A place to experience and think about the volcanoes
Kirishima Geopark straddles the prefectures of Miyazaki and Kagoshima in southern Kyushu, and is centered around the towering Kirishima Mountains, which are an active group of volcanoes. There are more than 20 volcanoes of various sizes, each with craters relative to their size , some of which have rich stores of water. A major feature of the Kirishima Mountains is the diverse volcanic landforms on display, such as lava plateaus, cinder cones, and the remains of volcanic landslides. In the northern part of the Geopark stand the Kakuto and Kobayashi calderas, which preceded the Kirishima Mountains, while to the south lies the edge of the Aira Caldera. The depressed landforms and expansive pyroclastic plateaus caused by huge prehistoric eruptions are another feature of the area. With the ability to see these volcanic landforms up-close, Kirishima Geopark presents visitors with the perfect location to learn the wonders of volcanic phenomena.
A row of volcanoes in southern Kyushu as seen from the top of Mt. Karakunidake (Onami Lake, Aira Caldera, Sakurajima, Mt. Kaimondake)
A hill formed from the sector collapse of Mt. Hinamoridake (Kobayashi City)
The Kirishima volcanoes as seen from Takachiho Farm (Miyakonojo City)
The Kakuto Caldera as seen from the top of Mt. Koshikidake
A bird’s-eye view of the Kirishima volcanoes
Shirasu-Daichi to the south of the Kirishima Mountains (Kirishima City)
Abundant Environments and Vegetation Developed by Volcanic Activity
Volcanic activity in the area has not only formed the land, but it has also developed diverse environments and ecosystems. Various water environments are scattered around the Geopark, including volcanic lakes, gorges, mudflats, and marshlands, and with an elevation difference of 1,700 meters between the lowest and highest varieties of vegetation, the entire park nurtures a highly diverse range of biota. Elsewhere, as the vegetation atop each of the volcanoes has been influenced by eruptions at different times, visitors can see various stages of vegetation succession. The vegetation around Mt. Shinmoedake, which has been the site of numerous huge eruptions in recent years, has been almost completely reset, and seeing changes in the vegetation environments here is another highlight.
In addition to the Geopark’s diverse environments and vegetation, another major attraction is the ability to see its ever-changing nature first-hand.
Close Links Between Volcanoes, Lifestyles, and Cultures
Volcanoes greatly impact the lifestyles and cultures of the people living at their base. In addition to direct benefits, such as abundant natural water sources, geothermal energy from magma, and hot springs, the topography and geological features of the land have also influenced food culture, helping to create products such as sweet potato shochu liquor, tea, and black vinegar. An abundance of volcanic rock has led to large numbers of stone bridges and warehouses, and with many volcano-related myths and rituals, it’s clear to see that local cultures and volcanoes are inextricably linked. While volcanoes can cause devastating natural disasters, they also bring many blessings.
The respect and admiration that locals have for these volcanoes can be seen in the shrines and folk religions in each area.
Volcanoes and the Future
With many of the Kirishima Mountains’ active volcanoes repeatedly generating eruptions of all sizes, locals must look at how to coexist with them. While they are infrequent, how should locals approach upcoming caldera eruptions that have the potential to wipe out nearby civilizations?
People have lived alongside these volcanoes since ancient times; it is up to the current generation to add new approaches. A key task for Kirishima Geopark is to share information with other volcanic regions, promote mutual learning, and utilize this insight to create sustainable local communities.
The Kirishima Geopark Vision
Six Basic Policies to Achieve the Kirishima Geopark Vision
(1) Protect and utilize regional resources
(2) Utilize regional resources to develop successful personnel
(3) Acquire expertise for the future
(4) Create an environment that facilitates easy use of regional resources
(5) Establish a management foundation to ensure the sustainability of Kirishima Geopark activities
(6) Utilize interregional networks and aim for mutual improvement
What Are Geoparks?
Celebrating Earth Heritage, Sustaining Local Communities—Geoparks are single, unified areas where natural heritage and landscapes of geological significance that describe the history of the earth are managed with a holistic approach to protection, education, and sustainable development.
Geoparks use their geological heritage, such as rocks and stratum, in connection with their natural and cultural heritage, to enhance awareness and understanding of key issues facing society, including sustainable use of the earth’s resources, the mitigation of climate change impacts, and the reduction of impacts from natural disasters. Further, by raising awareness of the importance of this heritage among local citizens, Geoparks aim to promote a sense of pride and attachment.
While the area’s heritage is protected, Geoparks utilize this heritage to promote geotourism and generate new sources of income, leading to the creation of innovative local enterprises and new employment opportunities.