Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nihon Hyakumeizan: in search of ground truth (14)

Travelogue continued: I pay a social visit to the Senpai, but we lose our way and discover a floating island. It isn’t Horai-san, though.

23 November: Trusting that the wind and currents would bring them to the floating island of the Immortals, they set themselves adrift in boats without oars or rudders. Those monks of the Ta’ng era came to mind after we’d launched ourselves, in the Sempai's van, into the tangled ocean of Hanshin expressway system.

Not that we were seeking a floating island, of course. No, the Senpai and I gave up our overseas expeditions some while back. (Probably to the relief of the Senpai’s wife.) These days, we just visit the odd garden or temple, like the one we were now heading for. But now, like those monks, we were, as the navigational manuals might put it, “uncertain of our position”. Worse still, we’d left home without a proper road-map, let alone GPS.

While the Senpai exited the expressway, turned the van round, and headed towards yet another on-ramp, I frantically consulted the large-scale map of Japan that I’d just found in a door pocket. Surely, I muttered, we are still on Honshu. Then, suddenly, we were no longer on Honshu; the van climbed a ramp and headed out between two mighty pillars. The sea glittered below.

“Well, I wanted to show you this anyway,” said the Senpai, quite unfazed. There was a touch of pride in his tone, and justifiably so. The Akashi Straits Bridge is an impressive sight, especially when the tops of its piers lose themselves in the morning mist. We rolled slowly towards mid-span as the Senpai explained how the half-built bridge gained a whole metre in length during the Kobe Earthquake fifteen years ago.

I later found an article that explained in detail what happened here within a few seconds after 5.46am on January 17, 1995. The bridge did, indeed, gain just over one metre in total span. The bridge deck, not yet hoisted into place, had to be lengthened to compensate. All this happened because the island of Awaji (or that part of it on which the bridge stands) had shifted 1.4 metres westward relative to the mainland.

We had found our floating island.

Driving a few yards onto Awaji, we turned the van more or less directly above the spot, 16 kilometres down, where the earth tore apart on that day of wrath. Then we drove back across the bridge, the tide-race below patterned into slow-churning whirlpools.


hanameizan said...

Your post reminded me of a technical paper I edited about a year after the earthquake; perhaps you were reading the same one, though there must have been many. I remember thinking at the time that even the safety margin in the aseismic design calculations probably didn't include a 1.4m displacement. Lucky the bridge hadn't been completed!

Kittie Howard said...

What a way to find a floating island. And I'm never going to forget the importance of 1.4m!