Friday, October 31, 2014

Autumn meizan (1)

Travelogue: a distant view of Mt Fuji leads to a poetic eruption

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)

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