A VOLCANO in south-western Japan has erupted for the first time in six years, spreading ash over nearby cities and towns.

Film footage showed elementary school students wearing helmets and masks on the way to their school at the foot of the Shinmoedake volcano yesterday.

Residents also described hearing rumbles from the volcano, and ash fell in at least four cities and towns in Miyazaki prefecture.

The volcano on the border of Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures started erupting on Wednesday for the first time in six years.

Yesterday, an ash plume rose 5,600ft (1,700m) from the crater, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

The agency has raised the volcanic alert level from 2 to 3 on a scale of 5. Level 3 warns people to not approach the volcano.

Pyroclastic flow, which is an emission of hot gases and volcanic matter at a high speed, is possible within 1.2 miles (2km) of the crater.

Emissions of ash and volcanic rocks were forecast until today for a wider area, but the locations at risk would depend on wind conditions and altitude.

The seismically active area around the Pacific known as the “Ring of Fire” includes active volcanoes in Japan as well as two causing mass evacuations in Indonesia and Vanuatu in recent