• 2022.01.11
  • The Canary Islands
Spain is one of the world’s top tourism destinations and some of the places Japanese visitors like the most are the standard destinations like Madrid, Barcelona, the Basque Country (for the gourmet eating), and the exotic Andalusia region. These destinations were often featured in TV programs and in travel and gourmet magazines and attracted many tourists. I use the past tense here because of the unfortunate way things are these days. When overseas travel resumes, I hope you see some other sides to Spain.

Photo 1

And so, in this article I’d like to let you know about the Canary Islands, a string of seven islands off the coast of northwest Africa. When you hear the word "canary" in Japan, probably the first thing that comes to mind is that little yellow bird with its lovely song. But the word “canary” brings to the minds of people from European countries, especially those not blessed with much sunshine, like England, Germany, and Scandinavia, thoughts of vacations, resorts, beaches, and everlasting summer, rather than that little bird. The Canary Islands are a paradise where they can take a break from the leaden clouds of the home country and look at the Christmas trees wearing a swimsuit. Photo 1 shows the islands from the air. On the right you can see the southern corner of the Kingdom of Morocco, at the northwestern corner of the African continent.

Figure 1

Europeans have known these islands were there since the Roman age, and it’s said that the origin of the (Latin) name of the islands "Canariae Insulae" (“dog islands”) lies in the fact that they had a lot of dogs. Following on from that theory, Figure 1 shows the design of the present-day coat of arms of the Canary Islands with two dogs guarding the seven islands. As well as dogs, the islands are also originally home to canaries, the little birds.
While these days it is one of Europe's top resort areas, it has long been a base for sea transport. It began in the 15th century, in the Age of Exploration, the era when Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus embarked on voyages of exploration on orders from the Kingdoms of Portugal and of Spain. In those days, the Canary Islands fulfilled an important role as the last supply base for provisioning ships on their long voyages. Columbus made four round voyages across the Atlantic Ocean and stopped in at port in the Canary Islands on all four of his outward voyages.
Its importance remains to the present day, for example, it has served as a supply base for Japan's deep-sea longline tuna fishing fleet and at its peak in the 1970s, some 500 Japanese-flagged vessels stopped in at port every year. Even in 2016, 91 Japanese fishing vessels were recorded as having berthed at the Port of Las Palmas, which was three times the number of vessels from Morocco (30), the country that ranked second.
Just when signs were starting to show of a recovery in demand from European tourists, a volcano on one of the western islands, La Palma, erupted on September 19 this year and December 14 marks 86 days of continuous lava flow. There had been a lot of seismic activity before the initial eruption, so the residents were evacuated without incident, and the only fatal accident so far has been the death of a 72-year-old man when he was removing ash from the roof of his house.
Lava flows have already covered 1,226 hectares, which is equal to an area about 11 times the size of Osaka Castle Park. The number of buildings that have been destroyed or buried has risen to 2,910, 7,000 residents have been evacuated, and this tragic disaster continues. The island is by its nature a volcanic island, so it is not the first time it has erupted. The next most recent eruption in 1971 lasted from October 26 to November 18. The present eruption is breaking records.

Photo 2

Photo 2 shows how far the lava has spread. The island's main economic activities are banana growing and tourism, so in an effort to provide at least a little support for the island's economy, they are, for example, defiantly selling their bananas as "volcano bananas" because even though they have been covered in ash and don’t look great, the banana inside still has the same sweetness and delicious texture. And they are offering things like "eruption and lava flow watching tours" where you can watch the volcano erupting from up close. Although I sense the spirit of the islanders, their refusal to give in to these difficulties, I do hope things quickly get back to normal.

Photo 3

Photo 3 shows some “volcano bananas.” The label says “Plátano de Canarias/del volcán” or “Canary Bananas/Volcano Bananas.” While recently Spain has been importing a lot of cheap South American bananas, Canary Bananas have brand power, so they fetch a slightly higher price. But they enjoy a deep-rooted popularity among Spanish consumers, who tend to prefer the substance to the appearance of fruit and vegetables, so I suspect that more and more people will try to get some of these special edition, limited offer bananas, in solidarity with the Canary Islanders.


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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