Tag Archives: landscape photography

Up and Running!

Before I take time to write a proper blog entry, I wish to make a quick announcement about my latest book project, “Waterside: Photograph’s from the Water’s Edge“.

I began working on it early in the year, or perhaps late last year, when I decided that I had a number of very nice waterside-themed images from around Saitama, Japan, and other places in the country, as well as some good ones from Canada.

As the project developed, I decided to add more locations and I began setting out very early in the morning or even the night before to reach locations that were a little far from my home. Last weekend, I finally made it to the last location for the project, the Onamitsuki Coast in Chiba.

Only 30 minutes ago, the finalized book was uploaded to the blurb.com web site and it’s ready for previewing and ordering.

In other news, the NHK World program, “Journeys in Japan” episode about Taisetsusan in Hokkaido is available for view-on-demand at the web site. You can watch the incredible scenery, the wild flowers, bears, and me!


Little Inaka

When my son was born in 2008, I still had a fair bit of freedom. It was a good year for earnings from photography and writing and I was beginning in earnest to complete my book project on the Japan Alps. When I was away, my wife took our infant son to her parents’ home.

In 2010 things changed. My wife became pregnant with our second child and it was not so easy for her to bring our growing boy to her parents’ house as there was not enough space and he was restless. I wrapped up my book project a little early, managed a few more hikes and a trip abroad to attend my sister’s wedding. After that, my adventures seemed to have come to an end, at least for the time being.

Not wanting to give up photography entirely, I began a project of shooting locally. I purchased a used DSLR and chose some places that were within reach. I would wake up in the early morning and go out somewhere to shoot, trying to make it home by 7:30 to help get ready for the day. Three years later, my son entered elementary school and I had to be home by 6:45. We moved house and autumn brought later sunrises. My three years of early morning photography were also temporarily wrapped up. I had, however, amassed a few hundred photographs or more and set about putting them into a book. The result is this: Little Inaka.

The locations are the Sakitama Burial Mounds in Gyoda City, Hatcho Park in Yoshimi Town, a rural area in Higashi Matsuyama City, and a rural area straddling Ina Town and Ageo City. All places are in Saitama Prefecture, Japan.


A tumulus at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City

Kingdom of Sedimentary Rock in Print

This week the June issue of “Nippon Kamera” has landed itself on bookstore shelves, and within the portfolio pages near the front appears my contribution of photographs.

Entitled “Kingdom of Sedimentary Rock”, the portfolio consists of six images captured in Utah and Nevada during my visit to that area in October of 2010. On pages 82 and 83, all contributors to the portfolio pages are shown in a small mug shot along with a brief text explaining their portfolio and a briefer bio. I received a complementary copy on Saturday and was very excited to see how my latest published piece turned out.

The first thing I noticed and greatly appreciated was the reproduction quality of the images. My photographs are tack sharp and the colour is great. In one image of very strong reds and oranges, it is a little difficult to discern the details in the setting; however, this is not a fault in the printing but a result of the very warm light of the sunrise shining on the rust-coloured sandstone. That the location is The Valley of Fire makes is very appropriate to have such flaming colours. In particular, I like a photo of two rock towers in Bryce Canyon because the direct sunlight and reflected light offer good contrasts in lighting and wonderful details in the rocks. This spectacular crispness of detail I attribute to the fact that five of the images were captured with my Tachihara 4×5 and the one other image with my Bronica 645. Nothing like medium and large format for sharp images in a magazine page. Nippon Kamera’s scanning must also be really good.

Regarding the photographs, I have only two disappointments. The first is that Zion Canyon, which became one of my favourite places I have ever visited, was represented here in a solitary image of a stone in wet mud near the placid waters of the Virgin River North Fork. All those awesome cliffs and canyon walls reflecting orange or blue light that I had desired so much to see in print were not selected. The other disappointment is that the final image of a rock known as a “Bee Hive” in The Valley of Fire is printed on the page opposite an advertisement featuring a young woman in a very active and dynamic pose. The poor rock, no matter how beautiful, can hardly compete! Couldn’t they have put a less eye-catching image on that page?

The explanatory text was sadly edited down from over 1,100 characters to just over 300. The original text contrasted the rather vertical geologic history of Japan with mountains rising and volcanoes collapsing to the mostly horizontal geologic history of the centre of North America with sedimentary layers from seas, deserts, deltas, and river valleys piling up over millions of years before being uplifted and fractured and cut by rivers. I had to strip away paragraph after paragraph until only a brief summary of the geologic history of the area (the Colorado Plateau) remained.

As for my short bio, here is where the most surprises showed up. I was asked to provide a bio which I did. However, what was printed was a combination of parts of what I had submitted and snippets from my Japanese blog. I had noticed a few weeks ago that someone had been visiting that blog, using my name for the search. Some changes are as follows:

My Tachihara field camera became a Linhof field camera.

I wrote that I came to Japan in 1999. The magazine says 1997 (a vacation trip only).

The magazine mentions that I visited New Zealand. Fair enough. What about all the other countries I have visited? But since they published my New Zealand photographs previously it kind of makes sense.

I wrote that I had self-published a book on the Japan Alps. The magazine mentions my books “Earth Tones” and “Earth Cycles” as well as an older POD book from many years ago called “Nature Song”. This was my earliest effort at self-publishing and done more for fun than anything else because the cost was not economical. I was hoping to promote the Alps book the most.

Finally, they wrote that I am a member of the All Japan Alpine Photography Association and the Society for Scientific Photography in Japan. I requested time out while my daughter was young and did not pay my membership dues for the last two years. Only just this month did I reactivate my membership with the Society for Scientific Photography.

Overall though, there’s plenty to be pleased about. As Michael Saddler of the Canadian rock band Saga once said, “As long as they get the name right.” In the end I am the only one who will care about the erroneous information anyway.

Check out the latest issue of “Nippon Kamera 日本カメラ” in book stores now!

Some of my photographs in Nippon Kamera magazine. Image created with Diptic app for iPhone.

Some of my photographs in Nippon Kamera magazine. Image created with Diptic app for iPhone.

In Fact It Isn’t

I was very excited but had barely managed to pull it off. It was early summer of 2004 and I was sitting down to an interview with the editor of “Shiki no Shashin – Four Seasons Photos” (no longer in print) in a café near my home station. The theme was “Magic Hour”, a term I thought worthy of introducing to Japanese photographers. The editor had almost called off the whole plan because his image of magic hour didn’t match the impression he got from the photos I submitted. Thankfully, a quick explanation about Galen Rowel’s work changed his mind and the interview and subsequent two-page feature were back on schedule.

There were a few basic questions the editor asked me and my answers would comprise the bulk of the text. When the piece was published several weeks later, though, I was a bit surprised. Aside from the glaring caption error which mislabelled Tsubakurodake as Akadake, a couple of my replies to the questions did not sound quite right.

The first question asked if there was any particular experience I had had that lead me to choosing the theme of “magic hour”. My reply describes a particular morning by a lake in Nagano and after a colourful description of the predawn sky colour drama, I am reported as saying that it was that very morning that inspired me to begin pursuing the theme. Actually, this was not the case as I had been photographing “magic hour” light for over a decade prior to that morning in Nagano.

Another question mentioned that many of my magic hour photos include mountains. At the time, I answered something about enjoying photographing mountains and the light being very good at higher elevations. The quote ascribed to me in the magazine started with, “Japanese mountains are very photogenic”.

These two examples had me wondering: do Japanese people want to feel that foreigners find Japan such a wonderful place of beauty and inspiration? Perhaps there is the notion that foreigners who discover some new joy in Japan can sell a story.

This thought became reinforced during my next interview a few years later with “Gakujin” magazine, a mountaineering publication. Once again, I sat down for an interview and spent two hours or so responding to questions for a four-page feature. When a PDF was sent to me to look over and check the captions and text I was quite surprised to learn that upon coming to Japan I had opened an English school! Indeed, I had gotten a job working for one very quickly but I have never had any intention to open a school. Was this supposed to make the story more interesting or just a misunderstanding?

There were other factual amendments too. A paragraph about a pen pal I had in Gunma said that we had become very close chums. We maintained a respectably good friendship for some years but were never as close as the writer had suggested.

The fabricated text that was the most remarkable, however, was “my” account of a friend’s story after he had been working in Japan for a few months and had returned to Canada for a visit.

