Mt. Ontake, the second tallest mountain in Japan after Mt. Fuji, erupted around noon on Saturday, Sept. 27, as reported by NHK, the Japanese public broadcasting agency, as well as other news agencies. Since September and October are the time for Japanese to enjoy colorful foliage in the mountains, Mt. Ontake was populated by many hikers at the time of eruption. According to the Sankei News, a mountain guide at the top of the mountain witnessed the sudden eruptions around 11:40am, Japan time. When she was walking around the crater she heard a sudden explosion. And then she saw a white plume as well as rocks shoot up into the sky. The first explosion shot up rocks as big as 1 m in diameter while the second explosion shot up rocks as big as pick-up trucks. Rocks were shattered into smaller rocks as they hit the ground. Since the air was filled with sulfurous odor some hikers at the top vomited. Then, black rain began to fall. She thought she would die.
On Sept. 29, the Yomiuri News reported that small eruptions would still continue for a while. Although the exact number of people who are missing is not known, so far 12 people were confirmed dead and another 24 people are in the condition of heart and lung failure.
Japan is a mountainous archipelago that contains over 100 active volcanoes. This is an astonishing number of volcanoes in such a small country as Japan. The reason for such a high number of volcanoes clustering in Japan is due to tectonics. Japan is located on the junction of 4 major tectonic plates, the Pacific, Philippine, Eurasian, and the North American plates. This is the reason why there are so many earthquakes in Japan. And very few people can forget the monstrous 8.9 magnitude earthquake and its after-effects, tsunamis, that assaulted the north-east region of Japan in March, 2011. Then, one may wonder how Japanese can live in such a treacherous environment. As a person who grew up in Japan I would say that people have lived and live in Japan more or less happily. (However, I have to add that I detect some sign of emotional damages, that Japanese, particularly young Japanese, experienced after the nation-shuttering disaster in 2011, in the fairly recent popularity of pop-culture product Attack on Titan.)
Japanese seem to have learned to live with nature including its violent manifestations. For instance, when my husband and I visited Mt. Aso, an active volcano that emits white smoky steam constantly, we are somewhat amazed by the energy and resourcefulness of people who are willing to utilize the very source of their immanent disaster: they set up tourist attractions around the smoking crater and people grow farm products within the huge caldera. They did not seem to be terrorized by the prospect of nature’s violence. Is it a form of wisdom? (After all, humans cannot entirely control our environments unless the disasters are manmade. We can be hit by asteroids, if not hurricanes or earthquakes, at unexpected moments. Then the only thing we can do under such circumstances it to live life to the fullest every single day.) Or is it just another case of humans learning to survive under any circumstances?
“Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.” – Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead