Just a small bit of news regarding Yakushima and my photography:
The December issue of JAL’s in-flight magazine, Skyward has a feature on Yakushima and a one of my photographs.
Just a small bit of news regarding Yakushima and my photography:
The December issue of JAL’s in-flight magazine, Skyward has a feature on Yakushima and a one of my photographs.
My trip to Yakushima was from August 1st to 5th and the week-long O-Bon holiday period started for me on August 11. Until the 20th I would be free from work. But Mr. Hananaka and the crew were very busy editing the footage and putting it all together into a 28-minute program for NHK World. I received email from him during my holiday saying that I would have to write a short piece for the ”Travel Log” part of the Journeys in Japan page for the Yakushima program. He said it should be 800 words and I was quite pleased because it would be very easy for me. I typed out all I wanted to say while keeping brief and the count was 749 words. I touched it up a bit and reached a perfect 800 words. A few days later, however, I was asked to shorten it to 500 words. It was not as hard as I thought and found the 500 word version read not only much more concisely but more comfortably too. I later heard that I was supposed to write only 300 words but when the editor checked my work she felt it would be a shame to ask me to cut it down more.
The week I returned to work I was also asked to view a video and read over a script. The script included lines that a narrator would speak and voice-over parts that I would have to record. Next to each line was a time indicated when the line would be spoken during the video, and the video ran with a clock counting away the seconds and minutes. For example, when the video clock showed 10:00:15:28, I would have to read a line on the script that was marked with 00:15:28 (I don’t know what the first 10 was for but the other pairs of digits were easy to understand). I was also asked to make any changes to the script which I thought would improve it.
The video was the footage exactly as it appeared in the final program but there was no narration or music yet and the audible sounds were exactly those captured at the moment, including my camera timer going beep, beep, beep, someone’s cell phone ringing and my huffing and puffing up the trail! The script required a bit of work just to make my parts sound more like what I would say and also to clear up any information that could be misunderstood. For example, the script said the Jomon sugi was 7,200 years old. I changed it to “believed to be over 7,000 years old” because the true age cannot be precisely determined (see my post on dating a tree). I also changed “pure water” to “clear water” because in science pure water is only dihydrogen oxide with no other minerals, salts, or elements included.
On the 23rd I had to go down to Shibuya to a recording studio and read my voice-over parts. There I met some of the other big cheeses behind the Journeys in Japan program. We sat in the studio with a large screen playing the Yakushima program with music and monitors showing the same images while three people worked at consuls. From a small recording room the voice of the narrator could be heard through the speakers. I had a chance to chat quietly with a couple of the producers while Mr. Hatanaka sat smiling in a swivel chair and wearing only a sleeveless undershirt and shorts (it was hot outside). The narrator, Bill, finished up and came into the studio where we had a chance to chat a little too.
Then it was my turn to record. I was seated at a small desk with a light, a monitor, a microphone with a disk in front light you see in radio studios, and a dated-looking box with a big lever and a red light. The room was dim and very warm – 26 degrees Celsius to ensure the voice did not become dry under cooler conditions. I was given a bottle of mineral water and I placed my script on the table. I was shown how the process would run – the video would play and I would watch the clock on the video. The script was marked with times for reading, however, I was not to read until the red light came on. I was told to just read naturally and not to worry about making mistakes. I could always do a second or third take. Also, I should beware of making any loud noises. I practiced moving the pages of the script as quietly as possible.
Then I was left alone. Communication would come through headphones. I was not nervous but I tried to sit comfortably and still. I did not want to make any unnecessary noise. I took a sip of water and over the headphones I gave the OK to run the video. I had practiced reading and I enjoy reading aloud to students and my children when the opportunity arises so I was prepared to deliver. When the time came to read I watched for the light and read my lines as I imagined they should sound. When the video came to an end there was a pause during which I waited to hear what I would have to re-read. But then the voice of the American producer came through the headphones saying, “That was pretty well… spot on.” There was just one part where they wanted a little more of a pause between the paragraph and the final sentence. I read it again and that was a wrap for me. The American producer asked me if I had done studio work before. I said I hadn’t so she asked if I had watched a lot of documentaries. It was nice to feel like I was able to do the job so well and not waste everyone’s time. Perhaps they’ll call on me again.
The program was aired internationally on NHK World on September 17th and domestically on NHK BS1 on October 13th at 2 a.m. I received a DVD of the program. It was very normal I felt to see myself in a video because many years ago my wife and I borrowed her sister’s video camera and we took it on a few trips and excursions and I sometimes provided a narrative of what we were seeing because I planned to make a video to send home to family and friends. Seeing myself on Journeys in Japan was not so different. But I noticed a couple of moments where I thought I looked tired or uncertain of what to do. I also felt uncomfortable about seeing myself chewing gum before the Jomon sugi. And in a few places I didn’t quite like my delivery of comments. But overall I guess it was OK; people would be watching for the scenery.
When we first discussed this trip back in June it was mentioned that a winter trip to Yakushima might happen. Now it has been confirmed. I will return to Yakushima at the end of January, hopefully to climb up to see snow in the most southern point of Japan where snow falls. I am very much looking forward to going back to explore the island more.
A final note, this about the photography. As I mentioned early in this “series” of On Location: Yakushima posts, I brought two film cameras and one DSLR, but the time for shooting with the film cameras was sparse and often too brief. Most of my shooting was on the fly, often snapping a quick shot with the camera braced against a tree. Many of my most attractive shots were not taken under the ideal circumstances with time to set up the tripod and take time setting the right exposure but instead by adjusting the ISO to allow for a faster shutter speed and even then shooting around 1/15 of a second. Thanks to the optical stabilizer the shots turned out relatively sharp. The program relied heavily on my photographs and had I shot only film I think there wouldn’t have been much to choose from as both quantity and quality would have suffered under those conditions. This was one clear case where having a DSLR meant that I was able to do my job as others expected me to.
Interestingly, today I received a call from a director asking if I could go to the Goto Islands next month for Journeys in Japan. Unfortunately the timing was poor. I have four days off in the third week of November but was asked to go during the second week. I had to decline. That’s okay. Yakushima awaits me in winter.
There had been thunder. I had heard it, stirred in my sleep, awoken just enough to recognize it and drifted off again. In the morning the sky had that look of having had a tirade and was resting a moment before letting loose with the second volley. It was as if the Rain God was severely agitated for having been kept away for so long. This was after all, His/Her island.
Day Five of our Yakushima shooting and all our objectives had been met. Mr. Hatanaka had arranged for the final day – morning and early afternoon – to be something fun: we were going kayaking on the Anbo River!
As had been discussed way back in June, there might be a need for me to get wet, and even though the skies were a troubled grey the air was still warm and humid. I put on a hiking T-shirt and swim trunks and wore my boots only because I had brought no other footwear. I was ready to get wet and it was a good thing too.
Our taxi van driver took us to a bridge over the river. To demonstrate how high it was, he stopped on the way up and plucked some ferns from the edge of the road, which he then flung over the rail as we stood overlooking the river. The ferns sailed and turned like paper airplanes, drifting down before finally landing gently on the water’s surface.
Here on the bridge I was asked to deliver a brief monologue summarizing my impressions of Yakushima. I had thought about it the day before and was ready. I talked about how I was left with an important impression of how people used to live on the island – revering gods in the mountains but cutting the ancient Yakusugi and eating the eggs of the sea turtles. Now the belief of mountain-dwelling deities was only a tradition upheld in festivals and Shinto practices. However, the trees had become protected as had the sea turtles. Mythological belief had been supplanted by practical ecological thinking. Mr. Hatanaka said it was good but asked me to make it shorter. My second delivery was awkward as I tried to think of where to cut out ideas but still keep to the theme. In the end, my monologue was edited even further and on the TV program I feel it totally lost its meaning.
The skies had warned us with booms of thunder over the mountains and then the clouds had swallowed the scenery. We parked near the kayak rental place and sat inside the taxi as a downpour ensued outside. After a half hour or so the rain eased off, and people began to appear. I exchanged my boots for rubber sandals and soon we were seated in plastic kayaks (though different from my image of a kayak which is likely a sea kayak) and heading upstream. My personal guide was a woman about thirty-ish name Seiko. Mr. Hatanaka paddled on his own; Mr. Sasaki was holding the camera while Mr. Uzui paddled; and Mr. Ohkawa was on his own too. Two men who looked to be in their fifties accompanied us as guides.
At first the sailing went smoothly. The mountains were enveloped in mists and Seiko told me this was the view on Yakushima she loved best. She had only moved here from Saga Prefecture less than two years ago. Then the next downpour came. The river surface was alive with dancing water. I got completely drenched through and through but I didn’t care. I was dressed to get wet and the cool rain felt nice in the humid air. I said to Seiko that it was so nice to be able to enjoy a good dousing. Normally one doesn’t appreciate getting soaked in one’s clothes in day to day life.
The rain passed and we reached a narrow in the river where the water turned white. Here we went ashore and hot coffee, fresh passion fruit and Oreo cookies were served. Two pairs of snorkel and goggles had been brought along and we took turns swimming in the river. I chased after some fish while Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Ohkawa used an underwater camera to record my sub-fluvial adventure.
On the way back we reached a rock from where I was to jump. I climbed up the smooth wet surface, careful not to slip. All eyes turned to me as I leapt into the air and hit the water feet first with a splash that sank me down to warmer water flowing below the surface. The ocean water came this far in! When I surfaced Mr. Hatanaka said he had been expecting me to dive. With a life jacket on?
Next I had to get back in my craft. I was told to grab onto the bow and hoist myself over it. However, it was much easier to sink under the bow, I found. Each time I tried to get my chest over the bow, the tug of my arms pulled the bow over the bulk of my lifejacket and I hung from the bow like an ornament. At last I gave up and just floated downstream, clinging onto the bow and hanging on with my feet as well. “Peter-san,” called out Mr. Sasaki, “Chotto hen!” – That’s a bit strange. With some assistance from one of the older guides, I was able to get back in my kayak by climbing up onto the rocks first.
The final stretch saw us enjoying another good soaking of rain. A stream from the side was rushing into the river. We tried to paddle into it and get ourselves pushed away. I was not satisfied with my attempt and turned around to try again. But just as I reached the flush of turbulent water, Mr. Hatanaka came in a few metres away. My kayak was shoved forcefully toward his. We collided hull to hull but the water continued to push at my kayak and with Mr. Hatanaka’s kayak blocking mine, I was capsized and presently found myself one sandal less and bobbing in the river with an overturned kayak floating nearby. I was fine and found it quite amusing if not a little humiliating. The older guides rushed in to help me and once again I had to move to the shore to get back in the boat. Unfortunately, no cameras were running to record the comical incident.
Thus our kayak trip soon came to an end. We went off to a hotspring which was far too hot to enjoy on a very warm and uncomfortably humid day. Then we stopped by some souvenir shops to pick up some things to take home for our families and colleagues, and at last we were back at the airport. News reports had told of horrendous weather on Kyushu and there was some concern that our flight might be delayed. However, all went rather smoothly and my extremely enjoyable five days on Yakushima came to a close.
“See that tall western man? He’s from France. He developed something of importance and received a national award for his work. He’s very wealthy and he has donated money to help the sea turtles.”
Mr. Hatanaka indicated a tall man with a round belly who looked to be in his fifties, walking with a woman who may also have been French and a couple of Japanese people. They walked past our taxi van and made their way down to the beach.
We were parked across the street from the Sea Turtle Museum, a fairly small wooden structure where photos, models, souvenir goods (proceeds going to help the turtles), and a book’s worth of information were awaiting the inquisitive visitor. I was given a run down of what I would have to do: walk into the entrance, be met and greeted by a young Mr. Koide, watch a video about sea turtles, listen to Mr. Koide’s lecture, and possibly ask some questions. Although everything would be recorded by camera and microphone, none of this material would be used in the final program. As with much of the information heavy segments, this was mostly to be used for information gathering.
Koide-san was indeed very young and not very tall either, but gentle in nature and passionate about his work if not typically reserved as many Japanese are. Here’s what I learned about loggerhead sea turtles.
Yakushima is the most popular spawning ground in the northern hemisphere for loggerhead sea turtles. Actually, three different species of turtles come to lay their eggs here but over 80% of them are loggerheads. The females come up on the beaches at night and Inakahama is the most popular beach on the island. The females are very careful about choosing a safe environment for their nests. They must go far enough away from the sea so that erosive waves during storms don’t strip away the sand and expose the eggs. The baby turtles develop head up inside the eggs and if the eggs are rolled and the position changed, the babies die in the eggs. Also, the egg-bearing females don’t like distracting light or noise, so people who gather to watch the turtles come up to lay their eggs must remain still and quiet and must not use cell phones or cameras, and especially no flashes. If a turtle deems a beach unsafe, she will return to the sea and look for another one.
The eggs, as we all know, are laid in a pit in the sand dug up by the mother turtle. These pits are usually 50 to 60 centimetres deep. The eggs are covered with sand and the mother then tries to cover her work by moving over the disturbed sand to erase the evidence of digging. While the eggs lie beneath the sand, they are in danger of being dug up and eaten by raccoon dogs (a non-native species that were brought over by human beings) but far more detrimental is the likelihood of the nest being trodden upon by beach-goers. Compressing the sand makes it more difficult for the hatched turtles to dig themselves out. They have a yolk sac for food supply while they work their way up to the surface; however, they must get out within seven to ten days or their food supply runs out and they die.
This is where the volunteers at the museum help out. Nests are recorded and marked with dates on the markers. A few days after a particular nest is dated, volunteers excavate the nest and help any living turtles escape the sand pit. A comprehensive document is filled out for each nest with facts including weather, sea temperature, number of eggs hatched and un-hatched, live turtles and dead, pipped (broken through the shell) but un-hatched (not yet out of the shell), and so on. Live turtles are placed in a pail and when the work is done they are released onto the beach and they find their way to the sea.
Turtles most commonly emerge and rush down to the sea at night because they are safest from birds and fish that would likely enjoy a turtle snack. The volunteers do their work at dusk so the turtles can begin their aquatic life while many fish are at rest. Interesting to note was that if the incubation temperature is below 29.3 degrees Celsius, the turtles become male, and over that they become female. This means that turtles born early in the season become male and later in the season they become female. The turtles find the sea by infrared – the heat of the water attracts them. This means that they can be easily disoriented by artificial light and again the use of camera flash is discouraged.
During our shoot for Journeys in Japan, Koide-san dug up a nest while I watched and took photographs. When he placed the live turtles in a pail, they all began struggling to reach the strongest source of heat, and as the pail was placed next to him, they were soon all facing his direction!
The number of dead turtles we found seemed to greatly outnumber the live ones; however, a shell count showed that a slim majority favoured the living and many had already escaped from the sand. While we were concentrating on the nest, behind me another turtle from another nest went rushing past as fast as his little flipper feet could move him across the sand.
Clouds were filling in the western sky but orange light filled the gaps between them. Our turtles were released and I tried to photograph them in the dimming light as they did their little left-right-left-right dash for the waves. I had heard that the head of the production company wanted me to shed a tear as the turtles were swept away by the waves. But I felt no need to cry. These were the survivors of the first hurtle. They had escaped from where 40% of their brethren end their lives. This was a moment to feel joy. I made encouraging and supportive remarks to the turtles as I tried to capture their brief moment crossing the sand. Sometimes a wave would rush in and flip them upside down or push them back. Persistent they were, though, and after a few minutes our little gang had all made it to the next stage. Over the next 30 years, almost every one of them would perish prior to reaching adulthood. Only 1 in 5,000 return to the beach as an adult 30 years later.
The sky was growing dark. Clouds were visibly moving toward the island. Already the occasional spray of light rain had been felt. Our job was essentially done. Only the morning and afternoon of our final day remained.
See my photos from Inakahama Beach and other parts of Yakushima on Flickr.
Light was only just beginning to emerge in the eastern sky when I awoke at 4:30. My body was not in the mood. I had had early starts for the past three days and each day had been filled with activity and new experiences.
After the Goshinzan Festival in Miyanoura Town the previous night, Mr. Hatanaka had decided that we should have a celebration dinner. Our shooting was not over yet, but we had cleared most of the objectives and the next two nights would not give us time for a leisurely meal together. We had enjoyed a wonderful meal of sashimi and other seafood delights washed down with cold beer at a small traditional seaside Japanese style restaurant. The staff smiled and called out acknowledgment in unison when a server shouted out a guest’s order. They were friendly and willing to engage in a bit of chitchat and banter with the guests, something that occurred more frequently as beer guzzling guests became more loquacious and verbose.
The good-natured and jovial Mr. Hatanaka had soon managed to steer the conversation to women and each of us in turn had offered a snippet of monologue about our wives and girlfriends – all of them favourable. (Other surprises among my companions were that no one smoked and Mr. Ohkawa was a teetotaler).
I had returned to my hotel room with a wobbly head (not good when you have Facebook at your fingertips via an iPhone) and found that a shower helped stabilize the command centre. Once on the pillow, I had faded out like a switched off light.
So, why was I awake before the day when I so dearly needed rest? To witness a rocket launch. On this morning of August 4th, the Kounotori (Stork) rocket was being launched from the neighbouring island of Tanegashima at 4:48, and since I didn’t know when I would ever see have the opportunity to witness a rocket launch again I wrested myself from the deep comfort of slumber, dressed, and went down to the harbor where a few other people had gathered.
At precisely the time, a bright orange light flared up on the island, and then rose into the sky. Its trajectory seemed to steer it straight toward the crescent moon and a black tower of contorted cloud formed beneath the rising flare. A low sonorous rumble soon followed as the sound waves reached Yakushima. The rocket climbed higher, passed the moon, and after a few moments it separated into a few small points of light falling away from the main flare. The booster rockets were away.
From the twisted black cloud I could see how the rocket’s trajectory seemed to describe an arc in the sky and the rocket itself appeared to be traveling south southwest. I wondered if it was really heading off that direction or if the rocket was actually traveling straight up and the observed change in direction was just an illusion created by the rotation of the globe.
After the flare had vanished into the heavens, the serpentine cloud continued to change shape as it expanded and twisted in the wind. A bizarre light blue cloud appeared and seemed to glow on its own. Nearby, someone commented, “あの雲不気味じゃない？” – Isn’t that cloud eerie?
With the show over, I slogged back to my room and lay down on the bed. My body was still tired but my mind was awake. I just lied there and wondered if sleep would come before it was time to get up. I barely dozed at last before my alarm went off. The schedule mentioned something about visiting another waterfall this morning but after breakfast Mr. Hatanaka announced that we could have the morning off. I thought about walking around the town and seeing if I couldn’t find anything interesting to photograph but instead I lay down again and just relaxed.
Thirty minutes, just listening to music and relaxing for thirty minutes was all I desired before going out. However, I found the mode of rest where I wouldn’t fall asleep but was able to simply lie prone in complete relaxation and enjoy the sounds in my ears. The air conditioner was set to 26 degrees and it was perfect. I had not felt so relaxed since my days of living alone in an apartment when I sometimes just lied quietly and listened to music before going to sleep at night. Now with two small children at home there is never such an opportunity. For someone who hates to stay idle when on a trip, this was an unexpected bliss.
The thirty minutes became two hours. I did not go out. But when we all reconvened at noon, I was back on-line and ready for the next mission. After lunch, we drove around to the west side of the island at prepared for the final big scene of the program – the loggerhead sea turtle babies!
She stood with cell phone in hand, head down and hair over her face, in the shade of the concrete wall that lined the mouth of the river like braces meant to keep the shoreline straight. The shadows of Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Ohkawa stretched across the street, reaching over to the shrine from which the sacred water was to be borne forth and carried to the festival some several hundred metres away. They stood on the concrete wall busily recording the late afternoon sun as it dipped low over the sea. The heat from the direct light was still uncomfortably strong, though some clouds were beginning to fill the western sky. I tossed a glance at the young woman who stood transfixed to her phone. She seemed to completely ignore the camera and sound man who were filming scenery for possible fill in spots on the program. As for the lone foreigner, she looked my way once, and I turned toward the shrine, camera in hand, and went to seek some of those long evening shadows.
