The 2009 Eclipse in Japan

from Michael Khan, 24. May 2009, 17:40

Less than two months to go until the July 22 solar eclipse that will be visible from Southern and Eastern Asia!

The track of the total eclipse over Japan, source: NASA/GSFC, F. Espenak (Sie finden diesen Artikel hier auf Deutsch)

Most of those  diehards who are sufficiently serious about astronomy to travel to a place half a world away to see an eclipse will probably have booked a trip to China. That's not a bad idea - China has lots to offer and is definitely worth a visit. Many people don't know that Japan too will be touched by the swath of the total eclipse, albeit only some small islands to the south of the archipelago. The largest of these is Yakushima island, declared part of the world natural heritage by UNESCO. Yakushima is basically a volcanic cone that rises almost 2000 meters above ocean level. Guess what? I went there and checked it out for you. 

Yakushima island hiking trail, source: Michael KhanSeen from Yakushima, the total eclipse will last around four and a half minutes. That's about two minutes less than in the centre of the eclipse track. If you just made up your mind to go there upon reading this post, forget it! The scarce seats on the ferries to the island were assigned via lottery and have been sold out for months, so it's too late now. 

This post is primarily directed at those who  planned ahead and managed to obtain transportation. There won't be too many of those, but hopefully some of them will stumble upon my blog. 

Yakushima island hiking trail, Source: Michael KhanOK, I have to be frank here. There are good reasons to avoid travelling to southern Japan in general and Yakushima island in particular around the end of July, unless of course you thrive on sweltering, steamy heat. Seriously: it could happen that you end up seeing nothing; Yakushima is notorious for its torrential summer downpours. 

Ah, but conversely, if the skies are clear, viewing an eclipse from a high mountain in the ocean and seeing the moon's core shadow speeding towards you across the sea must be an unforgettable sight to behold. 

The tourist infrastructure on Yakushima island is not all that well-developed; most visitors are day trippers. After all, this is essentially a nature reserve. 

Those who do go will have made the necessary preparations and probably will board the slow ferry or the fast hydrofoil (one-way trip duration 3.5 or 2 hours, respectively) in the port of Kagoshima in Kyuushuu, the sounthermost of the four main islands. A select few might even arrive on Yakushima by plane. 

The Sakurajima volcano seen from Kagoshima, Source: Michael KhanThe town of Kagoshima is well worth a visit. Barely four kilometers east of downtown and well-visible from anywhere within the city, on the Sakurajima peninsula right in the middle of the bay there is an active volcano. It has very frequent eruptions, most of them minor, some major, and it can fairly easily be climbed - except of course during a major eruption.

If you're interested in space exploration, which I assume applies to most people who read my blog, you'll probably know that Kagoshima is also the place where the Japanese Mu-V rocket is launched, and you'll also have heard of Tanegashima, the island next to Yakushima. On Tanegashima, the Japanese space agency JAXA operates a  spaceport for the large H-2A launch vehicle, and there also is a space museum. However, Tanegashima is almost completely  outside of the total eclipse swath, and it doesn't have nearly as much to offer as Yakushima in terms of scenic beauty. 

I'll spare you the usual jabber about exoticism and traditions that many travel books on Japan inflict on their readers. Instead, I'll give you some useful tips. Those who organized their trips themselves may already know this but some may still find it useful:

  • It is not as easy to withdraw cash in Japan as it is in Europe. You may find that many ATMs don't accept credit cards issued outside of Japan. You will find ATMs that do allow you to withdraw cash with a credit card or a bank card compatible with any of the major systems (Maestro, Star, Cirrus) in major post offices, but sometimes these cash machines are accessible only during opening hours. A reader of my German blog remarked that 7/11 convenience stores also have ATMs that allow cash withdrawals on foreign-issued Visa credit cards. Anyway: If everything works out fine for you, so much the better, but forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes. Oh, and by the way: I suggest that you check with your bank which fees are incurred for cash withdrawal with your credit card vs. bank card. Chances are that using the credit card for this purpose will result in a hefty fee. 
  • Foreigners tend to expect that the Japanese gift for organizing things can work miracles. I would recommend that you don't expect too much in this specific instance, not, ahem, that far South and not during an exceptional event such as this. This doesn't mean that you have to start worrying about things going badly wrong - but it may be a good idea to take sensible precautions such as sufficient personal food and drink supplies etc.. Just in case.
  • And here's something positive. Japan isn't as pricey as some people would have you believe, especially not once you aren't in the major urban areas. If you plan ahead and buy your supplies in shopping centres such as Daiei, you may even spend less on things than you would have back home.

Further Information:

NASA-GSFC web site on the 2009 eclipse (That is where the above map is from)

Xavier Jubier's web site on observation locations for the 2009 total solar eclipse

Web site on the 2009 Eclipse seen from Southern Japan from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan(NAOJ)

Total eclipse visitor information on the web site of the town of Yakushima  

PS: Request for "eyewitness reports"

Dear reader: If you plan to witness the 2009 eclipse from Yakushima or one of the smaller islands, I'd be very grateful for an "eyewitness report". I could add it in my blog as a "guest article", crediting you of course, and providing a translation if necessary if you're not comfortable with writing in English. If you plan to publish your report online elsewhere, I would like to add a link to your article, so please let me know. Thanks in advance!

PS: 観察レポート募集: 


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  1. 14.08.2009 | 09:55

    Die Sofi war erwartungsgemäß total verwolkt. Trotzdem war es ein tolles Erlebnis mit der Lichtstimmung und Naturumgebung. Diese traumhafte Insel ist allein schon eine Reise wert.

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