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.