Monday, June 6, 2011

Sakurajima Ferry Ride

(I'm writing this on May 14.) Since coming to Kagoshima City, the weather has alternated between sunny and heavily cloudy with drizzle, with crummy weather days occurring more often on average. Even when it's not cloudy, being next to the China Sea means that the humidity can mess with visibility. Often Sakurajima is virtually hidden from sight because of the poor air quality. Add on top of that the fact that Sakurajima is an active volcano and erupts steam and ash at least once a day, when the wind shifts and blows the ash into the apartment, the number of opportunities to go sightseeing down around the docks drops to near-zero.

However, on the 14th, the sky was mostly clear, and I started out from the apartment at 1:30 PM, heading down the drag from Hirata Park, past Kagoshima City Art Museum and the Reimeikan, to the bay. There's 3 or 4 piers that ferries leave from and just by luck I found myself at the one that has the ferry to Sakurajima. Total walking time, about 30 minutes, but I'd stopped a couple of times along the way, so I could have gotten there in closer to 20 minutes if I'd wanted to.

It's a 20 minute ferry ride to the island, and only 150 yen ($1.80 USD) each way (my ferry departed at 2:15 PM). Interestingly, you pay for either direction at the Sakurajima port. There were about 30 people, and 40 cars (with drivers sitting inside) on this particular Saturday. The ferries run fairly regularly - in the early morning and late evening it's only once an hour, but during peak times it's 4 or 5 times an hour.

I have yet to identify these guys. I think they're some kind of hawk. There's one that patrols the area around Shiroyama, going at least a mile in either direction. Here, these two were playing around the pier, and another 3 or so were around the aquarium on the Kagoshima City side of the bay.

There was one hawk, at Sakurajima, that was messing with me. I was walking along the coast near the sea wall, and he was just hovering in the air maybe 20 feet away. I've seen seagulls pacing ferry boats in New York (going out to Ellis Island) , hanging stationary relative to the ferry railing, but this hawk was doing the same thing right next to the road because of the wind coming off the bay. Naturally, when I got the camera out, he smiled and just flew off. Stupid hawk.

The volcano from the back side as seen from the Sakurajima ferry port.

Sakurajima was used as a staging area by the Japanese Navy during WWII. Just a couple blocks north of the pier there's a tunnel that was dug into the hill for housing sailors and torpedoes. The other 2 entrances have been walled up, but the one below has a wooden door with a lock.

North shore of the island as seen from a scenic viewing spot.

(A mass of greenery on the way up the hill.)

There's an observatory 6 kilometers (approx. 4 miles) from the pier. You go north 1 kilometer, and when you reach the public school, you take the intersecting road to the right. At this intersection is a grocery store. Before starting my trip I'd gotten 3 small greasy donut holes from a Coco's convenience store near the apartment for 150 yen, and they served as my lunch. At the grocery store here, I got a can of black ice coffee and a bottle of water. Good thing I did, because I went through both of them fairly quickly on the way up.

The island isn't heavily populated. There are a few houses scattered around the flat areas, and as you go up the hill more of the places have gardens in back. Most raise flowers, green onions and daikon. But what I noticed here for the first time is that for some reason, people cover up the ends of the tree branches with paper or cloth bags. No idea why. (As for occupations, there's the school, the grocery store, some souvenir shops, some restaurants near the pier, and several barber and beauty shops. Other than farming and fishing, I think everyone else just commutes to Kagoshima for work.)

The observatory. From the pier, it's about 6 kilometers (from the grocery store, it's 5). From the store it took about 45 minutes, and I arrived close to 3 PM. According to the sign at the top, the elevation is 373 meters, or 1,223 feet. While the air temperature was relatively cool, I was sweating hard and I got a pretty good sunburn. During the entire walk, I was chewing on grit from the volcano. Even though the wind was blowing the ash out away from me, the stuff already on the ground was getting whipped up and staying in the air the entire time. I don't know what the residents living on the island think about this constant dust storm, but I can't believe that they expect the laundry they put out to air dry is really staying all that clean.

Looking out from the observatory towards the south. The heavy humidity in the air between me and Kagoshima pretty much ruined all of the photos I took of the opposite coastline.

Looking up at the mountain from the observatory. The area about 3 miles around the cone is ruled off-limits to visitors because of the rock and ash being ejected by the volcano. The actual caldera is on the other side, a ways down the face. I'm thinking of renting a bicycle next time so I can ride the 18 kilometers to the opposite side of the island. The observatory is considered to be at a safe distance from the cone.

5 minutes after getting to the top of the observatory hill, the volcano coughed again. I've been told that previously, the volcano would spew ash maybe 300 times a year, or a little less than once a day. However, in the last few years it's been happening 2 or 3 times a day. This particular afternoon, I'd been watching a steady cloud of white steam or ash coming off the side of the mountain almost all day. There were at least 5 gray towering plumes during the 4 hours I was there. I didn't notice any noise when the plumes occurred.

More coughing 15 minutes later as I was descending the hill on the southern part of the loop.

Looking at the northern coast of Kagoshima City. If you squint really hard, you can see the 3 wind generators at the top of the tallest peak to the right

There's kind of a loop leading to and from the observatory. Essentially, there are two separate roads that go up from the coast along opposite sides of the hill. If you go north from the pier 1 km to the grocery store and turn right, you go up one side. Then, from the observatory if you take the second road to the south, it's about 6 kilometers just to get back down the hill again. I have no idea how long the total loop is, but it took me close to 80 minutes to get back to the coast along the southern road. I left the observatory at 3:05, and got to a gift shop near the pier at about 4:45. Note that both the shop and the observatory close at 5 PM. However the last ferry back to Kagoshima leaves at 11 PM. The gift shop has a lot of fresh produce, including trays of loquats ("biwa" in Japanese) for 6 for 200 or 350 yen (depending on weight). While I was at the shop, two Japanese guys (an engineer visiting his family from Tokyo, and his father) approached me and struck up a conversation to get some free English practice (which happens to me fairly often now). The father talked me into getting the biggest tray for 350 yen, saying that the loquats had been grown on the island, and according to the sticker had been picked that day. The bigger ones are supposed to be sweeter, and you're supposed to put them into the fridge for 30 minutes to chill them before pealing and eating them. Unfortunately, when I got home and did eat them, they turned out to not be all that sweet. Still, they were very juicy and fairly tasty, and not that bad a deal.

Actually, I'm not sure how I killed time, but the ferry back to Kagoshima left at 6:15. It arrived at the opposite pier at 6:35, and I walked back to the apartment, arriving before 7. Only having had 3 small donut holes, a can of black coffee and a bottle of water since breakfast at 10 AM, I was still surprisingly unhungry by dinner. Must of been all that ash I'd been eating along the way.

When I got back to the pier, the volcano decided to spit out 3 separate plumes one right after the other. The first one had been mostly blown off to the right of the shot by this point. Total time between the first and third plumes may have been about 20 minutes.


A and Y Ikeda said...

Great shots of the hawks! And the volcano, too!

Megan :o) said...

They put the bags over the branches to hasten ripening and protect the biwa (loquats) until they're ready to pick

TSOTE said...

Hi Megan. Thanks for the comment.
Are you in Kagoshima, or Ibuski, for the moment?