/ japan

Sakurajima, galakei, and early 21st century digital cameras

I love Sakurajima. There’s no other way to say it.

If you’ve never been to Kagoshima, Sakurajima is the smoking volcano that sits just across a narrow bay from Kagoshima city. It’s a symbol of the city and the prefecture.

While I lived in Kagoshima, Sakurajima was fairly docile. Many days it did nothing; some days it just let out a thin stream of smoke into the air. Every so often, it would emit a hurried plume of ash that looked like it aspired to poke through the blue sky and into space, only to dissipate into the atmosphere shortly after.

But Sakurajima’s level of volcanic activity is quite changeable with time. Until 1914, Sakurajima was an island in the bay (the “jima” part means “island”). But that year an eruption caused it to join with the Osumi peninsula on the opposite side of the bay from Kagoshima city. Still, these big eruptions have happened only once every several hundred years.

More frequently, there have been eras when Sakurajima dumps ash on Kagoshima and other nearby cities. I’ve seen old TV footage where the sky has been choked out completely, and cars are driving the streets caked in dust, headlights on and windshield wipers batting back and forth trying to keep the glass clear enough for the driver to see.

To help cope with so much ash falling, on every street in Kagoshima, near garbage collection areas is a special place for volcanic ash that has been swept up and bagged. Luckily for me, I never had an occasion to bag and discard piles of ash.

But I’m told it’s more common these days. When I’ve visited Kagoshima over the last few years, Sakurajima has been much more active than when I lived there. I’ve seen the ash fall like snow in my hand. I’ve gotten it in my eyes just by walking around town. I’ve felt it crunch in my teeth like beach sand. I’ve brushed it from my hair, cleaned it out of my ears, and dusted it from my shoes. In 2011, on a Beat Journey bike ride around Sakurajima, I got caught in a flash rain shower of black, ash-laden drops that speckled my face and arms.

[![Sakurajima at night](https://blog.ashryan.io/content/images/2014/05/Sakurajima-at-night-Ash-Ryan-Beats-web.jpg)](https://blog.ashryan.io/content/images/2014/05/Sakurajima-at-night-Ash-Ryan-Beats-web.jpg)Sakurajima at night, shot near Kamoike port
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Since I never lived through a period of heavy activity from Sakurajima, my image of the volcano is not affected by the major life disruptions it can cause: days when you can’t do laundry, or open your windows, or go outside without a mask.My Sakurajima is a majestic backdrop to the city and quiet overseer of its inhabitants. Sakurajima was my first view of Japan from the sky and the final teary goodbye when years later I left Kagoshima for San Francisco. Seeing images of Sakurajima makes me feel at home, and I always look forward to the first glimpse I can catch of it when I’m visiting Kagoshima.

And I’ll be visiting this week!

I’m hoping to get some good pictures of Sakurajima on my new camera. Still, I have a few favorite photos of Sakurajima that were taken on my galakei in the mid- to late-2000s.

[![Sakurajima from Shiroyama](https://blog.ashryan.io/content/images/2014/05/Sakurajima-from-Shiroyama-Ash-Ryan-Beats-web-2.jpg)](https://blog.ashryan.io/content/images/2014/05/Sakurajima-from-Shiroyama-Ash-Ryan-Beats-web-2.jpg)Sakurajima from Shiroyama
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Galakei is a pejorative term in Japanese referring to phones that were made to exclusively serve the Japanese market in the previous decade (and still now, apparently). The word “Galakei” is a post-iPhone era fusion of the words “Galapagos” and “keitai” (which means “cell phone”). The idea is that, due to isolation in Japan’s unique market, cell phones here evolved into odd digital creatures that are unlike phones found anywhere else, and are therefore only viable for survival in their natural habitat.Galakei “feature phones” were the phones my American friends couldn’t believe existed a decade ago. When most Americans were playing Snake on their Nokias, I had a Sony phone that snapped open like a pocket knife, took Memory Sticks (remember those?), sported a 1.5 megapixel camera, offered visual voice mail, had downloadable apps, and could beam data via infrared directly to other phones.

It was also thicker than a bar of soap.

My last Sony galakei, circa 2007-2008, was a hybrid phone and Walkman mp3 player with a much-improved camera. Unsurprisingly, the Walkman feature was super frustrating to use, but I made sure it worked and it was soon my preferred listening device over my one-trick-pony iPod. Also, with the higher quality camera, I found my self using that phone for photos more often than I had with the older one.

It was my first true omni-device: phone, internet, camera, and music player, all in one.

[![Sakurajima](https://blog.ashryan.io/content/images/2014/05/Sakurajima-Ash-Ryan-Beats-web.jpg)](https://blog.ashryan.io/content/images/2014/05/Sakurajima-Ash-Ryan-Beats-web.jpg)Sakurajima viewed from Yoshino Park (I think…)
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While my new camera is light years beyond my old galakei, my ability to wield the camera is still in development. Hopefully I’ll get some good Sakurajima shots. But in the meantime, I’m sharing some of my old photos in this post while I still have the guts to put them on the web.

For good measure, a couple of shots from my good old iPhone 4 are also mixed in, as well as one from a Lumix camera that used to have.

[![Sakurajima by the pier](https://blog.ashryan.io/content/images/2014/05/Sakurajima-by-the-pier-Ash-Ryan-Beats-web.jpg)](https://blog.ashryan.io/content/images/2014/05/Sakurajima-by-the-pier-Ash-Ryan-Beats-web.jpg)Sakurajima by the pier