A Contest

I haven’t entered a photo contest for some ten years. When I first came to Japan, I had no idea of how to start working on getting my photographs published. I was a newcomer with nothing but a selection of slides I had brought with me and several publication credits in North America. So I entered photo contests to see what that would get me. Naturally, I received twice as many rejections than placements, but the times I placed, even as nyusen 入選(accepted for the exhibition but no prize) or shinsain shoreisho 審査員奨励賞(judge’s award of encouragement), meant my photographs would be exhibited in a gallery or hall and I could add a small notch of achievement to my CV.

Once a stock agency (Ainoa) took on handling my photographs, I was encouraged by a magazine editor to no longer enter contests as it would not look good if someone recognized me as a “professional” but with a low placement in a contest. “Now’s the time for people to start asking you to submit photos, not the other way around.”

However, recently I have not been doing much in the professional department and a friend told me about the Canon New Cosmos of Photography Contest. We looked at the previous winners and had a derisive chuckle over the selected images. Some were appalling, nothing more than point-and-shot snaps of someone’s lunch or friends posing at the beach. What was this rubbish? But the prize money was impressive and provided a juicy enough carrot for the both of us to consider entering.

I toyed with the idea of some joke themes at first (holding the camera over my shoulder and shooting randomly) but then considered seriously the purpose of the contest, which was to show images that were only possible through photography. How about images edited in iPhone apps? The iPhone idea intrigued me. These days, people are capturing marvellous images on very expensive cameras and then editing them in software until they look like paintings. But the camera phone allows people to shoot many fleeting moments that most would otherwise have missed. In fact, I had only recently supposed that we are all becoming “Big Brother” because we are all watching and recording moments (usually of embarrassment) of other people’s lives. That gave me an idea!

My theme for the contest became “images of people behaving as they would in private on the train platforms and in the trains.” For short, I used the album title by a band called Dark Suns and replaced the word “grave” with the word “train”: “Train Human Genuine”. The images were all iPhone snaps of people behaving either a little too privately or inconsiderately at the train stations or on the trains, plus some of people captured at interesting and decisive moments. In a way, I wanted to show how Japanese people’s manners in public can be at times not so proper and exemplary. It was to be a sort of photo journalism piece of real people in commute.

But there was one problem: the contest stipulated that any recognizable human subjects should give permission to having their photograph entered in the contest. I did not know who these people were and had never spoken to them. I decided to try to edit their faces to conceal their identity. The result was some poor efforts at concealing their eyes.

Well, my submission was out in the first round of judging. There were some possible reasons why: the people were still too recognizable; the bad job of distorting their eyes spoiled the effect of the photos; the submission just wasn’t impressive enough; the submission just wasn’t surprisingly mundane enough; the iPhone-captured images weren’t approvable by Canon; showing Japanese people’s bad manners would not make for a good winning submission; and others. So, the next best thing I can do for now is share my submission here with the titles I gave each image. So, here it is:

Train Human Genuine

Ascending Priority - Every day in stations across Japan, disembarking passengers flood the staircases, completely ignoring the descending priority sign. People like me who occasionally have to rush down the steps to reach the train often need strong shoulders to force our way down the descending priority stairs through the dumbwalkers staring at their feet or phones.

Ascending Priority – Every day in stations across Japan, disembarking passengers flood the staircases, completely ignoring the descending priority sign. People like me who occasionally have to rush down the steps to reach the train often need strong shoulders to force our way down the descending priority stairs through the dumbwalkers staring at their feet or phones.

Her Choice - Not an example of bad behaviour at all but rather not an unusual scene in Japan. However, recently the news reported that young people entering seaside stations had to be told to change their clothes as many attempted to board the train in sandy, wet, revealing beach wear. Maybe I needed some shots of bikini-clad babes.

Her Choice – Not an example of bad behaviour at all but rather not an unusual scene in Japan. However, recently the news reported that young people entering seaside stations had to be told to change their clothes as many attempted to board the train in sandy, wet, revealing beach wear. Maybe I needed some shots of bikini-clad babes.

His Secret - Again, not bad behaviour but an amusing coincidence. A man sits beneath an advertisement for a TV program "Youkai Ningen", roughly translated as "Monster Human"

His Secret – Again, not bad behaviour but an amusing coincidence. A man sits beneath an advertisement for a TV program “Yokai Ningen”, roughly translated as “Monster Human”

Otsukare 1 - After a hard day's work in Japan, people say, "Otsukare-sama", an acknowledgement of their fatigue from their efforts. This man was really shagged out. He was alive; I checked! But when the train finally came (over 40 minutes late), he didn't get up. I think he had fallen asleep.

Otsukare 1 – After a hard day’s work in Japan, people say, “Otsukare-sama”, an acknowledgement of their fatigue from their efforts. This man was really shagged out. He was alive; I checked that he was breathing! But when the train finally came (over 40 minutes late), he didn’t get up. I think he had fallen asleep.

Otsukare 2 - Another guy who is probably very glad that the day is done.

Otsukare 2 – Another guy who is probably very glad that the day is done.

Our Space - Two young ladies take up the priority seats meant for elderly, pregnant or disabled passengers. Two girls, four seats. When an elderly woman boarded the train she politely yet firmly requested a seat. The girls obliged without looking up or saying anything.

Our Space – Two young ladies take up the priority seats meant for elderly, pregnant or disabled passengers. Two girls, four seats. When an elderly woman boarded the train she politely yet firmly requested a seat. The girls obliged without looking up or saying anything.

Special Notice - This message intrigued me as it flashed across the message board. The full message announced that a train was delayed due to an act of violence committed against the station staff.

Special Notice – This message intrigued me as it flashed across the board. The full message announced that a train was delayed due to an act of violence committed against the station staff.

No One Offered Her a Seat - It's very common to see young people and some middle-aged commuters seated with their eyes closed, while elderly passengers or mothers carrying babies stand until someone alert and awake notices. This elderly woman seemed not to care about being without a seat as she quite comfortably squatted by the door.

No One Offered Her a Seat – It’s very common to see young people and some middle-aged commuters seated with their eyes closed, while elderly passengers or mothers carrying babies stand until someone alert and awake notices. This elderly woman seemed not to care about being without a seat as she quite comfortably squatted by the door.

The Dance of Commuter Feet - The arrangement of the different pairs of feet gave me the impression of a kind of dance. Shortly after snapping this scene, the young woman with her feet pointed inwards changed her position.

The Dance of Commuter Feet – The arrangement of the different pairs of feet gave me the impression of a kind of dance. Shortly after snapping this scene, the young woman with her feet pointed inwards changed her position.

The Kingdom of Sedimentary Rock and SSP

Back in 2010 I was given the wonderful opportunity to visit some of the most astoundingly beautiful locations in the United States, places I had long dreamed of visiting but curiously had never prioritized. My sister’s wedding in Las Vegas required her one and only sibling’s presence and our parents, aware of my finances, graciously paid for the plane ticket.

Though my stay was only for five days of which two days required my presence at the obligatory family events (wouldn’t have missed my sister’s wedding for the Grand Canyon!), I still managed to steal away on a whirlwind road trip to four of the most photogenic sites in a neighbourhood crowded with natural wonders beckoning the souls of the hiker, photographer, adventurer, and naturalist.

Upon returning to Japan I desired to write about my impressions of the geologic history and share them alongside my photographs with a Japanese audience. I worked hard to write up an article and had my manager check over my Japanese. It took time to complete and once submitted to Nippon Kamera it took time to get an affirmative response. At last my photographs were published but the text of some 1,200 characters had to be shortened to 300!

I was delighted to see my published work but still wanted to see my story in print. My membership with the Society of Scientific Photography was temporarily on hiatus, so I renewed it and promptly submitted my story and a selection of photographs to the editor of the members magazine. At last in May of this year my impressions were published in words as well as images.

The article describes in brief the rather vertical history of the Japanese archipelago with volcanoes rising up and collapsing, mountain ranges being pushed up, and rain and rivers washing and cutting away at the rising peaks. This serves to contrast the more horizontal history of the Colorado Plateau, which experienced roughly 200 million years of gradual sedimentation in seas, deltas, flood plains, and deserts. Only in recent history was the sedimentation process interrupted by uplifting, fluvial incising, and some volcanic activity. The results are these spectacular landscapes unrivaled by anything in Japan. The differences in the two landscapes are due to the distinct differences in their geologic history as well as their present locations and climates.

In the May 2014 issue of the Society for Scientific Photography

In the May 2014 issue of the Society for Scientific Photography

Clockwise from top left: Zion Canyon - The Narrows; Valley of Fire - Strata at dawn; Valley of Fire - Differential weathering; Red Rock Canyon - strata

Clockwise from top left: Zion Canyon – The Narrows; Valley of Fire – Strata at dawn; Valley of Fire – Differential weathering; Red Rock Canyon – strata

Bryce Canyon and Valley of Fire aeolian erosion (bottom left)

Bryce Canyon and Valley of Fire aeolian erosion (bottom left)

The Arasaki Coast

Photography has produced some remarkable coincidences related to people for me. I have quite a few stories where my quest for images has in a very unexpected way connected me or reconnected me with people. Take for example my friendship with a Mr. Hiramatsu of Yokohama. Many years ago I entered a photo contest sponsored by the photo association AMATERAS. The contest was open to non-members as well and my photograph was selected to be part of their exhibition in Ginza. For an additional fee I could also have my photo published in their annual book, a thick and weighty publication worth over 20,000 yen per copy. I agreed and when the book finally arrived I was awed by some of the stunning and clever images. As my name Peter appeared among those photographers whose names started with “ヒ”, Mr. Hiramatsu’s photo was a page or two from mine. It was a sunset shot from the Arasaki Coast, a curious location on the Miura Peninsula where alternating layers of sandstone, mudstone, and tuff have been tilted to about 70 degrees. Intrigued by the photo possibilities there, I went for a visit a year later.

Skip ahead several years to the time I had recently become a member of the Society of Scientific Photography in Japan and my photo was to be exhibited at their annual exhibition. Volunteers were needed to fill the reception seat and greet visitors. I thought volunteering would be a good way to put me in touch with some of the members and I found myself sharing the duty with a young (30-ish) Mr. Hiramatsu. As we chatted about our photography it came out that we both had had photos exhibited and published in the same AMATERAS exhibition and photo annual. After he described his photo, I realized that he was the one who had captured that photo of the Arasaki Coast.

Well, onto March 31, 2014. My co-worker and fellow photography enthusiast, Sebastian Bojek, accompanied me on a trip back to the Arasaki Coast. I picked him up around 1:30 a.m. as we planned to arrive before dawn, and followed Route 16. We reached Arasaki Park perhaps an hour before sunrise – later than planned as we had gotten off the toll road near the end a bit early and soon found ourselves on the opposite side of the peninsula. Getting back added road time and our expected snooze time was lost. Nevertheless, we selected one of the few paths that lead from the parking lot and went straight to the shore. It was here that Sebastian realized that he had left his hot shoe (the thingy that screws into the bottom of the camera and connects it to certain types of tripods) at home. With his Mamiya 67 in this low light a tripod was absolutely essential. I lent him mine while I selected a spot and pulled out my gear. I managed a couple of digital shots by setting the camera on an elevated crest of rock while Sebastian exercised his Mamiya.

An angler on the rocks of the Arasaki Coast.

An angler on the rocks of the Arasaki Coast.

The sediments of the rocks here were laid down tens of millions of years ago. Oceanic sediments of sand and mud were frequently interrupted by volcanic fallout from the nearby eruptions of the Izu volcanoes and the early volcanoes that existed prior to Mt. Fuji’s birth (Mt. Fuji stands beautifully in the distance but is too young to have contributed to these mille-feuille layers). As the Izu volcanic group slid into Honshu, it wrecked havoc on the local rock formations. The Tanzawa Mountains were pushed up, the Median Techtonic Line and its associated metamorphic belts were bent inland, and the sediment beds at Arasaki were titled to around 70 degrees and pushed up to form a new shoreline. The Pacific waves now wear away at the exposed rock but the sandstone and mudstone is softer than the tuff and so ridges of black rock form their own wave crests above the wave troughs of consolidated oceanic sediments. This makes for a fabulous geological landscape.

The darker, more resistant layers are volcanic tuff.

The darker, more resistant layers are volcanic tuff.

Still tuff

Still tuff

The lighter layers are sandstone or mudstone.

The lighter layers are sandstone or mudstone.

Waves constantly attack the rocks.

Waves constantly attack the rocks.

When the going gets tough, the tuff doesn't go anywhere so easily.

When the going gets tough, the tuff doesn’t go anywhere so easily.

IF

After shooting at our first location, we followed another path around a headland and found ourselves at Arasaki’s most well-known view: a raised knob of striated rock with pine trees growing on top. There were also caves (closed to the public for safety reasons), arches, and more views of this unusual strata.

There are caves...

There are caves…

...and arches!

…and arches!

Pines atop the knoll

Pines atop the knoll

Wave approaching!

Wave approaching!

