Earlier, it was just a smoke point in the azure blue sky of the Japanese island of Kyushu. As we get closer to Mount Aso by car, the plume that covers the grassy slopes scorched by the cold of winter, grows until it becomes a spiral that rises high in the sky.
Once arrived at the meeting point, where many hiking trails start (there are five marked routes and several difficulty levels), there too where the helicopter takes off which allows you to fly over the volcanoes of the Mount Aso (it costs 10,000 yen, about 81 €), the smoke becomes thicker and thicker, more and more yellow, more and more impressive. Now that it’s close, it’s easier to imagine how boiling the guts are.
Now that the little helicopter in which we have taken flight in the direction of the caldera, it is simply impressive. How could it not be? Mount Aso is home to fifteen volcanic cones within a 24 x 18 km caldera, a circumference of 128 km, making it one of the largest in the world. Recall that a caldera is a vast circular or elliptical depression, often with a flat bottom, which, located at the heart of certain large volcanic buildings, results from an eruption which has emptied the magma chamber.
Earlier, we will fly over the still active volcano. For the time being, the helicopter is circling over the caldera, which allows us to gauge the importance of its dimensions. And also to discover craters which are not currently active. It looks like a lunar landscape, browned by winter. In the distance, still ahead of us, the mountain smokes. Her name ? The Naka-dake. It was already active 2.2 million years ago. However, its violent eruption in 553 remains a history.
A stunning spectacle
The closer we get, the more extraordinary the show. After a turn that allows you to see the plain in the middle of which Mount Aso rises, the helicopter approaches the Naka-dake. It is the tallest volcanic cone on Mount Aso (1,506 meters high), the most active of all cones, and one of the most active volcanoes in the world. It regularly erupts. When this happens, the entire area is closed within a radius of 3 kilometers and the road is blocked from the site of the volcano museum.
Luckily, this morning in early December, the Naka-dake just spits smoke very hard. It is therefore possible to place yourself just above its crater. It’s just amazing, even if it only lasts a few moments.
Indeed, just as the helicopter is positioned above the crater, new thick yellowish smoke spurts from the depths and surrounds our machine. The pilot hastened to tack at 45 degrees. This makes you feel dizzy. The overflight of this crater is over. The adventure continues with the overflight of the edges of the caldera, which prompts us to meditate on the inhospitable nature in which Japan is nestled.
This archipelago, located at the end of the Asian continent, between the 30th and 45th degrees of north latitude, is indeed formed by a volcanic arc. It has no less than 8,645 islands, including Kyushu which is one of the largest and certainly the most southerly. Larger than Italy, barely larger than Germany, but smaller than France, Japan is very mountainous. Its highest point is Mount Fuji (3776 meters) which the painter, draftsman and engraver Hokusai has made known worldwide thanks to his series of prints. Fugaku Sanjūrokkei , in other words Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji.
Mount Fuji is also a volcano. The Japanese archipelago has no less than 140, recall Alexandre Messager and Philippe Godard, the authors of the interesting Japan for dummies (360 p, € 22.95). And Kyushu is not to be outdone. Besides Mount Aso, this island is home to another volcano in Kagoshima Bay. It is not for nothing that this prefecture was nicknamed "The Naples of the East". The Aira caldera is nearby and the Sakurajima volcano is part of the landscape. Like that of Mount Aso, it was spitting smoke when we went there in early December. And also ashes.
From a distance, the "show", as it was, was magnificent. No way getting too close, however. Visitors were asked to watch from an observatory. But we felt that the volcano was part of everyone's daily life there. The steps to climb to the observatory, where Chinese and Indian tourists laughed, were covered with a thin layer of ash. A little further, bags piled on top of each other contained ash that the inhabitants, always disciplined, had filled after dusting who, the way to his house, who, his stairs, who, a public passage. "A company is responsible for evacuating this heap of bags," explained Mayumi, "our translator.
A depth effect
A little earlier, when visiting the splendid Sengan-en gardens, once created by the powerful Shimazu clan on the edge of Kinko Bay, we had already seen the Sakurajima volcano. This garden even offers a breathtaking view of this smoking mountain and this considerably increases the charm of the garden, giving it the effect of depth sought in aesthetics. shakkei (we will come back to this in the following post).
A permanent threat
When we look at them under a beautiful peaceful sun, we are of course tempted to consider these volcanoes from the sole aesthetic aspect. In reality, they pose a permanent threat to Japan. It is not the only one hanging over this archipelago, which is also subject to very strong climatic contrasts. This country is indeed located at the meeting point of four lithospheric plates – two oceanic plates and two continental plates – which slide one under the other. As a result, Japan is regularly the victim of devastating earthquakes and tsunamis and, over the centuries, its inhabitants have not ceased, here and there, to rebuild castles, houses, works that the whims of nature had destroyed.
"The most worrying for the sustainability of the archipelago and its inhabitants is underground," recall the authors of "Japan for Dummies". Experts expect that one day – but, of course, no one can say when – the Nankai pit, off Tokyo, will be the scene of an earthquake so powerful that the archipelago could be completely destroyed.
At the origin of the Japanese spirit
We may know that many earthquakes have already dotted Japanese history, we may also know that the earthquake followed by the tsunami already caused, on March 11, 2011, a disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, flying over helicopter Mount Aso or observing, from below, the Sakurajima volcano, in this early December, we were first captivated by the sublime spectacle. However, it was better understood that the authors of "Japan for Dummies" wrote: "The only way to survive in Japan has (always) been to manage nature", before adding "These peculiarities forged for a share the Japanese spirit ”. This observation continued throughout our week on the island of Kyushu. We will come back to it.
* The island of Kuyshu in practice
-ask about: Tourist office of Kyūshū: https://www.welcomekyushu.com
and also that of Kagoshima: https://www.kagoshima-yokanavi.jp/english/attraction/index.html.
That of Mount Aso: https://visitaso.com/en/
That of Takachiho: http://takachiho-kanko.info/en
That of Kumamoto: https://kumamoto-guide.jp
That of Kurokawa, one of the most beautiful cities with hot springs: https://www.kurokawaonsen.or.jp/eng_new/
-Jardins and the stately home of the Shimadzu family, in Kagoshima: https://www.senganen.jp/fr
-Jardins Suizen-ji Jōju-en created by the Hosokawa family in Kumamoto: https://www.kanpai.fr/kumamoto/suizen-ji-joju-en-jardin
* Read: Japan for dummies, by Alexandre Messager and Philippe Godard. 360 p. € 22.95
. (tagsToTranslate) fagoshima (t) japan (t) sengan-en (t) gardens kyushu (t) mont aso (t) naka-dake (t) sakurajima (t) my passport to the world