After some quiet time of waiting, a truck pulled up and the men in white from the mountains came out. Mr. Hatanaka spoke with his contact from the shrine. Soon the parade of Shinto robes emerged from the shrine, one person bearing the heavy wooden container filled with the sacred water from the mountain. There was some hasty direction given to me to follow the men. At one point, I had to ask someone about the festival, but this idea seemed hastily put together as it wasn’t clear at first when I should ask. The men paused by a grove of trees along the seashore and it seemed some rite was being performed. Nothing was explained to me. Only when the men continued on their way was I given the signal to follow and shoot pictures. Sometimes they stopped or paused and I was ahead. Other times I was following them like a stray dog hoping to catch a dropped morsel. What I had been told would happen and what ultimately happened didn’t quite match up. I just kept an eye on Mr. Hatanaka for direction.
At the festival site drums were already being beaten. People milled about a grassy field which appeared to be part of some seaside park. A tower was erected in the middle and adorned with red and white bands of cloth. Long flags on bamboo poles indicated that this was the Goshinzan festival, which is held here in Miyanoura Town every summer when typhoons and foul weather leave the town alone. Tables had been set up in a square shape with one end open so that the Shinto priest could stand in the middle. Fruit and other items – presumably there for the rites – were placed on the tables. The water was brought in and the young men lined up near the tables while the elder priest entered the open square. Many officials sat facing the tables, the priest with his back to them. It looked like it was meant to be formal but there was an air of festivity, people laughing and exchanging remarks with smiles on their faces.
I looked around and shot scenes that I thought might be of some importance. The young woman with the cell phone passed by with a tall boyfriend in tow. I guess she had been waiting for him to show up. Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Ohkawa were capturing scenes of the festival while Mr. Uzui stood by with Mr. Hatanaka. After some scrolls of paper had been read and some brief speeches made, it was time to get to the main phase of the festival. Once again it was show time.
The boys in white had ascended to the tower platform and the sacred water was brought up. Branches were dipped in the water and then waved over the expectant crowd. People gathered close to receive a few drops of precious cleansing mountain water. The water gives long life to the trees of Yakushima and so it is believed that if the townsfolk get a few drops they too will live and long and healthy life. I had to get sprayed a little too and then explain to the camera about it.
Next up was a giant fire starter. In the centre of the tower was a thick pole that stood vertically and was wrapped with a long rope. The ends of the rope were stretched out with one end to the sea and the other end to the mountains. Elementary school students and anyone else interested in participating lined up along the rope and picked it up. I came in on the mountain side between some younger students and older students. Someone on the tower called “Umi ike!” and all us mountain people let the rope go slack and walked toward the tower as the umi side pulled on the rope. “Yama ike!” was the cue for us yama side folks to grab the rope and haul as hard as we could toward the mountains. This pulling from side to side caused the centre pole to rotate this way and that, essentially working like a gigantic spinning stick for starting a fire. Whether or not this traditional activity was actually effective at starting a fire I do not know. But eventually the rope could be dropped and someone held up a torch and lit other torches held by the same young men in Shinto robes.
When our tug-of-war fire starter had ended, many students turned to say, “hello,” to me, some of them having already pointed out to their friends that an “Amerika-jin” was there. I haven’t been called an American by Japanese children for many years. It seems around Saitama most kids know that a white man does not necessarily equate an American citizen. In that way, Yakushima really was off the beaten track. I shook hands with the children and said, “Nice to meet you,” and “Good job.” This caused a small stampede as many of my rope-pulling yama team mates joined the crush for a handshake with the foreigner. It was fun and I was glad to be able to speak a few words of English to the kids who tried to repeat my two phrases.
The final stage of the event was the beach bonfire. Archers from the local archery circle took turns shooting flaming arrows at a large white sheet that had been doused with flammable liquid. The sheet was in the centre of a house-shaped pile of wood that was topped with pine boughs. The arrows were meant to ignite the sheet and start the wood pile burning. This was the traditional way to welcome the gods of the mountains to the seaside town in hopes that they would bestow good favour upon the townsfolk.
Each of the three archers shot four arrows and two arrows struck their targets. Unfortunately, the sheet did not ignite, and two robed men were sent over with torches to get the fire started. Drums beat in the background as the flames spread and grew, at last heating the wood to combustible temperature. The fire would burn until dawn I was told. We were not planning to stay that late, however. We’d been up since 3:30 and had been on the move most of the day. It was time to return to the hotel and get some much needed rest.
