Deep Into Kurobe

I have to share three brief news items here.

1. NHK World – Journeys in Japan

Deep Into Kurobe. My third job with Journeys in Japan. Watch the preview!

2. 100 Mountains of Japan

The photo book of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains has been re-released with my photo appearing in place of the mistaken photo of Kasagatake.

3. A photo of mine might appear on a TV program on Sunday, October 1. The program’s name is 「出没!アド街ック天国」. I’ll hear soon enough I guess.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Previously, I reported that a new photo book of the Japan Hyakumeizan – One Hundred (Famous) Mountains of Japan – had been published and one of my photographs appears in the book. Very excited about the book’s release, I hurried to purchase a copy only days after it went on sale. Then the story became more interesting.

My stock agency contacted me with questions about a mountain in the Kita Alps known as Kasagatake. As with the photo in the book, they asked me to identify the summit and confirm that the mountain in the photo was Kasagatake of Hyakumeizan fame. I asked what was going on, somehow imagining that perhaps some new interest had come to my photographs or the Hyakumeizan mountains. The story was as follows:

The photo of Kasagatake in the book was provided by another stock agency and it was the wrong mountain. Kasagatake is in Gifu Prefecture but the photo in the book was of a Sanbyakumeizan (300 Famous Mountains – there’s a 101 to 200 list and a 201 to 300 list) that also goes by Kasagatake. The location on the map, the elevation, and the brief summary of the mountain were all correct for the intended mountain but the photo was of a different peak.

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Kasagatake of Nagano, mistaken for Kasagatake the Hyakumeizan of Gifu

So the publisher was looking for a photo of the correct mountain and as it turned out, I had three with the agency. As I had it explained to me, the book is going to be reprinted with the correct photo. It still won’t be for some months but when the reprint comes out, I will have two photos in the book!

In with the Beautiful

Just a quick word that a photo I took of Kinpusan – a mountain on the Yamanashi/Nagano border – appears on page 111 in a new photo book about the Beautiful One Hundred Famous Mountains of Japan.

Little Inaka

When my son was born in 2008, I still had a fair bit of freedom. It was a good year for earnings from photography and writing and I was beginning in earnest to complete my book project on the Japan Alps. When I was away, my wife took our infant son to her parents’ home.

In 2010 things changed. My wife became pregnant with our second child and it was not so easy for her to bring our growing boy to her parents’ house as there was not enough space and he was restless. I wrapped up my book project a little early, managed a few more hikes and a trip abroad to attend my sister’s wedding. After that, my adventures seemed to have come to an end, at least for the time being.

Not wanting to give up photography entirely, I began a project of shooting locally. I purchased a used DSLR and chose some places that were within reach. I would wake up in the early morning and go out somewhere to shoot, trying to make it home by 7:30 to help get ready for the day. Three years later, my son entered elementary school and I had to be home by 6:45. We moved house and autumn brought later sunrises. My three years of early morning photography were also temporarily wrapped up. I had, however, amassed a few hundred photographs or more and set about putting them into a book. The result is this: Little Inaka.

The locations are the Sakitama Burial Mounds in Gyoda City, Hatcho Park in Yoshimi Town, a rural area in Higashi Matsuyama City, and a rural area straddling Ina Town and Ageo City. All places are in Saitama Prefecture, Japan.

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A tumulus at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City

Two Days to Get What I Could

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Just me. No wife. No kids. Just me. And I was feeling a little guilty about it.

Going back to Canada for the Christmas holidays this time was not about a family get together in the usual sense. There were some extra points to be weighed and considered. Firstly, the whole idea that I should go and visit was inspired by my mom’s 80th birthday in November. My work schedule could not have permitted taking time off then, but at Christmas I was off anyway. There was also the matter of my parents’ age and most concerning, my father’s incident last year where he fell and injured his back, leaving him in hospital for two or three weeks. His recovery was swift to the degree of nearly being a miracle, but I still wanted to check up on my mom and dad and see how well they were taking care of themselves. And then most tragically, a dear friend of mine revealed that he had liver cancer and, as his sister was to inform me, how much time there was left for him was uncertain. Though I did all I could to arrange time for seeing him again, he passed away just two days before I arrived back in Vancouver.

