Usu in Hokkaido--northernmost
of Japan's four main islands--is still sending up columns of white and
gray smoke after the first eruption in 23 years on March 31. Children
in the affected areas greeted the new school year, which began in April,
in community centers and other public shelters.
Though Mount Usu, located near a
hot spring resort around 70 kilometers southwest of Sapporo, Hokkaido's
capital, has yet to spew forth lava, magma is believed to be moving
up toward the mountain's summit.
A few days before the first eruption
some 20,000 people living near the volcano evacuated to public facilities
in safer districts, including the gymnasium of Date Elementary School
in the city of Date.
The school held an entrance ceremony
for 91 first graders on April 7 in the second-floor passageway connecting
two school buildings. The principal's welcome speech was sometimes lost
in the roar of a helicopter observing Mount Usu's volcanic activity.
Eri Tsumaki, the mother of one of the new pupils, said she was happy
that the ceremony could be held at all.
Another school in Date, Usu Elementary
School, held a ceremony on April 10 in the music room of Date Elementary
School. They borrowed the room because their own school was inside the
evacuation area. Ninety-six pupils attended the ceremony, some coming
on foot and others bused from nearby shelters or relatives' homes.
have been many inconveniences. Neither school has been able to hold
gym classes on rainy days, and schoolchildren are unable to use large
instruments during music class. But most kids seem to be enjoying living
in the shelters, and they have volunteered with their teachers to help
other evacuees cope with the stress of being away from home.
Kazuyoshi Konuma, vice-principal
of Date Elementary School, said he hoped the situation would become
a positive experience that will teach kids the importance of helping
one another in emergencies.
There are 86 active volcanoes in
Japan. Japan's Meteorological Agency says that large and small eruptions
occur at about 5 of these volcanoes each year.
Photos: Unable to use the gymnasium, the school held
its opening ceremony in a corridor; children playing soccer outside
an evacuation shelter. Smoke from Mt. Usu can be seen in the background.
(Asahi Shogakusei Shimbun)