Geologically speaking Japan is a new country. Mainland and new islands are regularly being added by volcanoes and the tectonic plates slip and slide around the Ring of Fire causing earthquakes and tremors here. The four main islands of Japan are relatively quiet these days, but the residents of Kagoshima on Kyushu get reminded of their tenuous existence an average of three times a day when ash floats down on their heads from nearby Sakurajima volcano. Major eruptions were documented as far back as the 1400’s, and a huge blow in 1914 lasted a month and connected the flanks of the volcano with the mainland nearby. The last significant eruption was during World War II and with everything else that was going on then, hardly anyone noticed or worried about it. Today the area has over 600,000 people and few obvious precautions are taken for the next big one. School kids do practice what to do for eruptions wearing yellow hard hats. The ever neat Japanese rake up the ash and gather it in specially marked yellow bags. Most of it is discarded, but some is used as an exfoliant in cosmetics.
We had a scenic tour to the volcano planned, but the rainy season caught up with us once again. Umbrellas in hand we wandered around the Arimura Lava Observatory which promised sweeping views of the 3,600 foot volcano which we could not see in the constant drizzle. We walked the designated path partially hidden by ash piles and while huge black chunks of lava were still easy to spot, they were being overcome by the lush vegetation of this semi tropical spot.
We also went to the Sengan-en Gardens on the grounds of the first modern factory built in Japan after Commodore Perry forced Japan to open its doors in the 1850’s. One of the first cannons manufactured here still defends the bright orange front gate. The gate has a large door for the owner and his son and a smaller one for all the peons to enter. Today cut glass and other artistic glass ware is made in the factory on the grounds. A version of the factory owner’s original home, complete with paper walls and doors is also here. The could have been a lovely spot overlooking the volcano, but it rained the entire time we were there.
Even on this wet day a group of local dancers came to the port to put on a show as we pulled away from the last stop on this cruise. After a day at sea tomorrow we should find ourselves in Yokohama for the fourth and last time.