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to the volcano

November 4, 2003

an island
a parade
taiko

This weekend I went to visit Kim on the volcano she lives on. This was my first trip out of Okinawa, and in order to get the big plane to Kyushu, I first had to take the small plane from my island. It’s a very small plane – only room for eight passengers – and it flew very low across the sea, allowing some beautiful views of the Okinawan mainland and various surrounding islands.

The big plane then took me from Naha, the capital of Okinawa, to Kyushu, where Kim lives – across about 400 miles of ocean. Kim lives on the lower slopes of an extremely active volcano. I went expecting it to be picturesque, but when I saw it I discovered how malevolent a mountain can look. It’s definitely an angry mountain. It’s extremely large and wide, but the trees that cover the lower part of it come to a sudden stop half way up and from there on up it’s just black scree that the volcano has spat there. Nothing grows there, and no-one goes there – it’s too dangerous.

One of the perks of living on a volcano, though, is the abundance of onsens () – baths of hot spring water. These are extremely popular in Japan (and being a very volcanically active country, there are a lot of them), but I had never been to one before. It was fantastic – an outdoor pool full of large rocks, and the temperature of a hot bath. Usually a visit to an onsen involves nudity (generally less of an issue here than in Britain), but this one has a small shrine in it, and so nakedness is not appropriate, so everyone entering the onsen wears a plain white yukata robe. Walking into the blissfully hot water in a white gown, with other people slowly wading about in similar gowns, it felt like I was joining some sort of cult. We stayed in the onsen for nearly two hours, watching ships come and go, and listening to the sea crash against the rocks thirty feet from where we were bathing. The whole sea glittered under a bright moon. On Sunday evening we went back a second time, and this time it was drizzling and the onsen was fairly empty. We sat in the hot water with cold raindrops splashing around us and, once again, listened to the waves.

On the Monday, there was a huge festival in the city, and so we travelled across with Kim’s taiko drumming group. They were great, and I was pretty jealous that Kim’s already playing in public, and practicing twice a week. There don’t seem to be very regular practices here on my island – I’m hoping they’ll start up again sometime soon because it’s about a month since I last went to one. Anyway, it was great to see Kim play taiko, and her group were particularly impressive because they’ve got the second biggest drum in the prefecture, which must be about eight or nine feet across. She looked very cool in the blue and orange costume – look! there she is on the right! And that’s the big drum on the left. Sadly, I only had time to see their first set before I had to leave for the airport.

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