“In Japan there are many mountains and wide green forests, and crystal clear rivers flow. It’s a beautiful country.”

The praise heaped upon Japanese nature seems conspicuous when you consider that one Canadian is talking to another. Had he actually said such a thing to me, I might have thought along these lines: “Dude, we are, like, 27 times bigger than them and we have only a quarter the population, ergo we have way more land and tonnes more nature. Our Rocky Mountains alone cover more surface area than the whole country of Japan. What are you on about?” The truth is that he said almost nothing about Japanese nature except that he had seen a sign by a cliff-top viewpoint telling potential committers of suicide to be mindful of the people walking below the cliff before jumping.

For the most part, these little artistic liberties taken by the writers don’t bother me too much, though I tend to be a stickler for factual accuracy and it bothers me terribly to find an error in a published text that I wrote and checked myself before submitting it, never mind words put in my mouth by someone else.

On a related note, one magazine rejected my photo submissions of Canadian and Andean mountains scenes, their reason being that they already had many Japanese photographers with such photos. I was asked instead if I didn’t have any photos of Japanese scenery to submit.

I have come to presume that Japanese writers and editors want to make it seem that foreigners love Japan so much and that there is no better place to be. Hey, I don’t deny that the nature here is beautiful and the mountains photogenic. But given that I spent ten years traveling and photographing in Canada (and grew up there!), one can assume correctly that it is not Japanese nature in particular that inspired and motivated me in any way, artistically speaking.

If anything, it is the ease of accessibility to the mountains that has provided me with opportunities to climb up rugged and steep peaks whose Canadian counterparts I would never have attempted due to the technical difficulties involved. Yet since it seems to me that editors are looking for gushing praise of Japan from foreigners, I have to keep in mind that when I provide my own text with my photographs I should include a favourable nod to my host nation. After all, we want the readers to feel that foreigners are so inspired to stay here that they will gladly forsake the nature of their own countries in order to revel in the natural beauty of Japan along with the natives.

Magic Hour in Shiki-no-Shashin

Magic Hour in Shiki-no-Shashin

Gakujin tells my story, not all of it entirely accurate

Gakujin tells my story, not all of it entirely accurate

Coming Soon: The Kingdom of Sandstone

The June issue of Nihon Kamera (日本カメラ) should feature some of my photographs from my trip to Nevada and Utah in October of 2010 (which I never finished writing about).

I sent a submission to the magazine back in August, 2011. After a few months without a word, I contacted the magazine in February, 2012 and asked what the status of my submission was. I was told that they were holding on to the photographs and short text and still considering it. For nearly a year I kept thinking about calling. I became worried because in 2010 and ’11, I had four submissions at three other publications disappear – something that had never happened to me in all my years of submitting photographs to magazines. I called at last this January but the editor was unavailable.

I called again a week later and was told the same thing, though the person with whom I spoke gave me his name. Three weeks passed before I called once more, this time asking for the person who had given me his name. He was out at the time. Finally, I called a fourth time, and this time when I was told he was out I explained my situation to the woman on the line. She asked me to wait a moment and then, without given his name or a greeting, a cheerful man came on the line sounding as if we’d already been talking long enough to be on good speaking terms that such trivialities as usual Japanese phone manners were not necessary. I didn’t mind his informal way; his news was what I had been hoping to hear.

The man told me that they were thinking about running my photographs in the June issue. He confirmed that they had my email address (my submissions always include postal address, telephone number and email address but every time I am asked anyway) and said that they would send a PDF later on and ask me then to check it over and provide any essential information not yet included. I am sure my tone of voice conveyed my gratitude more than my words could carry.

The photographs are from Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire in Nevada and Zion and Bryce Canyons in Utah. The text contrasts the rather violent and vertical orogeny of Japan’s geologic history with the somewhat sedate sedimentary layering and fluvial erosion of this region of North America, whose periods of volcanic activity and tectonic uplift are not as dramatic as the creation of the Japan Archipelago. Due to the eons of peaceful sedimentation and erosion these spectacular canyons were able to form.

This will be the second time a portfolio of my photographs appears in Nihon Kamera. Previously eight images from New Zealand’s South Island were published.

