Category Archives: Photoactive

Kamui Mintara – The Playground of the Gods: Part One

Alpine wildflowers. I like them. I stop to photograph them. I know a few of their names. And now I was standing amidst the rugged rocky peaks of a volcano complex in the centre of Hokkaido for the purported reason of having come to see wildflowers. Not the volcano. Not the steaming fumaroles and the sulphureous deposits. Not the dozen or so varieties of volcanic rock. I said I was here to see the wildflowers and was told that my interest in geology was not important to the program. Well, okay then. Let’s check out the wildflowers.

Taisetsusan

Big Snow Mountain – Taisetsusan. That’s the Japanese name. The aboriginal Ainu people called it Kamui Mintara – the Playground of the Gods. Central Hokkaido is home to some volcanic mountain ranges, and the highest summit of them all is Asahidake – 2,291 metres – in the Taisetsusan Mountains. The whole area is a remarkable natural wonder: a volcanic plateau with soaring cliffs replete with cascading ribbons of white water, hot springs, volcanic cones and craters, noxious volcanic gases, and beautiful ponds. It is also host to vast alpine meadows, and from base to summit, there are approximately some 270 species of wildflowers.

I was asked to be there for an upcoming episode of Journeys in Japan, my fourth appearance on the program. Previously I had climbed mountains on Yakushima and scrambled up waterfalls in the Kita Alps. Adventure and new challenges had been the order in the past. This time I was going to explore alpine meadows and learn about flowers. I was excited about the trip! There was the possibility of climbing Asahidake, which would have been my 35th Hyakumeizan. There was also word of a species of flower that grew only near a bubbling mud pit and nowhere else in the world. Visions of a Japanese Rotorua came to mind. In addition, part of the itinerary included seeking out the Ezo brown bear, the higuma. For me, the wildflowers would be but a pleasant bonus.

Taisetsusan’s summer weather is a wreck. High peaks stand above the pastoral hills and fields where cows graze, and those peaks trap every current of moist air passing through, forcing them up into the cooler air and causing clouds and rain to frequently hold parties at the higher elevations. A playground indeed. For the weather Gods. Our director had been there three weeks earlier, running the course that he’d planned for the program. Running through fog and strong winds and not seeing a damn thing! “Why did I come here?” he reflected as he told us about his reconnaissance trip. “It was just training for running in the mountains.”

The weather Gods were there for the summer break. The first night it rained in the Sounkyo Canyon where we stayed in a hotel. But the sun came out in the morning and we rode the gondola and chair lift under blue skies. True to mountain weather form, however, as we made our way up the trail to Kurodake, clouds drifted in and erased the view.

The flowers were blooming. It was no surprise to see many varieties of blossoms or even to see large swaths of alpine flowers. But as the guide began pointing out species after species, I began to appreciate why Taisetsusan was known for its flora. 

A bush-like plant called ukon’utsugi was particularly interesting. A tube like blossom in pale yellow, it had a clever method of communicating to insects about its pollen. The inside bottom of the blossom was a golden orange colour, which is easily seen by visiting insects. This is like an open for business sign, saying, “Pollen here!” Once the pollen has been removed, the colour changes to a deep red – “Pollen sold out!” In this way, insects can soon find where to get pollen and the plant can ensure insects don’t waste time searching depleted pollen stores.

The clouds enveloped the mountain. At the summit, I smiled and shook hands with my guide in a grey shroud. To our surprise, another film crew was there. With two cameras and larger staff, the NHK Hyakumeizan TV program crew were also covering a story on Taisetsusan.

It was then that the clouds began to part and views across the highland between the peaks were revealed to us. Cameras were parked on tripods and the precious moment was captured. The clouds played a game of conceal-and-reveal a couple of times more before we began to move on, descending toward the Kurodake shelter and tent site. Now we were heading into the world of alpine vegetation. I did not anticipate how interesting it was going to be.

9M ウコンウツギ

Ukon’utsugi – Weigela middendorffiana

17M チシマキンバイソウ

Chishima kinbaisou – Trollius riederianus

19M チシメフウロウ

Chishima fuurou – Geranium erianthum

44M 黒岳より北鎮岳

View from the summit of Kurodake – Hokuchindake (centre) and Ryoundake (right)

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April was a good month

Spring came in a hurry. It always seems to and yet it still takes me by surprise. Each year I swear that April is my favourite month as I feel inspired to get up early and get out to photograph somewhere. During the winter, my early morning outings are limited to Sundays as I need to be home early on other days. Monday to Friday my kids need to go to school and I go to work early some days, and Saturdays I also have to leave for work early. But in April the sun rises early enough that I have time to get out and do some shooting.

My first trip was out to part of the Tsuki River just before the Ranzan Gorge, which I have visited a few times before. First, I stopped on some countryside road to shoot some misty fields when I stumbled upon a large old tree spreading out majestically.

tree

Then I moved on to the river and checked out the Toyama Pothole before exploring the gorge a little from the entrance end.

pothole

Soon it was time for the cherry blossoms, and I went to a favourite old location, the burial mounds at Sakitama in Gyoda.

blossomsmound

As I am working on completing a new book called, Waterside, I wanted to visit a few more waterside locations and decided to visit Onuma, a crater lake on Akagisan, a volcanic mountain less than two hour’s drive north of where I live. I went out early to get there before the sunrise but I didn’t anticipate the -5 degrees temperature or the blasting icy wind. I wasn’t dressed for it, so I stuffed my spring jacket with a cloth shopping bag from the car for extra insulation.

Akagi 08

Akagi 12

My last outing was another early morning start, this time to Ryogamisan, a mountain in Saitama and again less than two hours way by car. I hiked up the trail to photograph the stream where it flows over some exposed chert beds. I’ve climbed the mountain twice before and each time wanted more time to photograph the rocks and the stream.

Ryogami 14

Ryogami 15

I have one more location to hit for my book project. But there will likely be a second one to add. Early this month, I was asked to go to Daisetsusan in Hokkaido for another episode of Journeys in Japan. I am sure to get some waterside photos up there.

One final bit of good news, my book Little Inaka was reviewed briefly in Fuukei Shashin – 風景写真, a Japanese landscape photography magazine.

The Kingdom of Sedimentary Rock and SSP

Back in 2010 I was given the wonderful opportunity to visit some of the most astoundingly beautiful locations in the United States, places I had long dreamed of visiting but curiously had never prioritized. My sister’s wedding in Las Vegas required her one and only sibling’s presence and our parents, aware of my finances, graciously paid for the plane ticket.

Though my stay was only for five days of which two days required my presence at the obligatory family events (wouldn’t have missed my sister’s wedding for the Grand Canyon!), I still managed to steal away on a whirlwind road trip to four of the most photogenic sites in a neighbourhood crowded with natural wonders beckoning the souls of the hiker, photographer, adventurer, and naturalist.

Upon returning to Japan I desired to write about my impressions of the geologic history and share them alongside my photographs with a Japanese audience. I worked hard to write up an article and had my manager check over my Japanese. It took time to complete and once submitted to Nippon Kamera it took time to get an affirmative response. At last my photographs were published but the text of some 1,200 characters had to be shortened to 300!

I was delighted to see my published work but still wanted to see my story in print. My membership with the Society of Scientific Photography was temporarily on hiatus, so I renewed it and promptly submitted my story and a selection of photographs to the editor of the members magazine. At last in May of this year my impressions were published in words as well as images.

The article describes in brief the rather vertical history of the Japanese archipelago with volcanoes rising up and collapsing, mountain ranges being pushed up, and rain and rivers washing and cutting away at the rising peaks. This serves to contrast the more horizontal history of the Colorado Plateau, which experienced roughly 200 million years of gradual sedimentation in seas, deltas, flood plains, and deserts. Only in recent history was the sedimentation process interrupted by uplifting, fluvial incising, and some volcanic activity. The results are these spectacular landscapes unrivaled by anything in Japan. The differences in the two landscapes are due to the distinct differences in their geologic history as well as their present locations and climates.

