Tag Archives: photography in Japan

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.

IF

A tumulus at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City

Winter in Yakushima – Chapter One: Getting Back There

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Location: Yakushima – Day Three (The Goshinzan Festival)

She stood with cell phone in hand, head down and hair over her face, in the shade of the concrete wall that lined the mouth of the river like braces meant to keep the shoreline straight. The shadows of Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Ohkawa stretched across the street, reaching over to the shrine from which the sacred water was to be borne forth and carried to the festival some several hundred metres away. They stood on the concrete wall busily recording the late afternoon sun as it dipped low over the sea. The heat from the direct light was still uncomfortably strong, though some clouds were beginning to fill the western sky. I tossed a glance at the young woman who stood transfixed to her phone. She seemed to completely ignore the camera and sound man who were filming scenery for possible fill in spots on the program. As for the lone foreigner, she looked my way once, and I turned toward the shrine, camera in hand, and went to seek some of those long evening shadows.

IF

After some quiet time of waiting, a truck pulled up and the men in white from the mountains came out. Mr. Hatanaka spoke with his contact from the shrine. Soon the parade of Shinto robes emerged from the shrine, one person bearing the heavy wooden container filled with the sacred water from the mountain. There was some hasty direction given to me to follow the men. At one point, I had to ask someone about the festival, but this idea seemed hastily put together as it wasn’t clear at first when I should ask. The men paused by a grove of trees along the seashore and it seemed some rite was being performed. Nothing was explained to me. Only when the men continued on their way was I given the signal to follow and shoot pictures. Sometimes they stopped or paused and I was ahead. Other times I was following them like a stray dog hoping to catch a dropped morsel. What I had been told would happen and what ultimately happened didn’t quite match up. I just kept an eye on Mr. Hatanaka for direction.

IF

At the festival site drums were already being beaten. People milled about a grassy field which appeared to be part of some seaside park. A tower was erected in the middle and adorned with red and white bands of cloth. Long flags on bamboo poles indicated that this was the Goshinzan festival, which is held here in Miyanoura Town every summer when typhoons and foul weather leave the town alone. Tables had been set up in a square shape with one end open so that the Shinto priest could stand in the middle. Fruit and other items – presumably there for the rites – were placed on the tables. The water was brought in and the young men lined up near the tables while the elder priest entered the open square. Many officials sat facing the tables, the priest with his back to them. It looked like it was meant to be formal but there was an air of festivity, people laughing and exchanging remarks with smiles on their faces.

IF

I looked around and shot scenes that I thought might be of some importance. The young woman with the cell phone passed by with a tall boyfriend in tow. I guess she had been waiting for him to show up. Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Ohkawa were capturing scenes of the festival while Mr. Uzui stood by with Mr. Hatanaka. After some scrolls of paper had been read and some brief speeches made, it was time to get to the main phase of the festival. Once again it was show time.

IF

The boys in white had ascended to the tower platform and the sacred water was brought up. Branches were dipped in the water and then waved over the expectant crowd. People gathered close to receive a few drops of precious cleansing mountain water. The water gives long life to the trees of Yakushima and so it is believed that if the townsfolk get a few drops they too will live and long and healthy life. I had to get sprayed a little too and then explain to the camera about it.

Next up was a giant fire starter. In the centre of the tower was a thick pole that stood vertically and was wrapped with a long rope. The ends of the rope were stretched out with one end to the sea and the other end to the mountains. Elementary school students and anyone else interested in participating lined up along the rope and picked it up. I came in on the mountain side between some younger students and older students. Someone on the tower called “Umi ike!” and all us mountain people let the rope go slack and walked toward the tower as the umi side pulled on the rope. “Yama ike!” was the cue for us yama side folks to grab the rope and haul as hard as we could toward the mountains. This pulling from side to side caused the centre pole to rotate this way and that, essentially working like a gigantic spinning stick for starting a fire. Whether or not this traditional activity was actually effective at starting a fire I do not know. But eventually the rope could be dropped and someone held up a torch and lit other torches held by the same young men in Shinto robes.