A Day at Harunasan

Harunasan from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

Harunasan from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

I will admit that I never felt much of an inclination to visit Harunasan. Though it is one of the mountains visible from my area, one of the three Jomo Sanzan (上毛三山) mountains of Gunma Prefecture (along with Akagiyama and Myogisan) and a Nihyakumeizan (二百名山), there was nothing in particular about Haruna that called to me. So I finally had an excuse to visit the mountain when Wes (Tozan Tales and Hiking in Japan), who joined the discussion for Yama-to-Keikoku’s September issue last year, notified me of his winter holiday plan to visit Haruna with his wife and asked if I could join them for a day. Certainly I was pleased at the thought of a hike with good company and a day in the mountains is still a day of exercise, fresh air, and photography for fun. So there it was: I was going to visit Harunasan for a hike at last.

Harunafuji and Lake Haruna at dawn

Harunafuji and Lake Haruna at dawn

Wes’s plan included three full days of hiking around Haruna, from December 25th to the 27th. I chose to meet up with him and his wife on the 26th because the 25th was a family day for me and the 27th was his wife’s birthday and I didn’t want to intrude on her special day. As it turned out, in spite of fine weather lasting all three days, the 26th was the least favourable day to visit. First, there was a terrific cold Siberian wind blowing through that day and second, the visibility was poorest that day as many clouds obscured the mountain views. Wes and his wife had much more luck mountain spotting on the 25th and 27th and there was no bone-rattling wind howling through.

Ice on Lake Haruna

Ice on Lake Haruna

I drove up to Lake Haruna just around sunrise. The peaks were turning orange and I thought of where I could get a good photograph; however, once I passed the frozen side of the lake I was arrested by the orange reflections in the blue ice and stopped the car. I had brought my DSLR and just in case, my Pentax 6×7. I first grabbed just the digital and tripod and dashed across the street to capture some icy scenes. The wind quickly punished my foolishness of not having brought gloves. Before the first exposure I had to dig in my pockets and pull out a pair of mitts I had stuffed in there quite some time ago. The lure of the ice was too strong and before long I was down along the shore shooting ice abstracts and icy views across the lake.

300mm ice abstract

300mm ice abstract

At last, the call of nature sent me back to the car and driving to a public restroom that I had passed just a little down the road.
Back at the lakeshore, the sun had come up and was shining on the ice. I took my whole camera bag, thinking I was going to take out the 6×7. But the sunlit ice didn’t inspire as the shaded ice had and soon I decided it was time to go back to the car, eat something, and then find Wes’s hotel.

Ice detail on Lake Haruna

Ice detail on Lake Haruna

His description of the location was very good and it was easy to find. I tidied up my small car and put my son’s junior seat in the hatchback. I needed room for two adults and I couldn’t count on Wes’s wife, Kanako, being small enough for a child seat. I went into the hotel lobby and looked at a book about mountains of Gunma while I waited for the couple to come down. Soon we were ready to find the trailhead for our first hike.

The target was Haruna’s second highest peak, Soumasan – 1,411 metres (yes, I was a bit sad about no doing the highest peak but Wes and Kanako had done it the day before and Haruna is not far from my house with only just over two hours of driving between here and there). We passed Haruna Fuji and left the lakeside, driving past a moor and up a slope to reach the parking lot. We all bundled up in preparation for the wind, especially me as I had already shared some chill-inducing, blustery moments in it.

Wes begins hiking on the trail to Soumasan

Wes begins hiking on the trail to Soumasan

The hike was not to be long. With 1.6 km to the summit it was hardly a stroll to the corner store. The peak looked steep, rising up like a camel’s hump, but we only encountered one part with rusty iron ladders and chains.

Wes on the ladder section up Soumasan

Wes on the ladder section up Soumasan

The rest was rather easy, though the wind howled through like a bullet train at times. On the summit we were quite comfortable. A small structure for a shrine and several jizou kept the wind clear of us. The sun shone down and Wes checked the air temperature and found it was a balmy five degrees Celsius. We could see Fuji across the Chichibu Mountains and Asamayama’s white skirts hung below a gathering of clouds. Akagi was also being shy and the mountains of Nikko and Oze were not to be seen. In spots here and there, far and farther away, we were able to make out snowy flanks of mountains but no grand view presented itself other than the haze-enveloped Kanto Plains and the blue Chichibu Mountains.

