Tremors raise fears of Mount Fuji volcanic eruption


TOKYO, AP

Worried by increased tremors under Japan’s Mount Fuji, authorities will hold the first eruption drill on the sacred mountain later this year, a news report said Wednesday.

The 3,776-meter (12,388-foot) Mount Fuji — Japan’s highest mountain — last erupted in 1707, when it laid a blanket of ash over Tokyo, 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) to the northeast.

But the Yomiuri newspaper reported that low-frequency tremors 10 kilometers (6 miles) to 20 kilometers (12 miles) below Fuji’s peak have increased sharply in recent months.

Local officials will conduct a disaster prevention drill in June, including evacuation of people living close to the volcano, the newspaper said, citing unidentified government officials.

Officials at several government agencies — including the Yamanashi prefectural government and the Science and Technology Agency — said they could not confirm the report Wednesday, a national holiday in Japan.

The Yomiuri report said authorities had been reluctant to hold such drills on the mountain in the past for fear of scaring off the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who trek to the peak every year.

The mountain is widely considered the symbol of Japan. Its near-perfect conical shape has been memorialized in poetry and woodblock prints for centuries.

But warning signs have been growing.

Until last year, the mountain had typically been hit with 10 or so small tremors a year. But the Yomiuri quoted the Science and Technology Agency as reporting that Mount Fuji and surrounding areas were hit with 33 in September, 133 in October and 222 in November. The activity indicated movements of underground magma, the newspaper said.

It is not clear, however, how dangerous the volcano is. The Yomiuri quoted experts as saying that the frequent occurrence of such low-frequency tremors will not necessarily lead to an eruption.

In Japan, there are currently 86 active volcanoes. Two volcanoes — one on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido and another on a small island just south of Tokyo — erupted last year.