We’re here in Sakurajima – our first volcano in Japan. Our first ACTIVE volcano in Japan.
Our visit to Sakurajima comes on the heels of the eruption of another active Japanese volcano. Mount Ontake, where recently more than 35 people died ( at the time of writing). We hadn’t planned to visit Ontake, but there are several active volcanoes on our list to see and perhaps to hike.
The first of those was Sakurajima. I love that name, so far, I love all the Japanese names and the way that the people speak. I found the Korean language very musical and it’s the same here in Japan. Whether it’s the Konitchiwa that you get as you’re hiking, or the arigatos to the sayonaras, or even the way that when someone serves you, despite not understanding a word that they are saying, they keep chattering away. And it’s delightful to listen to – and this in a supermarket or a fast food restaurant.
But I digress. Sakurajima.
We’d delayed a day getting here, stopping off for the night in Kumamoto rather than just staying for the day, as Typhoon Phanfone was hitting, and there seemed to be no point visiting a volcano if you can’t actually see it. So we spent a day in Kumamoto in the rain, visiting the marvelous castle there and eating lotus root stuffed with spicy mustard seed. The next morning we hopped on a train and made it south to Kagoshima. We hunkered down for the night in our twelfth (top) floor room at the APA Hotel by the JR station, waiting out the typhoon. It was a great hotel with super facilities – more on that here:
The next day dawned gloriously and, taking advantage of our fabulous Japan Rail – JR passes again, we nixed the 40 minute walk to the ferry terminal and took the train from Kagoshima-Chuo to Kagoshima and then pottered to the Sakurajima ferry port.
The ferries run very regularly backwards and forwards for the 15 minute journey. We took front and center seats on the top deck as we headed out towards the volcanic peninsular.
Until 1914, it was a volcanic island, but a huge eruption caused a lava flow that connected it to the Osumi peninsular. 35 people died in that eruption on Sakurajima. That’s because most folks on Sakurajima were able to escape in boats, – with all the boats in the harbor heading over to rescue people.
The volcano is still active, and is currently at an ORANGE rating, which basically means caution. Visitors are kept at a distance from the summits. Sakurajima is actually comprised of three summits and there are usually several eruptions a day – albeit small. The day before we arrived there had been just one. This year so far is a quiet year, with only 376 to date, in 2013 there were more than 800.
Our ferry arrives and we put our 160 Yen in the box for our trip and walk the 700 metres to the visitor center. Here there’s an 11 minute video in Japanese with English sub titles telling us a little of the history and make up of Sakurajima. Then we purchased a 1 day “Island View“ bus pass for 500 yen. This will allow us to get on the little bus that takes you on the prescribed route around Sakurajima.
This doesn’t actually take you round the circumference of the island, but a smaller route and up to the Yunohira observatory. To take in sights and views around the circumference, you need to take the regular city buses.
It’s a cute little bus. Perhaps 16 seats and standing room. There are 7 stops on this route, if you don’t bus a day pass, you take a numbered ticket when you get on, and the sign board display at the front tells you how much your fare is as you go past the various stops. A round route is 440 yen. The bus stops for various amounts of time at some of the sights – 5 minutes at the Karasujima observatory for instance, then 8 minutes at the Akamizu View Park and 15 minutes at the Yunohira observatory. That might not sound like long, but it’s enough time to take the photo’s that you need and then hop back on. As you’re supposed to pay each time you get off we’d opted for the day pass.
On the route there’s even a monument to the all night concert that was held here in on Sakurajima, but the main views come at the Yunohira observatory.
And then outside, the foot bath, which is free, so of course we took advantage and soaked away for a few minutes, before eating lunch with the view of Sakurajima in one direction and Kagoshima in the other. Bliss.
Only 10% of Sakurajima is fertile, but the locals make the most of what they can and the volcanic soil is famous for Oranges which they make into candies and ice cream (not cheap at 250 yen a cone), and giant radishes. Yep, Sakurajima holds the Guiness World record for the worlds heaviest radish. You can taste free samples of pickled radish in the rest stop between the ferry terminal and the visitor centre. Most were pretty gruesome, but the ORANGE flavoured biscuits were rather pleasant.
The Sakurajima hostel here boasts a hot spring fed large bath, and there are other onsens that you can spend your money in and soak away. Create your own mud bath foot pool on the beach says the tourist office.. or perhaps make your own pizza oven. Yep that’s right, making a pizza isn’t enough, here using Sakurajima lava you can make your own pizza oven. At 14,000 Yen we declined, but it does sound interesting, although I’m not sure how easy it would be to ship home…
It’s hard to tell when you’re on Sakurajima whether that’s cloud you can see or smoke and gas above the crater..so we got onto the ferry sadly wondering if we’d actually seen an eruption or not. Sitting this time at the back of the ferry to watch the volcano receding. And then, as if by magic, thar she blew. Not a huge eruption, just, it felt like a small wave goodbye.