Volcano Museum 2. History

Mike GristGunma, Haikyo, Museums 8 Comments

The Mt. Asama Volcano Museum was a mould-breaking facility opened in 1967, offering insight into the life-cycle of the most active volcano in Honshu (the main island of Japan), and into the area of volcanic rock surrounding it known as Oni Oshi Dashi (exiled demons). Its opening ceremony was attended by then-Crown Prince Akihito (now the Emperor) and his young wife Crown Princess Michiko (now the Empress). It was the beginning of an exciting new era for Japanese science. It has since been voted one of the top two haikyo in Japan.

The main facility under construction.

Mt. Asama erupts quite frequently, most recently in February 2009. From its crown at 2,500 meters above sea level it shot ash to a height of 2km, and catapulted rocks as far as 1km from the crater. Ashfall was reported in Tokyo, 145 km southeast of the volcano crater. Its this kind of airborne violence, accompanied by tens of volcanic earthquakes, that have caused so much damage to the museum over its 42 year lifespan.

1965, putting in the foundations.

Shortly after completion.

(I think) then-Crown Prince Akihito and Crown-Princess Michiko, walking the grounds.

Opening festival with officials in traditional Japanese garb.

Ribbon -cutting at the opening ceremony.

Opening to the public.

Wild goat.

Earliest color photo I could find, 1970’s.
Contrast photo from 2 years ago, 2007.

The main exhibition floor. The topographic map was still there the first time we went, but gone the second time. The earth cut in half was already smashed to planetary rubble the first time we went.

Over the same railing in 2009. The shots don’t fully match so probably they changed the wall-displays around since then.

Kids romancing by the cotton wool eruption- still there. (The eruption not the kids).

Jason, me and Mike in 2007. Mike is not ripping off a chunk, merely handling a chunk already a bit torn. Shot by Jason.

The area around the Volcano Museum is known as ‘Oni Oshi Dashi’, translated as something like exiled or expelled demons. It is a zone of sharp and blocky black volcanic stones, thought to have been laid down in the ‘Tenmei’ eruption of 1783. Heavy slow-moving pyroclastic magma flows rolled down the side of the mountain, crystallizing into big chunks forming a rough lava scree field. At the time 1151 people were killed, and those who survived blamed their deaths on the demons inside the mountain rioting. Hence the name ‘exiled demons’, who were kicked out of their home and took revenge on nearby village-dwellers.

I first went to the Asama Volcano Museum in 2007, one of the first haikyo I went on, along with Mike and Jason you can see above. We spent about an hour trekking over the snow-covered Oni Oshi Dashi fields before finally sighting the Volcano Museum in the distance. Covered in snow, freezing cold, and completely silent, the place was incredibly atmospheric.

Eruption of 1983.

Entrance to Oni Oshi Dashi fields.

Over the snow-capped Oni Oshi Dashi lava field.

Mike walks the lava fields.

In 1993 the old museum was closed down and a new one re-opened. When we first went we thought it was some kind of warehouse because several large semi-trucks were parked in front of it. This most recent time we thought it was perhaps a mall. Now I know from some basic net research that it is the new museum and restaurant center, complete with ‘Lost World’ section where you can descend into the depths of the volcano (a smoky hot red room) where you can watch live footage from within the actual crater. It sounds pretty cool- see more here.

Dropping a camera into the caldera.

Constructing the new building.

Completed- it looks like a mall. Much less character than the old one, which you can see peeking in at the left side.

Not sure how old this is, but the museum looks in bad shape (nice and white, but broken windows) so perhaps around 10-20 years ago.

The old museum is now used as a volcanic earthquake observation center run by Tokyo University. This goes some way to explaining the very odd copper-radar room, though not very far to explaining why power to some of the museum displays still work, or why classical music is being played constantly from outdoor speakers on the roof.

Copper radar room.

New building in red on the right, old building with the circular roof to its left. Everything around is Oni Oshi Dashi lava field.

In the most recent tourist area maps put out by the new volcano museum, the old one doesn’t feature at all. It should be right between and above the main complex at bottom and the the bike showroom on the left. I guess it’s just not very important, and they’re happy for it to sink into memory- even though it’s one of the most interesting things there. Hardly safe, though.

Next week I’ll post part 3- Return to the Museum, with all the new photos (HDR, not HDR, black and white, etc..) and latest story of the exploration. In the meantime, why not check out part 1- First Impressions here.

Photo Source.

See other posts on the Volcano Museum here-

1. First road trip

2. History

3. Return in HDR

4. Wedding shoot

5. Documentary shoot

See more Japanese ruins (haikyo) in the galleries:

[album id=4 template=compact]

You can also see a curation of world ruins in the ruins gallery.

Comments 8

  1. Mike – this is one of the most interesting haikyo posts I have read since those Ashiodozan posts, it is well researched backed up by relevant photographs and contains images of your own. I just went here today and was mildly disappointed by this place, perhaps because I had seen so many different takes on it in the last few weeks and I struggled for a new perspective or originality, wish you had posted this yesterday when I was planning it. Again nice one, this is a definitely a nice dimension and one that would provide a good selling point for the book!

  2. Post

    Lee- Cheers, was surprised by how much background I could find out about the place. Of course the photos make it.

    Adam- Right, the pressure is on to show the place in a different light to how the other 3 guys did, how I did last time, how the other 2 guys did last time. Uh… HDR! We’ll see.

    J-eye- Thanks, glad to hear it. People had been talking about showing more history, and I got lucky with a good bunch of old photos for this place. As for showing anew dimension, I’m with you. The place has been exhaustively covered already.

    Tornadoes- No doubt, though there’s also beauty in it.

    Mike- You did, ah good then, is authentic.

  3. Fascinating report. I think I visited this place when I was very young but don’t remember anything – probably to small to remember.

    The fourth photo is of Prince and Princess – now Emperor and Empress. In the fifth photo, the men in the traditional garb are not officials but clerics (shinto).

    Oni Oshi Dashi means “something demons (oni) pushed (oshi-dasu)”. The rocks looks as if macho demons pushed and shoved rather recklessly. 😉

  4. What a fascinating story. I was looking for details of Mount Asama, since according to a famous woodblock triptych by Yoskikazu, this was the place where the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi (The Book of The Five Rings) helped the villagers to kill a maneating crocodile (or mountain shark). I did not get more about that, but I got a fantastic story about the old mountain which ranks Mt Aso as a witness to japanese history over the milleniums.
    Thank you, and kind regards, Tor (Denmark)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *