KUMAMOTO - Local authorities reopened a crater area of Mount Aso on Wednesday to tourists for the first time in over three years following diminished volcanic activity and the installation of safety measures.
The crater on the 1,592-meter active volcano had been one of the most popular tourist spots in Kumamoto Prefecture, before it was closed to visitors in August 2014 after a small-scale eruption.
About 60 people from local governments and the sightseeing industry attended a ceremony in a park 1 kilometer from the crater to celebrate the reopening. They hope it will lead to the revitalization of the local economy, which is reeling from a series of huge earthquakes that hit the region in April 2016.
“We have taken measures so we can lift the entry ban and further promote recovery from the Kumamoto earthquake. I am really glad to reopen the crater area to tourists,” said Aso Mayor Yoshioki Sato at the ceremony.
However, operation of the gondola lift service connecting the park with an entrance to the crater remains suspended after its equipment was severely damaged in a large-scale eruption in October 2016. Instead a shuttle-bus service is available, while cars can also reach the entrance through a toll road.
The Meteorological Agency confirmed a small-scale eruption and raised the alert level for the volcano by one notch, to level 2, in August 2014, prompting local authorities to designate the area within a kilometer of the crater as off-limits.
The alert level was lowered to 1 in February 2017, which allows entry to the crater zone. It took some time, though, to install volcanic gas detectors and repair railing designed to prevent falls, after they were damaged in the massive 2016 eruption.