Meeting Tatsu...

Trip Start Feb 26, 2007
Trip End Jun 16, 2007

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

My legs were as stiff as a board when I woke up on Saturday morning, and the last thing I needed was another hike uphill, particularly as it was absolutely scorching outside. However, the prospect of seeing Sakurajima, the active volcano across the water from Kagoshima, from a superb vantage point was too good an opportunity to miss. Besides, after all the hiking that I`d done in the previous few days, a twenty minute climb was something of a doddle in comparison...

The view from the Shiro-yama Observatory was just as impressive as I`d hoped it would be, with the giant volcano dominating the skyline. I sat down to rest my weary bones, and was soon approached by an old Japanese guy who to my surprise, spoke perfect English. Tatsu, whose name literally meant `dragon,` lived on the Sakurajima side of the area and was very easy to get along with. Having lived abroad himself for ten years when he was younger, he had some interesting stories to tell, and after talking for over an hour, he made me an offer I couldn`t refuse...

I`d been telling him how I planned to get the boat across to the volcano in the afternoon, but I was surprised about the lack of options for touring around the island (I use the term `island` loosely since it is now connected to the mainland after a violent eruption in 1914 poured out over three billion tons of lava!). My only option appeared to be a three hour bus tour, no doubt crammed with Japanese tourists and school children (who seem to be everywhere). Not ideal. It was therefore music to my ears when Tatsu offered to give me a guided tour in his car which was a lovely gesture, and of course I jumped at the chance...

Tatsu had been staying at a business hotel in Kagoshima, so I went with him and waited at reception while he got his stuff together. I inwardly groaned when I saw the receptionist walking towards me with another mug of green tea, but I knew it couldn`t be as bad as the one in Yokohama, and thankfully it wasn`t.

Ten minutes later, Tatsu returned and we were on our way, although we called at a cafe en route to the ferry terminal...and ended up staying for about an hour, enjoying soup, sandwiches, salad and a coffee, with Tatsu insisting on paying for the lot, like a tour guide sent from heaven! 

The boat journey only took about fifteen minutes, but it was great to be cruising towards such an imposing, dramatic sight. Tatsu told me that until a few years ago, Sakurajima pretty much had smoke and ash bellowing out of it every single day, a real nuisance for the residents on both sides of the water who needed umberellas for protection from the ash and debris. Hanging your washing out to dry was also a big no-no, as it would invariably end up as black as the ace of spades! Thesedays, such activity occurred maybe once a month, and on this occasion it seemed to be behaving itself, so we were able to begin our clockwise tour around the island (actually `peninsula` is more accurate)...

After weaving our way around the coast, with the ocean glistening in the sun, we stopped to see the torii at Kurokami which was interesting as you could only view the top third of it - the rest was buried in volcanic ash! It actually resembled a bridge more than an entrance to a shrine, but since two metres of it were underground, it wasn`t surprising.

We called in at a couple of lookouts along the way, before reaching the barren lava fields at the Arimura Observatory where there were great views of the bays and of Sakurajima itself, with the clouds just about keeping clear. I took a couple of photographs of Tatsu who must rank as the person with the most serious camera pose in the world! In reality though, he was a really friendly, funny guy who was making the day a lot more interesting and informative for me.

There was a fascinating museum further around the coast that chronicled the volcano`s activity, and detailed its previous eruptions. We were the only two people there, which was good as it meant that they could play the feature presentation on the big screen in English, followed by a 3D movie which followed the lava`s journey after an eruption. It was entertaining what with the 3D glasses and the vibrating chairs, and there were a couple of jumpy moments, especially when the lava flattened a deer that subsequently came flying towards our faces!

We had time to visit the beautiful Furosato Onsen on the way back to the ferry terminal, which was in a gorgeous location overlooking the ocean, before I said goodbye to Tatsu, who had been an absolute star. We exchanged email addresses and he said to contact him if I ever needed any help or a place to crash, and I may take him up on the offer if I don`t manage to find a job before my money runs out!
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