During my first week in Japan, I mentioned a minor yet troubling — to me, at least — tremor I felt whilst relaxing and watching sumo on the television one night.
My students, half of whom were not even aware of the event, barely raised an eyebrow at the news, bemused at my worrisome need to know if I should pack up and leave Koriyama posthaste. Of course, Japan is synonymous with volcanos, I’m aware, and the ubiquitous three-pronged symbol for “mountain” (yama or san) emblazons everything from business advertisements to the decorative kakemono scrolls of calligraphic kanji adorning homes and restaurants alike.
Indeed, it is even in the name of the city itself: 郡山(Kori-yama).
The following weeks, as I settled into the school and got to know a few of the other teachers, I was invited to go snowboarding at a resort on the nearby Mt. Bandai. I was seriously dubious on two fronts: one being that I had never snowboarded before, and two being that it would be on an active stratovolcano.
If my paranoia seems odd, I must add that I believe Pennsylvania to be, unquestionably, the safest place on earth; no earthquakes, tornadoes (right, save for a scant few prior to 2013 according to Tornado History Watch), mudslides, etc. And blessedly no volcanos.
Granted, my paranoia does also seem overstated in light of some Wikipediaing I did on the history of Mt. Bandai, standing at 1,819 m (5,968 ft) and the eighth tallest mountain in Honshu, whose last eruption occurred in 1888. In comparison, the ever-prominent and stand-alone Mt. Fuji, at 3,776 m (12,388 ft) and the highest mountain in Japan, last erupted in 1707.
You can squint at some morbid photos of the scene unfolding following Bandai’s eruption, which resulted in the deaths of over 400 people, here.
Along the stretch of dry, mustard-colored squares of field neatly arranged on the open landscape before the slope rises and interspersed with narrow irrigation canals, one can imagine the effect the violent and deadly eruption of Bandai-san in 1888 had on the surrounding topology.
Though the nature of the event, I realize, was and is not to be taken lightly in the face of casualties and the damage caused, I did dredge up from the resources provided on Bandai’s unfortunate history, an unintentionally humorous account of the events written by a loquacious gentlemen who was surely prone to Rue McClanahanesque fanning and fainting at the slightest of shocking news. An excerpt from the article reads:
“After one of the hardest little trips I ever took, having covered the 244 miles by jinricksha (man-drawn carriage), cart, hack, railway, and by walking, I am almost too much used up to undertake, until I get rested, to tell you what I saw. I certainly could not do the subject justice under any circumstances, but as the mail is closing for the States I will try to give you a faint idea of my trip.”
I imagine a newspaper editor of today would strangle themselves – or the reporter responsible – before finishing the first line. On the other hand, the reporter does do justice to detailing the event and quite prosaically:
“Reaching their doors they saw a thick black smoke arising from the principal peak of Bandaisan, and found themselves enveloped in the darkness of night…The earth was shaking and trembling and undulating like the waves of the ocean, so that even standing was impossible, and the miserable creatures, fallen down or thrown down, endeavored to crawl on their hands and knees in agonizing effort to save themselves.”
Oh, what it were that we still wrote as such.
Nevertheless, standing below the mountain’s apex, its winter foliage dusted in gray-white snow looking all for the world like a blanket of the softest lamb’s ear, I felt no tremors and kept my mad thoughts to myself so the others might not take me as a both a paranoid and hypochondriacal loon. Besides which, I had plenty to worry about during my first two descents – passing more for multiple accelerated crashes and blows – but I couldn’t have had a better time.
http://www.volcano.si.edu/ (My go-to monitoring site for volcano activity around the world)
A few photos from the day at Bandai: