On Location: Yakushima – Day One (Arrival and Ohko Falls)

Yakushima is known for its rain. The locals claim that it rains 35 days a month. The director, Mr. Hatanaka, assured me that it doesn’t rain everywhere on the island simultaneously as the mountains that capture the moisture-rich air from the Pacific also help distribute the clouds so that there are dry places even when the skies are crying. I came with new boots for wet, wet weather and a new set of rain jacket and pants. But when I arrived, the weather was surprisingly fine. A harsh sun beat down from a blue sky with only some harmless cottony billows stretching above the mountaintops.

Fine weather at Yakushima Airport

Fine weather at Yakushima Airport

Stepping out onto the airfield, the video camera followed me as I beamed at the scenery beyond the tiny airport and commented on my good fortune with the weather. Some travelers must have thought I was someone famous because soon I was accosted by a man who asked me to pose for a photograph with his mother and father and later again to pose with him. I obliged cheerfully. I had experienced the same thing years before in China where the presence of a Caucasian foreigner who could utter a few meagre words in Chinese had caused much excitement among the natives.

Our first stop was our hotel and home for the next few days. In the very modest but comfortable enough hotel, we each had our own room. After a few moments to prepare for the first adventure, we clambered back into our taxi van – our ride for the next few days – and we headed south to begin our circumnavigation of the island. The sky remained mostly a strong blue while the sun shone with a heat that was almost heavy. Hibiscus and other large blossoms adorned the roadside. Varieties of palm trees and tropical-looking trees filled the green spaces. Small, one-story houses cropped up between the greenery with ocean views beyond. I immediately thought of Hawai’i. Had those low peaks rising in the background bared layers of red or black lava instead of grey granite it would have been easy to believe I was in the middle of the Pacific and not so near Kyushu.


We drove around the southern tip pf the island and up to see Ohko Falls first. Though the name is written with the Kanji “Big River” and would normally have been pronounced “Ohkawa” like our sound man’s family name, in the local dialect the word for river became “ko”. I was asked to wait by the van while the crew went ahead to check out the location. This was so that I could be filmed seeing the falls for the first time and reacting naturally and so that the cameraman, Mr. Sasaki, would know where to go and the director would know where he wanted me to go. He came back and told me to walk up to the main viewing area and then climb up on a large boulder and start taking pictures.

It was here where the Yakushima weather turned “normal”. A brief shower made me think about the rain clothes I had left back in the hotel. But there was nothing to worry about. Once again the rain stopped and the clouds permitted windows to open up onto the blue beyond.

Ohko Falls - 大川の滝

Ohko Falls – 大川の滝

When the island is wet, Ohko Falls crashes down in a double-cascade – like a parted curtain – over a steep, 88-metre-high rock face. It is one of Japan’s 100 selected waterfalls and one of two on the island. However, apparently this fine weather we were experiencing had been persisting quite unusually for some time now and the volume of the falls was at barely a third. Still a nice enough waterfall, I followed the directions and set about photographing the cascade from atop a large boulder. I was to find that this boulder would be where I would get most of my photographs because the flying camera cruised past me several times and I had to remain on that boulder. I did manage to get down to the water’s edge a little and shoot some different views of the rocks and falls, but I was soon asked to return to my elevated exile and continue photographing.


My usual approach to photography can be rather meticulous. I will explore and roam around. I will change cameras and lenses as I see fit. With enough time at my disposal, I will shoot until I am satisfied that I have captured enough. And if there’s time after a short rest, I may just get up and shoot a little more. But this was not really my photo outing, not really my trip to Yakushima. This was to be for a TV program and my time for photography was largely meant to be part of the program. The time I was to have to shoot as I wished was to be very little. As such, I had to accept that I was doing a job for the production company and that my 35mm would see little action, my 6×7 even less, and my tripod would often have to remain strapped to my pack. At Ohko Falls was perhaps the one time when there was actually too much time to shoot because I was restricted in my movement but had more than enough time to consider what to shoot. Yes, I had to accept these things. And I did. Because they were paying for everything and paying me. Any photography I could get done for my own pleasure was just a bonus. So, I accepted the circumstances and decided to just enjoy everything and make sure I did my job as well as I could.

Reduced waterfall

Reduced waterfall

Light and dark - a boulder opposite the falls

Light and dark – a boulder opposite the falls


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