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.

On Location: Yakushima – Day Four (Sea Turtles)

“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.

Volunteers at Inakahama Beach on Yakushima. They will inspect the nests and excavate those ones where turtles are due to emerge from the sand.

Volunteers at Inakahama Beach on Yakushima. They will inspect the nests and excavate those ones where turtles are due to emerge from the sand.

A nest marker dated 8/2

A nest marker dated 8/2

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.

Koide-san begins excavating a recorded nest

Koide-san begins excavating a recorded nest

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!

Ready for release into the sea - loggerhead sea turtle babies

Ready for release into the sea – loggerhead sea turtle babies

The unlucky ones

The unlucky ones

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.

It's not easy crossing the sand in a body designed for swimming.

It’s not easy crossing the sand in a body designed for swimming.

A turtle and a wave rush in to meet each other

A turtle and a wave rush in to meet each other

To be swept away or knocked back up the beach?

To be swept away or knocked back up the beach?

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.

On Location: Yakushima – Day Four (R&R: Rocket and Relaxation)

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.

iPhone snap of the Kounotori rocket launched on August 4th from Tanegashima, Japan

iPhone snap of the Kounotori rocket launched on August 4th from Tanegashima, Japan

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!