I have never asked my wife to take me to the train station in the early morning or to pick me up late at night. When I got up at 4:30 on February 11th and made myself ready to leave for the airport, I was fully prepared to walk the twenty minutes with both my hiking backpack and my camera pack. But my wife woke up early to have a cup of café ole with me and then offered to drive me to the station. Our two children were sleeping soundly and we hoped that during the 10 minutes or so that she’d be gone neither would wake.
I was going to be away for eight days, the longest I had ever been away since we had children. I hoped that she would be able to cope on her own. Our two little darlings can be quite the handful, as I am sure any parent facing a two-against-one situation with their kids will concur. I boarded the first train of the day at 5:40 and enjoyed a relaxing ride until crossing the river into Tokyo where I had to transfer. The holiday assured that there would not be as many people as on a typical weekday morning, and so even boarding the monorail to Haneda Airport was fairly smooth.
Memories of my previous trip to Yakushima surfaced as I searched for my travel mates. I recalled Mr. Hatenaka’s smiling bearded face, and the friendly relaxed nature of the crew to whom I was introduced in the check in queue. This time I already had met the crew once two weeks prior in Shibuya. Mr. Ichino was assigned as director. With much experience climbing mountains in Japan in the winter, he would be well-prepared for our snowy ascent of Miyanouradake. I was later to learn that he had been to Greenland, Iceland, the table lands of Venezuela a few times, and several other exciting places in the world. He started out, as he would later tell us one night, as a salesman for Asahi Beer. After three years he quit and turned to acting, during which time he appeared in some TV dramas. But he decided that directing was more for him and studied to be a nature documentary director.
Other members of our team were to be Mr. Mori, a veteran world traveler and camera operator and the oldest member of our group. He would tell of his experiences in Chad, northern Canada, Antarctica, and other places. As it would turn out, Mr. Mori had also been the cameraman shooting the scenes I had watched on TV of the two climbers in the snow on Yakushima. Our youngest member, Mr. Kurihashi the sound engineer, had done a bit of traveling abroad for work as well. At dinner times I would listen to my companions talk about their adventures abroad and other well-known people in the documentary business of whom I had never heard. Thankfully, I would at least be able contribute with a few stories of my own of foreign travel experiences.
Unlike the previous trip where I had met the rest of the crew for the first time and there had been a round of introductions, this time was very casual. Mr. Ichino greeted me and let me step in front of him in the queue for check in. The other two were nearby and gave a simple morning greeting. The feeling was like this was just another day of work for the four of us. Perhaps everyone else was still in early morning mode.
Before long we were taking our seats on the plane and I noticed that we were all seated separately. That meant I could plug in to some music and keep a watch out the window and snap some scenes above the clouds with my phone camera.
What would this trip to Yakushima bring? As I watched Tokyo disappear below and then saw the golden orange and yellow reflected light on Tokyo Bay, I wondered what weather would be in store for us. The previous visit had been at the very end of a three-week drought and we had enjoyed sunshine for four of the five days. Only on the last day did we experience the heavy tropical rains. At least I knew to expect rain frequently. It would be a little warm by the shore but the high mountains were covered in snow and the night time temperatures were still down just below zero. Snow would be alright. Heavy rain would not be so welcome. But I wasn’t able to shoot satisfactory forest views in the bright sunshine of the previous visit. Some rain would be essential for creating typical Yakushima forest scenery.
We sailed over the clouds most of the way to Kyushu and descended through them to Kagoshima. I noticed that the volcanoes of both Sakurajima and Kirishima were smoking. The sky seemed to be clearing as our small prop plane flew from Kagoshima to Yakushima. I caught sight of Satsuma Iwojima and saw the volcano was smoking as well. The mountains of Yakushima came into view. It was partly cloudy weather and sunshine was streaking in here and there. This was a good start.
At the airport there was no filming of me stepping onto the airstrip and taking in the view as there had been last time. We simply stood waiting for our packs in the tiny airport and then loaded them into the taxi van. The driver came round and began chatting to the director. I recognized his jovial expression and friendly manner. He had been my driver on the previous trip. I asked him if he remembered me and he seemed put on the spot. No matter. It made me feel welcome to return to a place now familiar to me and see a face I knew.
The Mr. Ichino instructed the driver to take us to a Korean restaurant for lunch. I was back on Yakushima with much to look forward to. The taxi van left the airport and we set out on the road for day one of our Yakushima adventure.