Sakurajima, an active volcano in Kyushu

December 31, 2011

There’s an active volcano (活火山, lively + fire + mountain) a ten-minute train ride away from Satsuma-sendai.  Named Sakurajima,  (桜島, literally, cherry blossom island), this formerly island volcano is home to giant radishes, tiny satsuma tangerines, and numerous hotsprings.


While Sakurajima continually erupts today, ejecting clouds of ash and smoke, its most recent major eruption was in 1914.  Locals knew before the big eruption that it was time to leave: they’d heard stories about the giant 18th century eruption when the islands’ wells boiled, shoals of dead fish washed up on shore, and earthquakes rattled their towns.  In what was a rare eruptive event for Japan, home to explosive high silicate lava, Sakurajima belched a veritable flow of lava (溶岩), which covered villages and caused the island to grow, eventually connecting via isthmus to the mainland.  The volcano erupts more than daily, spewing ash over Kagoshima-shi in the summer and further south in the winter.

Ando-san picked me up at the train station (then helped me translate at the Softbank store so I could top up my Japanese mobile phone) and we boarded a ferry for Sakurajima.

Wind turbines dominated a neighboring hill.

You pay after disembarking from the ferry; here, two matching Honda hybrids with matching license plates (6-12 and 6-21) waited in line.

The volcano was erupting as we landed!

Gritty ash rained down.

We stopped at a torii buried in ash from the 1914 eruption.  Once three meters tall, two meters of ash reduced its standing height to only a meter.

We drove down the lava road, 溶岩.

Right during a big eruption!  Thick grey ash exploded from the caldera.

My lens was covered in bits of ash.

It’s huuuuuge!

To the southwest the ash drifted off over oyster beds.

Our footfalls left indentations in the ash.

A model of the biggest daikon radish (桜大根, sakura daikon) grown on the island.  I wrapped my scarf around my mouth to try to avoid inhaling some of the grit.

Sakurajima’s elevation is 1107 meters.  Guess what the local AM radio station’s frequency is?

We drove back around to an observation point to look at the clearer side of the volcano.

In the distance is Kaimon-dake (開聞岳) or Satsumafuji, Satsuma’s Fuji-san lookalike mountain.

In the summer, the wind brings the ash over the city of Kagoshima.  Ando-san complained that he had to constantly wash his car in the summer months.  “Sakurajima is the embarrassment of Kagoshima,” he quoted.

Slices of the giant daikon were available as omiyage.

桜島こみかん!  Sakurajima komikan, or Satsuma Mandarins as we call them in the US; the local citrus specialty.

We rolled up our pants and stuck our feet in the public footbaths fed by the volcano.

Feral cats wandered past.

Chunks of lava petered off into the bay.

Cocoa?  Cute car name.

The largest daikon ever.

In 2010 there were 1026 eruptions; in 2011 there were 1351.  A lively volcano indeed!

Sakurajima is very strong!

This fish thinking about a squiggle is a symbol for earthquakes.

We posed in front of a mural of the volcano.

Back on the ferry…

Giant daikon at the store.

Big mikan.

I returned to my hotel room with a new favorite purchase from FamilyMart, a local “combini” or convenience store.  I’d purchased them in Tokyo as a snack but had no idea what was in them; all I knew is that there was white chocolate and none of the dreaded 小麦.

I bit into them, not knowing what to expect.  The moment I did I realized what they were that I’d forgotten the name for strawberry (いちご): they were freeze-dried strawberries covered in white chocolate!  (ホウイトチョコがけいちご)  おいしいですよ!

 A successful day at the volcano.

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