In the absence of regular volcano profile posts I thought it would be a good idea to provide a few images that show the beauty or uniqueness of Japanese volcanoes, or have a good story behind them – well, this photograph certainly has!
The image above comes from Okinawa Soba’s excellent flickr photostream and shows was taken by the the British photographer Herbert G. Ponting (left) capturing during an eruption at Mt. Asama (浅間山) volcano in 1903. Upon ascending the mountain, the climbing party suddenly found themselves engulfed in an explosion, in which Ponting himself thought his “last moment had surely come” as they managed to avoid the falling stones and escape the sulphurous fumes that enveloped them. Ponting relives the episode in his book ‘In Lotus Land’, providing a quite beautiful description of the explosive forces in action:
Great black whorls of smoke belched from the crater, being emitted with such force and volume that they were pushed far back into the teeth of the wind; and several times we had to retreat quickly as they bellied towards us. They rose to the heavens in writhing convolutions, and from the centre of the mass billows of snow-white steam puffed out, and bulged beyond the smoke.
However the real story here is not the explosion, but the reaction of our Victorian friend:
Here was a wonderful chance to secure a unique photograph, but on looking around for the coolies I saw them rushing madly down the mountainside with my cameras as fast as legs could carry them. Realising that if I did not stop them I would miss the chance of a lifetime to get a picture at the lip of a volcano in a state of violent activity, I ran after them calling for them to stop.
… Failing to check them with my shouts, I went after them, and, being unencumbered, soon overhauled the man with my hand camera; but he was half-crazed with fear, and not all my entreaties could make him slack his pace. Seeing the chance of a unique picture slip away – for I knew the best smoke effects would quickly be over – I was reluctantly compelled to use a more forcible method, which had the desired effect.
I haven’t actually visited Mt. Asama yet, but until I do I am left with the enduring image of a moustached man in a suit, in the words of Okinawa Soba, beating the crap out of some poor Japanese guy on the side of an erupting volcano. I suppose you could do worse…
Every year a special ferry service departs Kagoshima to dispense medical check-ups and treatment at each of the Tokara Islands. For the curious tourist who times their trip right, a one-way ticket can therefore become something of a cruise allowing you to jump on and jump off as the journey progresses southwards. I have been such a tourist, lucky that an excursion with my sensei to conduct fieldwork in Suwanosejima would take us not only to our destination, but to a number of ‘bonus’ volcanoes en route. Bicycle in tow, we had approximately an hour to sprint around at each stop and although any volcanological research was certainly limited in this time, it provided me with an extra insight into island life that seems so distant from the accepted “Japan experience”. The people here have lived on the edge of the Japanese psyche for centuries and if it were not for a few important events – such as the nearby Tanegashima, acknowledged for the first contact with Europeans and the introduction of firearms in the 16th century when a Portuguese was seen to shoot at a duck – these islands would probably remain largely forgotten. Indeed, in the ferry port waiting room at Suwanosejima (which is basically a wooden shed) is pinned a photograph of the local school: a grand total of 7 students, aged 8-15 years old. One cannot help but worry for the future of this island way of life.
Societal worries aside, these islands provide a wonderful selection of volcanoes to explore. Apart from their natural beauty, one of the major draws for me is the fact that they are simply unknown outside of Japan. Kuchinoerabujima, recently infamous for the disappearence of an American poet, and Suwanosejima, Japan’s “most explosive volcano”, are probably the only well studied volcanoes and thus are reasonably familiar to the international ‘volcanological community’. However, through this post I hope to introduce a few more names that might be of interest to the budding geologist, the seasoned Japanophile or the inquisitive browser.
Welcome to the new blog ‘The Volcanoes of Japan’!
Japan is home to around 10% of the world’s volcanoes, but surprisingly only a few feature in the mind of the average foreign visitor or volcano enthusiast. Of those that do, information in the English language is somewhat limited to detailed scientific studies or brief touristic descriptions. Admittedly Mount Fuji is much the symbol of Japan let alone the iconic ’stratovolcano’ form, but beyond this some wonderful mountains remain hidden and unknown to the country’s travelers.
This small and humble guide acts as an introduction to the amazing volcanoes I, a self-confessed kazan otaku (volcano geek), have visited during my time as a research student in Kagoshima and, hopefully, also to those that I intend to visit in the future. It is a longterm project – a hobby on my part – so my apologies in advance for the long wait between entries! In the likely event that this blog fails to provide the enlightenment you are looking for, please find a number of useful links in the sidebar.
Every volcano in Japan is unique in its own special way. I hope to convince you of this fact and maybe one day you might even attempt to make a volcanic pilgrimage to Japan for yourself…