Category Archives: mountains of Japan

Meeting Martin

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It was a November afternoon, nine years ago, when I stood partway between the tent site and the summit of Jiigatake in the North Alps—the Kita Alps—of Japan. Obuchisawa had disappeared beneath a tide of clouds, and across the slow-motion waves of undulating vapour, Harinokidake and Rengedake rode the mists like islands. Far beyond in the western distance stood Yakushidake, one of the Hyakumeizan. Overhead, a different kind of sky was created by clouds with loftier ambitions. The tripod was placed on the slope and adjusted, the 35mm Minolta already mounted. Click! Whirrrr. The scene was captured on Velvia 50. Eight years later, that very scene adorns the cover of the English translation of Kyuya Fukada’s “Nihon Hyakumeizan” – One Hundred Mountains of Japan.

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How did this happen? By what stroke of tremendous good fortune did I find my photograph associated with the national institution that is Fukada’s Hyakumeizan, that personal list that became considered by so many as the definitive one? Good gravy! I don’t think I can recall exactly. But it has everything to do with the book’s translator, Martin Hood and the fact that we both share our mountain photography on Flickr.com.

It was no doubt Martin who made the first move. Someone who posted photos from the European Alps commented on my Japan Alps photos. That must have been how it started. And I am certain that I would be correct in surmising that an Internet friendship ensued from that point on. But it was only after learning the true name of this Flickr user (we both employ user names) that I recognized I had come across it before. While gathering information for my own book project on the Japan Alps, I came across several informative blog posts on a site called One Hundred Mountains, and furthermore, I seemed to recall having read an article somewhere online whose author was Martin Hood.

Martin, back in those days, was searching for a publisher for his translation of the Hyakumeizan book. He had begun it originally as a method of keeping up his Japanese when he left the country back in 1995. However, the project unexpectedly turned into book proposal and a blog that continues to this day to feature more and more of the most obscure and unheard off Hyakumeizan-related information to ever be presented to the English-speaking world. Initially, the book project itself faced great obstacles as promising publishers one after the other rejected the book. At last though, success prevailed with the University of Hawaii Press, and in December of 2015 the book at last entered the world to much fanfare by the blog’s most devout fans.

So how about that cover?

As Martin assembled photographs for the book, he—in all his good grace—consulted my self-published (blurb.com) book of the Japan Alps and selected a few promising images. Granting my permission, I sent the selected images as files to the art director at UHP. With a little artistic license and some computer editing, my photograph earned the distinguished honour of becoming the cover shot of this great literary work.

Some weeks ago, Martin managed to find his way over to Higashi Omiya Station, a hop skip and a jump away from my work place. It was far too brief, the time allotted for us two to finally meet after years of Internet friendship. Nevertheless, for about 56 minutes, the two of us sat across from one another at a small table in a burger and coffee shop and tossed questions and remarks back and forth like an Olympic table tennis match. We could have talked all afternoon, but Martin had another engagement and I had to get back to work. We both agreed, however, that when the Fates would next make it possible for our paths to cross, we would plan better and hopefully have more time, perhaps even enough for a day hike. I have my thoughts on Ryogamisan, a Hyakumeizan in Saitama.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Previously, I reported that a new photo book of the Japan Hyakumeizan – One Hundred (Famous) Mountains of Japan – had been published and one of my photographs appears in the book. Very excited about the book’s release, I hurried to purchase a copy only days after it went on sale. Then the story became more interesting.

My stock agency contacted me with questions about a mountain in the Kita Alps known as Kasagatake. As with the photo in the book, they asked me to identify the summit and confirm that the mountain in the photo was Kasagatake of Hyakumeizan fame. I asked what was going on, somehow imagining that perhaps some new interest had come to my photographs or the Hyakumeizan mountains. The story was as follows:

The photo of Kasagatake in the book was provided by another stock agency and it was the wrong mountain. Kasagatake is in Gifu Prefecture but the photo in the book was of a Sanbyakumeizan (300 Famous Mountains – there’s a 101 to 200 list and a 201 to 300 list) that also goes by Kasagatake. The location on the map, the elevation, and the brief summary of the mountain were all correct for the intended mountain but the photo was of a different peak.

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Kasagatake of Nagano, mistaken for Kasagatake the Hyakumeizan of Gifu

So the publisher was looking for a photo of the correct mountain and as it turned out, I had three with the agency. As I had it explained to me, the book is going to be reprinted with the correct photo. It still won’t be for some months but when the reprint comes out, I will have two photos in the book!

Winter on Yakushima: Chapter Six – The White Mountain

Once more the moon peaked out from behind a dark and cloudy sky. The wind continued the swish through the forest canopy like waves over a coral reef. Though I didn’t feel it, someone noted the temperature was -8 degrees Celsius.

We stood outside the hut in the pre-dawn darkness with our headlights awakening the whiteness of the snow. It was time to climb the mountain.

Mr. Koga led the way with me following. Next came Mr. Ichino, Mr. Mori, and Mr. Kurihara, and behind them the two remaining porters who had scouted the route ahead the previous day. We tramped through the snow past the himeshara forest I had stopped at the day before and up the slope to the first viewpoint. As daylight strengthened we clicked off our headlights. At the first viewpoint, the sun was up over the ocean somewhere and the clouds were lifting enough so that we could see the intense golden glimmer of dawn on the water far below and in the distance. It was a magical moment of light.

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We pressed on to the second viewpoint though there were only the skirts of the mountains to see. Though the clouds prevailed, I did not lose heart. The weather forecast promised clearing skies later in the morning. It was still early.

As I had seen the day before, winter still maintained a grip on the scenery around here, and as we moved further along the route and higher up the mountain, the world around us grew more frigid. Trees were thickly encrusted in feather rime and snow covered the ground to nearly two metres we were told. At one point we had to enter a natural shelter made by overhanging ice-coated branches. Then we came out on an exposed slope and in the blue-grey light we found ourselves standing in a world of bizarrely sculpted ice forms. Trees were entirely covered in thick rime and the shakunage were only distinguishable by the few curled leaves that stuck out from large chunks of roughly chiselled lumps of ice. Feather rime covered everything like a growth in stagnant water.

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Along this ridge an enormous exposed knob of granite stood like an observatory dome. Its visibility changed as the clouds shifted. Then sunlight suddenly illuminated the dome. We lifted our eyes skyward and saw a hole in the clouds. The sun beamed through. Mr. Mori wanted to capture some of the scenery here, so I was afforded an opportunity to do the same. The sun came and went and the landscape changed with the light, mysterious and alien in the clouds, dazzling and fantastic in the sunlight.

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We ascended a rise and reached the top. The granite needle on Okinadake loomed in the distance. Miyanouradake remained cloaked. But the weather was without a doubt changing and the alpine world of Yakushima in its winter glory was becoming exposed before us.

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But quite literally, we were not out of the woods yet. Our route led us through thickets of trees and brush that probably formed a canopy over the trail in summer but now with two metres of snow, the trees clutched at the route, forcing us to crawl on our bellies in order to pass through. On three occasions, I had to lower my head so far that the top of my tripod, which was fastened separately from the legs, slid out from the elastic straps and landed in the snow. Each time I had to remove my pack and secure it once more, each time with more effort than the last. Crawling through these tunnels of branches was amusing at first, an added obstacle to our adventure, but it soon grew tedious and each subsequent barrier of trees made my mind weary for the forthcoming exercise.

Fortunately, we were ascending the mountain and the trees grew shorter, the depth of the snow overcoming their height and eliminating the need for us to wriggle under the branches. At last we were walking through the soft, dry snow under a brilliant sun and deep blue sky. I should mention that all this time we did not use crampons or snowshoes but instead had these simple rubber soles fitted onto our boots. The soles had small knobs of metal and were intended for use on icy city sidewalks. The were perfectly sufficient for our entire mountaineering experience on Yakushima, right from the first icy steps to the Jomon Sugi to the summit of the highest peak.

Now out in the open, Mr. Mori wanted to shoot Mr. Koga and me in different settings and from various angels as we climbed. Sometimes I was free to raise the camera for a few record shots. Sometimes I just waited and chatted with Mr. Koga. At one moment we were given the signal to start walking. As my feet pressed into the snow, I was suddenly overcome with an overwhelming feeling of contentment and joy. To be here in this wind-swept, snow-covered landscape with only the alpine scenery all around was such a feeling of elation. I was in my happy place, as they say.

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Looking back to the TV crew as we were filmed climbing the mountainside from a distance.

Looking back to the TV crew as we were filmed climbing the mountainside from a distance.

