To Call a Magan

From January 16th to the 17th, I visited Osaki City in Miyagi Prefecture, the next bullet train stop north of Sendai. I was asked to be a foreign travel reporter for a TV program called “Mizu no Kuni Nipppon – Japan: the Country of Water” to be aired on a television station in Kumamoto, the station being part of the Fuji Sankei Group. The program would also be aired a week or two later on Fuji Television during the late night.

I met up with the director, assistant director, sound engineer and camera operator when I boarded the bullet train at Omiya Station in Saitama, and we rode through the morning mist in Utsunomiya, past the cloud-covered peaks of Bandaisan and Adatarayama, and the clear white summit of Azumasan, on past snowy fields to the bare brown fields north of Sendai. From the train station, two people working for Osaki City Hall’s land use and environmental department took us off to the rural areas outside the city.

Our first real stop was Mototaki, a waterfall located in a hidden alcove carved out in layers of volcanic tuff in the small mountain mass of Kagoboyama (加護防山). The water seeping through the layers of tuff was barely a trickle but it was clear and naturally filtered and enriched with minerals leached from the rock.

Mototaki

Mototaki

As we were visiting the area – me shooting away with my camera and the camera operator busy filming this and that – the local caretaker came to the shrine located before the falls. The director said this would be a great chance to speak to a local and ask about the significance of the water. I greeted the old man and first asked if the rock was indeed volcanic tuff. He immediately replied that it wasn’t and that there were no volcanoes around here (I later checked a geologic map of the mountain on the web and found that it truly was tuff). Next I asked about the significance of the shrine. He went on to explain a lot about how in the old days people came here for the New Year’s traditions and the water used to be used for the rice paddies below. These days few people come and the water in the fields is recycled water from the river. I understood that much anyway, but there were many times I couldn’t catch a thing and only looked at him and smiled in interest. After he left, the director said, “I think I understood only half of what he said.” Everyone else concurred. The man had spoken in some local dialect. “If we use that part for the program we’ll have to use subtitles,” said the director.

Closer view of Mototaki

Closer view of Mototaki

Next we drove to the top of the mountain. In the old days, there used to be a shrine on the summit; however, it burned down. We saw some unnatural mounds in the ground and some large stones place in the ground with hollow bowls carved out. These stones used to be for the main support pillars. Ironically, the name Kagoboyama includes the Kanji for “Add”, “Preservation”, and “Protection”. It seems the mountain didn’t live up to its name when the shrine burned down; due to a drought, there was not enough water at the time to douse the fire!

View from Kagoboyama

View from Kagoboyama

We drove down to visit the wide tapestry of rice paddies below. It was unusual to see fields that still retained water during the winter months. Usually the rice paddies are left dry in winter. But here parts were muddy and wet, and a type of wild goose called magan in Japanese and swans waddled about in the mud, searching for rice grains that had dropped off during the previous autumn’s harvest.

Water in the winter fields

Water in the winter fields

As I was to learn, this visitation of water fowl was a crucial aspect for the local rice farming industry. For the time being, however, we drove around and I was filmed walking about and photographing or we went in search of birds in the fields to shoot for the program.

Magan in flight

Magan in flight

As evening approached, we went over to see the Kabukuri Marsh (蕪栗沼)where the birds would all come to roost for the night. The weather had been mixed sun and cloud during the day but the clouds were taking over the sky and a bitter wind blew in from the northwest. A Mr. Saito had been arranged to come and meet with me on the dyke overlooking the marsh. He described how in old times people thought the wild geese and wild ducks were the same creature. But then they learned more about the geese. The birds are actually from Siberia but they come to Japan in the winter and try to fatten up. They eat the dropped rice grains in the paddies mostly. Mr. Saito explained how the farmers made great effort to keep water in the fields in winter to provide the birds with a wetland environment and a source of food. I saw how this benefited the birds, but what did human beings stand to gain from this magnanimous activity? I asked but Mr. Saito suddenly looked awkward and said to the director, “He should just ask me about how we look after the birds.” So I did and got the explanation about how the farmers help the NPO people by observing the birds and keeping records.