In the May 2014 issue of the Society for Scientific Photography

In the May 2014 issue of the Society for Scientific Photography

Clockwise from top left: Zion Canyon - The Narrows; Valley of Fire - Strata at dawn; Valley of Fire - Differential weathering; Red Rock Canyon - strata

Clockwise from top left: Zion Canyon – The Narrows; Valley of Fire – Strata at dawn; Valley of Fire – Differential weathering; Red Rock Canyon – strata

Bryce Canyon and Valley of Fire aeolian erosion (bottom left)

Bryce Canyon and Valley of Fire aeolian erosion (bottom left)

The Arasaki Coast

Photography has produced some remarkable coincidences related to people for me. I have quite a few stories where my quest for images has in a very unexpected way connected me or reconnected me with people. Take for example my friendship with a Mr. Hiramatsu of Yokohama. Many years ago I entered a photo contest sponsored by the photo association AMATERAS. The contest was open to non-members as well and my photograph was selected to be part of their exhibition in Ginza. For an additional fee I could also have my photo published in their annual book, a thick and weighty publication worth over 20,000 yen per copy. I agreed and when the book finally arrived I was awed by some of the stunning and clever images. As my name Peter appeared among those photographers whose names started with “ヒ”, Mr. Hiramatsu’s photo was a page or two from mine. It was a sunset shot from the Arasaki Coast, a curious location on the Miura Peninsula where alternating layers of sandstone, mudstone, and tuff have been tilted to about 70 degrees. Intrigued by the photo possibilities there, I went for a visit a year later.

Skip ahead several years to the time I had recently become a member of the Society of Scientific Photography in Japan and my photo was to be exhibited at their annual exhibition. Volunteers were needed to fill the reception seat and greet visitors. I thought volunteering would be a good way to put me in touch with some of the members and I found myself sharing the duty with a young (30-ish) Mr. Hiramatsu. As we chatted about our photography it came out that we both had had photos exhibited and published in the same AMATERAS exhibition and photo annual. After he described his photo, I realized that he was the one who had captured that photo of the Arasaki Coast.

Well, onto March 31, 2014. My co-worker and fellow photography enthusiast, Sebastian Bojek, accompanied me on a trip back to the Arasaki Coast. I picked him up around 1:30 a.m. as we planned to arrive before dawn, and followed Route 16. We reached Arasaki Park perhaps an hour before sunrise – later than planned as we had gotten off the toll road near the end a bit early and soon found ourselves on the opposite side of the peninsula. Getting back added road time and our expected snooze time was lost. Nevertheless, we selected one of the few paths that lead from the parking lot and went straight to the shore. It was here that Sebastian realized that he had left his hot shoe (the thingy that screws into the bottom of the camera and connects it to certain types of tripods) at home. With his Mamiya 67 in this low light a tripod was absolutely essential. I lent him mine while I selected a spot and pulled out my gear. I managed a couple of digital shots by setting the camera on an elevated crest of rock while Sebastian exercised his Mamiya.

An angler on the rocks of the Arasaki Coast.

An angler on the rocks of the Arasaki Coast.

The sediments of the rocks here were laid down tens of millions of years ago. Oceanic sediments of sand and mud were frequently interrupted by volcanic fallout from the nearby eruptions of the Izu volcanoes and the early volcanoes that existed prior to Mt. Fuji’s birth (Mt. Fuji stands beautifully in the distance but is too young to have contributed to these mille-feuille layers). As the Izu volcanic group slid into Honshu, it wrecked havoc on the local rock formations. The Tanzawa Mountains were pushed up, the Median Techtonic Line and its associated metamorphic belts were bent inland, and the sediment beds at Arasaki were titled to around 70 degrees and pushed up to form a new shoreline. The Pacific waves now wear away at the exposed rock but the sandstone and mudstone is softer than the tuff and so ridges of black rock form their own wave crests above the wave troughs of consolidated oceanic sediments. This makes for a fabulous geological landscape.

The darker, more resistant layers are volcanic tuff.

The darker, more resistant layers are volcanic tuff.

Still tuff

Still tuff

The lighter layers are sandstone or mudstone.

The lighter layers are sandstone or mudstone.

Waves constantly attack the rocks.

Waves constantly attack the rocks.

When the going gets tough, the tuff doesn't go anywhere so easily.

When the going gets tough, the tuff doesn’t go anywhere so easily.

IF

After shooting at our first location, we followed another path around a headland and found ourselves at Arasaki’s most well-known view: a raised knob of striated rock with pine trees growing on top. There were also caves (closed to the public for safety reasons), arches, and more views of this unusual strata.

There are caves...

There are caves…

...and arches!

…and arches!

Pines atop the knoll

Pines atop the knoll

Wave approaching!

Wave approaching!

Back lighting

Back lighting

We spent another couple of hours here and it was noon by the time we returned to the car with thoughts of exploring elsewhere during the flat light of day. This we did, first driving on past Kamakura and Shonan only to find that most shoreline access was accommodated by pay parking only. We turned around and found a small fishing boat harbour of no great consequence where we were able to relax on a concrete pier and eat lunch. Back at the peninsula, we wandered with our cameras between some fishing boats that were pulled up from the water before returning to the park and stealing a much-needed short nap time in the car.

By five o’clock we were back at the water’s edge and the tide had come in. Our sunny sky had become hazy and clouded over so we missed any great sunset. Sebastian found a good spot on a cliff and once more borrowed my tripod for some twilight photography while I once again rested my camera on a rock and attempted some 30-second exposures. Though I shot a lot with my DSLR, the most important mission on this trip was to shoot with my Tachihara 5×4. I used the last of my QuickLoad film, a type of sheet film that was discontinued at the end of 2010. I also shot in 6×7 and 35mm format as well.

My Tachihara

My Tachihara

QuickLoad film - last exposure!

QuickLoad film – last exposure!

Composing and focusing

Composing and focusing

Final prep before exposure

Final prep before exposure

Our drive back was long a tortuous for me as we drove through one endless city in order to avoid the toll roads. Hemi, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Tokyo… only the changing names on the road signs told me where I might find us on the map. Cars and trucks were frequently parked on the side of the road, forcing me to change lanes often; convenience stores without parking lots outnumbered those with parking lots; and motorcyclists used the gap between the two lanes of cars as their own lane, often weaving without signalling. With less than an hour’s sleep in 24 hours, I somehow managed to get Sebastian back to Kawagoe and reached my home by midnight. However, as I always say, the discomfort and hardship of any photo outing passes within a few days at the most but the photos will last much longer. Now I have selected my favourites among my digital captures and the film is going in for developing. I thank my wife for permitting me a spring vacation day for photography while she stayed home minding our kids, which is certainly more stressful and tiring than driving through Tokyo!

After sunset - 30-second exposure

After sunset – 30-second exposure

On Location: Yakushima – Day Two/Three (Under the Stars)

Mr. Ohkawa was disguised as a Bedouin nerd. He had a white towel over his head which framed his glasses under his cap. “What’s the matter?” asked Mr. Sasaki. “Bugs,” came a simple reply with a tone of stating the obvious. Indeed, in the last light of the day, dozens of small brown flies were visiting each of us. Not actually biting, the main irritation was their relentless desire to walk on the skin of our arms and faces. I was reminded of scenes from African safaris where lions recline in the shade and flies swarm about incessantly. But the bugs would not stay long. Mysteriously, they vanished with the sun, leaving us pest-free after dark.

Kikuchi-san was preparing a local meal for me: Satsuma miso soup. Satsuma is the old name for the area around Kagoshima, and the miso soup he was preparing included chicken, mushrooms, carrots, and sweet potatoes. He said this miso soup was sweet compared to miso I may have had in other parts of Japan. Yes, usually miso soup is a bit salty.

The meal was all part of the program. I, the foreigner traveling in Japan, would try some local home cooking. Kikuchi-san, when I asked him, said he usually doesn’t include camping meal preparation as part of his guide services but he was doing it because he was requested to do so for the TV program. Not that he was begrudging about it. He cooked as earnestly and naturally as he provided information and looked after his clients. The food was really good too. I have often seen on Japanese TV how some celebrity will try some local dish, accepting a mouthful, pausing, and then exclaiming how delicious it is. It looks so formulated and fake that I remain partially disbelieving usually. But Kikuchi-san’s Satsuma miso really hit the spot. Perhaps it was because of the hunger built up after a long day of hiking. No matter. I thoroughly enjoyed his single-burner camp stove cooking.

Our water supply was back up to desirable levels; however, the amount of water available at this hut/tent site was despairingly sparse. Six pipes protruded from a dry ravine wall – four of them dry, one of them dripping only, and one trickling reasonably. Everyone staying there that night had to get water from that one pipe. It was here that I opened my 2-litre bottle and along with the ravine pipe trickle, I filled up my 250ml bottles for easier drinking the next day. While I was doing so, a deer came out of the trees and stood watching us with mild interest for several moments before ambling on into the forest again.

