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Friday, 29th May 2015
In General Japan News,

Mount Shindake erupts on Kuchinoerabu Island

A volcano on the tiny island of Kuchinoerabu erupted this morning (May 29th), causing the inhabitants to evacuate. More than 100 people were taken to safety after Mount Shindake unexpectedly blew its top.

Columns of thick black smoke were seen from neighbouring islands such as Yakushima, as Japan's meteorological agency raised the alert level to five. This is the highest it can go and meant that all 140 residents of Kuchinoerabu needed to be evacuated. In the aftermath of the eruption, a five-minute volcanic quake was felt.

The agency said that pyroclastic flows, dense currents of rock fragments and hot gases from the explosion had reached the island's north-west shore, but no injuries or damage had been reported. An emergency response team and self-defence forces have been sent to the island by prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

He said that everything was being done to ensure that all of the islanders are taken to safety. Chief spokesman for the government, Yoshihide Suga, added that a vessel belonging to the coast guard was on the scene aiding the evacuation.

Those seeing the eruption from a distance described hearing a loud bang and smoke rising up into the sky, until it was very dark. A smell of sulphur could also be detected, as the volcano spewed out material from below the earth's surface. Much of this landed in the sea, the ash giving it a grey appearance.

The island of Kuchinoerabu can be found in the Satsunan archipelago in the Kagoshima prefecture. It is around 50 miles south-west of the largest island in the group, Kyushu, and can only be reached by boat. Normally, a ferry plies the route to Kuchinoerabu once a day from Yakushima Island 12 miles to the east, but today, local boats have been used to evacuate the population.

There has been increased activity at Mount Shindake in recent months, as it erupted in August last year, which was the first time since 1980. The volcano stands at 650 metres above sea level and has had climbing restrictions placed on it by the meteorological agency due to the increased risk of explosion. The risk became a reality at 10am local time today.

Japan is home to a number of active volcanoes, which are closely monitored by the authorities to ensure minimum impact should they erupt. This includes early warning systems and alert levels heightened when there is a chance they will explode.

In recent months, a hot spring just outside of Tokyo was closed due to the threat of an explosion at Mount Hakone. While the eruption never happened, it is clear to see that every precaution is being taken with regard to some of nature's most unpredictable elements.

The flipside of Japan's volcanic terrain is that it provides a stunning landscape, with the most famous of its volcanoes being Mount Fuji. Located on Honshu Island, the iconic mountain is the highest in Japan and has been depicted in art since time immemorial. It has not erupted, however, since 1708.

James Mundy, public relations and marketing manager at Inside Japan, said: "This latest spectacular eruption though is on a small island approximately 100 kilometres off the southernmost tip of Kyushu and the closest destination of note is neighbouring Yakushima Island - famed for inspiring Miyazaki's anime Princess Mononoke.

"Local authorities are evacuating all of the 140 residents off this small island after the eruption. None of our customers are affected by the eruption whatsoever. Japan has one tenth of the world's active volcanoes and the southern region of Kyushu is renowned for its geothermal activity.

"There are actually quite a few very impressive volcanoes around the country enabling the Japanese pastime of onsen (hot spring) bathing and all volcanoes are monitored carefully - including Mount Fuji."