Clouds of ash and sulfur


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October 5th 2016
Published: October 14th 2016
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Amazing sunset
And the volcano erupted...This is not a metaphor for my untamed Mediterranean sexual temperament (not this time) but rather an objective, scientific fact that none of us can and should argue with. This bad boy goes by the name of Sakurajima (Cherry Blossom Island) and erupts a stunning 100 times per year: that is almost one eruption every three days, for those of you that don't do the maths. In 1914 the volcano expelled enough lava to connect the former island of Sakurajima to the nearby Osumi Peninsula and experts predict there might be another, more devastating eruption within the next 30 years. Bring your umbrellas, ladies and gents. I am not joking, ash rain is more common in the region than the H2O version we are all used to.

Sakurajima and its ashy pleasures are just one of the many deadly delights of nature that Japan has to deal with on a daily basis. Much of the archipelago is nestled on earthquake prone tectonic plate borders, frequently being hit by typhoons, suffering of tsunamis and Godzilla wrecking up cities from time to time. Sakurajima stopped its activity for several days in 2016, only to give space to major earthquakes
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Side-street
near Kumamoto... after which it has resumed its smoky business. In other words, mother nature has not been very generous with the land of the rising sun. The country is believed to run the 15th highest natural disaster risk among all countries in the world and this is something most Japanese have to live with every day of their lives.

As an example of this daily struggle, about 25km from the volcano lies the 500.000 soul city of Kagoshima - over and over again reminded of this menacing natural environment. Once the showcase of the Meiji revolution, Kagoshima is now largely known for sweet potato liquor and the locally farmed black pigs - which go into the local hot pot. In other words, most people have no idea that the city even exists. For Japanese, on the other hand, Kagoshima's southern location makes for a nice little trip to the "Hawaii of Japan". For me as a traveller, there is not much to say about Kagoshima: A pretty standard Japanese city like the others I have visited in recent times. For those of you who have never visited Japan, a standard city in the country means usually a mix
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Smoke again
of the following: A confusing mix of architectural styles, a spiderweb of open electricity wires criss-crossing the streets, probably the only country in Asia with lots of bicycle paths, colourful arrays of plastic display food in restaurant vetrines, video game halls and manga libraries, tons of cosmetic shops, the occasional manga caffe, a covered walking and shopping district (the infamous "arcade"), men in black suits, white shirts and ties getting wasted and looking for sexual healing in the late hours of the evening and, last but not least, deadly silence on every means of public transport and in the more traditional restaurants (with sober people).

Now, there are some things in Kagoshima which I believe to be special though. To be honest, when booking my trip I had no idea that the city lies under the shadow of a fire-breathing mountain, which could transform it into Pompeii the second in any moment. On the upside, thanks to Sakurajima's fiery temper, even the local airport has a footbath hotspring just outside the arrival terminal. Near the local ferry terminal between Kagoshima and Sakurajima there is jet another public spring for soaking your weary feet. So I guess Sakurajima is Kagoshima's
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Cityscape and volcano
curse and blessing.

In these subtleties I find the beauty of Japan. The Japanese have somehow managed to turn an extremely hostile environmeny in a somewhat picture perfect country. Polluted? Bycicle tracks and hybrid cars are doing the job. Gloomy weather? Lets turn the country in a neon lit wonderland with covered pedestrian areas, sheltered from the rain. Volcanoes? Lets make the country famous for hot springs and onsen spas. Stressful lifestyle? Lets make sure to get pissed drunk and unspeakably kinky after work. Pardon me that I don't go into details of how the Japanese have solved their non-prostitution related sexual shortcomings, but I suggest you take a trip and find out for yourself (protip: visit a local sex shop and be astonished).

After climbing parts of Sakurajima, breathing tons of sulfur right out of mother earths' guts, taking a walk along a coastline made of lava, I got my usual surreal urban Japan experience. Quiet, sustainable, with craziness lurking behind every corner - all it needs is just a little push! From Super Mario maid caffes, used underwear for sale, plastic tools to train your mouth for a smile while sleeping, and hundreds of suspiciously pedophile
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Oh Japan...
cartoons on full display: Japan is something else - whether you like it or not.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time for a longer trip in Japan now but I promised myself that on every possible occastion I will come back to this enigma of a country and slowly dissect it through short visits. Luckily flights are getting cheaper and more and more destinations within the land of the rising sun are opening for easy and cheap access. Very soon I will be off to Timor Leste for a week of unexplored madness before being back here soon. From the sulfur-breathing slopes of hell, I wish you all safe travel and see y'all soon.


Additional photos below
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As close to Sakurajima as possible
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Architecture
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Yakitori!
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Just waiting with my mates
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View of Kagoshima and Sakurajima
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Sakurajima Ferry
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View of Kagoshima
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A friends' day out?
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Hot spring
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Walk on Sakurajima island
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Onsen and volcano
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Volcanic ash
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Peace and quiet
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Rocky coast
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Fishermen
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Sakurajima erupting over the local village


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