Japan sits on the Pacific Rim of Fire and owes its existence to volcanoes. They spew out the stuff that Japan is made of. You can see them in the far-north island of Hakkaido and at the very tip of the southern island of Kyushu. The top picture is of Mount Unsen in Kyushu. It has a long history of eruptions. The town of Shimabara, on its slopes, was destroyed in1792 with the loss of 15,000 lives. More recently, in 1991, 43 people died in a pyroclastic flow (avalanche of superheated gas and dust) that suddenly erupted and sped down the mountainside. Most were newsmen and volcanologists. The town’s population had previously been evacuated.

An impressive museum, in Shimabara, is built of land buried in that eruption and preserves partially-buried houses. Other exhibits include videos of the pyroclastic event, shot by newsmen as the gasses raced towards them. They died but their cameras survived. Kyushu has many active volcanoes. You will see them puffing out smoke and ash as you travel around. Occasionally, you may be treated to a distant display of red-hot lava. Don’t expect to get close. 

As soon as volcanoes start to get really interesting, you are not allowed to go anywhere near them … unless you are a newsman or distinguished volcanologist. One way round the problem it to take a trip in a site-seeing aircraft. Even then, you will be severely restricted in how close you can get.

 My next photo was taken on the rim of the Mount Aso volcano, which is also in Kyushu. A road leads up there and there is a visitors’ centre complete with displays telling you how the volcano works. The centre has a siren which sounds whenever Aso sends out more noxious gases than are thought healthy for the average visitor. People who are slow to heed the warning are approached by staff wearing breathing apparatus. People with lung problems are advised not to make the trip up the mountain in the first place.

My last photo is of the city of Kagashima, which is at the southern tip of Kyushu. Its volcano is just off the coast and was an island before an eruption joined it to the mainland. We stayed there, on the slopes of the volcano, in a house built amongst lava flows. 

The neighbours’ children went to school wearing hard hats and padded jackets as protection against stones that might rain down from the sky. Concrete shelters lined the road so that the children (and others) could take shelter if the loudspeakers, beside the road, stopped playing music and warned that an eruption was about to occur.