"Kojiki" (Records of Ancient Matters), Japan's oldest existing chronicle dating from the early eighth century, contains accounts that imply volcanic activity.

Geophysicist Torahiko Terada (1878-1935) wrote that many episodes concerning the Shinto storm god Susanoo "clearly suggest volcanic phenomena."

In one, Susanoo's hysterical wailing causes trees in the mountains to wither and the sea and rivers to dry up. According to Terada, this is strongly evocative of a destructive volcanic event that killed vegetation and dumped ash on the coastal waters and rivers.

"Kojiki" was compiled about 1,300 years ago, and this passage may remind us that our ancestors had to deal with volcanic problems just like we do now.

Mount Kusatsu-Shiranesan in Kusatsu, Gunma Prefecture, has just erupted for what is believed to be the first time in about 3,000 years. The rocks it spewed rained on a ski slope. With nowhere to take cover, many skiers were injured. Tragically, one member of the Ground Self-Defense Force who was training there was killed.

Volcanoes are said to have an average life span of several hundreds of thousands of years. For a volcano, 3,000 years is perhaps equivalent to one year or a few months at most in the life of a human being.

One might liken the latest episode in Kusatsu to the mountain "throwing a tantrum for the first time in a year." This makes me acutely conscious of the colossal gap between volcanic years and human years.

Japan has 111 active volcanoes including Mount Fuji and Mount Sakurajima. Roughly 7 percent of the world's active volcanoes are clustered in our small nation.

Their presence blesses us with ample underground water and "onsen" hot springs, making geothermal power generation feasible.

The downside of this, of course, is that we are constantly at risk from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

Mount Kusatsu-Shiranesan was yet another reminder of the difficulty of predicting an eruption. We need to bear in mind that any quiet mountain can suddenly come to life and be prepared for such an eventuality.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 25

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.