With all the above considered, there was furthermore my children’s age to consider. A boy of seven and a girl of nearly five who were used to the freedom of roaming and playing in their own home would likely be bored and become irritable spending two weeks in their grandparents’ condo. Perhaps once they are a little older we can all go.

So, it was just me and for only eight days. The plan was to spend most of the time with my parents and enjoy the company of my sister and her husband for a couple of days, and also to see my two closest friends and their families. In between all that I was determined to take a couple of days for a trip to the mountains. The original and admittedly ambitious plan was to drive to E.C. Manning Provincial Park (east of Vancouver) on the 26th and do a hike up to the summit of a small mountain (1,825m) called Windy Joe and then return to my parents’ home for the night, and then drive up north to Squamish and do a longer hike up to Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park.

The one glitch was that my snowshoe straps were discovered to be breaking (MSR snowshoe straps are apparently notorious for this) and I was unable to adequately repair them because the substitute item suggested on one web site was not available at the local home centre. In the end, I had to rent a pair from the Nordic Centre in Manning Park and there I decided that it would be much more sensible to just spend two days in the park, where I had a pair of snowshoes that fastened up properly, and skip the long hours on the road.

Windy Joe

I left around 5:30 a.m. after having had about three and a half hours sleep (watched Star Wars – The Force Awakens with a friend the night before) and drove carefully in the dark down a wet Highway 1 to Hope. From there I went over to Highway 3 and into the snow-covered world of the North Cascade Mountains. The sky began to turn pink and then orange over the mountains, and I had to make a quick pull over in order to grab a couple of shots before the moment passed.

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Dawn light over Manning’s mountains

At last around 8:00, I was at Manning Resort, though with the problems of finding where to park and where the trail to Windy Joe began and then my straps breaking more, it wasn’t until after 10:00 that I was at last on the three-hour plus hike to the summit. Though fresh power covered the landscape, Christmas holiday trekkers had trampled a trench into the snow, and it was easy to follow the route.

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Creek view along the trail

The first stretch led through the forest and was mostly level, and then the second stretch climbed a gentle slope for most of the way. There were a dozen of so places where fallen trees blocked the path and it was necessary to go around them and on the mountainside, this meant scrambling up the steeper slopes and going around. But until near the end of the hike, the going was quite easy. Only one short part of the route became steep; the snowshoe trench had become a bum-sliding chute here. Soon after, I reached the fire lookout on the summit of Windy Joe. The lookout had been used to look out for forest fires from 1950 to 1963. It was a small wooden structure with two floors and the second floor had illustrations of the surrounding views with landmarks labelled.

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Near the summit of Windy Joe

The sky remained overcast the whole hike, and here on the summit the sun was just a luminescent smudge in the clouds. Fortunately, the mountains all around were visible and I was at least able to examine the views and photograph them.

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The weather on Windy Joe

An Unexpected Night Hike

The hike back down took as long as the hike up; however, when I came to the road to the Gibson Pass Ski Area, I mistakenly crossed right away instead of continuing a little longer through the forest. It was already after sunset and the light under the overcast ski very dim. I had a headlight with me but thought that I would be back soon and didn’t take it out. I followed what turned out to be the Canyon Loop trail but found a sign that said it led to the resort in 1.8 km. By now it was dark and the headlight was put to use. The path, however, seemed to just lead further into the forest and began climbing a slope. I decided to turn back and met to other people out for a night hike.

At last back at the road, I was able to follow it to the resort. I ditched my gear in the car and went to a restaurant and tried to let my sweaty clothes dry a bit while I ate something that was not trail mix. A juicy burger with a salad hit the spot. Next I checked out the prices of the resort but $130 a night – the cheapest price – was too much for me. There was a wool blanket in my parents’ truck and I opted to sleep in the back. Actually, under the blanket and with my winter jacket spread over top, I was warm enough. It was just difficult to remain sleeping because of the need to stretch my legs from time to time. Instead of folding the seats down, I slept with them up, reasoning that having a cushiony surface on two sides of my body instead of just one would help retain heat.

