinmoe₋dake) was used in 1967 as the setting for the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice.” The shots presented the smoke and ash dispersing above the volcano peak after the eruption. The volcano’s last activity was recorded at the beginning of 2018.

Mount Mihara (三原山-Miharayama) is a volcano on the Izu Oshima island (伊豆大島). The region prides itself on the landscape of blooming camellias. However, the attention of Hollywood producers is more attracted to its volcanic scenery. This is how the island become popular. Its Mount Mihara was featured in “The Return of Godzilla” and in “Godzilla vs. Biollante” as the place where the Japanese government trapped Godzilla. Additionally, the Izu Oshima motif appears in the Pokémon series as the depiction of the Cinnabar Island.

Japan’s active volcanoes and safety

Every year natural disasters result in over 250,000 injured Japanese. The number always depends on the scale of the threat but Japanese services keep developing new strategies and plans to fight the elements and mitigate the losses. Tokyo has a specialized cell Tokyo DMAT, which is sent to the sites of natural disasters to provide immediate assistance. Furthermore, the country has many hospitals intended only for patients injured in earthquakes, tsunami or volcano eruptions.

Every year the inhabitants undergo training and early warning drills to know what to in an emergency. Nature is powerful and shows the Japanese no mercy. However, in collaboration with the inhabitants, the authorities take all the defensive steps and technological measures to always be ready to face the element.

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