Monday, November 14, 2011

Sakura-jima lava-covered shrine gate

In 1914, the mountain on Sakura-jima island erupted. The subsequent ball of fire from the cone lasted for days and was the subject of many local artists, including Seiki Kuroda. Apparently the majority of the islanders had been alerted and moved to safety in advance because the water in the wells had started to boil, similar to what had happened prior to the 1779 eruption. However, over 600 houses were buried under the magma, which then filled up the part of the bay on the east side to the point where it created a land bridge to the rest of Kyushu.

(Map of different lava flows throughout history. The 1914 lava flow is shown in purple.)

The island has since been repopulated, and there are a few thousand people that put up with the ash clouds to live there. Industries include growing daikon and mikan (Japanese radishes and oranges), fishing and ceramics. Most of the houses are at the north side, which is better protected from the winds coming up from the ocean. There are a couple small parks or scenic view areas around the island. The one shown above is dedicated to the lava flow in the area.

This photo was also taken from the south side, but the overcast weather helped hide the crater on this side.

While most of the lava flow is now hidden under the buildings that have been built over it, during excavation work for putting in a junior high school, the torii (gate) of the main temple shrine had been uncovered, buried under 3 meters (over 9 feet) of lava and ash. The village chief ordered the excavation to be halted with the gate still buried, and the school was built around it. It's part of what appears to be a small side alley, but it's blocked off to traffic. The street running in front of the school is on the same level as the ground around the gate, meaning that the entire valley had been filled up with ash to at least the same depth.

While I was there, several tour buses of school kids, and taxis with tourists stopped to allow some sightseeing. There's nothing else in the area, so once they get a look at the gate, everyone immediately gets back into the vehicles and leaves.

From the marker sign:

"Buried shrine gate speaks of the fury of the eruption
Buried in Ash
-- a torii buried in ash from the 1914 eruption --

From three days before, the people knew it was coming. Water in wells all over the island started boiling, shoals of dead fish floated ashore, and the earth shook intermittently.

According to records, the same omens were observed before the An'ei eruption of 1779.

On January 12, 1914 Akamizu-jo on West Sakurajima blew dark smoke at 10:05 am. Ten minutes later, the top of Nabe peak blew off with a terrific explosion.

Thick, black smoke rose 7,000 meters into the sky and covered the whole island. The roar was incessant and cinders fell continuously. The next day lava started spouting. Three billion ton red wave crossed the strait and permanently welded Sakurajima onto Osumi Peninsula.

Here in Kurokami 687 houses were buried in hot ash. Only the top beam of this three meter high torii to Haragosha Shrine can be seen now. Village chief, Nozoe, stopped excavation work to show the fury of the eruption to later generations. It is now designated as a prefectural cultural property."

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