Fuji-san: caves of lava and ice

September 12, 2011

Where were we?  First we climbed Fuji-san in the dark, walked around the summit, descended down its slopes of scree, and spent the night at a vacation cabin, Tozawa, on the shore of Kawaguchiko.  The adventure continues…

But first, a word or two about the local fruit suppliers.  Everywhere we drove near Fuji-san sold fruit.  Peaches (もも, momo).  Grapes (ぶどう, budou).  Mushrooms (きのこ, kinoko).   Other local specialties from the mountain whose kanji and hiragana I didn’t recognize.  A favorite rhyme about peaches and plums in Japan:

すもももももももものうち

(A Japanese plum is a kind of peach, a peach is also a peach; both Japanese plum and peach are kinds of peaches.)

Yet, nowhere in these verdant prefectures did I see a single peach tree or grape vine, much less an orchard or a vineyard, despite abundant greenery and rich volcanic soil. Where do they grow those gigantic, dulcet, coral, iconic peaches so icon of the islands in Japan?

Remember the onsen of the previous post? This wasn’t the one we visited, but the logo was too cute not to share: Fuji-san, relaxing in a hot spring, complete with spiraling steam.

Driving along the perimeter of Fuji-san we stopped near a rock museum for a break; I happily investigated the numerous metamorphic rocks from Australia and Brazil.

You could even pan for gold!

Driving further west from Fuji-san, we encountered remnants of the last eruptions of this volcano.  Signs pointing to the “lava tree molds” indicated a forest inundated by lava; the trees had burned away, leaving hollow cavities behind.

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 Kawaii Fuji-san was everywhere, gracing signs pointing towards museums and parks.

The climate reminded me a bit of New England: thick deciduous trees lining the roads.  Except in New England you have granite, not lava.

The Five Lakes District is a large igneous province composed of basalt and other volcanic rocks from the various explosions that built Fuji-san over the millennia.  Now, the volcanic provenience of this area brings forth tourist dollars: magma heats water which rises to the surface for onsen; rich soils grow fruit in invisible orchards; and caves attract those looking to escape the surface for a glimpse of the underworld.

One museum had artwork of Fuji-san and a display describing the formation of lava caves in the area.  This cave network formed when lava spilled from Fuji-san into a forgotten lake.

We swung by the visitor center and saw Fuji-san shaped boxes of cookies and goodies for sale.

These wouldn’t fit in my suitcase.  Travesty.  Look how strong Fuji-san is!

More descriptions of the cave network followed.

We descended into the lava cave, the forest of cedars and ferns clinging tight to the edge of the chasm.

Inside it was cold enough for ice to remain frozen!

These “crystals” of ice were probably not formed in the cave, but they were illuminated magically with purple light.

Aikawa-san and Miyamoto-san posed with the walls of ice.

Back outside we viewed a map of the Five Lakes District below Fuji-san.  You can tell what part of the park we were in.  The green box says something about “Fuji-san Five Lakes District” and “sightseeing”; the final kanji means “map”.

Another sign greeted us upon entering Shizuoka Prefecture.  Compare to the cartoon map of Akamenoguchi.

We came to another cave, this one also formed when lava from Fuji-san encroached on a lake.

This cave also contained ice, but it also held other stories.

Caves stay at a temperature equal to the average one outside of their mouth, so this cave was a natural refrigerator for storing silkworm larvae.  (As global temperatures climb, so do the temperatures inside caves.)

Back outside, Hayashiya-san and Mio-chan demonstrated how cold it was.

Group shot!  (Curse you, exposure compensation!)

The surrounding forest was part of a natural monument.

Back in the van, we went driving off along the roads lush with late summer foliage.

Finally, I saw a farm!  Fuji-san is to the left behind clouds.

More to come. . .

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