A VOLCANO in southern Japan has erupted, shooting smoke and ash thousands of feet into the sky and grounding dozens of flights to and from a nearby airport.

The Meteorological Agency said the Shinmoedake volcano erupted violently several times yesterday, sending ash and smoke up to 7500ft into the air in its biggest explosion since 2011.

Some lava was also spotted rising from the inside of the crater, which is situated on Japan’s southernmost main island of Kyushum.

The volcano, seen in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, has had smaller eruptions since last week and is one of 110 active sites in Japan.

And about 80 flights in and out of nearby Kagoshima Airport were cancelled. Public broadcaster NHK showed volcanic smoke billowing into the sky and orange lava rising to the mouth of the crater

In Kirishima city, at the foot of the volcano, pedestrians wore surgical masks or covered their noses with hand towels. Some used umbrellas to protect themselves from falling ash. Cars had layers of ash on their roofs. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The volcanic activity is expected to continue and residents were cautioned against the possibility of flying rocks and pyroclastic flows – superheated gas and volcanic debris that race down the slopes at high speeds, incinerating or vaporising everything in their path.