Years ago, my wife and I took a Road Scholar tour (then called Elderhostel) of Japan that was meant to show the difference from north to south. A Road Scholar tour strives to be educational, not to wallow in luxury. We were advised not to bring extensive wardrobes, which meant we often walked into elegant dinners looking like a group of American skid-row derelicts. (The Japanese people were very tolerant of us.) The main feature of the trip was visiting the northern city of Morioka, a small city with the charm and quaintness of a small city in New England, then flying down to the southern city of Kagoshima, past Mt. Fuji (Fujiyama).
Kagoshima is a resort city. We arrived after dark. Our hotel balcony faced Kagoshima Bay, and I had a sense of something out there. The center of our view was an empty blob of blackness—no lights, no stars, no nothing. In the morning, I saw the blackness was the volcano Sakurajima across water about as wide as the Delaware river at Philadelphia. White clouds were coming from the top, but they did not seem to be moving because of the distance. Only on looking again after about 15 minutes was the change noticeable. There were no red sparks or flames coming from the top, no glowing lava flows, only the imperceptibly changing white clouds.
(The magma in Japan has a high silica content, so volcanoes rarely have a lava flow. Instead, they have explosive eruptions, despite the fact that Sakurajima (Island) was formed by a large lave flow in 1914.)
The streets, sidewalks, and everything was covered with a dusting of the gritty white ash. There were occasional white stones thrown out of the volcano about the size and smoothness of eggs. They were pumice, startlingly light weight from all of the microscopic holes. I picked up several to take home as souvenirs. They cleared customs easily and did not add much weight.
Sakurajima literally means “cherry-blossom island,” and in the days following we visited that island. All along the road to the top were several heavily-roofed shelters where hikers could duck into for protection when the pumice rocks fell. As light as they were, they could still hurt.
Now, I see in the news the volcano is erupting again, but the ash is now black. The scientists do not know what this implies.
(My wife, of Japanese descent, thought she no longer understood the Japanese language, especially since different words and different sentence structures are used when speaking to a child. What she heard then is different from what she hears now as an adult. But she did much better than she expected. I think it is all those little words she remembered, like prepositions, that can cause trouble. Once you know these, and the sentence structure, the rest is just adding to the vocabulary (sez me, who can barely handle English).