Grassy Mountain

In the morning I went to the ski area and bought a one-time lift pass and rode up to the top of the ski run. From there I took a hike over to the top of Grassy Mountain – 1,888 metres. The hike was not as long and also easy, and the weather was better because when I first reached the summit, sunlight was breaking through the clouds in places.

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‰ Frosty Mountain

After feeling satisfied with the shoot, I continued with my plan to hike over to Poland Lake. But the path soon began to descent steeply and I was uncertain about whether or not I was going the right way. There were no signs and furthermore, the clouds were coming in thickly again. It decided that I would get my best shots back on the summit or, if the weather improved again, I could hike across to an exposed ridge on the over side of the ski lift. But on the summit again the clouds were coming in and swallowing up the mountains. I decided then to just head back and get an early start on the drive back. Snow was beginning to fall and it would be prudent to hit the highway in daylight.

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Two of the Three Brothers

I stopped to look at a map posted where the hiking course met up with the ski run and saw that the hike to Poland Lake went by a different route than the one I had taken. A sign posted on a nearby tree, however, indicated the way I had gone was the right way. Confusing. The topographic map, though, seemed correct as the route to the lake didn’t cross the summit of Grassy Mountain. No matter. My hike had given me some exercise and a few decent photos. I descended by lift and returned to the Nordic Centre to return my snowshoes.

A Snowy Drive Back

Fuel was low in the truck, so I decided to drive to the gas station just outside the east gate of the park, which was much closer. Along the way, I stopped for some photos of ice and snow on the Similkameen River and later on the way home, I tried to get a few shots of the mountainsides disappearing in the low cloud cover.

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Similkameen River side

Snow fell the whole afternoon, and I drove a below the speed limit. Many other vehicles roared passed me, though I later saw three cars that had slid off the highway and in one place on Highway 1, two vehicles heading east had thoroughly smashed each other into wrecks, the lights of ambulance, fire trucks, and police cars making a Christmas light scene in the dark.

A brief stop in Hope to completely fill the tank because gas was much cheaper there and a few shots of the darkening mountainsides in snow and I was off, my two-day mountain adventure tightly wrapped up. It felt greatly inspired once more to dream about where I could hike and photograph in my old territory, but those future adventures would be on some untold date in the far future.

 

Japan UP! Magazine

My interview was published in the October issue of Japan UP! magazine. It’s a free magazine available in the Los Angeles area.

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Winter on Yakushima – Chapter 10: The Final Day

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Back in August 2013, the last day of the five-day trip to Yakushima had been planned by Mr. Hatanaka as a day for fun. Our shooting objectives wrapped up more or less, we went river kayaking, visited a hot spring, and went souvenir shopping before heading back to the airport. This time, under the directorship of Mr. Ichino, even with eight days we were busy shooting until the last moment. Had I not wandered out exploring one late afternoon between returning to the hotel and meeting for dinner and found a large souvenir shop, I would have had to do all my souvenir shopping at the meagre store in the tiny airport.

We’d had a lot of experiences already. After our four-day mountaineering trek, I had felt that we had already accomplished our prime objective and that the rest was just filler. However, the visit to Unsuikyo was a treat in itself and learning about the white pines as well as other aspects of the Yakushima forests and their problems confirmed that every day spent on the island was educational and fulfilling.

So, on our final day there, we were off round the east side of Yakushima and heading to the southern part. Our first two stops were for some views of rivers and mountains. Once more I saw the view of the Anbo River from the high bridge over the waters.

The Anbo River looking downstream

The Anbo River looking downstream

The Anbo River looking upstream

The Anbo River looking upstream

Next was Senpiro Falls, which I was eager to see. It is one of Japan’s 100 selected waterfalls (hyakusen no taki 百選の滝) and I hadn’t received the chance to see it on my previous visit. The waterfall itself is impressive as it plummets over a granite precipice, but more than that, there is a huge slope of exposed granite to the left side. When it rains heavily, not only does the waterfalls flush with white water but streams of white streak the face of the granite slope like ribbons. We were in for yet another day of fine weather as only a few small clouds scudded across a vast azure sky. As an added surprise, we found a cherry tree in bloom at the parking area!

