On Location: Yakushima – Day Three (Cleansing Water)

“I think you should take something out of your pack. It’s too heavy.”

That’s what Mr. Hatanaka had told me before we had come up the lower slopes of the mountain to shoot the scene where I meet the young men collecting water for the Goshinzan Festival. Now I was looking at my pack and thinking that if I took out the camera bag I could reduce the weight considerably, but the pack would look deflated. The director had given instructions to the crew and came over to me.

“Did you take something out?”

“If I take something out, the pack will obviously look different from when I was hiking.”

“But I think it’s too heavy for you.” Why was he concerned about me carrying the pack now? I had just had it on my back for 20 kilometres across the mountains.

“Are we walking far?” I inquired, doubting that it was so necessary to lighten the load.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Hatanaka replied with a shrug.

“Will I be carrying it a long time?” I asked. I was trying to find out the reason for his suggestion.

“I don’t know!” This time his reply expressed impatience. It was difficult to know whether he was really becoming agitated or it was just his well-learned and very well delivered line in English. Because his job had him traveling overseas frequently, Mr. Hatanaka spoke English almost flawlessly, at least at a conversation level, and though he had a distinct accent, he spoke certain sentences very much like a native speaker, with all the right inflections and stressed syllables. Though I had felt in his voice before that what he had said was not for debate, this was the first time I felt that I was possibly testing some limit. At the same time, I couldn’t understand why he would be impatient. If I had to remove something from my pack it would take a moment, so why not just go with the pack as it was? Part of the problem was that although I had been given a schedule of our shooting plans, things were being amended on the fly and even though I often overheard the directions to the crew things weren’t always explained to me directly until some plan was put into action or unless I asked. At some point, I just gave up looking at the schedule and just sat back waiting to be told what we were going to do next.

“I’ll just take the pack as it is.”

“Are you sure?” The switch from a remark of impatience to a remark suggesting sympathy once again had me wondering if he wasn’t just really good at delivering lines in English with all the right inflections, a perfect mimic of what he had heard before.

“I’ve carried it so far. I can carry it a little more.” I smiled reassuringly at him.

The crew had followed a nearly invisible path through some deciduous trees that grew in the cleared area next to large concrete retainer. These concrete barriers can be found on mountainsides across Japan, serving to hold back rocks and fallen logs that heavy rains would otherwise wash down the ravines. They were there to slow the otherwise rapid erosion process.

A group of young men were dressed in white robes and an elder man was there in attire of a Shinto priest. We were here to film the scene where I encounter the men scooping pure mountain water for the festival. According to the script, I was to ask them what they were doing and then follow them to the site of the festival. After they had filled a large round wooden container with water and placed it on a rack designed to carry it on one young man’s back, I went up and ask the last person in the entourage what they were doing and he replied that they were preparing for the Goshinzan Festival. Then the group in white went over to a pick-up truck and clambered into the back and were driven back down the mountainside.

Collecting Yakushima's very clean water

Collecting Yakushima’s very clean water

Aquarius - the water bearer carries water for the festival

Aquarius – the water bearer carries water for the festival

We hung about the creek for a while, the crew shooting a few nature scenes while I was trying to capture a small whirlpool in the clear water. In a deep pool, water was likely draining out through the stones and somewhere coming out on the other side of the retaining wall. The vortex was so perfect and the distortions of the stones at the bottom were so beautiful in the swirling curves of the water. Mr. Hatanaka had shaken his head at my photographing rocks. Now he observed me shooting only water. I think he didn’t understand exactly. Maybe he was worried about the photos he would select for use in the program – would there be only shots of rocks and water?

Vortex - a whirlpool in Yakushima's mountain water

Vortex – a whirlpool in Yakushima’s mountain water

Kikuchi-san had explained to me on the mountain that most mineral water available in the stores has a hardness rating of 40 to 80. Yakushima’s mountain water is rated at 10. I guessed with all the granite rock, there were very few soluble salts and minerals to harden the water. Kikuchi-san had said the water was great for cooking rice or making miso. I said it must also be good for washing one’s hair.

We returned to the hotel afterwards and had a bit of time before the festival was to begin. My hiking pants looked terrible with marks left where water and sweat had dried. It was still very hot, so I took my pants into the shower and gave them a good rinsing, and then hung them outside the window in my room. After taking a shower myself, I killed time in my room pant-less because they were the only pair I had taken with me. I re-organized my things and prepared my camera for the festival. The pants didn’t completely dry in time for our departure but they were dry by the time we reached a shrine near the site of the festival.

Now I was going to experience what a festival is like on Yakushima.

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