Tag Archives: Hyakumeizan

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!

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.

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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.

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.

Appointment with #32

My work in the Japan Alps has been on hold since May of 2010, when I left Kamikochi and the Hotakas, and for the time being this hiatus will have to continue. As I mentioned recently, this absence from the Alps has had me eying the local mountains, visible from my area in Saitama. I have positively identified 13 Hyakumeizan with a portion of a distant 14th in view during exceptionally clear weather. One of the mountains is Nikko Shiranesan – 2,578 metres. I first really became acquainted with it in February when I went to consider climbing Nantaisan, near Nikko. I did not climb any mountains at that time; however, I became rather interested in Nikko Shiranesan.

After learning the names of several more mountains visible from around Konosu City, I initially marked Hotakayama for my May long-weekend climb. But with all the rain that fell I came to feel that a mountain completely unknown to me could be trouble if routes had been damaged by the excessive weather. So, instead I looked once again to Nikko Shiranesan for my May hike and 32nd Hyakumeizan. I reckoned that if climbing conditions were poor here, I could still shoot around the local lakes (artificial), visit Senjogahara again, or climb Nantaisan, which never looked that imposing.

I left a little before 3 A.M. and drove to Takasaki, then turned off at Numata. The sky began to take on that clear jewel-like blue colour already at 3:45. By the time I was driving route 120 past Fukiware-no-Taki it was early morning. But I didn’t see much of the sun. Here on the north side of Akagiyama it was steadily getting cloudy as I drove through the peaceful mountain setting. I saw the turn-off for Hotakayama and Oze but I continued on.

As the road ascended, the beautiful fresh verdure of spring gave way to bare, brown trees and patches of snow visible beneath the fallen autumn leaves. Rain began to drop on my windshield. Was it going to rain on the one day that was supposed to be sunny? Perhaps I should have headed west instead of east.

At last at the parking lot near Kannuma Campground, I backed in between two station wagons. It was 6:45 and raining quite steadily, though not exactly pouring. Beside me, a man stirred in his vehicle, came out dressed in snowboarding clothes, and made his final preparations to head up the trail with a snowboard on his back. Other people were also in full mountain rain gear. I only had my reliable Millet jacket with me; no rain pants. I was really sleepy after having had only three hours sleep again and I dozed in the car until 7:30. The rain wasn’t letting up.

Plan B: Drive round to Senjogahara and see what’s happening over below Nantaisan. There it was cloudy and above the clouds were in swift motion. Nantaisan’s summit was mostly clear but no doubt very windy. I decided to take just my new DSLR and leave the rest of the gear in the car (tripod, filters, 6×7 camera…). This was going to be a pleasure walk only.

Senjogahara was pretty bare in early spring but still photogenic. Various kinds of trees often arrested my attention and were preserved in pixels. Having left the tripod meant I was shooting with a large aperture and often resting the camera against a tree to shoot but I was enjoying myself. Soon, the sun began making its way through the clouds and before I was halfway through the course, it was genuinely sunny. What was I doing here when I had a mountain to climb?

Back to the parking lot, I set off to climb Nikko Shiranesan. I had an interest in this mountain because the map showed two ponds below the mound of the summit. There was still snow on the path in most places at first, and then when the path began climbing I was following footprints in the snow all the way. Mostly the going was fairly easy. There were moments of soft snow where I post-holed. I had brought only my small spring crampons in case I needed them. At times I wondered if my new and still unused Grivel crampons wouldn’t have been more appropriate but I managed without much difficulty. The route on my map said it would take two and a half hours but after an hour and 45 minutes I reached one of the ponds. The mountain summit was very close; I could see someone walking on the top. It wouldn’t be long now. I took 20 minutes or so to shoot the open water rippling in the wind over the snow cover that was clearing away at one end of the pond. Then I took on the final steep climb up through more snow to the rocky summit. Three hours after having left the car I was on the summit. The weather was gorgeous – the wind not too cold, the sun warm.

Now was my chance to take a good look around and try to identify as many Hyakumeizan as I could. Hiuchigatake and Shibutsusan were clearly visible, and I also located Sukaisan and Hotakayama, as well as the obvious Akagiyama and the closest Meizan, Nantaisan. But there were many more mountains to be seen and checking the map later I figured that I probably also had a view to Aizukomagatake and Hiragatake. I should have been able to see Tanigawadake but the haze was too strong. I wasn’t able to see anything of the Kanto Plains either because of the haze but I became positive that Shibutsusan is not visible from the Kanto area.

After an hour at the summit, I enjoyed the walk back down, careful to avoid rushing on the steep slopes and accidentally post-holing and possibly breaking a leg. Though there were many cars in the parking lot below, I had actually seen only one person near the summit and a few people on their way down when I was coming up. Getting in trouble up here was potentially very bad.

The light was getting pretty and I couldn’t help stopping at the pond and setting up the 6×7 for some “serious” photography, though actually I was to find a few of my best shots came from my stroll about Senjogahara.

I made it safely back to the car only six hours after leaving it. Given the time I spent on the summit and shooting by the pond I think I had made excellent time on the trail. From there on it was time to head home. There were some tempting stops along the way, especially when the full moon rose. But thick traffic below was going to hold me up and in the end I was very tired from the road by the time I made it home after 9:30 P.M.

Since climbing Nikko Shiranesan, there hasn’t been a day when we had a clear view of it, so I can’t even point the mountain out to my wife and say, “That one was my 32nd Hyakumeizan.”

How Many Mountains?

At the start of July, 1999 I came to Japan for the third time and this time was not for a visit but with the intention to stay at least six months, hopefully longer if the lifestyle and culture agreed with me. Thanks to a woman I had met in Vancouver, I was able to secure a room for rent in Okegawa, Saitama and within the same week I got a job at an English school in Kumagaya, a few stops along the Takasaki Line from my station.

After a week or two of commuting by train and staring out the window at the small cities and suburbs interspersed with remnant rural scenes, I one day noticed that there were mountains to the west. Until that day the haze had remained too thick to see that far, but indeed there was a range of mountains out there. Once at work, I wasted no time in examining the map of Saitama that hung on the wall in the office. I had noticed the mountains on the map before but had not realized just how close they might be. Thus I became acquainted with the proximity of the Chichibu Mountains to Okegawa and Kumagaya.

Perhaps I had mentioned this to my landlord’s wife, because I recall her telling me that Mount Fuji was visible from Okegawa. I went to the rooftop parking of a nearby 3-story department store but saw only the blue skyline of the Chichibu Mountains. Then one clear October day I remember standing in that parking lot and to my great surprise I clearly saw the white tent shape of Fujisan. Though much farther away that the local mountains, Fujisan demanded attention, seemingly to dominate that distant corner of the sky. In August of ’97, during my first visit to Japan, my girlfriend had taken me to Hakone where we had hoped to see Fujisan from Lake Ashi. But the thick haze had dashed our hopes. Now I was getting my first view of the famous mountain, albeit from 100 kilometres away!

Over the next few years, I slowly became familiar with many of the famous mountains in Japan, some of them near, some far away. I began climbing some of those peaks and learned to recognize many more. When I found out about the Hyakumeizan – that special list of 100 mountains in Japan – I was pleased to discover that I had already climbed 13 of them. Then I returned to Canada for 15 months and did some traveling and hiking abroad before returning to Japan. I stayed the first two years in a part of Saitama City before buying a house in Konosu, between my former haunts of Kumagaya and Okegawa. Now with a car for transportation and a family to drive around, I began to notice just how many mountains were visible from this part of the Kanto Plains, and gradually over the last year or so I have started to identify the Hyakumeizan that are visible from here. A couple of nights ago, I spread out on the floor a map of Japan’s mountains, included in Gakujin magazine’s January 2011 issue and I checked which mountains I should be able to see from here. Starting from the east and moving counter-clockwise to the west, here are the mountains I can or should be able to see from around Konosu.

Tsukubasan – The lowest of the Hyakumeizan, Tsukubasan is a small mountain island in the eastern part of the Kanto Plains. Connected to no chain or range, Tsukuba is easy to identify because it stands as an isolated mountain to the east of here. According to my map, Nasudake should have no obstructing mountains high enough between Konosu and Nasu, but I have not yet had the chance to compare a clear view of the mountains out that with the map. From a rooftop parkade or bridge it is possible to make out some distant mountains out that way, but as yet I don’t know what I am looking at.

Nantaisan and Shiranesan – I have known about Nantaisan for many years. Its distinctive volcanic cone rises high over the surrounding mountains and in winter and spring it sports vertical stripes of snow down its flanks. Nikko Shiranesan only just became familiar to me during my visit to Nikko last month but since then I have been able to easily pick out the white snow-covered and treeless cone of that volcano. The to right of Nantaisan is the Nihyakumeizan, Nyohosan.

Sukaisan 皇海山 (second high peak from left) and Nikko Shiranesan 日光白根山 (white peak) as seen from the highest of the burial mounds at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City. Photo added November 21, 2012.

Sukaisan and Hotakayama – Next, according to the map and what I can find on Google Earth, I should be able to see clearly Sukaisan and quite possibly, in the far distance beyond many smaller mountains, I can see on a clear day Hotakayama. The other day, I looked carefully at the peaks to the left of Shiranesan and indeed there were two high mountains – Kesamaruyama standing in front of Sukaisan. Hotakayama should also be one of the mountains I can see out that way, just to the right of Akagiyama, and last weekend I was indeed able to see a higher peak with snow out that way. Far beyond that lies Shibutsusan, however, unless someone or a photograph could actually point that one out to me I can not confirm being able to actually see Shibutsusan. From around Konosu, if it is visible at all, it is likely that it would appear only as a distant blue hump among other blue humps. (After this post I confirmed that from ground level this mountain is not visible.)

Akagiyama – With out a doubt, the next visible mountain is Akagiyama. Though not the nearest mountain to me, it appears as the largest. From my house I can reach the crater lake of Onuma within two and a half hours. I was first introduced to this mountain in December of 1999 and in September, 2007 my wife and I climbed it together. Farther to the left is another Nihyakumeizan, Harunasan. Both mountains are ancient volcanoes with multiple summits and lakes.

Akagiyama 赤城山 from the highest burial mound at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City. Photo added November 21, 2012.

Tanigawadake – Perhaps it was last winter (2010/11) that I was surprised one day to see a chain of white mountains far off in the distance behind Harunasan and extending in behind Akagiyama. The only high range I could think of out that way was the Tanigawa Range that borders Gunma and Niigata Prefectures. So, the other weekend, when the range was visible again, I checked with map on my phone and discovered that Tanigawadake was the higher, more rugged looking peak just off the left shoulder of Akagiyama. In fact, I felt I could almost make out the cliffs at Ichinosawa.

Asamayama – The most exciting of the nearby mountains for me is the active volcano, Asamayama. In September of 2004, the volcano coughed and a couple of mornings later I found a thin layer of grey ash on my bicycle seat. Sometimes, even when the view to other mountains is relatively clear, Asamayama is hidden in haze. But it is visible throughout much of the autumn and winter season as a distinctive high cone, often with a small plume of smoke issuing from its crater. Because of its recent and frequent activity, the slopes have no forest cover and thus it sports a stark white cloak in winter, another factor that makes it stand out from the other mountains whose trees hide the snow cover. Just below Asama and to the left of the mountain is the rotten-stump skyline of Myogisan – another ancient volcano and Nihyakumeizan. To the right of Asama and far in the distance lies Kusatsu Shiranesan, however, even though it lies in a direct line from Konosu without any higher peaks in front, since beginning this mountain identity quest in earnest I have not been able to confirm if it is visible from Konosu or if the hulking form of Asama doesn’t block the view.

Asamayama 浅間山 seen from Arakawa Panorama Park in Konosu City. Photo added November 21, 2012.


The low but ragged peaks of Myogisan 妙義山 as seen from Arakawa Panorama Park in Konosu. Photo added November 21, 2012.

Tateshinayama? – One day last year I looked over to Ryogamisan on a clear January day and thought I could see some white peaks in the distance, behind the mountain. Were they mountains or just clouds? Because haze frequently obscures views beyond the nearest mountains, it was quite some time before I had a chance to see those mysterious white “peaks” again. I kept it in mind to check the map and last week, after spotting them again, I decided to check and found that in that direction, just to the right of Ryogamisan, I might be able to see the north end of Yatsugatake, including Tateshinayama. I had believed these mountains were just too far away to see but the map confirms that there are no higher mountains between Tateshinayama and Ryogamisan. If I can indeed see a range of white mountains in winter they should be Tateshinayama and its neighbours.

(Update: November 21, 2012. From Gyoda it’s possible to see Tengudake, Ioudake, Yokodake, and the final slope of Akadake. See photo below. From Kumagaya, Akadake should be visible too.)

The white peaks in the far distance are those of Yatsugatake 八ヶ岳, 90 kilometres away. Seen here from the highest burial mound at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City. Photo added November 21, 2012.


From right to left, the distant snowy peaks are: Ioudake 硫黄岳, Yokodake 横岳, and the slope leading up and disappearing behind the closer blue peak is the slope to the peak of Akadake 赤岳.


The distant white peak is Tengudake 天狗岳 of Yatsugatake.

Ryogamisan, Kobushigatake, Kumotoriyama – Ryogamisan is one of the most easily identifiable mountains around Konosu and the one with the most distinctive shape. For many years I have looked at its serrated incisor-like shape, biting into the sky. I long since thought about climbing it and in September of 2010 I finally did. I returned again in May of 2011 because I enjoyed the short but steep climb so much and the scenery was beautiful on the way up. Kobushigatake and Kumotoriyama I knew should be visible from Konosu because from the upper deck at Kita Konosu Station I have a great view of the Okutama Chichibu Mountains and some peaks in the background are definitely higher than other closer ones. Checking with my phone map the other morning I found Kobushigatake but couldn’t confirm which was Kumotoriyama exactly before my train arrived.

Kumotoriyama 雲取山 is the distant peak just slightly left of the exact centre of this image. The prominent peak in the right side of the photo is Bukozan 武甲山, a Nihyakumeizan. Seen from Arakawa Panorama Park in Konosu City. Photo added November 21, 2012.

Daibosatsurei 大菩薩嶺 – Left of the higher Okutama Chichibu Mountains are a few more peaks in front of Fujisan. I never paid them much attention until I discovered (just last night) that another Hyakumeizan, Daibosatsurei, raises its summit there. For now I can’t be sure exactly which peak it is, but there are no higher mountains between Konosu and Daibosatsurei, so I think I can count it on my list of visible Hyakumeizan.

Fujisan – Easily identified when visible, Fujisan this morning was a gorgeous white swam wing that looked positively huge in spite of the 100 kilometre distance.

Fujisan 富士山 seen from Arakawa Panorama Park in Konosu City. Photo added November 21, 2012.

Tanzawasan 丹沢山 – From the roof of the five-story building in Saitama City where my work place used to be located, I could see a crest of mountains just to the left of Fujisan. Were these the mountains of Hakone? Or were they the Tansawa Mountains? Last week I checked the map and learned that they were the Tansawa Mountains. From a bridge in Konosu, I looked over towards Fujisan and to the left of it I spotted the same crest of mountains. Which summit is exactly Tanzawasan I am not sure but I would guess the highest one is.

So, from around Konosu, Gyoda and Kumagaya Cities in Saitama, it is possible to see:
Tsukubasan
Nantaisan
Nikko Shiranesan
Sukaisan
Hotakayama
Akagiyama
Tanigawadake
Asamayama
Akadake
Ryogamisan
Kobushigatake
Kumotoriyama
Daibosatsurei
Fujisan
Tanzawasan

And it may be possible to see:
Nasudake
Kusatsu Shiranesan

I will be looking at the mountains carefully when the sky is clear, though spring haze will begin making them harder to see. And someday I hope to add my own photos and re-post this in parts with maps and satellite images. That would be cool.

Tateshinayama, My 31st

Family life with two small kids can keep a man pretty busy. And yet I am only home with the kids late at night and on weekends. My wife envies me for being able to go to work and spend time on doing other things than just keeping up with housework and attending to the needs of an eight-month-old who has learned to crawl around and get in trouble and her 3-year-old brother who has entered a phase of throwing tantrums whenever his carefully parked Tomika cars are budged from their precise positions.

So, it is really difficult for me to ask my wife if she minds me taking a Sunday for a tramp in the mountains.

I have good reasons for going. Any outing is work-related. Photographing Japanese mountain and nature may eventually help to bring a little extra cash home, though so far it all goes to pay off the previous outings and photo-related expenses. I might capture something that could end up in a calendar or magazine through my stock agency. I might have something to submit to Yama-to-Keikoku’s calendars that could possibly be selected (though nothing of mine has been selected in the last three years). And this time there was a chance that NHK Niigata might have been there. Alas, as I expected, NHK were out of the picture, so to speak. Two weeks ago, the guy who contacted me originally sent me a message saying that his superiors felt they had sufficient footage from the local mountains of Niigata and didn’t need to shoot a foreigner photographing the leaves in Nagano. However, I had no intention of letting go of such a connection and I thought that even if the TV folks were not going to be there, I should still go and send a few digital snaps to my contact, just to keep the flame of interest alive. He is after all, a fellow mountaineer and “camera man”.

A working father’s schedule:

19:40 – Finish work, check weather and maps, and head home

21:20 – Arrive home. Take son to the shower, wash together. Look after daughter while wife bathes, then bring daughter to wife for bath. Brush son’s teeth and own; receive daughter from bath; dry her and begin dressing her until wife comes to take over.

23:00 – Family goes to bed. Daughter is wide awake. Son has nose issues and requests tissues which he then refuses to use.

00:00 – Everyone goes to sleep.

01:40 – Wake up and put bags in car. Drive in rain to Tateshina, Nagano with Judas Priest on the CD player. (Needed something loud and familiar to keep me awake and knowing the lyrics since elementary school means I can sing along, though singing along to Judas Priest is not easy. Good thing I drive alone!)

06:00 – Arrive at parking lot (rain has stopped). Sleep in car for 40 minutes. Eat breakfast.

07:10 – Begin hike.

It’s cloudy and a fog covers everything. It’s windy and the trees are sometimes shaken roughly and showers of raindrop collections fall on the muddy trail that is a chain of puddles more than a hiking trail. But it’s not raining and I am in a silent forest inhaling the fresh cool and damp air. It’s almost like home (west coast British Columbia). The trees are sporting yellows and orangey browns but the colours are lacking vibrancy. Still, it’s the most beautiful setting I have been in since May – the only other time this year I dared insist on going out on my own for a day. The trail takes an upward turn and large lava rocks – mostly worn smooth but also scratched by hiking stalks – mix with roots to provide steps up the mountainside. I am climbing Tateshinayama, a Hyakumeizan and my 31st. Not that I am counting. Well, I am counting but only just to keep track. Today’s outing includes a Hyakumeizan but only as part of a circuit that will take me through forests, along crystal clear streams, and to some small lakes (large ponds) that have formed in the congested throats of long ago silenced volcanic craters. The main purpose is to shoot autumn scenery. And get some fresh air and exercise!

There are five other people on the trail and I pass them shortly after beginning the ascension part of the route. I am not racing up by any means and my pace seems plodding and sluggish. But at my pace I am comfortable and don’t require any rest except to take off my jacket as I am now sweating inside and more wet than I would be without it. The cloud cover persists until around 9:00 when a patch of blue opens for a minute or so. I am putting all my trust in the weather report that called for rain until morning and clear skies later in the day. So far it looks like the forecast will come true.

At last the trees give way to a jumble of volcanic boulders and the summit is very near. At around ten o’clock I stand near the summit marker – 2,530 metres in elevation – with a blasting wind that attempts to knock me over and clouds furiously washing over the summit. Visibility is down to less than 50 metres and I can just barely see a raised rim of rock curving off to the right and a lower flat area, which suggest that this is indeed a crater summit of a volcano. A view opens up briefly to the northwest and I catch a glimpse of the valley below near Shirakaba Lake. More clearings come with increasing frequency. I walk along the crater rim to a concrete cylinder standing upright with a circular metal plaque identifying the mountains visible from the summit. The clouds part and I recognize a distant spire of rock as Yarigatake. The clouds are coming from the northwest but views below and to the southeast and east are nearly constant now. I can see Asamayama and Myogisan easily and soon Ryogamisan becomes distinct as well. Particularly interesting is to note that the base of Asamayama, where Karuizawa in located, is nearly as high in elevation as Myogisan. Basically, Myogi sits near the end of a volcanic plateau though independent of it. The plateau swoops down, drops, and Myogi rises up like a rotten stump. Then beyond, the cliffs drop hundreds of metres down and the slope of the ancient volcano of Myogi slides down to the even lower valley of the Toné River below. What one can perceive from the top of a mountain!

The wind remains cold but the summit is nearly clear by the time I head down the other side around 11:00. Not far below is a hut which is near a mountain road and many people are coming up in the warmth of the sun and quiet of the leeward side of the wind. Two families have small children with them wearing only sweatshirts. I warn them of the strong cold wind at the summit. Past the lodge I make my way through more forest and along the soggy trail. I begin descending but more than I think I should. Did I miss a turnoff? I am heading north. If I am where I think I am I should be heading east. I check the guidebook just as two people come climbing up. I ask where I am and they point out my location. Oh, foolish me. I somehow thought I had passed one hut too many. I am on the right track.

What a surprise to see the next hut right beside a road with a full parking lot and a tour bus! I could have driven up here! But that wouldn’t have been as rewarding. It’s 12:40. From here I figure I should reach the Twin Ponds (Futago Ike) by 1:30.

Looking at Tateshinayama from Futagoyama

I do the easy climb up Futagoyama and then descend into a larch forest. Orange needles fall gently like golden slivers of snow until a gust blows a wild swirl of needles through the air and lodges one in my mouth. And then through the trees I see the shimmer of sunlight on water. At last I reach the two small lakes (or big ponds). The water is beautifully clear though the shore is choked with larch needles and mountain ash leaves where the wind has blown them. It’s two o’clock when I sit down for lunch and then begin hastily trying to find compositions for my 4×5. Without looking at my watch I know instinctively when it’s time to pack up in a hurry. At three o’clock I have to hit the trail again. I have two hours before sunset and the route back promises to be as long according to the book. But I know I will want to stop for photos again.

I leave the open air of the lakes for a thick green mossy forest, then come to another small lake – Turtle Shell Pond. From here I climb up and then descend through more larch trees while having a view of Tateshinayama filling the valley ahead of me. Down in the valley the trail is seriously flooded. I have to walk with my legs apart in order to step on the dry ground below the bamboo grass. In some places, the larch needles make a flat mat, completely smooth, alerting me to a hidden puddle. A couple of times I splash in the water but my boots keep out most of the water. Leaving open valley and meadows for forest again the trail becomes dry. A stream that is so clear it looks like thick glass pools below mossy boulders and roots. Through the trees the light is becoming golden. The return hike goes smoothly and at one point I catch a glimpse of the higher peaks of Yatsugatake in the evening light. I also see a fox languidly stepping over boulders by the stream in a ravine below the trail.

It is just five o’clock when I reach the road and start the short walk back up to where I parked. At a pullout I enjoy a twilight view of the peaks of Yatsugatake, the Minami Alps, and the Chuo Alps. It has been sometime since I last set my eyes on those lofty peaks.

10:00 – Arrive at summit of Tateshinayama.

11:00 – Begin trek down the east side of the mountain.

13:40 – Reach Futago Ike and do some snapping with the digital and reconnoitering. Eat lunch and do some “serious” shooting.

15:00 – Begin heading back to car.

17:00 – Reach the road. And walk back to car. Change pants and footwear. Eat last of food.

18:00 – Start engine and begin drive back.

21:30 – Arrive back home in Saitama

22:00 – Take son to shower, wash together. Look after daughter while wife bathes, then bring daughter to wife for bath. Brush son’s teeth and own; receive daughter from bath; dry her and begin dressing her until wife comes out to take over.

23:00 – Family goes to bed.