Senpiro Falls

Senpiro Falls

The grand view

The grand view

In spite of the feeling of freedom that imbued my spirits, we were on a schedule still. I wandered down the path to a viewpoint of the falls and snapped a few shots only to find Mr. Ichino approaching from behind with the words, “Alright, let’s getting moving now.”

We next visited a seaside hot spring that is only accessible when the tide is out. I have had a few memorable hot spring experiences in Japan but this was a first – there was no bath house! I simply walked down a concrete walkway to where a line was painted and the instructions to remove footwear. Once my boots and socks were off I walked over to where several pools of varying sizes had been made with concrete between the rocks and boulders that comprised the sea shore. It was here that I disrobed – no screen or cover – and slide into the hot water. The view from the pool was unusual to say the least. In the near distance beyond the wavelets of the hot spring pool, the waves of the ocean crashed and foamed over the rocks. The tide was out for now. When it came in again, the hot spring would be submerged.

Seaside hot spring

Seaside hot spring

I tried to relax and enjoy the moment. The ocean thundered with restraint not far to my right. Black and grey rocks surrounded me and green coastal vegetation covered the slope nearby. In the distance to my left, green mountains with grey protrusions of stone made their skyline under the blue heavens. Mr. Ichino and Mr. Kurihara stood some distance away while Mr. Mori darted about here and there with his camera. Ordinarily, towels are not permitted in the hot spring water and swimwear is strictly prohibited. But for filming purposes, one may bring a towel to cover oneself. I had wrapped a typical white hot spring towel around my hips and was trying to be at ease in the hot water; however, buoyancy caused my hips to raise up and the towel came loose more than once. This required constant adjustment and an effort to sit in the water and still look relaxed without worrying about offering a peep show to the camera (was he using a zoom lens?). I closed my eyes. I opened them and looked thoughtfully at the sea and the sky. And when I looked at the greenery and rocks, I was sure to see a camera lens pointing my way.

After several minutes, two elderly men came to join me. They were local residents but retirees from Tokyo. They came to the hot spring daily, or at least when weather permitted. They explained that locals referred to the tide schedule to plan their visits. For those who didn’t like the water too hot, it was best to dip in shortly after the tide had receded and the water was still mixed with cool sea water. Those preferring hotter water could wait until the hot ground water had heated the pools more. My two new companions were supposed to have played tennis but the wind was too gusty that day and so they retreated to the relaxing waters of the seaside hot spring.

Next we were on a flower hunt. Our first stop was near a large hotel overlooking the sea. Along the road leading to the hotel there were hibiscus flowers blooming. Mr. Mori shot different takes of me walking past the red blossoms and then we each had time to shoot on our own.

Hibiscus in February

Hibiscus in February

Next we were off to a sunflower patch. Canola was also in bloom. I marvelled at the thought that we were experiencing spring scenery around here with all the blossoms: sunflowers, canola, hibiscus, and cherry, among a few others we had noticed from the window of the taxi van. Yet only a few days prior we had been tramping through snow beneath ice-encrusted trees in the mountains of the interior and seen leaves of yellow and red round the northern tip of the island. How remarkable to consider seeing three seasons in one week on such a small island!

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Our flower session over, we were at last on our way back to the airport. I sat comfortably and felt satiated having seen and done so much. It had been a long time since I last enjoyed so many things on a trip of such length. But I had not had enough of Yakushima. For I understood that the mountains in spring were another sight to behold and there were still places of interest I had not yet visited. Could I hope to return again some day?

As our flight crossed the sky over Yokohama, I could see snow streaking past the window. The snow turned to rain as we descended to Haneda Airport. The hibiscus blossoms, the blue sky and green mountains, and the silver waves on the sea were now confined to memory. Our journey was over. We collected our luggage and parted ways. The three members of the TV crew would still meet again and possibly work together again. Meanwhile I thanked them and set off on my own, returning to my ordinary life. What a wonderful job it must be working for documentary television. Maybe I would be so lucky as to be asked to do this again someday.