Japan has lots of earthquakes, a typhoon season, occasional tsunamis and even nuclear meltdowns (okay, just once). There were even tornadoes a few weeks ago in Ibaraki and Tochigi Prefectures. But let’s not forget Japan’s most volatile natural disaster—volcanoes. We’re sitting right on top of a moiling molten pot of magma, and when the Earth gets mad, things get scary.
Photo by KimonBerlin
Japan is located on an edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the world’s hottest spot for earthquakes and volcanoes. It stretches in a horseshoe shape from New Zealand up to Siberia, over to Alaska and down to Argentina. Japan sits on a junction of four tectonic plates—the Eurasia Plate, Philippine Sea Plate, North American Plate, and Pacific Plate.
The islands of Japan, which were created by this burning Earth goo, are home to 10 percent of the world’s active volcanoes (volcanoes that have erupted in the last 10,000 years). There are over a hundred in Japan and many of them are popular sightseeing destinations.
Why the fire gods get angry
Volcanoes erupt because we have displeased the gods with our wicked ways and it means it’s time for a new round of virgin sacrifices. Just kidding!
Actually, the volcanoes of Japan spew magma because of oceanic subduction. This means that one of the aforementioned oceanic plates drops. Water then comes into contact with the mantle and turns it into liquid magma. The pressure builds and this magma has nowhere to go but up and out.
How bad is a volcanic eruption? In February of 2011, Kyushu’s Mt. Shinmoedake (known to many as the villain’s hideout in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice) had a major eruption. It hurled boulders and shattered windows as far as five miles away and shot smoke and ash 5,000 feet into the sky.
Photo by asiboro
When Mt. Bandai erupted in 1888 it actually changed the landscape. Aside from collapsing the northern part of the mountain, the eruption also changed nearby landforms, creating lakes, swamps and forests with its debris.
What to do in a volcanic eruption
If you live near a volcano, be prepared. Learn about the volcano and what it does when it erupts. For example, is there heavy lava flow or does it spit debris and smoke into the air?
Be prepared at all times to evacuate. Put together an evacuation kit with storable food, potable water, a first aid kit, flashlights, a radio, and batteries. Also pack a respirator, face mask or cloth because some volcanoes spit out poisonous gases.
Photo by seiko0509
Know your local escape route and practice evacuating. Every area in the vicinity of a volcano has an escape route so ask your local government.
Keep an eye on what’s going on, especially when there are lots of earthquakes since volcanic activity usually goes hand in hand. Check the Japan Meteorological Agency website for warnings. Keep the local news on.
When an eruption occurs, head for higher ground so you don’t get stuck in lava. If your local volcano is the ash and debris launching type, stay below ridgelines. The best possible place to be is inside a strong structure with windows and doors closed.