A volcano on the southwestern main island of Kyushu erupted early Wednesday for the first time in six years, prompting the Japan Meteorological Agency to raise its volcanic alert level.
Mt. Shinmoe, straddling the borders of Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures, had been showing intensifying volcanic activity, such as an increasing number of volcanic earthquakes, since late last month, the agency said.
The eruption occurred at around 5:34 a.m., with the plume rising about 300 meters above the crater. A small amount of ash fell in three cities and the town of Takaharu in Miyazaki but no injuries or damage have been reported so far, according to local police.
The agency warned at a press conference that volcanic activities can further intensify as swelling of the mountain was observed.
It raised its volcanic alert on a scale of five from level 2, involving restrictions around the crater, to level 3, instructing people not to approach the mountain, warning that areas within 2 kilometers of the crater can be exposed to large flying rocks and pyroclastic flows caused by eruptions.
The alert level stood at 3 for the first time since October 2013. The agency had upgraded last Thursday its alert from level 1, which means the public needs to keep in mind that a mountain is an active volcano, to level 2.
Glass windows can be shattered by explosive eruptions, while downwind regions can also encounter ash and small flying rocks, the agency said.
In Takaharu, some people walked while holding an umbrella as volcanic ash fell on roads. Yoshinari Imanishi, 66, a senior official of a local tourism association, expressed concern about possible negative impact from the eruption, saying, "We were hit by accommodation cancellations six years ago. I hope (the eruption) will not affect the autumn outing season."
The last major eruption of the volcano, which is part of the Kirishima mountain range, occurred on Sept. 7, 2011.
The government set up a liaison unit to gather information at the prime minister's office. The Kagoshima and Miyazaki meteorological offices will dispatch personnel to the area to assess the situation.