Monday, July 25, 2011
Japan is covered in abandoned buildings, or haikyo. Some are old military installations, some are mining ghost towns, and some are relics of the 80s property boom. Some are just buildings that have been replaced.
Our days target for exploration was the abandoned Mt. Asama Volcano Museum and Observatory. It sits on the slopes of Mt. Asama, the most active volcano on the main island of Honshu. Asama-san straddles the border between Gunma and Nagano prefectures, and if things aren’t too hazy it is clearly visible on my ride to work. The museum was abandoned when a more modern (and less architecturally interesting) one was built right next door. Rather than tear it down, they just left it for the volcano to do the dirty work for them.
Both museums are located in the Oni Oshi Dashi, a lava field left by a cataclysmic eruption in 1783. The name refers to the exiled demons that were ejected from the volcano. It was fun for me to see a lava field like the ones I saw on Kilauea, only 200 years older. Despite the ample scrub, the lava fields still look pretty desolate.
In the 20 some years since it was left to rot, the volcano has done a pretty good job at breaking down the old building. Eruptions and earthquakes have shattered the glass, peeled the paint and even knocked down some walls and support pillars. The structure may not collapse tomorrow, but it is certainly looking a bit worse for wear. In fact, it is looking worse than it did even a few years ago, based on old photos and blog posts I have found online.
While most of the seismic action this year has been off the north eastern coast, the ground under Asama has seen a few good sized tremors as well, including one that hit in the wee hours of the morning on March 12th that woke up everybody in Gunma. This and the eruption in early 2009 have knocked the poor old museum around quite a bit.
While there are signs forbidding entry, it’s quite easy to get pretty close to the building, though plywood across the doors makes actual entry more difficult. In my great folly and or wisdom, I decided not to actually enter, but a couple of people in our group were a bit more adventurous and headed inside. They made it in and out in safety, so either things aren’t as bad as they look or we were fantastically lucky!