Back lighting

Back lighting

We spent another couple of hours here and it was noon by the time we returned to the car with thoughts of exploring elsewhere during the flat light of day. This we did, first driving on past Kamakura and Shonan only to find that most shoreline access was accommodated by pay parking only. We turned around and found a small fishing boat harbour of no great consequence where we were able to relax on a concrete pier and eat lunch. Back at the peninsula, we wandered with our cameras between some fishing boats that were pulled up from the water before returning to the park and stealing a much-needed short nap time in the car.

By five o’clock we were back at the water’s edge and the tide had come in. Our sunny sky had become hazy and clouded over so we missed any great sunset. Sebastian found a good spot on a cliff and once more borrowed my tripod for some twilight photography while I once again rested my camera on a rock and attempted some 30-second exposures. Though I shot a lot with my DSLR, the most important mission on this trip was to shoot with my Tachihara 5×4. I used the last of my QuickLoad film, a type of sheet film that was discontinued at the end of 2010. I also shot in 6×7 and 35mm format as well.

My Tachihara

My Tachihara

QuickLoad film - last exposure!

QuickLoad film – last exposure!

Composing and focusing

Composing and focusing

Final prep before exposure

Final prep before exposure

Our drive back was long a tortuous for me as we drove through one endless city in order to avoid the toll roads. Hemi, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Tokyo… only the changing names on the road signs told me where I might find us on the map. Cars and trucks were frequently parked on the side of the road, forcing me to change lanes often; convenience stores without parking lots outnumbered those with parking lots; and motorcyclists used the gap between the two lanes of cars as their own lane, often weaving without signalling. With less than an hour’s sleep in 24 hours, I somehow managed to get Sebastian back to Kawagoe and reached my home by midnight. However, as I always say, the discomfort and hardship of any photo outing passes within a few days at the most but the photos will last much longer. Now I have selected my favourites among my digital captures and the film is going in for developing. I thank my wife for permitting me a spring vacation day for photography while she stayed home minding our kids, which is certainly more stressful and tiring than driving through Tokyo!

After sunset - 30-second exposure

After sunset – 30-second exposure

February Snow

It all started on February 4th. I stepped outside of my workplace and watched feather-sized clusters of snow flakes falling from a heavy grey sky. It was as though the gods were in the throes of a pillow fight.

Cluster flakes!

Cluster flakes!

I looked forward to the following day because after a busy working morning I would have time for a leisurely stroll through a rural area in Ina Town.

Melting snow in a rural area in Ina Town, Saitama

Melting snow in a rural area in Ina Town, Saitama

The sun was up that morning, however, and the snow was already melting by the time I set out with my camera around my neck. Not sure if and when we might get snow next, I tried to at least get a few record shots for my photographic files of the area.

A small chestnut tree casts its shadow over the rapidly melting snow.

A small chestnut tree casts its shadow over the rapidly melting snow.

I was barely aware on Friday the 7th that things were about to get a little more serious. A heavy snow warning was issued and I was told that my morning classes on Saturday were cancelled. We would see about the afternoon and evening. The moon was still visible in the sky that night but by Saturday morning a gentle shroud of powder was settling over the ground. Not trusting the trains, I drove to work against my wife’s protests. With only summer tires on the car she was very worried about whether or not I would be able to come home that night.

Falling snow in a wetland area between Ina and Hasuda in Saitama

Falling snow in a wetland area between Ina and Hasuda in Saitama

The snow fell heavily – over 20 centimetres – but I not only successfully drove the car home again but also managed to head over to a supermarket and pick up a few things in case we couldn’t get out the next day.

It’s surprising to see how many drivers don’t know how to drive safely in snow. On a tertiary highway, I was able to keep a speed of 30 to 40 km/h and only slowed down for curves and intersections. But I encountered drivers who barely attained a speed of 15 km/h and – on the way to work in the morning – an idiot who thought tailgating me in the snow as I followed a truck was an entirely proper and sane thing to do. I also had to pass a driver who drove in the middle of a two-lane highway and when I did try to pass, the car moved in front of me without evening a signal flash. Then there was the driver with 20 centimetres of snow piled on his roof. As he turned through the intersection, greats cakes of snow calved off and slid over his windshield. And the final fool of the night was the man riding his bicycle on the highway, against the traffic, while holding an umbrella in one hand.

The next morning the news was reporting 28cm of snow in Tokyo, the most in 45 years! I spent much of the morning with my neighbour’s snow shovel and a couple of other neighbours digging out our cars and street.

