LIVING IN JAPAN
Living in the Shade of Sakurajima—The Most Active Volcano in Japan
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live next to — or on — an active volcano? Well, that is what we who live in Kagoshima, Japan, experience every day.
Sakurajima is an active stratovolcano just four kilometers across Kagoshima Bay from downtown Kagoshima City, in southern Japan. Although its name means “cherry blossom island,” it is no longer an island as a result of a major eruption in 1914.
Sakurajima is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, averaging over 1,000 eruptions per year from 2009 to 2015. In 2020, it calmed down to a reasonable—for local residents—432 eruptions.
In spite of the frequent eruptions, people have lived on the volcano since ancient times. Shell heaps, made of shells discarded after their contents were eaten, dating from the Jomon Era (14,000–600BC in southern Kyushu) have been uncovered by archaeologists.
Although more than 20,000 lived on the island prior to 1914, today, the population has shrunk to 4,000 inhabitants, primarily due to Japan’s overall population decline that most severely affects rural areas.
The fewer than 100 elementary school children who live on the volcano wear helmets for protection from falling pumice and ash as they walk to and from school.
Residents of Kagoshima City, which includes Sakurajima, sweep up ash daily, fill yellow ash bags provided by the government, and deposit them for removal at collection centers in each area.
An inexpensive ferry makes the 10-minute trip between Sakurajima and Kagoshima City every 15 minutes, so there is plenty of opportunity for higher education, jobs, shopping, or eating out.