Wes on Soumasan

Wes on Soumasan

The Kanto Plains from Soumasan - 1,411m

The Kanto Plains from Soumasan – 1,411m

Wes and Kanako with Soumasan in the background

Wes and Kanako with Soumasan in the background

From Soumasan we headed over to a large volcanic rock tower known as Surusu Iwa. Though it looked imposing – like a rotten molar jutting up from an otherwise toothless jaw bone – there was a steep gully on one side with a ladder near the top that we scaled. Surusu Iwa afforded up an inspiring view of Haruna Fuji and some lesser neighbouring mounds.

Surusu Iwa

Surusu Iwa

Me on Surusu Iwa with Harunafuji and Lake Haruna behind

Me on Surusu Iwa with Harunafuji and Lake Haruna behind

After some fun photos we descended and returned to the road to hike back to the car. Interestingly, we came back to the road right along the Melody Route. Parallel grooves have been etched into the asphalt with different groove spacing so that when a car drives over the grooves at a steady speed, the tune to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” can be heard. We played the tune ourselves as we drove back to the lake.

We stopped for a lunch of noodles near the Haruna Fuji cable car entrance. This was also where a great display had been set up for night time illumination. Wes showed me a photo he had taken the night before and also a snippet of a video he had captured of fireworks over the lake.

The Haruna Story: Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Haruna was a conically shaped strato volcano. Explosive eruptions destroyed the cone and normal eruption activity restored it at least twice. The most recent eruption was about 1,400 years ago.

The Haruna Story: Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Haruna was a conically shaped strato volcano. Explosive eruptions destroyed the cone and normal eruption activity restored it at least twice. The most recent eruption was about 1,400 years ago.

There was one more stop planned and that was at Haruna Shrine. For this we had to drive back down the mountain a couple of kilometres. Maps both new and old showed an exciting walk to various shrine structures through what appeared to be a forest of rock towers. Earlier at Surusu Iwa I had noticed that the rock was similar to the breccia that composes Myogisan, a mountain famous for its rock towers and pinnacles. Unbeknownst to me, Haruna apparently also had a rock tower area. I went up the trail with high hopes and soon we came across our first natural feature, a stone arch up on the cliff side opposite us.

The arch near Haruna Shrine

The arch near Haruna Shrine

We were in the late afternoon light as we stopped here and there to photograph the temples and occasional natural scenes as well. There were some very impressive cedars of noteworthy girth and ice in the ravine below. The rock towers, however, were not easy to appreciate because they loomed over the trees immediately behind the temples and at least one was cloaked in wire fence to prevent rocks from tumbling down. In the shade of the deep ravine there was no sunlit to illuminate the rock towers and against the bright blue sky they did not make for good photographs. At the end of the temple area there was a wall of concrete in the ravine serving to control the erosion of the ravine, and just beyond that I spied a pillar of rock reaching into the sunlight. This was the Rock of Nine Folds (九折岩), and indeed from a certain angle it looked as though it had been folded in zigzag fashion like origami. I managed a few shots before I had to dash to catch up with Wes and Kanako who were already on the way down the path that followed the water’s edge back to the entrance.

The Rock of Nine Folds - 九折岩

The Rock of Nine Folds – 九折岩

The final stops for the day were at a frozen waterfall and then at the arch again. There was a hasty pullover on the way back up to the lake as the moon rose up behind two peaks. After dropping off Wes and Kanako at their accommodation, I made another quick stop at the lakeside to shoot the twilight glow over the water. And then it was time to go back home.

Moon over a hotel at Lake Haruna

Moon over a hotel at Lake Haruna

Now that I know a little about Harunasan I think I will likely return sometime in the near future. I would like to see those rock towers in different light and hike up past the Rock of Nine Folds. I’d also like to get up to the highest summit. For now, I think it might be a nice place to visit with the kids when things warm up a bit.