Come bed time, it seemed the plan had changed again. We were not going to sleep in tents. Outside the mountain hut was a wood deck where many people had been sitting and chatting while eating. Only a couple of tents had been set up and the rest of the visitors had gone off to the hut. We were just going to sleep out in the open. I was asked by Mr. Hatanaka to try to shoot a series of night sky photos which he would later show in sequence to create a kind of time lapse view of the Milky Way crossing the sky. I stayed up a half hour trying to get a decent set of images for him.

An unusually clear night sky over the forests of Yakushima

An unusually clear night sky over the forests of Yakushima

I slept well under my canopy of the cosmos and there were no mosquitoes. We awoke at 3:30 again, the TV crew leaving ahead of us to reach the Jomon sugi and prepare for my arrival. Kikuchi-san and I stayed back a bit, and then moved off through the dark forest with our headlamps lighting the way. We stopped for an easy breakfast of noodles (prepared by him), and as the sky through the trees began to glow orange and the luminous crescent moon kept position in a darker corner of the sky, we gradually approached the Jomon sugi.

Sunrise in the forest

Sunrise in the forest

Just around the bend from the famous tree, we were asked to wait. Sunrise came to the forest and the thick tree branches and trunks caught the deep orange light of daybreak. Day three on Yakushima had begun. Kikuchi-san’s radio crackled and permission to proceed was granted. Now it was my turn to be lead to the viewing deck before one of the oldest living things on the planet: the great Cryptomeria japonica known as the Jomon sugi.

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

IF

“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.

IF

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.

IF

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.

IF

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.

On Location: Yakushima – Day Two (Through the Forest)

3:30 A.M. I awoke and dressed, throwing the last couple of items in my pack. Today I was going to climb Miyanouradake. I met the others in the hotel lobby. Outside it was dark but still very warm and the sky remained clear. We loaded our packs and bags into the taxi van and set off for the mountains.

During the winding ride up past landscapes obscured in blackness with the occasional glimpse of distant lights near the coast, the camera and a spotlight were turned on me and I was asked for a short monologue about Miyanouradake and my interest in the Hyakumeizan. I spoke to the camera and at times let my gaze stray off to the shallow world of light in the taxi’s headlights. Mountains. My home territory. I knew what I was talking about.

We reached the trailhead. A few other vehicles were already parked there. We would not be taking the route up past the Jomon sugi like most people do but rather another lesser used route, and then descend by the route to the famous tree. We’d all been given two bentos, one for breakfast and one for lunch, but this early in the morning I was not hungry, especially after the previous night’s meal. Everyone else filled up while I wandered further up the road to check out the scenery. Daylight was soon to break.

My guide, Kikuchi-san and two porters who would help carry our camp gear and filming equipment arrived. We had met the day before when he came to our hotel and we discussed the plan. I had been told that we would stay in a cottage or hut and so I had not brought my tent or ground mat, only my sleeping bag. But the plan got changed and we were going to stay in tents that he would provide. I figured that I could do without my ground mat.

For the start of the trek, I was filmed greeting Kikuchi-san and asking him to guide me up the mountain. We set about our hike that would take us through the forest, over the highest peak on the island, and back down into the forest near the Jomon sugi – 11.5 kilometres in total for the first day. We were both wired with mics and Mr. Sasaki followed close behind with the video camera, and behind him Mr. Ohkawa with the microphone boom. Mr. Sato with his flying camera, video engineer assistant Mr. Hazui, director Mr. Hatanaka, and the two porters made this trek of a foreigner hiking with his Japanese guide a small caravan.

Kikuchi-san was a small and very thin but wiry man. He weighed less than my wife and carried a pack almost half his weight. He had moved to Yakushima about 10 years ago and now ran an outdoor goods store called Yakushima Messenger that also provided guide services. He was easy to talk to and had a deep knowledge of the island. As I had read a lot prior to coming, I was able to verify my knowledge and add copiously to it. During our hike through the forest, he often stopped to point out some tree or other plant, a flower or insect, and tell me about it. We encountered a wood leach that did not suck blood. I noticed stag beetle and was informed that it was the Yakushima oni-kuwagata, a devil stag beetle. It was not of great size compared to the ones boys usually get excited about, but its pincers curved up slightly at the tips giving the impression of devil horns.

We came across our first Yakusugi – an impressive sylvan monument aged over two thousand years. Though not very tall, the convoluted and gnarled wood with various other species of plants growing from its heavy limbs and clutching at the trunk left us without a doubt that we were in the presence of one of the senior denizens of the wood. The fir trees here were also so enormous that I did not recognize them for what they were.

