October 21: And there it was now, sliding under the port wing at 450 knots – the Boeing was still climbing. As I’d let ANA assign me a seat on the wrong side, I had to scurry across the plane and peer through a miserable porthole in the rear door. But Mt Fuji never disappoints. There it was, soaring above a scattered cloud-deck, a conical island in a limitless blue ocean.
Like some mountain fashionista, Mt Fuji was modelling a turban-like capcloud. A shawl of rotor cloud trailed in its lee. I clicked away with my pocket camera until the spectacle drifted away aft. Returning to my seat, I noticed that the man in the row ahead had his newspaper open at a topical headline: “Three prefectures hold disaster drill to prepare for Mt Fuji eruption”.
That was quick, I thought – it’s only three weeks since Ontake blew and they’re already practising for the next one. Turns out, though, that this exercise had been planned for months – after all, the authorities drew up a “hazard map” for the mountain years ago. The drill scenario seems to have been based on the 1707 eruption on Mt Fuji’s southern flank.
|The eruption of Ontake seen from Kasa-ga-dake (Photo: A Mikami)
Do the authorities know something we don’t? Well, probably not. A volcano’s intentions are notoriously hard to read. From time to time, seismometers have picked up movements of lava deep underneath the mountain – and, so far, nothing has happened. One thing is certain: Mt Fuji will erupt when it feels like it. Years ago, a poet summed up the matter perfectly:
Sometimes clouds furry like mufflers wind round and round Fuji
Sometimes classic pince-nez clouds float close by
The Osawa landslide must have carved out a huge mass of mountain
That too does not bother Fuji
Leaving everything to humanity and physics
Before long it may yet poke out again a tongue of fire.
That too is left to nature
Fuji is there
Fuji simply exists
Heaven overhead always
(From "Fuji" by Kusano Shinpei (1903-1988), Selected Poems 1943-1986 translated by Leith Morton)