Harunafuji and Soumasan viewed from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

Harunafuji and Soumasan viewed from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

The Climber Within

When I was 12 years old, I went to a week-long summer camp event – five days and one weekend overnight. On the first day I caught sight of a beautiful blonde girl about my age or a year older. Throughout the week, any chance I got I tried to get near her to interact with her. On the last day she sat in front of me on the bus and I managed to spark up an animated conversation with her. Her stop was one stop before mine and mine was the last stop. As we neared her stop I tried to sum up the courage to ask for her phone number. But I did not. And she disembarked and summarily went out of my life.

Twenty-nine years later I doubt that getting her phone number would have made any big difference in my life now. But from that experience I learned (in retrospect years later) that when the time is now you have to act. Otherwise you watch the pretty blonde walk away and out of your life.

Grass and shadows at Yunoko

February 11, 2012. My 41st birthday. My wife has begrudgingly agreed to let me out of the house, even though I say that if it were not a national holiday I would be at work until late anyway. There’s no climbing mountains or photographing landscapes when out with the family, only shooting pictures of the kids. Last year I went out only twice and this year I’d like visit the mountains at least three times. My wife complains that I am free while she is stuck minding the children. But I don’t feel free knowing there is great pressure for me to make the most out of this single day. The question that has nagged me since I realized I would get a three-day weekend was whether this should be a photography outing with the possibility of a climb or a climbing outing with some photography. Last year’s trips to Tateshinayama and Ryogamisan produced few usable images because I was on the move most of the time. My submissions to Yama-to-Keikoku calendars have produced no published winners in the last three years and I have run out of “fresh” material to submit. And I gave my stock agency all my work from 2008 to 2011 that they had not yet received. In short, I have next to nothing in fresh material, and a hike to the summit means making fewer photographs, therefore, I should choose the spend time photographing over climbing in order to have photographs to submit. That’s the logic, anyway.

My target terrain is the area known as Oku Nikko. Beyond Chuzenjiko (Lake Chuzenji) and between the mountains of Nantaisan and Nikko Shiranesan lies the wetland of Senjogahara and the steaming hot spring-fed lake of Yunoko. This was where I have decided to spend my day, keeping the possibility of climbing Nantaisan seriously up front. I left home at 3:30 and arrived at Senjogahara well before sunrise. The weather report said temperatures would be between -9 and -5 degrees in Nikko, but I am quite a bit above the city, at over 1,300 metres. The air is pretty chill and even with a few layers of clothing on and a woollen hat covered by a hood I feel the cold. I set up my 4×5 camera on the viewing deck and use a bench as a Stairmaster to keep myself warm inside while waiting for sunrise. When the light does appear, it is to either side of my composition. It seems the sun is rising behind Nantaisan which looms behind me. I manage a few shots in 35mm and one composition in 4×5 before packing it in. Now what? Climb Nantaisan or head over to Yunoko?

Winter beauty at Yunoko

It is not yet 8 A.M. and so I drive to Yunoko. In the background, a white mountaintop draws my attention. I feel the compulsion to get up there! Imagine the photographs to be captured with snowbound trees in the foreground and the rockier parts of the mountain coated in thick white. I approach the ski run with snowshoes in hand. Is there a way to go up the mountain from the ski run? A sign says that there is, but I imagine the slow climb in the snow and the time it will take and figure that I would be better off trying to shoot more photographs. Instead I decide to walk around Yunoko and shoot the sunlight in the steam coming off the lake. But the route around the lake is closed due to heavy snow.

I return to Senjogahara and seek out a good viewpoint of the mountains east and southeast. The snowshoes come on and I follow a cross country trail to a promising spot where I then leave the trail and began pushing deep holes into the soft snow.

Senjogahara with the trunk of Nantaisan on the right

I struggle with the scenery. It is beautiful but not coming together for me in the viewfinder. It’s hard work getting the right composition in 4×5. I tramp about in the snow, scouting for a better foreground, at last returning to the trail. Somewhere there is a great scene here but I can’t find it. By now it is nearing noon. I had said that if I were to attempt Nantaisan I would start at 10:00 o’clock at the latest. It is already too late and I am still not feeling that I have found that special place where I can easily lose myself and emerge with a heap of satisfactorily exposed film. At last I stomp down a depression in the snow just of the trail and shoot Nantaisan as seen from between two white birch trees.

Wind blowing through trees at Yunoko

Not sure what they were doing but they were carrying what looked like oxygen tanks and making holes in the ice

From Lake Chuzenji, Nantaisan looks like a neat conical heap of a mountain. It doesn’t look very high because the lake is at about half the elevation of the mountain. Simply, the mountain fails to inspire me to climb it. However, from this other view at Senjogahara, I can see how the volcanic crater had burst apart with a stream of lava on one side. From this view the mountain looks exciting. I am starting to feel a strong urge to get up on Nantaisan; the long arm of one side of the broken crater looks totally accessible. By now I have also learned to distinguish which peak is the summit of Oku Shiranesan. This mountain too, of which I knew nothing prior to coming, is looking very attractive in its mantle of white. But a winter mountain is not something one climbs as a quick jaunt up and down. It’s a project that takes hours. It takes three times longer to climb a route in winter than it does in summer. That much I know is sensible calculating. I am not going to get up very far on Shiranesan, and Nantaisan was said to be a short but gruelling climb. I have to remind myself that this is a photography outing by my own choosing and that climbing will have to wait for another day.

Ice at Ryuzu Falls

I go to visit Ryuzu Falls and shoot ice formations on the rocks. It is engaging photography and I experiment with multiple exposures while turning the focusing ring. Sunlight glittering off the ice formations becomes constellations of light in my viewfinder. But it is while running up the steps to the next terrace of the falls that it occurs to me that I am getting exercise for the first time today. As my heart pumps I feel the joy of physical exercise. I don’t like exercising for the purpose of exercising but getting a workout while climbing is a pleasure. Again I look back to Nantaisan.

Ice at Chuzenjiko

The last hour of my visit is spent around Lake Chuzenji just driving and exploring and looking back at the mountains. The wind here is viciously Hibernian. Water from the lake is freezing on the dock pilings. I look at the two mountains and consider how it would be to climb one on one day and the other the next day over a weekend. If I were a single man without a family I could come back the next week or later in the month. But these two mountains will have to wait longer for me.

Shiranesan from Chuzenjiko

Once down from the spaghetti noodle road of Irohazaka, I catch glimpses of Nantaisan in my mirror. Whenever I completed a hike in the past, I would always look back at the mountain whose summit I had just visited as much as possible while walking or driving away. But there is no sense of accomplishment when I looked at Nantaisan. I had not been to the summit and I was unable to content myself by thinking that I had chosen to make this a photo outing. I wonder what views I might have captured from the summit of Nantai. This was more than just photography. I needed to feel I had at least attempted to climb a mountain. But why was that so important? Twenty years ago it was all about getting the photographs. In the last few years, however, it has become more about reaching the top. The mountain is a challenge to climb. It does not care one way or another about who climbs it. But for someone like me, a mountain – a least one of these minor league proportions – offers me a chance to challenge myself, to climb over my own internal mountains. To reach the summit means that I have beaten any voices inside me that whined about physical strain, exerted muscles, a heavy pack, or cold wind. Life is not a beach. It is a mountain. And every time I reach a summit I feel satisfaction with myself. “I did it again!”

But I didn’t do it this time and more than ever I feel I have to get back to Nantaisan and Shiranesan. And so it has me thinking – though I have always maintained that I don’t need to climb all 100 Hyakumeizan, there’s nothing wrong with trying to climb more. Climbing them gives me an opportunity to visit mountains outside of the Alps upon which I focused nearly all my photographic efforts in the last few years. I have climbed 31 of the 100 by now. Could I reach 50 by the age of 50? That would mean 2 or 3 mountains a year over the next 9 years. Totally possible. I could make a list and begin planning. I could still expect to get lots of photographs. Hmm… The big question is what would the wife think? And is it fair for me to think of solely my own personal ambitions while she stays home minding the often difficult-to-handle children? At least with photography I can say I am working. But then again, the money earned from photography has until now gone towards paying for photography. Could I possibly get some good stories to write about as a climber? I sure think so.

It seems that somehow over the recent years, I have grown beyond just hiking and photographing. Now I really need to get up mountains. I can’t look at an attractive mountain without thinking how I would get to the summit. Somehow a climber has grown within. I don’t need to play in the big leagues. Even the little league summits can help me enjoy life more.

Nantaisan from Chuzenjiko