On a recent day trip from Tokyo to Izu Peninsula, I saw many signs pointing to geopark sites like Jogasaki and Omuroyama. I didn't know what a geopark was, but I gathered that it had something to do with the land, as "geo" means Earth.
I followed a sign to Omuroyama and came to a peculiar green hill that looked like an upturned bowl. There were no trees growing on it, and the formation seemed out of place and just plain weird.
Being a 21st century person, I whipped out my smartphone and used Google Maps to locate Omuroyama. Izu Peninsula popped up and I saw an aerial photograph of the mountain. Wow. How interesting! Google taught me that it was a volcano scoria cone made about 4,000 years ago.
Man-made works of art cannot compete with ones made by nature, especially in terms of scale.
I next searched "geopark" but couldn’t grasp exactly what it was, so I decided to visit Georia, the Izu Peninsula Geopark Museum in Shuzenji to understand the concept better.
I learned that geoparks are tourist sites that showcase features of the environment, like geology and landforms, that support the plants and animals that live there, which in turn shape past and present human activities.
For example, Izu was originally a landmass of the Philippine Sea Plate that collided with Honshu, and because of this, there are beautifully jagged coastlines, striped soil layers, volcanoes and thermal springs.
This makes the area a perfect place for wasabi farming and the giant spider crab, the arthropod with the biggest leg span on the planet, to make its home here. As geotourists, we can enjoy distinctive scenery, take a dip in "onsen," eat local delicacies, and partake in activities unique to the area.
At Georia, I saw firsthand a demonstration of an Em2, an ingenious geomodel that shows how rivers are formed. At the time of writing, the museum informed me that there were only four Em2 geomodels in Japan.
I learned more about river science and conservation principles in the 15-minute demo than I have learned in all my years of schooling, and this is no exaggeration.
Even if you have to go out of your way, you have to see this, and more so if you have children. Witnessing this demo has forever altered the way I perceive my surroundings.
What began as a mindless and leisurely drive down to Izu ended up being the most educational afternoon I’ve spent all year.
This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the September 17 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.