The morning after the February 8th snowfall in my neighbourhood.

The morning after the February 8th snowfall in my neighbourhood.

A tree in my garden was bent over the street and I had to snip off some branches. This would have been a great time for winter scene photography but it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that I finally took a bit of time to visit Higashi Matsuyama for some rural photography. That day was February 11th – a national holiday – but I had to go on a school trip that day. The good news for me was that after the working day was done, I was treated to a fairly decent sunset as I drove through Hanyu Town.

A rice field under the snow

A rice field under the snow

A dirt road is only just becoming exposed three days after the snowfall.

A dirt road is only just becoming exposed three days after the snowfall.

Sunset in Hanyu

Sunset in Hanyu

By Friday the real trouble was about to begin. Once again the snow began to fall and as I walked from the station back home I thought how beautiful the snow looked in the lights of the local warehouses and courier depot. Without my camera, I had to resort to some iPhone snaps.

At my train station

At my train station

Walking home

Walking home

A tree in the lights of a warehouse

A tree in the lights of a warehouse

The warehouse fence

The warehouse fence

IMG_3832

Snow-covered tree under a street light

Snow-covered tree under a street light

But the next morning the snow had turned to rain and the worse case scenario occurred: a thick layer of water-soaked snow. In Kumagaya, not far from where I live, they had received a record-breaking 61cm. The roof of the gymnasium at Fujimi High School collapsed from the weight. Green houses and car port covers bent and folded. The roof of the sports dome at the Kumagaya Sports Park tore in great gaping holes. My trees were almost touching the street from the weight of the snow they bore. My neighbour’s son had to take an entrance exam in Omiya that day and they fought and struggled to get out of our neighbourhood in their car. I helped push three times as they got stuck. No one came out to clear their cars or the street until the sopping rain had stopped by early afternoon. My train was not running and my car was blocked in. My neighbour had taken his shovel to Omiya and so I used a dust pan to excavate my car. As a neighbour across the street stepped out to inspect the circumstances, a great avalanche thundered from her roof and came down over her garden wall, knocking an ornamental picket fence to the street and bending her mailbox post to an 80 degree angle.

Me with a dust pan and my neighbour with a snow shovel - man we cleared a lot of snow!

Me with a dust pan and my neighbour with a snow shovel – man we cleared a lot of snow!

There was no pleasant sunshine today to help melt the snow as there had been the previous weekend. Tokyo reported the most snow in 120 years. Kofu in Yamanashi reported 140cm! In Chichibu, Saitama, the local train line was immobilized and as of the 27th of February it was still not running past Chichibu Station and into the mountains. To make things worse, hundreds of trucks were stranded on the Usui Pass between Nagano and Gunma. A visit to the supermarket brought back memories of the 11/3/11 earthquake as bread, milk, and other commodities with short expiry dates were unavailable.

Got milk?

Got milk?

Give us this day our daily bread...

Give us this day our daily bread…

As the snow began to melt floods began occurring as the drains were blocked. The news reported only about the snow and the Winter Olympics.

A tumulus at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City

A tumulus at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City

Benches facing a lake of windblown snow and thick ice

Benches facing a lake of windblown snow and thick ice

A field near the Sakitama Burial Mounds

A field near the Sakitama Burial Mounds

But the days warmed up and the snow once more began to disappear. On Thursday night, as I stepped out of the supermarket across the street from my station, I looked over to the taxi rotary and saw a mini Alaskan Range. A chain of snow mountains shone under the rotary lights like peaks in the moonlight. At one end there stood an enormous hulking mass of snow – the Denali Peak of the scene. I wished to photograph my impression but the orange plastic poles blocking off the area to vehicular traffic stood in front of the scene like security poles without a rope at a museum exhibit.

Damage done: A collapsed green house in Konosu City, Saitama

Damage done: A collapsed green house in Konosu City, Saitama

Expensive repair job: the new roof with air conditioning and sunroof at the Kumagaya Sports Park

Expensive repair job: the new roof with air conditioning and sunroof at the Kumagaya Sports Park

Skyward and Yakushima

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.

Yakushima

On Location: Yakushima – Putting the Program Together

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.

On Location: Yakushima – Day Five (Kayaking on the Anbo River)

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.

Looking upstream of the Anbo River

Looking upstream of the Anbo River

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 background for my monologue

The background for my monologue

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. 22 rain1After 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.

21 kayaks1

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.