Sunday, April 18, 2010

Touya-ko and Mischievous Usu-zan

30th October, 2003 - Driving into Touya-ko, you don't get the impression that you've suddenly come across one of the largest remnant volcanoes in Japan. Indeed the huge lake is actually a enormous caldera crater left over from an enormous eruption that had literally blown the top off the previous volcano. Now all that remains is the deep, deep lake.

A note on spelling... the proper name is Tōya-ko which should be written as Touya-ko. You will often see the "u" omitted, to leave just Toya-ko. Youtei-zan is another example where this occurs. This occurs all the time in English web translation of Japanese names.

 From Youtei-zan, it's another 50+ km to get to Toya-ko

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The volcanic story of Touya-ko is far from over however... back in 2000, Usu-yama (actually it was the nearby connected volcanic cone, Nishi-yama) erupted in a spectacular display of force. This volcanic system has erupted every 20-50 years since the 1600's when it awoke from slumber.

The eruption was announced by pronounced activity around 31st March - with major land deformation and crater formation by the 5th April with activity peaking around the 7-10th April. The volcano continued till about June...

Nowadays the area is still active, the air filled with the noxious sulfurous gases... it's as if we had discovered a gateway to a grim apocalyptic future...

Where man had surrendered begrudgingly to the forces of nature. During the eruption, about 16,000 people had been evacuated from Touya-ko and surrounding areas - leading to no known deaths. Alas however, the nearby homes were lost - now a stark reminder of humans (fool-hardy) ability to defy the inevitable. There's a good Volcano Science Centre located near the volcano.

Around the end of WWII, there were a series of earthquakes that had disturbed Touya-ko's then sleepy existence. The resulting earth disturbance lead to a bulging of the surface, that eventually came to be known as Showa Shinzan (Showa-era new mountain)... It's about 300m high, and continues to grow - a disturbing reminder that not all of geologies actions are slow by our standards.

Showa-Shinsan can best be seen by taking the scenic ropeway to the summit of Usu-zan. It costs around 1,300 yen (adult) so it's not a cheap trip... however.. it's worth it.

At the top you'll get amazing views across both the Touya lake...

And find a stark landscape atop the summit, with just a hint of beauty amongst the volcanic desolation.

The views out across Uchiura Bay are glorious. It's the Pacific Ocean ... and it's beautiful.

And another view of Uchiura Bay, with volcanic steam venting through Usu-zan's top.

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