A Yakusugi. Trees over 1,000 years old become Yakusugi. Younger than that they are only kosugi or little sugi.

A Yakusugi. Trees over 1,000 years old become Yakusugi. Younger than that they are only kosugi or little sugi.

Fir trees. There were jokes about decorating them for Christmas and using the helicopter camera to put the star on top.

Fir trees. There were jokes about decorating them for Christmas and using the helicopter camera to put the star on top.

Our party reached the first resting point and we threw down our packs. The crew went ahead over a bridge to inspect the angles for shooting Kikuchi-san and I as we crossed. Mr. Hatanaka said I had ten minutes. I pulled out the tripod and began exploring the nearby moss-covered roots and trunks. I found a good spot and heard his voice call out, “Five minutes,” and barely a minute later, “Okay, Peter. Time to go.”

Limited time only: rushed as I was, I neglected to check the focusing here.

Limited time only: rushed as I was, I neglected to check the focusing here.

The nature from the bridge was sure a delight, though. A stream flowed so smoothly and silently that it made nearly a perfect mirror for the sunlit tree branches. I quickly fired off a couple of shots from the bridge. At the other side it seemed I had a moment to go back but before I could start shooting further I was called again. They needed to shoot a scene of me concentrating on photographing a tiny cedar sapling sprouting from a luxurious bed of moss. I obliged and hoped that I would be able to steal a few minutes back on the bridge with the camera on the tripod. But it was time to saddle up again.

Resting the camera on the rail of the bridge because there was no time to set up the tripod.

Resting the camera on the rail of the bridge because there was no time to set up the tripod.

The camera shooting the other camera shooting.

The camera shooting the other camera shooting.

The trail was not difficult at all. It was mostly a gentle ascent through a rich forest of primordial beauty. This area had never been logged. We were inside the UNESCO site boundaries. The path was littered with white cubic stones. These I recognized as the nodules of orthoclase feldspar, which occur in rather large sizes in Yakushima granite, a testimony to the cooling process of the magma having been slow enough to allow for the formation of feldspar crystals but still too quick to permit large quartz crystal growth.

We began to climb more steeply and after a time, our path took us between shorter trees with views to the nearby mountaintops. Upon one such peak there sat a sourdough loaf-shaped boulder that looked as though it had been sliced and ready to serve. Kikuchi-san explained that it was called “Tofu Iwa” or “Tofu Rock”. This was not the original Tofu Rock, however. Another rock with more squared proportions acquired the name first. But a surveyor mistakenly believed that this was the rock and had it recorded for the maps.

We came up near Kuromidake, a popular peak with a path branching off to the summit. A viewpoint nearby offered us views over the trees and to four consecutive small peaks. Kikuchi-san said we would be passing between the one on the far right and the one to its immediate left. But first we had to descend to a peat bog nestled in a small valley between the great knolls of granite.

Just beyond them thar hills... are more of them thar hills.

Just beyond them thar hills… are more of them thar hills.

At the peat bog, a doe and a fawn were grazing. We stayed on a boardwalk and I shot some of the scenes with the deer. Then Mr. Hatanaka gave me directions while Mr. Sato got his helicopter into the air. The buzzing of the six props, which sounded like some gigantic insect, startled the deer and they bolted into the bushes. I nevertheless continued my charade of photographing the wildlife as the helicopter flew before my camera lens.

Oyako - parent and child - out for a graze at the peat bog, Japan's most southern peat bog thanks to the cooler climate up in the high mountains.

Oyako – parent and child – out for a graze at the peat bog, Japan’s most southern peat bog thanks to the cooler climate up in the high mountains.

It was time for the final climb up out of the trees. We made a stop at a clear stream to fill up our water bottles. Though the map showed plenty of spots to get fresh water on our way to the summits, the recent dry weather left our guide wondering about the situation. I pointed out a small tree that resembled the alder trees of Canada’s west coast. Kikuchi-san seemed unfamiliar with it. Everyone shouldered his pack in full confidence that we would be able to find fresh water again soon. Was I the only one to pack an extra 2-litre bottle just in case?

Precious water. What could be more necessary under the searing sub-alpine sun? A hat?

Precious water. What could be more necessary under the searing sub-alpine sun? A hat?

Up we went and broke free of the forest. For the next few hours nothing would obscure our views of the summits of Yakushima.