The Mt. Unzen Disaster Memorial Hall opened in 2002 in response to Mt. Unzen’s most recent active period, spanning from 1991 to 1996. During that time a pyroclastic flow, was set into motion by a series of earthquakes, killing 43 people and destroying 2,000 houses. The museum serves to teach not only about Mt. Unzen’s rather deadly history but additionally covers the nature of volcanoes in general, in memory of the countless lives Mt. Unzen has claimed over the centuries.
The museum is split into two major zones: the Free Zone and the Exhibition Hall. The Free Zone includes access to the museum’s café, shop, media library, reading corner, and geopark information space. There’s also a glass-lined observation area which provides great views of Mt. Unzen and the Ariake Sea.
The Exhibition Hall, which requires a ticket, proves an immersive museum experience. From touch screens to 3D graphics to displays featuring actual damaged utility poles and telephone boxes from the eruption in the 90s, you’ll walk out an amateur volcanologist.
The museum has two theaters for viewing. To witness an eruption up close and personal, check out the Heisei Grand Eruption Theater, complete with trembling floors and blasts of hot air. For a Kabuki-style retelling of the 1792 disaster, which included an eruption, a mountain dome collapse, and a tsunami that claimed 15,000 lives, head to the Shimabara Taihen Theater.
The Exhibition Hall will take you upstairs through a looping slope that has wide glass walls with a view of a lovely rock garden. At the top, you’ll walk into a well-lit room with a hanging TV, a few chairs, and a melted camera protected under glass. The video camera belonged to a news crew that on June 3, 1991, perished from the pyroclastic flow while they were covering Mt. Unzen’s eruption. From the camera, 378 seconds of footage was recovered. Visitors can watch a documentary based on this “last message.”
Depressing as the prior section is, the last part of the Exhibition Hall offers words of hope in the Message for Tomorrow room. Here, you’ll find cutouts of locals who experienced the 1991 eruption. You can even shake their mannequin hands. Before heading back into the Free Zone, visitors can write and tack up a note of their museum experience.
Exercising the mind can work up an appetite. Should your stomach start to rumble, head to the hall’s cafe in the Free Zone. The cafe offers local specialties like zoni and kanzarashi. Preferring to stick with a volcano theme during your visit? Try one of several dishes including their lava dome curry.