Archive for July 24th, 2013

Living in the Shadow of Volcanoes

July 24th, 2013

KAGOSHIMA, JAPAN – One of the IAVCEI 2013 mid-conference field trip stops was to Takachino Bokujo (farm) just north of Kagoshima.

Takachiho Farm is an operating agricultural facility where visitors can milk cows and pet sheep.

Takachiho Farm is an operating agricultural facility where visitors can milk cows and pet sheep.

Although the farm animals (and mini go-carts) were great fun, our real goal was to see the fantastic view of the Kirishima volcano.

Kirishima volcano is actually a volcanic complex consisting of over 20 cones covering an area of ~600 square km.

Kirishima volcano is actually a volcanic complex consisting of over 20 cones covering an area of ~600 square km.

Karakunidake is the tallest peak of the Kirishima volcanic complex while Ohachi is the site of Kirishima’s largest recorded historical eruption. According to the guidebook, the younger cones in the Kirishima volcanic complex have erupted repeatedly since the Pleistocene (starting about 300 thousand years ago). The most recent eruption occurred in January, 2011, at Shinmoedake volcano. It was a violent eruption that ejected pyroclastic materials (pumice, ash, bombs) and formed a lava dome. The guidebook describes shock waves that shattered windows in the nearby Kirishima city.

The triangular peak of Takachihonomine is famous for it’s role in a Shinto myth. It’s the location where Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu, descended from heaven to rule the earth.

The Kirishima shrine, dedicated to Ninigi-no-Mikoto, is located at the base of the Kirishima volcanic complex.

The Kirishima shrine, dedicated to Ninigi-no-Mikoto, is located at the base of the Kirishima volcanic complex.

Originally built in the 6th century, volcanic eruptions have destroyed the shrine multiple times. The current structure was built nearly 300 years ago.

Before offering prayers to Ninigi-no-Mikoto, visitors washed their hands and drank from a fountain.

Before offering prayers to Ninigi-no-Mikoto, visitors washed their hands and drank from a fountain.

People threw coins as an offering before making their prayer requests. The ceremony involved bowing and clapping twice.

People threw coins as an offering before making their prayer requests. The ceremony involved bowing and clapping twice.

Wooden prayer boards, or ema, were flanked both sides of the shrine.

Visitors wrote their prayer requests on the backs of wooden prayer boards, or ema, and tied them to stands on both sides of the shrine.

Visitors could also pay to draw a paper fortune, or omikuji, from a box. The papers were tied to a wire fence near the shrine entrance. I was told that leaving the fortune at the shrine would turn bad fortunes into good fortunes.

Visitors could also pay to draw a paper fortune, or omikuji, from a box. The papers were tied to a wire fence near the shrine entrance. I was told that leaving the fortune at the shrine would turn bad fortunes into good fortunes.

In the Kirishima area, volcanoes play an important role in mythology and the presence of fertile farmland. I can’t think of a better place to observe the interaction between culture and volcanoes.