Tag Archives: mountains of Japan

Winter in Yakushima – Chapter One: Getting Back There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.

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

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.