On Location: Yakushima – Day One (Around the Island)

“So what to you think about this beautiful waterfall? Tell us about your feelings.”

This was not an easy question to answer. Quite simply, this was just another waterfall to me. Had I been some city kid or a desert Bedouin, this waterfall might have delighted me to delirium. But I had already seen many of the great waterfalls of western Canada and also the famous ones in Yosemite Valley. Even in Japan had I seen some falls that left a respectable impression. Ohko Falls was nice enough, but today it was on low power. I was much more concerned with shooting images of rocks and water and pretending to be fully concentrated upon the falls for the TV camera.

I looked at Mr. Hatanaka the director and wondered what to say and whether I should say it looking into the camera lens or at his face. I realized we had not decided how I was to conduct my monologues and I was not sure now what was best. I looked at Mr. Hatanaka and answered that the falls were impressive enough and then made some comments about the water-worn rocks and the small trickles on the right where a foaming cascade should have been. Whether this satisfied him or not, I never found out. But the scene was not to appear in the final program I later discovered. All the better for having cut it, I feel.

I was informed that it was time to move on, and while the others made their way back to the van, I stole a moment to shoot a rock detail along the path. A belt of quartz had infiltrated a crack in the host rock. Yakushima is composed of mostly granite, but it is actually comprised of seven different main rock types as others such as metamorphic rocks and sandstone can be found in many places along the coast from the east side, over the north end, and down the west side a little. The southern part of the island is granite right down to the waves and below. My frequent enthusiastic comments on the rocks were to often provoke remarks hinting at exasperation from Mr. Hatanaka like, “You are only interested in the rocks,” and “I want you to show interest in the rest of the nature, too.” But he had little to worry about. There was much I would express interest in as the days went by.

IF

Once all back in the van, we continued heading north up the west side of the island. The road became a narrow, serpentine mountain track with steep slopes falling away to our left. Sometimes through the trees we could see the foaming waves on the massive boulders that protruded from the forest cover like talons from feather or hoofs from fur. Cars and tourist buses often came against us with surprising speed. Sometimes either we or the oncoming vehicle would have to reverse and pull to the shoulder so that the other vehicle could pass.

Along this narrow paved band slithering through the island forest, we encountered the yakushika and yakusaru – deer and macaques – which were often spotted lounging near the roadside, the deer chewing on leaves and the monkeys inspecting each other’s fur. One monkey was making a terrible screeching/screaming sound. I recorded it on my iPhone. It reminded me of my two-and-a-half year-old daughter. Later when I let my wife hear it, she made the same remark. Though the deer were still a little wary of the bipeds that emerged from the metallic hulls of stopped vehicles, the macaques didn’t really seem to care. I employed my usual animal psychology techniques for getting near wild animals but as long as I moved non-aggressively, the monkeys didn’t seem much concerned about my presence or that of the crew or other camera-snapping intruders.

Yakushika

Yakushika

Yakusaru

Yakusaru

It was late in the afternoon when we stopped by a beach and the sea turtle museum on the island’s northwest side. Kuchierabu Island was clearly visible across the silver waves and Satsuma Iwojima – a volcanic island – was also on the horizon. The beach was heavily eroded by the waves and the sand was a very pale shade of beige that was slowly gathering the warm light of the late afternoon. Large cracked and rounded granite boulders breached the sand closer to where the green had paused at the edge of the beach. I would have loved to stay here until sunset for some water and rock in warm light photography but we had to press on. Mr. Hatanaka was touching base with all the people we would be meeting according to the shooting schedule, and next we had to stop at the site of the Goshinzan festival which I was to attend in two days time.

IF

Preparation for the Goshinzan Festival

Preparation for the Goshinzan Festival

When we finally drove into town and stopped for a traffic light, I felt it had been quite some time since I had seen one of those. There are not many busy intersections on Yakushima. The population is under 15,000 and most of it is spread between the towns of Anbo and Miyanoura.

By early evening, the sky was an almost oppressive blue as the setting sun seared the back of my neck. We returned to the hotel for a dinner that was very tasty, in spite of the dining room looking no more glamorous than a warehouse staff room. Flying fish was served and the long fins were edible and crunchy. A draught of cold beer really hit the spot.

Flying fish

Flying fish

Then we had to get to bed early. Next morning we were getting up at 3:30 and heading for the mountains. I was going to climb up to 1,936 metres – the summit of the highest mountain on the island, Miyanouradake.

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