Feeling overjoyed to be in such surroundings

Feeling overjoyed to be in such surroundings

Miyanouradake comes out from the clouds

Miyanouradake comes out from the clouds

We were nearing the summit and by now we could barely tell granite boulder from frozen bush. Everything was a hard white lump of ornate frost on a soft bed of dry granular snow. Nagatadake watched our progress and Miyanouradake awaited our arrival with indifference. The clouds were gone. Only in the lower elevations over the sea did clouds still drift about lazily.

And then we were there. The final steps and Mr. Koga and I stood on the summit. The first time I had been here everything was a vibrant summer green with huge grey boulders and the blue of the sky and the ocean. I now stood in a white mountainous environment where the grey boulders looked darker in contrast with the snow and frost. But what fine weather we had been given once again. For the second time, I stood on the highest summit of the rainy island of Yakushima and basked in sunshine. The shrine in the cleft was visited again and we camera wielders set about our business. After what seemed like a leisurely time compared to the previous visit’s day-long rush, we were retracing our footprints in the snow.

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The route back was very different because the heat of the sun was rapidly changing the scenery. Among the trees, chunks of frost were breaking free and crashing to the ground. The branches were dripping and bare where earlier in the day they had been frozen white. I could not help but reflect on the weather of the last few days and consider how perfectly timed our climb had been. The day before we arrived, the temperatures had reached their lowest of the season with frost being seen near the coast. The day we started out had been rainy below but snowy above, and the day after, moisture-laden clouds had crossed the high mountains and their cargo of airborne water vapour had frozen to the trees and rocks. The sun had finally appeared to melt the ice but only as we descended. We could not have arrived on any better day in February!

Nagatadake

Nagatadake

Descending was easier as we slid and skittered down the slopes which were becoming like wet crushed ice. The tree tunnels were still a struggle to pass through but the going was faster on the downslope. At the second viewpoint we stepped out onto an exposed outcropping and took in the view of Okinadake and Miyanouradake. There was still time left and our shooting was done for the day, so Mr. Koga and I remained behind for another hour to photograph the late afternoon scenery, even though the sun was setting behind the mountains. The sunrise view should be spectacular I postulated. Unfortunately, sunrise was at 7:00 and we were to start on the trail down at that time. Even if I prepared all my belongings and rushed to the first viewpoint to capture the sunrise I would still not be back until around 8:00. I wanted to ask but I felt I couldn’t. No matter. Nature had bestowed me with more than enough gifts already on this trip. And there were still four more days to spend on this island with three or four more points of interest to see.

Okinadake and Miyanouradake

Okinadake and Miyanouradake

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Mr. Koga and I at last descended and returned to the shelter. Once again, we all spent an evening of food, a few sips of whiskey and potato wine, and stories of past adventures. I tried to enjoy every moment because I did not know when I would have the opportunity to experience days like this again.

Winter in Yakushima – Chapter One: Getting Back There

Ever since the success of the first Yakushima program in which I appeared in 2013, the head of the production company was for going back to do a winter episode. At the end of 2013, I was told that a winter story was being put together for proposal to NHK for their internationally broadcast Journeys in Japan program. In early January 2014 I was told that I should clear my schedule for January 31. On a program about World Heritage Sites, I watched two men climbing up through the snow of one of the mountains on Yakushima. That was going to be me, I imagined. A week later, I received notice that the plan had been scrapped. There was something about the danger of climbing mountains in the snow, risks to the cameraman and director, and not wanting to give foreigners the idea that climbing mountains in Japan in winter was an easy thing.

I accepted that this was how things were going to be and forgot about winter in Yakushima. I proposed some other locations that I hoped to visit, but nothing came out of my ideas. Then the word came in early December, 2014: a new story proposal was being prepared and they wanted me to be the reporter. It sounded great, but I knew not to get my hopes up.

January came and I was told that we had to set the dates. This time they wanted to go for eight or nine days in the middle of February. Because of my work schedule we had to negotiate back and forth between their shooting desires and my manager and boss. The main issue was that I couldn’t miss two of the same weekday consecutively. Fortunately, Wednesday the 11th was holiday, and we decided on February 11 to 18. I had to be back at work for the morning of the 19th because of a very important event.

