On Location: Yakushima – Day Four (R&R: Rocket and Relaxation)

Light was only just beginning to emerge in the eastern sky when I awoke at 4:30. My body was not in the mood. I had had early starts for the past three days and each day had been filled with activity and new experiences.

After the Goshinzan Festival in Miyanoura Town the previous night, Mr. Hatanaka had decided that we should have a celebration dinner. Our shooting was not over yet, but we had cleared most of the objectives and the next two nights would not give us time for a leisurely meal together. We had enjoyed a wonderful meal of sashimi and other seafood delights washed down with cold beer at a small traditional seaside Japanese style restaurant. The staff smiled and called out acknowledgment in unison when a server shouted out a guest’s order. They were friendly and willing to engage in a bit of chitchat and banter with the guests, something that occurred more frequently as beer guzzling guests became more loquacious and verbose.

The good-natured and jovial Mr. Hatanaka had soon managed to steer the conversation to women and each of us in turn had offered a snippet of monologue about our wives and girlfriends – all of them favourable. (Other surprises among my companions were that no one smoked and Mr. Ohkawa was a teetotaler).

I had returned to my hotel room with a wobbly head (not good when you have Facebook at your fingertips via an iPhone) and found that a shower helped stabilize the command centre. Once on the pillow, I had faded out like a switched off light.

So, why was I awake before the day when I so dearly needed rest? To witness a rocket launch. On this morning of August 4th, the Kounotori (Stork) rocket was being launched from the neighbouring island of Tanegashima at 4:48, and since I didn’t know when I would ever see have the opportunity to witness a rocket launch again I wrested myself from the deep comfort of slumber, dressed, and went down to the harbor where a few other people had gathered.

At precisely the time, a bright orange light flared up on the island, and then rose into the sky. Its trajectory seemed to steer it straight toward the crescent moon and a black tower of contorted cloud formed beneath the rising flare. A low sonorous rumble soon followed as the sound waves reached Yakushima. The rocket climbed higher, passed the moon, and after a few moments it separated into a few small points of light falling away from the main flare. The booster rockets were away.

From the twisted black cloud I could see how the rocket’s trajectory seemed to describe an arc in the sky and the rocket itself appeared to be traveling south southwest. I wondered if it was really heading off that direction or if the rocket was actually traveling straight up and the observed change in direction was just an illusion created by the rotation of the globe.

iPhone snap of the Kounotori rocket launched on August 4th from Tanegashima, Japan

iPhone snap of the Kounotori rocket launched on August 4th from Tanegashima, Japan

After the flare had vanished into the heavens, the serpentine cloud continued to change shape as it expanded and twisted in the wind. A bizarre light blue cloud appeared and seemed to glow on its own. Nearby, someone commented, “あの雲不気味じゃない?” – Isn’t that cloud eerie?

With the show over, I slogged back to my room and lay down on the bed. My body was still tired but my mind was awake. I just lied there and wondered if sleep would come before it was time to get up. I barely dozed at last before my alarm went off. The schedule mentioned something about visiting another waterfall this morning but after breakfast Mr. Hatanaka announced that we could have the morning off. I thought about walking around the town and seeing if I couldn’t find anything interesting to photograph but instead I lay down again and just relaxed.

Thirty minutes, just listening to music and relaxing for thirty minutes was all I desired before going out. However, I found the mode of rest where I wouldn’t fall asleep but was able to simply lie prone in complete relaxation and enjoy the sounds in my ears. The air conditioner was set to 26 degrees and it was perfect. I had not felt so relaxed since my days of living alone in an apartment when I sometimes just lied quietly and listened to music before going to sleep at night. Now with two small children at home there is never such an opportunity. For someone who hates to stay idle when on a trip, this was an unexpected bliss.

The thirty minutes became two hours. I did not go out. But when we all reconvened at noon, I was back on-line and ready for the next mission. After lunch, we drove around to the west side of the island at prepared for the final big scene of the program – the loggerhead sea turtle babies!

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