In an effort to estimate the influence of mercury emitted from Sakurajima Volcano, Southern Kyushu, Japan, on the accumulation of mercury in soil, the vertical distribution of total mercury in soils was investigated together with organic matter content and grain size. The soils were sampled at a thickness of 1 cm from the surface to depth of 1 m at five locations on Sakurajima and two control locations, i.e. Takatoge approximately 11 km southeast and Suzuyama 22 km southwest of the volcano. The concentration in soils increased with the distance from the volcano and was 6.5+/-1.9 ngg(-1) (n=335), 29.0+/-15.6 ngg(-1) (n=100) and 229+/-105 ngg(-1) (n=103) for Sakurajima, Takatoge and Suzuyama, respectively. The concentration of mercury correlated with the amount of organic matter, but not with grain size distribution. The sedimentation rate for Sakurajima, Takatoge and Suzuyama was estimated from geological data to be approximately 1.3, 0.083 and 0.0048 cmyear(-1), respectively. The relatively fast sedimentation of Sakurajima soil was caused by the frequent precipitation of volcanic ash. The annual deposition of mercury estimated for Sakurajima, Takatoge and Suzuyama from the mercury concentration, sedimentation rate and soil density was 9 x 10(4), 3 x 10(4) and 2 x 10(4) ngm(-2)year(-1), respectively. Although the soil of Sakurajima had the lowest concentration among the three sites, it received the largest amount of mercury.