The dates were agreed upon, the proposal passed, and I received a message saying we were good to go. But right after that came a message informing me that the guides on Yakushima all needed a three-day training course and we wouldn’t be able to get a guide until the 14th. Could my schedule be changed to go from the 14th to the 20th? To the credit of my manager, she tried to arrange something, but it was not up to her to make any final decisions. The schedule could not be changed, and I was informed that the production company would have to find another reporter.

This was a crushing disappointment. The chance to climb Miyanouradake in winter and to see more of Yakushima had been dropped in my lap. And yet due to a single important event in my work schedule I would have to give the opportunity to someone else. That night I went home and sent a message to my contact at the production company. I thanked her for all her efforts and expressed my regret that I could not be the one to go.

The following morning she replied. They really wanted me to go because the story was based on my return to Yakushima. After a couple of hours I got a message saying that they were looking for a new guide who could lead us up the mountain through the snow during the dates that I was available. And then soon after, I received the great news that a guide had been found. We were – I was – going back to Yakushima. I still didn’t want to leap in the air for joy, but somehow this time it felt like it was really going to happen. I was really going to go back to Yakushima for another adventure.

On Location: Yakushima – Day Two (Over the Mountain)

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“Look! A xenolith!”

Mr. Sasaki’s video camera followed me as I gesticulated over the tilted face of a granite boulder. A low mound of smoother dark grey rock stood out from the rough mineral matrix of the granite. We were above the forest line and exposed granite boulders sat on every peak and cropped out from the mountainsides. We had come to a rest at one such nest of giant stone eggs at a saddle between two lesser peaks.

“You can see this dark rock is different from the granite rock surrounding it,” I explained enthusiastically. “When the bubble of magma swelled up bellow the crust, the existing rock above it probably broke off in pieces and fell into the cooling magma. It makes sense that we should see this at the top of the island if the granite here was at the top end of the intrusion. So, this is a xenolith, a word from old Greek where ‘xeno’ means foreign and ‘lith’ means rock. So this is a foreign rock.”

I was sure Mr. Hatanaka would say something about me blabbering on about the rocks again, but I was back in college geology class and on a field trip to Caulfield Park in North Vancouver where a xenolith had shown up unmistakably in the white granite rock and our professor had pointed it out and explained about it. I took a photograph and he remarked that I was more interested in taking pictures than notes. If only he knew that 24 years later I still remembered very well some of the things he had said. I took a photograph here on Yakushima as well and I was later to be surprised to see my little lecture on geology – albeit a truncated version – was to be used in the program long with the photograph.

From the saddle here we would follow a relatively easy path through bamboo grass as it rounded mountainsides, dipped into small valleys, and climbed up to the ridges. The sky remained clear overhead and the wind was only a pleasant breeze. The sun continued to beat down, and though the air temperature was very comfortable the intensity of the sunlight meant it was time for a hat and sunscreen.

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Mr. Hatanaka and the others went ahead and up the mountainside a little. Kikuchi-san and I waited, spying a deer on a nearby ridge, silhouetted against the sky. When given the OK, we clambered down from the boulders and walked through a parted sea of bamboo grass. Above our heads, Mr. Sato’s helicopter camera buzzed and whirred. We walked about 50 metres and then were asked to go back and do it again. We walked this same stretch about three times while Mr. Sato got the shot he was looking for. This exercise would repeat again on another stretch where we would have to retrace our steps four times until the right scene had been captured. The shots were to be aerial views of Kikuchi-san and I as we hiked along the mountain trail with the sub-alpine scenery spreading out around us.

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After some time, we came to rest at a tired out stream where colourful vegetation stood out from the uniform pastel green of the bamboo grass. The question of water was raised but Kikuchi-san said there were two spots coming up shortly where we could refill our bottles. By now the summit of Miyanouradake loomed in the distance and we knew the final leg of the ascent would be a real ascent, climbing up a steep path and leaving this easy-breezy ridge routes behind.

We came to the water spots but there was no babbling stream or burbling spring. Water came as a trickle in both places. Kikuchi-san expressed that his concerns had been realized. Since the end of the rainy season a couple of weeks prior, Yakushima had been deprived of its famous rains. The springs were reduced to a miserly output. It took perhaps nearly a minute to fill up a 250ml bottle and there were ten of us with thirsts to quench. We refilled, drank, and refilled again. One of our guys was later to remark that he realized the value of water after this hike.

