There is no single image more symbolic of Japan than Mount Fuji. The highest mountain in Japan, 富士山 (Fuji-san, meaning "Mount Fuji", not "Mr. Fuji”) is located 60 miles southwest of Toyko and is the subject of countless poems, stories, and works of art, including illustrations by Hokusai and Hiroshige. The mountain is woven into the soul of Japan. It is even the symbol for one of the most prolific movie studios in Japan and appears at the beginning of many films.
However, the mountain may also pose a threat to the people who love it. Mount Fuji is also a volcano, albeit one that has long been dormant. It last erupted in 1707. However, the 2011 9.0 magnitude Tohoku earthquake that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and killed over 15,000 people also appears may have been the harbinger of an eruption. A new article in the journal Science indicates that pressure has been building since the 2011 quake inside the volcano. In 2012, the mountain’s magma chamber pressure had risen to 1.6 megapascals, almost 16 times higher than the mountain’s level when it last erupted. Another scientist has also predicted that Mt. Fuji will erupt before the end of 2015. He points to cracks and rising magma, as well as a rise in water level at Lake Sai nearby.
The last eruption of Mt. Fuji projected almost a billion cubic meters of ash and debris into the atmosphere. It was also quickly followed by an 8.7 magnitude quake and tsunami that killed over 5,000 people. Unlike Japan in 1707, however, today over 1.2 million people live in the area directly surrounding Mt. Fuji, making evacuation difficult. The more than 1 million people closest to the mountain could experience pyroclastic and lava flows capable of leveling any and all structures.
Before you cancel your travel plans, though, you should know that scientists really have no way of knowing whether an eruption is imminent or even inevitable. Scientists still do not understand enough about volcanoes to know how to predict their behavior. In addition, despite what movies and television have led us to believe, although the eruption can cause massive property damage, most volcanic eruptions result in slow-moving lava that is easy to escape.