As he spoke, the sun began spreading a beautiful orange light between the clouds. I was shivering in the wind and eager to start shooting. At last Mr. Saito wrapped up his story and gestured for us to enjoy the evening light as dozens of flocks of geese came in to feather down for the night.

Geese come in to roost at Kakikabu Marsh

Geese come in to roost at Kabukuri Marsh

IF

IF

As darkness fell, we wrapped up the day’s shooting and headed into town for our hotel rooms and dinner out together.

The following morning we awoke to rain. Nevertheless, we returned to the dyke to watch the birds take to the skies, flock by flock, and start their day.

IFOnce the morning shoot had concluded, the clouds began to stir and soon the sun came out. The crew had to film some scenes of the car driving down the road past the paddies, so I had an hour to kill, roaming about the area until it was time to move on.

IF

IF

We spent some of the morning driving about, looking for scenes of geese to film and visiting another small shrine nearby, though there was not so much for me to do at this time. I just followed along and photographed as much as I could.

Geese in a rice paddie

Magan in a rice paddy

The next big scene for me was meeting Mr. Nishizawa, one of the local rice farmers. He was out tending to one of his fields, making sure water was being diverted into the paddy and being retained by dams of clay.

Mr. Nishizawa at work

Mr. Nishizawa at work

At last I was to learn the secret importance of this operation. In a document from a few hundred years ago, the words “fuyumizu tanbo” (ふゆみず田んぼ) showed up in an explanation about farming practices. It seems that during the Edo Period, local farmers flooded their fields in winter to attract the magan. The birds ate the fallen rice grains and in turn their excrement provided fertilizer. Additionally, the water in the field keeps the mud from freezing and microscopic organisms can continue doing their thing all year just as in the marsh. This means the previous year’s stalks become soft and easily decompose, adding more nutrients to the mud. Crayfish, freshwater eels (dojo), and other larger aquatic critters keep the ecosystem active, too. The net result is more fertile mud for planting and growing rice in the following spring and no chemical fertilizers are necessary.

IF

Mr. Nishizawa invited me to his home for lunch. Well, that was part of the script, so to speak. His house was very new and a little expensive-looking. I asked him how new his house was and he responded that it was built after the 11-3-11 earthquake. Many old farm houses in the area had been badly damaged by the earthquake, but after the tsunami hit, the news focused entirely on that extraordinary catastrophe.

I was served rice balls of just the fuyumizu tanbo rice and I have to honestly say it tasted really good. I felt I could just eat this rice for lunch and be satisfied. But the real winner was the Chinese cabbage. The entire crew agreed that it was so crisp and juicy and served naturally it was a delight. The cabbage was from his garden and watered with water from his well where the mineral-enriched water from Kagoboyama flowed.

After lunch we set off to shoot some more scenes of magan in the fields and then stopped at the Kabukuri Marsh for more bird views. The sunny weather wasn’t going to last as a cold wind blew a messy mass of snow-laden clouds our way.

IF

As we drove north, the snow began blowing horizontally. Our last stop was a sake plant  where they made Japanese rice wine using the fuyumizu tanbo rice. Normally, rice wine is made with a different kind of rice than what is used for mealtime consumption. After a tour of the facilities and an explanation of how rice wine is made, I was treated to a glass of the local brew. I can drink sake but I don’t order myself. However, this stuff was actually really good. I was considering buying a bottle when I was told that we were out of time and I had to get back into town to catch my train. As I was quickly being ushered out the door, my tour guide of the plant came rushing up to me with a big bottle of fuyumizu tanbo rice wine.

The short trip was certainly informative, and even though I wasn’t able to capture any views that I consider among my best work, I enjoyed the time I had to photograph and look around at the local scenery.

I am still waiting to hear when the program will be aired. There was a lot of follow up work, including finding photos of myself when I was younger, but the lines have been quiet for a week now and the initial broadcasting in Kumamoto was said to occur in late February. I will update this post when I know more information. For now, I am enjoying a small glass of fuyumizu tanbo saki while I prepare dinner on my days off.

To Be or Not to Be on TV

At the beginning of each year I make a list of objectives to accomplish before the year is over. Since having children, the list of objectives that can possibly be reached within the year has grown smaller. May of 2010 saw my last overnight trip to the mountains until my trip to Yakushima in 2013. And that trip has turned out to be my last hike anywhere. I did manage a visit to the Arasaki Coast early in 2014 but only a day outing and no hiking or mountain photography was involved.

As for writing objectives, I have found it very difficult to feel inspired to write about photography and mountaineering when I have not been able to do much about enjoying it. I actually wrote some things last autumn and had full intention of submitting them to potentially promising publications; however, between an increased work schedule and family obligations, I lost the enthusiasm. There have been times over the last three years or so where I felt very much like just taking a year or two off from any professional pursuits in photography and writing. That would remove some of the uncomfortable pressure, that feeling that I am not doing enough. But the Yakushima adventure seemed that it may have opened up a new door for me.

Originally, when I was asked to be a reporter for NHK World’s program “Journeys in Japan”, I told myself that it may very be a one-time-only gig. I was lucky to be asked but I couldn’t expect that I was beginning any new kind of chapter in my career. But during the studio recordings of the voice overs and later at the year end party again, I heard so many compliments and encouraging remarks about my performance that I felt it was safe to look forward to being asked again. I was told that we’d be going back to Yakushima for a winter episode, however, that plan was soon quashed. Still, the producer said that he hoped I would work for them again.

Last spring, things really began looking up. Someone from TBS contacted me about a new program that would begin airing later in the year. Soon after, I met with some people putting together another program for NHK World. It looked really promising, too. And then a third person met with me to discuss the possibility of being on a program about Japan’s 100 mountains of distinction, the Hyakumeizan. Finally, the production company who had done the Yakushima episode told me that they were working on a plan for me to go to Yamagata in the fall. My only concern it seemed was having to take so many days off work!

The first news to come back to me was about the mountain program. No, someone wielding more power in the decision making had decided I was not to be in the program. TBS simply didn’t contact me after I had filled out their questionnaire about interesting places near where I live. As for the other two programs, I sent a message to both of them advising of my autumn schedule and when I’d best be available for shooting. The Yamagata one didn’t reply but the other one did. They explained that the shooting schedule had been pushed back into next spring, but they would definitely be contacting me. That left me with only one more hope.

On Saturday, December 8th I emailed the Yamagata / Yakushima production company about an idea I had. I got a reply very soon. They told me that the winter in Yakushima plan was still alive and that the producer was trying to work something out. Of course, I was told, I would be the reporter. That left me feeling a little more positive about things. So maybe this winter or spring I might have a chance to work for some television program again. That’ll be wonderful if I can. They have even given me a tentative departure date but cautioned that this is not 100% confirmed. The plan might never take off.

Then as the year of my least activity in the photography field drew to a close for me, I received good news. Someone producing programs for Fuji Television sent me email about a program to air in February. A TV station in Kumamoto was doing a series about fresh water its influence on Japanese culture. Would I be available to go to Miyagi Prefecture in January? Dates were discussed and then the winter holidays began and I heard nothing for two weeks. But Monday night I received a call and Tuesday morning I met with the producer, director and assistant director. They asked me many questions and explained about the program. That plan was set.

So next week, I will be off to Miyagi for two days. Basically I am to do as I did in Yakushima: photograph specific scenery and talk to local people. Only this time it will all be in Japanese, my comments and thoughts as well. Am I up for it?

You bet!

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