Now we embarked on the final leg of our climb. I had not carried my pack up a mountain for three years but felt no less challenged than usual. Still, I huffed and puffed up the path, all the while being wary of the video camera behind me and knowing that whenever we paused it was likely to be raised and pointed at me. Later when we viewed some of the footage from our hike, I saw myself panting and with infrequent smiles.

Do these peaks look like breasts or is it just my male perspective?

Do these peaks look like breasts or is it just my male perspective?

A pill bug or guess-which-part-of-the-elephant

A pill bug or guess-which-part-of-the-elephant

Then at last we made it up to the summit. Kikuchi-san offered a handshake and I soon shrugged off my heavy pack. The view was truly spectacular. Most prominent was the next mountain and second highest on the island, Nagatadake – 1,886 metres. Then we had all the other high peaks of the interior and views to the lower peaks of the coastal mountains. Out in the ocean we were able to see Tanegajima, a fairly flat island in contrast with mountainous Yakushima and where a rocket would launch in two days time; Kuchierabushima and the volcanic island of Satsuma Iwojima along with its neighbour Takeshima, and the southern tip of Kyushu with the miniature Mt. Fuji, Kaimondake under a cap of clouds. We would also be able to make out Sakurajima – Japan’s most active volcano – as the clouds shifted during the afternoon.

Nagatadake (永田岳), the second highest mountain on Yakushima - 1,882 metres.

Nagatadake (永田岳), the second highest mountain on Yakushima – 1,886 metres.

Looking back the way we came. The peak on the right in the middle distance is Kuromidake. We hiked around the two peaks on the left.

Looking back the way we came. The peak on the right in the middle distance is Kuromidake. We hiked around the two peaks on the left.

On the summit, Kikuchi-san explained about the genesis of Yakushima and I translated for the camera. We visited a shrine built in between two huge granite boulders and Kikuchi-san explained about the history of takemaeri – a traditional practice of the old villagers of visiting the local mountains to pray to the gods. I had some time to shoot both with the DSLR and the 35mm. But then it came down to lunch or the 6×7. I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet and had only munched on a few snacks during rests. I reluctantly chose to eat a meal, knowing I needed one, and sure enough, before I was even finished eating came the announcement that we would begin descending to our camp in ten minutes. My medium format camera would have to wait.

The hike down was even more beautiful than the hike up, partly because we had stunning views of Miyanouradake and Nagatadake much of the way before we re-entered the forest, and also because the sun was moving into late afternoon position and the light was getting better and better. On the way through the sub-alpine sea of bamboo grass, we encountered more deer and another monkey who were up lazily enjoying the fine weather and plentiful food supply. At one point I also found a dyke of non-granite – a point where the granite intrusion had cracked and molten material had filled in the gap, cooling to become another rock-type.

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Looking back to Nagatadake

Looking back to Nagatadake

Miyanouradake on the right and Okinadake on the left

Miyanouradake on the right and Okinadake on the left

The last couple of kilometres through the forest were the hardest for me. I was becoming very tired and needed a short moment for distraction, meaning a pause for photography. I continued to catch sight of little vignettes of forest beauty with evening sunlight adding a soft warm glow. How I ached to take off my pack, set up the tripod, and shoot a few frames. But we always had to press on. My toes felt swollen in my boots. My body was feeling the toll of a day of exercise with a pack after three year’s hiatus. The most trying, however, was not being able to stop to capture the beauty. When a view opened up between the trees I paused for a handheld shot but it was not satisfactory. This was not how I photographed nature.

Snapshot

Snapshot

When we finally reached camp there was still daylight. I was glad to be there and out of that mentally fatiguing situation but in the same breath I couldn’t help but think that there had been time for a short stop or two.

TAG! – I’m It!

I’m going to Yakushima and it’s all thanks to my tags.

Tags, as most know by now, are what you add to a post – any kind of post like a photo upload, blog post, or even comment – to help people find your post when they search the Internet for information or photos about something. Let’s say you upload a photo of Tsurugidake in the Kita Alps. You could add tags like, “Tsurugidake,” “MountTsurugi,” “Kita Alps,” “Japan Alps,” “Japanese mountains,” “Japanese nature,” “mountains,” and so on. When someone searches for any of those topics, your photo will come up in the search somewhere, hopefully on the first page.

I have another blog here on WordPress where I post about my published work, interviews, newspaper appearances, etc. I started it because I thought that when my name is in print somewhere, Japanese people can’t find much about me on the Internet except in English. Since the purpose of the blog is to provide more information about me, I use tags using my name in Katakana, tags about a foreigner in Japan who climbs mountains or makes photographs, and tags related to the posted topic. As WordPress comes with a nice stats feature that allows you to see how many hits and visits you get per day, what those people saw on your blog, and what they were searching for, I always like to look at those stats during the week or two after my work has appeared in some publication. It’s interesting to see if the number of hits has increased during that post-published period and if people are using my name in their searches. If they are, then it means they are exactly taking interest in me, be it as a photographer, a climber, a foreigner or whatever.

I also like to see what people are searching for on all my WordPress blogs so I can see if they are finding what they are looking for when they come to my blogs. Because I often post with the purpose of sharing information (see my 100 Famous Mountains of Canada blog for an example), I want to be sure that what I post about is being found by those who search for that topic. Are the search engines just bringing people to the home page or is the actual post of the sought topic coming up? It also lets me know if I have to add tags to specific posts to help seekers of that topic actually arrive at the post about that topic. Don’t you hate it when you search for a topic and click on a hit only to find yourself scrolling and scrolling through someone’s blog wondering how deeply buried the relevant post is?

Back to my Japanese WordPress blog, as I was recently published in Nippon Kamera magazine, I wanted to check if people were searching for my name (if they were then that means they noticed my photographs). Looking back over the last couple of weeks, I saw people searched not only for my name in Katakana and alphabet, but also for topics like “Foreign photographers living in Japan,” “Photos of foreigner families,” “Nihon Alps Foreigners,” and a bunch of others (all in Japanese of course). I actually prepared a list for a post on this topic, but the other day my 2-year-old daughter brought my list to me and asked what it was and I told her to put it back on the desk and now I can’t find it. Anyway, one search item caught my interest: “Japanese mountains foreign climbers”. I wondered, as I often do when I see some of the search topics, who is doing the searching and for what purpose are they searching. Two days later, I found out about that one.

During a break at work, I checked my email and saw a message from a company called KAFKA. They are a production company for TV programs, and the sender informed me that they produce an English program for NHK called Journeys in Japan. Each program features a travel destination in Japan with a foreigner visiting and experiencing the local delights – scenery, food, warm hospitality. KAFKA was looking for someone who could climb Miyanouradake on Yakushima and take photos of Yakushima for one of their upcoming shows. Could I do it?

This was perhaps on of the most exciting messages I have ever received. After a further exchange of messages I found that they needed someone tough enough to climb the 1,935 metres (no problem) and someone who had not been to Yakushima before. There was some festival that I would have to attend, too. We agreed that I would come to their office in Shibuya on June 24th.

So, yesterday I went and met with the producer and the man who will be directing the shoot. The reasons why I was what they were looking for were not only that I am a photographer and climber who has never been to Yakushima but also that I have not yet been on TV in Japan before (other than a three-second clip of me talking with a Japanese friend during a show about homestay in Canada on a local cable station in Yokohama 14 years ago) seemed to be a plus and that I was very enthusiastic about going.

We discussed what I will have to do and what they expect. It seems very straight forward: I will just have to react naturally to my experiences. In the week prior to meeting them, I read a fair bit about Yakushima and they were rather impressed by my knowledge, but more importantly, that I was so eager. And why not be? Yakushima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a national park, and an ecological reserve, and Miyanouradake is a Hyakumeizan. There are the oldest and biggest cedars in Japan and some fantastic granite boulders in the sub-alpine area. The forest should be amazing as some areas have never been logged. In addition to all the wonderful nature, I may have a chance to see loggerhead sea turtle babies making their way to the sea after hatching. NHK is picking up the tab and paying a modest fee for my “reporter” services. This is really a kind of unexpected dream come true. The weather is most likely to be pretty wet but I don’t mind so much. I’m from the Pacific Coast of Canada and I’ve hiked a lot in Japan in the rain. I am used to being bedraggled.

So, there you go. Be very wily when choosing your tags for your posts. It could just get you an offer of a lifetime.

Meizan on New Year’s Morn

In the pre-dawn light of January 1st, 2013, I drove the short distance from my house in Konosu City, Saitama, to Arakawa Panorama Park (荒川パノラマ公園), situated on the dyke near Route 66 and overlooking the Ara River. The temperature hung just below zero and the ground was frosty. A couple of dozen New Year’s sunrise viewers had gathered to watch the first daybreak of the New Year from the park’s elevated vantage point. Particularly, a small hill near the playground apparatus had collected a few loose knots of people. I arrived and surveyed the sky – clear of cloud almost everywhere except for in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, from where the sun would emerge, and a small ship of clouds docked over the peak of Nikko Shiranesan. I was indeed here not for the sunrise but for the mountain views as this New Year’s morning promised excellent mountain-viewing conditions.

Previously I posted about the Hyakumeizan (日本百名山) that I believed or had confirmed were visible from the Konosu/Gyoda/Kumagaya area of Saitama, and in November I managed to get a few long-range photographs of several of those mountains, which I subsequently added to that post. Today I am posting photographs I captured from Arakawa Panorama Park on New Year’s morning, going from east to west. All photographs were made with a Sony Alpha 350, using a Minolta 70-300mm lens and cropped on my computer. Some images had to be cropped so only a small portion of the frame was used. Other photographs were cropped little and captured with a wider focal length than 300mm, as in the cases of Akagiyama and Harunasan. Most of the images can be viewed larger if you click on them.

Tsukubasan 筑波山 as seen before sunrise from the top of the small hill in Arakawa Panorama Park. A better view can be attained by walking along the dyke toward the Route 66 bridge.

Tsukubasan 筑波山 as seen before sunrise from the top of the small hill in Arakawa Panorama Park. A better view can be attained by walking along the dyke toward the Route 66 bridge.

This image is rather interesting to me. According to the map, Chausudake 茶臼岳 in Nasu should be visible from my area but a smaller mountain of about 1,700 metres could partially be blocking the view. Cropped tightly from a 300mm photograph, in this image one can make out a mountain with its summit on the left side. A higher mountain stands in the background near the centre of the image. Is this Chausu? An even more distant peak seems to be situated to the right of this higher mountain. Is this Chausu? I am sure one of these two peaks is Chausu but I can't be sure which one.

This image is rather interesting to me. According to the map, Chausudake 茶臼岳 in Nasu should be visible from my area but a smaller mountain of about 1,700 metres could partially be blocking the view. Cropped tightly from a 300mm photograph, in this image one can make out a mountain with its summit on the left side. A higher mountain stands in the background. Is this Chausu? An even more distant peak seems to be situated to the right of this higher mountain. Is this Chausu? I am sure one of these two peaks is Chausu but I can’t be sure which one.

Nantaisan 男体山 is one of the four volcanoes clearly visible from the Kanto Plains. Below the left side of the mountain is Chuzenji Lake. The rugged-looking mountain on the right is the Nihyakumeizan, Nyohoudake.

Nantaisan 男体山 is one of the four volcanoes clearly visible from the Kanto Plains. Below the left side of the mountain is Chuzenji Lake. The rugged-looking mountain on the right is the Nihyakumeizan, Nyohousan 女峰山.

Moving north from east, the next visible Meizan should be Nikko Shiranesan, but as I mentioned above, it was the only mountain with a cloud cover. So the next mountain is Sukaisan 皇海山 seen here as the slightly higher peak on the right.

Moving north from east, the next visible Meizan should be Nikko Shiranesan, but as I mentioned above, it was the only mountain with a cloud cover. So the next mountain is Sukaisan 皇海山 seen here as the slightly higher peak on the right.

I never paid any attention to the beautiful snowy peak on the right shoulder of Akagiyama before but once I learned that Hotakayama 武尊山 was over that way I became enamored with its beautiful form. One day my wife noticed it catching the light at sunset and asked me what mountain it was. I was glad I could tell her the answer.

I never paid any attention to the beautiful snowy peak on the right shoulder of Akagiyama before but once I learned that Hotakayama 武尊山 was over that way I became enamored with its beautiful form. One day my wife noticed it catching the light at sunset and asked me what mountain it was. I was glad I could tell her the answer.

Akagiyama 赤城山. Next to Fujisan this is likely the most recognized mountain around here. The Wind of Akagi keeps cold winds blowing through Saitama in winter and I also believe was instrumental in keeping radiation fallout from Fukushima away from this part of Saitama. A map of the radiation spread I saw showed northern Saitama received the least amount of radiation fallout, and the weather forecast always showed wind coming from Akagi intercepting and blocking winds coming from the Tohoku area.

Akagiyama 赤城山. Next to Fujisan this is likely the most recognized mountain around here. The Wind of Akagi keeps cold winds blowing through Saitama in winter and I also believe was instrumental in keeping radiation fallout from Fukushima away from this part of Saitama. A map I saw of the radiation spread showed northern Saitama received the least amount of radiation fallout, and the weather forecast always showed wind coming from Akagi intercepting and blocking winds coming from the Tohoku area.

It was two years ago that I first noticed the white range of mountains to the left of Akagi. What was that range? According to the map it had to be the Tanigawa Range and the rugged peak just on Akagi's left shoulder should be Tanigawadake 谷川岳. And here it is!

It was two years ago that I first noticed the white range of mountains to the left of Akagi. What was that range? According to the map it had to be the Tanigawa Range and the rugged peak just on Akagi’s left shoulder should be Tanigawadake 谷川岳. And here it is!

This image poses an unsolved mystery for me: one of these mountains should be Kusatsu Shiranesan 草津白根山. I have studied the map and tried very hard to discern which one it should be but I have not been able to. Is it the large mountain on the right? Or the middle peak? If it's the middle peak then the peak on the left should be Gohandake 御飯岳. But then what is the big mountain on the right? All I can say is that in this direction lies Kusatsu Shiranesan. It's in this photo.

This image poses an unsolved mystery for me: one of these mountains should be Kusatsu Shiranesan 草津白根山. I have studied the map and tried very hard to discern which one it should be but I have not been able to. Is it the large mountain on the right? Or the middle peak? If it’s the middle peak then the peak on the left should be Gohandake 御飯岳. But then what is the big mountain on the right? All I can say is that in this direction lies Kusatsu Shiranesan. It’s in this photo.

Another distant white peak, this one to the right of Asamayama. The map suggests that the only big mountain out this way is Azumayasan 四阿山.

Another distant white peak, this one just beyond Harunasan’s left side (the foreground peaks) and to the right of Asamayama. The map suggests that the only big mountain out this way is Azumayasan 四阿山.

Asamayama 浅間山, one of Japan's most active volcanoes. Recently it has been taking a break, its signature plume of smoke unusually absent.

Asamayama 浅間山, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. Recently it has been taking a break, its signature plume of smoke unusually absent.

Perhaps the most distinctive peak of the Chichibu Mountains, Ryogamisan 両神山. From this angle the mountain blocks the view of Yatsugatake. From Gyoda to Kumagaya and Fukaya, Yatsugatake becomes visible.

Perhaps the most distinctive peak of the Chichibu Mountains, Ryogamisan 両神山. From this angle the mountain blocks the view of Yatsugatake. From Gyoda to Kumagaya and Fukaya, Yatsugatake becomes visible.

The gently rounded mountain peak on the right is also the highest point in Saitama, Koubushigatake 甲武信ヶ岳 at 2,475m. It sits on the borders of Saitama, Nagano and Yamanashi.

The gently rounded mountain peak on the right is also the highest point in Saitama, Koubushigatake 甲武信ヶ岳 at 2,475m. It sits on the borders of Saitama, Nagano and Yamanashi.

Kumotoriyama 雲取山 can be seen here just to the right of centre and with sunlight. It straddles the borders of Saitama, Yamanashi and Tokyo. From this view Daibosatsurei 大菩薩嶺 is not visible, but moving a little more southward it appears to the left side of Kumotori. The distinctive dark mountain on the right is the Nihyakumeizan, Bukozan 武甲山.

Kumotoriyama 雲取山 can be seen here just to the right of centre and with sunlight. It straddles the borders of Saitama, Yamanashi and Tokyo. From this view Daibosatsurei 大菩薩嶺 is not visible, but moving a little more southward it appears to the left side of Kumotori, behind the bumpy peaks visible in this image.

No introduction necessary, Fujisan 富士山.

No introduction necessary, Fujisan 富士山.

Fujisan with Mitsutogeyama 三ッ峠山 on the right.

Fujisan with Mitsutogeyama 三ッ峠山 on the right.

The Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山地 with Hirugatake 蛭ヶ岳 as the highest.

The Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山地 with Hirugatake 蛭ヶ岳 as the highest.

I guess the next thing to do is to bring a compass along next time and check directions against my map. Perhaps then I can verify any of the peaks that still leave me guessing.