Connect with us

Economy & Tech

EDITORIAL | Command Center for Volcano Research a Long Time Coming

Japan's new Volcano Headquarters will monitor all 111 active volcanoes, working with local gov'ts, residents, and researchers to better prepare for eruptions.



Mount Ontake emits violent smoke as part of its deadly eruption on the afternoon of September 27, 2014, on the border between Nagano and Gifu prefectures. (Photo by Shigeru Amari by headquarters helicopter)

With 111 active volcanoes, Japan is without a doubt a volcanic nation. Toward the autumn of 2024, the Japanese government is due to publish an evaluation of the current status of each volcano in the country. That report will include every volcano's active status and likelihood of pending eruption

This move provides all Japanese an opportunity to take a greater interest in volcanoes, not only residents in directly affected areas.

In line with the revised Act on Special Measures Concerning Active Volcanoes ("Active Volcanoes Act"), the government established the Volcano Research Promotion Headquarters in April. Dubbed the "Volcano Headquarters," it is part of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. 

Within the headquarters, the volcano research committee is in charge of evaluating Japan's 111 active volcanoes. It plans to assess the degree of disaster risk for each. That encompasses analyzing basic data, such as past eruption history. It will publish its findings roughly twice a year. 

Masahito Moriyama, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, speaks at the first meeting of the Volcano Headquarters on April 8, at the ministry. (@Kyodo)

Why a Volcano Headquarters?

Mount Ontake is an active volcano that straddles the border between Gifu Prefecture and Nagano Prefecture. This year marks the 10th anniversary of its eruption in September 2014, which left 63 people dead or missing. Drawing lessons from that disaster, the authorities have reconsidered their approach to volcanic disasters. Part of that reevaluation was the Active Volcanoes Act revision in June 2023.

Japan is one of the world's most volcanic countries. However, previously, no system was in place for the national government to take the lead in volcano observation and research efforts. 

When an eruption occurred, the Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions evaluated the outlook for further volcanic activity. However, the committee's status was limited to that of a private advisory body for the director general of the Japan Meteorological Agency. Furthermore, it lacked its own budget and adjustment capabilities. 

Signboard unveiling ceremony for the new Volcano Headquarters on April 1. At the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (@Kyodo)

Volcano Headquarters as a 'Command Center'

The new Volcano Headquarters is a government body designed to operate as a "command center" for volcano observation and research. Nevertheless, its functions will go beyond that of a command center. Among its major challenges are how to strengthen the existing volcano observation system and develop the human resources required for research and observation. 

The forms of eruption and resulting damage differ from volcano to volcano. Long-term data for each volcano and experts capable of interpreting it are essential. In addition to strengthening the volcano observation system, which has been shrinking in recent years, from a long-term perspective we need to train volcano experts.


Volcanic activity takes place over long periods of decades or even centuries. Job positions and benefits need to support continuing observation and research, not just achieving short-term results. 

Mount Aso in Kyushu erupted on October 20, 2021 (from the Japan Meteorological Agency live camera)

Working with Local Communities, Researchers

Efforts to promote better disaster prevention capabilities should be initiated throughout each community. They should include collaboration among observation and research institutions, local governments, and residents in affected areas. Such collaboration will provide the foundation for effective human resources development.

On August 26, 1911, an observation site was established on Mount Asama. Using that date as a reference, August 26 was designated as Volcano Disaster Prevention Day beginning in 2023. Training and educational activities will be carried out then, simulating what would happen in the event of an actual eruption. 

By getting to know volcanoes better through these means, we will be more thoroughly prepared to live next to them. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun