Normally when I write up one of these "small adventure" entries, there's no accompanying photo. The reason is that if I'd taken a picture, I'd write it up as a regular blog entry. This time is a little different in that the adventure occurred when I'd specifically set out to take photos. It's just that only one turned out at all well.
Back last summer, I'd gone down to Dolphin Port at 4 AM to catch the sunrise coming up behind the volcano. I was hoping for a bright red silhouette, but it had been a cloudy morning, and the sun was actually rising some distance north of the northern slope. So, over the last few weeks, I've been watching the weather and monitoring the Sakurajima webcam to see if the sun's path had gone far enough south to try going out again. On Nov. 28th, I had to get up early anyway, so I planned on returning to Dolphin Port before the sun came up around 6:30. In fact, I neglected to set my alarm and woke up at 6:15. I put on my winter jacket, grabbed my camera and made it out the door 5 minutes later. The sky was overcast enough that I couldn't get a feel for how cloudy it was with it that dark out, and the buildings surrounding me blocked off the view of the volcano so I couldn't tell if it was cloud-covered or not. On the other hand, the sky was lightening up fast enough that the 20 minutes needed to get to Dolphin Port would cause me to miss the shot.
Instead, when I got to Terukuni Shrine, I turned left and made my way around the south wall of the shrine and to the back in order to get to the path leading up to the observation deck at the top of Shiroyama. I'd run the 6 blocks to the steps, so when I started climbing I got out of breath almost immediately. It's 107 meters (350 feet) to the top, kind of like walking up 30 flights of stairs, and I had to stop twice to bring my heart rate back down. The stairs open up on the back of the parking lot in front of the souvenir shops, and at 6:30 AM, there were already 4 guys out with leaf blowers, cleaning off the sidewalks and parking lot. Most of them greeted me with a friendly "ohayo gozaimasu", and one congratulated me on making the climb up. At this point, I was regretting putting on the jacket, because I was sweating heavily and the air temp was probably in the low 60's (last week, it got down into the high 40's during the night).
I made my way to the observation point, and found 20 people of various ages all doing "radio taiso" (stretching exercises to the music playing over the radio). A few minutes later, the music ended and most of them just disappeared into the trails. The parking lot was empty and few of them seemed to be workers at the souvenir stands, so I can't imagine why anyone would hike up the hill just to do radio taiso. No idea where they all went afterward.
The sun still hadn't cleared the horizon, but the sky was already getting pretty bright. As I was watching the ash coming off the top of the volcano and blowing across the bay just north of me, I tried to gauge whether there'd be a good photo or not. Didn't look like it. About this time, a young woman walked up to the observation point and we got to talking. Turns out that her apartment is close to mine, and she regularly jogs up the main trail in front of the hill (behind the history museum) and pretty much takes a photo of Sakurajima every morning. She showed me one of the pictures taken a few days earlier and it was exactly the kind that I'd been hoping for that morning. Sigh.
At 6:50, another group of about 10 people suddenly gathered and music over the PA started up for a second radio taiso for the morning. When it finished, the woman came back over and told me to try contacting one school for a teaching opening, and mentioned that there's a foreigner's meeting circle at the city municipal office that I hadn't known about, making the trip up the hill worth the effort. She then jogged back down the way she came and I returned via the stairs again. The sun never did come out. Stupid sun.
I still don't understand why anyone would climb up 35 flights of stairs just to do morning stretches.