Japan volcano Mount Asama erupts, no major damage

TOKYO, Feb 2 (Reuters) - A volcano in central Japan erupted on Monday, spewing hot rocks and ash, but there was no major damage in the sparsely populated vicinity, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

NHK public TV showed white smoke coming out of the 2,568 metre (8,425 foot), snow-capped peak, with some grey dust near the top.

Smoke shot up as high as 2 km (1 mile) from the crater of Mount Asama, which erupted at 1:51 a.m. (1651 GMT Sunday), but no lava could be seen from the side of the volcano, said Kazuya Kokubo, an official at the agency.

The agency had raised its warning level on Sunday after signs of increased seismic activity, telling people not to approach the volcano and agency official Osamu Inaba said traffic in the area was being restricted.

Ash drifted as far as Tokyo, about 140 km (90 miles) to the southeast, but visibility in the capital was not affected.

The agency is keeping its warning level at three out of five, which warns people not to approach the volcano.

Residents in cities and villages nearby have also been warned against flying rocks and ash, Inaba said.

No one lives within a 4 km area around the volcano, but people working in the vicinity were told on Sunday to evacuate, Kokubo said.

Mount Asama, one of Japan's more active volcanoes, had its biggest eruption in 21 years on Sept. 1 2004, spewing hot rock and raining ash as far as 200 km away. That eruption, however, did not cause any major damage.

The volcano is known for a huge eruption in 1783 that caused widespread damage and killed around 1,500 people. (Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Brent Kininmont)