Usually I discover my virtual vacation destination by looking for the volcano. This week’s volcano, however, I discovered while looking at a video about a vacation resort. But I found a little more than that once I dropped in on this gourd-shaped bit of land in the Izu Islands of Japan just south of Honshu, 300 km from Tokyo, a green subtropical slice of volcanic island paradise called Hachijojima.
Hachijojima is just part of a string of subaerial and submarine volcanoes that form the Izu-Bonin-Mariana Arc, a convergent zone where the Pacific Plate is being subducted beneath the Philippine Plate. However, chance has left the island a bit isolated from its volcanic neighbours, perhaps contributing a bit more to its unique history and present peculiarities. The island itself is composed of two primarily basaltic stratovolcanoes, the younger cone called Nishi-yama or Hachijo-fuji at the northwest end of the 14.5 km long island and the more eroded Higashi-yama, also called Mihara-jama, on the southeast end. A third and much smaller stratovolcano called Ko-jima belonging to the group lies a few kilometres west of Nishi-yama.
Higashi-jima was active between 100,000 and 3,700 years ago, and an irregular caldera is still evident at its 701 ASL (above sea level) summit. Nishi-yama emerged from the sea around 10,000 years ago and has had 18 Holocene eruptions. The most recent subaerial activity was in 1605 followed by a submarine flank eruption in 1606. The off-shore Ko-jima has no recorded Holocene eruptions.
The island itself has an intriguing history. A legend tells that the rebel samurai Minamoto no Tametomo escaped his place of exile and fled to Hachijo-jima where he tried to form an independent kingdom. Later, during the Edo Period of the 17th-19th centuries, the island itself became first a place of political exile and later a colony for all manner of prisoners. Amnesty was granted to the island’s inhabitants after the Meiji Restoration, but a few residents stayed on. During World War II, the island was part of the defence of Tokyo and was the base for the Kaiten “suicide submarines”.
After all that, it may come as a surprise to learn that the island enjoyed a brief period of being Japan’s most popular holiday resort. After the war and until the 1970s, Japanese travel abroad was restricted, and so the people of Japan wanted a vacation spot comparable to Hawaii. The island’s climate is humid subtropical, with the hottest summer days still below 30°C and the coldest winter temperatures still above freezing. The volcanic soil makes for great agriculture both for sustanance and for botanical gardens, and despite the poorer quality of beaches, the surfing and diving around the island remains a tourist draw. There are also hot springs, a silk weaving workshop that is open for tourists to view, and the Hachijojima Freesia Festival happens every year in early spring.
But perhaps the most curious draw is the Hachijo Royal Resort which was built in 1963 in the classic French Baroque architecture. At that time, it was one of the largest hotels in Japan and attracted people from all over the country. Sadly, as restrictions on travel were lifted and Japanese vacationers set their sights further from home, tourism declined. The hotel underwent a few renovations, but could not sustain itself and was closed in 2006. The damp island climate and proximity to salty ocean air has caused the facility to deteriorate quickly, but it is still a coveted haunt for the strange sorts of people who love exploring abandoned buildings.
Congratulations to Aficientíficobeing for being the only one to find me this week. But this coming Monday evening begins a new opportunity to catch me on a new adventure at a new volcano. Thank you to all who play or read along.