In Sakurajima's Shadow
A thunderous boom is heard off in the distance. Maybe you even feel a tremor beneath your feet. You look out the window and see a massive cloud of ash rocketing up into the sky from the mouth of a volcano. You’d think this would be frightening. But for the people of Kagoshima prefecture who reside close to Mt. Sakurajima, this is a daily occurrence.
Sakurajima is one of the most active volcanos in Japan, with eruptions occurring on an almost daily basis. It’s a stratovolcano with three main peaks—Kita-dake (north peak), Minami-dake (south peak), and Naka-dake (center peak). Minami-dake is the most-active peak, with the Showa Crater providing most of the eruptions.
One may think living near an active volcano would be a frightening prospect. But in reality, life around Sakurajima is hardly as frightening as you might think. Those of us who do live in the area close to the volcano do have some unique challenges, however.
The main issue caused by Sakurajima is the volcanic ash it dumps on the surrounding areas during one of its frequent eruptions. Many times I’ve walked to my car in the morning and found it covered in a thin layer of ash, which is why I’ve taken to keeping a duster in my trunk for just such an occasion. There are times when I’ve been driving through clouds of ash on the roads.
It can make laundry a chore. In Japan, clothes dryers are uncommon in most homes. Instead, laundry is hung outside to dry. As you might imagine, having to constantly deal with falling ash can make this difficult. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on clothes hanging outside, particularly whites, and be prepared to bring them in to avoid ash stains.
Sakurajima is believed to have been formed around twenty thousand years ago. One of the largest eruptions occurred in 1914, after the volcano had been dormant for over a century, and killed thirty-five people. Sakurajima, once an island, became connected to Kagoshima’s Osumi peninsula due to the massive lava flows.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The people of Kagoshima take great pride in their local volcano, with Sakurajima even serving as a symbol of the prefecture. The volcano is a major tourist attraction, with a visitor’s center located on the island and providing information on the volcano’s history. A twenty-four hour ferry provides transportation from Kagoshima to Sakurajima. The island itself is inhabited and if one drives along during the morning or afternoon hours, you’ll see helmeted schoolchildren walking along the side of the road.
Sakurajima (桜島) literally means cherry blossom island, and not hard to see why. During the sakura season in early spring, the cherry blossom trees dotting the landscape spring to life. The volcanic activity is also the reason Kagoshima has become world famous for the numerous onsen or hot springs that are found throughout the prefecture. And the ash itself produces the largest daikon (Japanese radish) in the world.
Life near an active volcano is not as dangerous as people may believe. Though the ash can be an annoyance, waking up to such a magnificent site every day is well worth it.