“I think you should take something out of your pack. It’s too heavy.”
That’s what Mr. Hatanaka had told me before we had come up the lower slopes of the mountain to shoot the scene where I meet the young men collecting water for the Goshinzan Festival. Now I was looking at my pack and thinking that if I took out the camera bag I could reduce the weight considerably, but the pack would look deflated. The director had given instructions to the crew and came over to me.
“Did you take something out?”
“If I take something out, the pack will obviously look different from when I was hiking.”
“But I think it’s too heavy for you.” Why was he concerned about me carrying the pack now? I had just had it on my back for 20 kilometres across the mountains.
“Are we walking far?” I inquired, doubting that it was so necessary to lighten the load.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Hatanaka replied with a shrug.
“Will I be carrying it a long time?” I asked. I was trying to find out the reason for his suggestion.
“I don’t know!” This time his reply expressed impatience. It was difficult to know whether he was really becoming agitated or it was just his well-learned and very well delivered line in English. Because his job had him traveling overseas frequently, Mr. Hatanaka spoke English almost flawlessly, at least at a conversation level, and though he had a distinct accent, he spoke certain sentences very much like a native speaker, with all the right inflections and stressed syllables. Though I had felt in his voice before that what he had said was not for debate, this was the first time I felt that I was possibly testing some limit. At the same time, I couldn’t understand why he would be impatient. If I had to remove something from my pack it would take a moment, so why not just go with the pack as it was? Part of the problem was that although I had been given a schedule of our shooting plans, things were being amended on the fly and even though I often overheard the directions to the crew things weren’t always explained to me directly until some plan was put into action or unless I asked. At some point, I just gave up looking at the schedule and just sat back waiting to be told what we were going to do next.
“I’ll just take the pack as it is.”
“Are you sure?” The switch from a remark of impatience to a remark suggesting sympathy once again had me wondering if he wasn’t just really good at delivering lines in English with all the right inflections, a perfect mimic of what he had heard before.
“I’ve carried it so far. I can carry it a little more.” I smiled reassuringly at him.
The crew had followed a nearly invisible path through some deciduous trees that grew in the cleared area next to large concrete retainer. These concrete barriers can be found on mountainsides across Japan, serving to hold back rocks and fallen logs that heavy rains would otherwise wash down the ravines. They were there to slow the otherwise rapid erosion process.
A group of young men were dressed in white robes and an elder man was there in attire of a Shinto priest. We were here to film the scene where I encounter the men scooping pure mountain water for the festival. According to the script, I was to ask them what they were doing and then follow them to the site of the festival. After they had filled a large round wooden container with water and placed it on a rack designed to carry it on one young man’s back, I went up and ask the last person in the entourage what they were doing and he replied that they were preparing for the Goshinzan Festival. Then the group in white went over to a pick-up truck and clambered into the back and were driven back down the mountainside.
We hung about the creek for a while, the crew shooting a few nature scenes while I was trying to capture a small whirlpool in the clear water. In a deep pool, water was likely draining out through the stones and somewhere coming out on the other side of the retaining wall. The vortex was so perfect and the distortions of the stones at the bottom were so beautiful in the swirling curves of the water. Mr. Hatanaka had shaken his head at my photographing rocks. Now he observed me shooting only water. I think he didn’t understand exactly. Maybe he was worried about the photos he would select for use in the program – would there be only shots of rocks and water?
Kikuchi-san had explained to me on the mountain that most mineral water available in the stores has a hardness rating of 40 to 80. Yakushima’s mountain water is rated at 10. I guessed with all the granite rock, there were very few soluble salts and minerals to harden the water. Kikuchi-san had said the water was great for cooking rice or making miso. I said it must also be good for washing one’s hair.
We returned to the hotel afterwards and had a bit of time before the festival was to begin. My hiking pants looked terrible with marks left where water and sweat had dried. It was still very hot, so I took my pants into the shower and gave them a good rinsing, and then hung them outside the window in my room. After taking a shower myself, I killed time in my room pant-less because they were the only pair I had taken with me. I re-organized my things and prepared my camera for the festival. The pants didn’t completely dry in time for our departure but they were dry by the time we reached a shrine near the site of the festival.
Now I was going to experience what a festival is like on Yakushima.