View from Fujisan

View from Fujisan

Climbing Japan’s Active Volcanoes

Many people know already that mountains make up 72% of Japan’s landmass. It’s one reason we all live together in such crowded cities!

Less well known is the fact that 110 of those mountains are actually active volcanoes, including Mount Fujisan, the highest peak in Japan. Wikipedia offers a complete list of volcanoes in Japan on their webpage, appropriately named “List of volcanoes in Japan.” Turns out I’ve climbed a few of ‘em in addition to Mount Fuji: Asahidake, Meakandake, Rishiridake, and, not on Wikipedia’s list but on the JMA’s, Tokachidake (I did a lot of climbing when I lived on Hokkaido). Also Oshimadake on Oshima-jima Island and Hakonedake in Hakone, near Fujisan.

Apparently, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) maintains a “watch list” of 47 of the most active volcanoes, monitored 24 hours a day. Again, that includes Fujisan.

So what’s it like to climb on an active volcano?

In the case of Rishirdake, it’s not different than climbing a mountain. In fact, I didn’t know (or have forgotten) that Rishiri was a volcano, though now I think about it, it’s sudden, dramatic rise from the sea does kinda give it away.

Climbing Fujisan has been compared to trekking in an overflowing ashtray. There wasn’t anything in the way of volcanic activity when I climbed, but evidence of previous eruptions (the last time Mount Fuji erupted was in 1707-1708; some scientists speculate that Fujisan is actually overdue for an eruption).

In the cases of Hakonedake, and Asahidake in Hokkaido’s Daisetsuzan National Park, the setting is suitably dramatic, appropriately Dantean: fumeroles of hissing smoke give the place a Netherworld feel.

But Meakandake rises above the rest, so to speak, not in elevation gain but in drama: a blasted, grey and brown and sulphur-yellow landscape for miles around; toxic alpine ponds; poison gas filling the crater. We hopped a cordon fence and warning sign the day we climbed (along with many other climbers, mostly Japanese). My Buddy Derek was visiting from Canada, and we passed the time on the hike to the crater rim discussing the effects of pyroclastic flow.

I have some pictures from Owakudani. I’ll upload them. When I find ‘em…

Fatalities on Mount Otakesan

The list of fatalities on Ontakesan has grown to over 30 climbers, according to last night’s news in Japan and this English-language report. Apparently, most of the victims died of cardiac and respiratory problems after inhaling ash in the pyroclastic flow and ash cloud of the eruption itself.

Climbers and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), which monitors 47 active volcanoes in Japan, had only about 12 minutes’ warning that Ontakesan would erupt. Apparently this type of eruption, a so-called phreatic eruption which involves steam rather than magma, gives few telltale warnings before blowing.

The Japan Meteorological Agency has put Ontakesan on a Level 3 alert, advising everyone to stay away from the mountain. Here’s the English-language volcano advisory webpage at JMA

Ontakesan, Japan’s second-highest volcano, erupts in Nagano prefecture

Many hikers were on the slopes this weekend to view the koyo autumn leaves.

According to the news reports we saw on TV this morning, no-one was killed though several people were injured. Rescue workers were making their way up-slope even as some stranded hikers had started to make their own way down.

However, a more recent story from CNN reports that rescue workers have found 30 climbers “in cardia arrest” on the volcano, meaning they have no pulse but have not been declared dead by a doctor.

R. told me later in the day that hikers caught out couldn’t breath because of the gas, and that many started to write their wills.

Again according to those news reports, this may be the beginning of an active cycle for Ontakesan.

“Japan’s largest urban redevelopment project.”

Roppongi Hills

A “vertical garden city” for the people, or gated community of 1%ers? Still not clear on this myself. Maybe a bit of both? Mori Tower stands as the centrepiece of the complex, 54 floors of mostly office space with top-shelf tenants including Apple, Barclays Bank, Google, Lenovo, Nokia, and The Pokemon Company. True, Mori Art Museum and Skyview is open to the public, but access is by way of a separate entrance. Also true there are a variety of facilities around the base of the tower, including shops and restaurants, a movie theatre, a stroll garden, and event space, again all open to the public – though separated from the surrounding neighbourhood by walls breached in a couple of places by staircases and the glass, guard-tower-like Metro Hat.

Whatever you think of real estate developers razing apparently run-down residential neighbourhoods for experiments in urban planning — and I still haven’t made up my mind — Roppongi Hills offers some fine commercial art, architecture, and people watching in a part of the city better known for gaijin bars and dance clubs – and other, more dubious denizens of Tokyo’s nightlife.


Tokyo Midtown is an Artsy Multiplex in Roppongi, Tokyo

Tokyo Midtown

I’ve said it before: I kinda like Tokyo Midtown. It might be a high-end mall, any place that host both a photography gallery (Fujifilm Square) and a Tado Ando-designed exhibition space has something working right.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tadao Ando designed art gallery in Roppongi

21_21 Design Sight

I gotta say, I really enjoy taking my camera to 21_21 Design Sight, the Tadao Ando-designed, steel and concrete lowrise tucked into the Garden behind Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi (that’s Tokyo, if you don’t know). Despite the fact that, or maybe because, it’s off most people radar – though I think I’m starting to see some familiar Euro-hipster faces from Golden GaiRead the rest of this entry »

Friday Night, Golden Gai

Friday night photo walk, Golden Gai

Another Friday, another trip to Golden Gai. Not that I’m complaining. It’s actually great to have such an interesting part of Tokyo on my commute line. No doubt the area is changing, and not wholly for the good: last night, for the first time, a tout hit me up within Golden Gai itself – albeit near one of the entrances:

“Good evening sir! We have a new international bar. ‘Happy Endings.'”

Hopefully this won’t become the new norm, as it has in Kabukicho and Roppongi. Read the rest of this entry »


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