Japan ranks as one of the world’s most volcanically active countries. In fact, it’s home to over 110 active volcanoes, which is approximately 10% of the world’s total. Incredibly, many of them are accessible to the public. Here, we introduce five of those volcanoes, each of which provides a rich experience for travelers keen to encounter the geological forces at work beneath Japan.
Sakurajima, Kagoshima Prefecture
There are a myriad of ways to get to know this extremely active volcano. Start your exploration at the Sakurajima Visitor Center before heading out to observe how ecosystems recover post-eruption by visiting Sakurajima’s five visible lava flows.
Several observation decks provide different angles from which to admire the volcano, which is known to rumble, so keep an ear open. Other activities to consider include sightseeing flights, nighttime eruption cruises on the bay, volcanic ash pottery classes and pizza making in ovens made of solidified lava.
Mount Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture
A close-range view of a smoking crater and bright green crater lake awaits those who make the trek to Mount Aso. Of the mountain’s five peaks, only one, Mount Nakadake, is currently active. How close you can get will depend on the volcanic alert level and your health.
Take in the area’s wider volcanic splendor by hiking, horseback riding, rappelling the caldera walls, paragliding, hopping aboard a helicopter or small plane, or admiring the view from afar from a tethered hot air balloon.
Mount Fuji, Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures
Mount Fuji may not be smoking, but it is indeed an active volcano. Not interested in reaching the summit? No worries: Trails crisscross the lower slopes while guided tours will take you to the Mount Hoei crater, the main site of the 1707 eruption.
Skip a taxing hike entirely by exploring one of Mount Fuji’s lava caves, like the always-chilly Fugaku Wind Cave and Narusawa Ice Cave, formed during a ninth century eruption. Or, tour the lava tree molds at the Ken-Marubi lava flow.
Mount Unzen, Nagasaki Prefecture
A ghastly history hangs over Unzen Jigoku, a series of steaming fumarole fields on the slopes of Mount Unzen. Between 1627 and 1631, around 33 Christians were martyred here for refusing to renounce their religion.
Explore the fields by walking the footpaths, being sure to stop for a snack of onsen tamago — eggs cooked in hot springs — and for a foot soak in the ashiyu foot bath.
Those keen to dive deep into the area’s volcanic history should explore the Unzen Volcanic Area UNESCO Global Geopark.
Mount Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
Mount Hakone’s Owakudani valley, accessible via ropeway, features steaming volcanic gas and incredible views over Hakone and, on a clear day, Mount Fuji. Although the nature trail through the Owakudani Volcanic Steam Zone is generally off-limits these days due to increased volcanic activity, tours of the zone led by safety guides are held several times a day.
Cap off your visit with a meal of kurotamago — an onsen tamago with sulfur-blackened shells said to extend your lifespan by seven years per egg.