for National Geographic News
At a farmer's cooperative just south of Japan's Mount Fuji volcano, 66-year-old Katsuoku Issei calmly unloads crates of giant radishes and dried taro plant stems from his van.
"We'd sure be in trouble if the mountain erupts," he said, referring to Fuji. "But most people around here don't think it will happen.
"Besides," he added with a gold-toothed grin, "if it does, maybe it will explode off the other side, and here in Fujinomiya, we'll be fine."
(Watch related video: "Appeasing, and Climbing, Mount Fuji.")
Speculation of an eruption first spread in 2000 and 2001, when scientists were shocked to detect swarms of low-frequency earthquakes beneath Mount Fuji.
The announcement sent Japanese media into a frenzy and forced government bureaucrats to dust off disaster management plans.
The episode also prompted the formation of a national committee to assess the current danger of the volcano and create a detailed hazard map of the potentially affected areas, including the town of Fujinomiya.
Shigeo Aramaki, one of Japan's leading volcano experts, led the committee's hazard map project. The last Fuji eruption, he says, was in 1707.
"But in the last 2,200 years, Fuji has erupted at least 75 times, judging from geological and historical records," he said. "That means an average interval of 30 years between eruptions."
Long intervals of quiet may be well within the natural variance of such a cycle.
Still, "in the last 300 years there has been no eruption. With the past level of activity in mind, you cannot deny that 300 years of repose is pretty longtoo long."
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