When our tug-of-war fire starter had ended, many students turned to say, “hello,” to me, some of them having already pointed out to their friends that an “Amerika-jin” was there. I haven’t been called an American by Japanese children for many years. It seems around Saitama most kids know that a white man does not necessarily equate an American citizen. In that way, Yakushima really was off the beaten track. I shook hands with the children and said, “Nice to meet you,” and “Good job.” This caused a small stampede as many of my rope-pulling yama team mates joined the crush for a handshake with the foreigner. It was fun and I was glad to be able to speak a few words of English to the kids who tried to repeat my two phrases.

IF

The final stage of the event was the beach bonfire. Archers from the local archery circle took turns shooting flaming arrows at a large white sheet that had been doused with flammable liquid. The sheet was in the centre of a house-shaped pile of wood that was topped with pine boughs. The arrows were meant to ignite the sheet and start the wood pile burning. This was the traditional way to welcome the gods of the mountains to the seaside town in hopes that they would bestow good favour upon the townsfolk.

Each of the three archers shot four arrows and two arrows struck their targets. Unfortunately, the sheet did not ignite, and two robed men were sent over with torches to get the fire started. Drums beat in the background as the flames spread and grew, at last heating the wood to combustible temperature. The fire would burn until dawn I was told. We were not planning to stay that late, however. We’d been up since 3:30 and had been on the move most of the day. It was time to return to the hotel and get some much needed rest.

IF

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

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

Not Much to Wrap Up This Year

For the last three months now, I have been trying to come up with a decent next post. I wanted to write about something positive for my present situation, a kind of “keeping the spirit alive” post. This year has been one of slowing cutting back and going into a kind of hibernation. What things I gave up last year – memberships in photo associations, magazine subscriptions, being on a submission list – were augmented further this year as my activity in photography shrank to even lesser levels. In a way, it is difficult to avoid thoughts such as, “I used to climb and photograph mountains,” or “In my 30’s, I traveled, photographed, and was regularly published.” I have to keep reminding myself that this period of low activity is only temporary and that within a year or two I will slowly rebuild my busy-ness.

So, let me consider what the year 2012 brought me in positive respects. I managed at least two day trip outings this year and climbed my 32nd “Hyakumeizan”. I also made time here and there to get out and shoot local scenery around Konosu/Gyoda/Kumagaya, Ina Town, and Higashi Matsuyama in Saitama. These short outings afforded me the opportunity to simply enjoy using my camera and spending sometime with nothing more to do than enjoy a walk in fresh air with charming scenery around. I have yet to compile enough images for any kind of project, however, it has given me a purpose to continue photographing even in areas close to where I live and work.

Country road in Higashi Matsuyama

Country road in Higashi Matsuyama

Though I sent out only one submission this year and it was returned unpublished, I still managed to get in print in three publications. Fuji Film Japan used an image of mine for the cover of their magazine, an image that was picked out from the stock agency that has many of my images. And Yama-to-Keikoku magazine ran a few of my images in a magazine supplement in January and then asked me to participate in a discussion which was later published in September. I still have one submission out there and I am hoping for positive results.

Roadside garden, Higashi Matsuyama

Roadside garden, Higashi Matsuyama

Finally, a big thanks to the Kakizawa Clinic in Kumagaya for using my photographs as decoration in the clinic. Every three months a new selection of five images is chosen and displayed and thanks to them I have maintained at least a meager income.

I guess one thing that has helped with regards to “keeping the spirit alive” this year was the purchase of a DSLR. With this I have been able to continue enjoying photography without having to consider the cost of film. Though I still prefer the colour of film, I have taken the liberty of experimenting more with the camera again and that has been fun.

Yellow forest blur, Ageo

Yellow forest blur, Ageo

It’s hard to think clearly about my plans for next year. I always prepare a list around the New Year and a rough schedule which gets revised once in the summer and once again in October. I have a list already started and one of the top priorities is to push my manager (busy as she always is) to correct my write-ups about foreigners who love climbing mountains in Japan. I had so thought it could be all done by the end of the summer but various troubles cropped up at work this year, including an employee off in hospital for a month, and even when I leave work after 10 P.M. she is sometimes still there. So I hesitate to ask her to get started on checking over my Japanese.

So, here’s where 2012 ends on this blog. I hope to be back in January with a report about a day trip to Harunasan in Gunma and who knows what else.

Mound and Moat, Sakitama Burial Mounds, Gyoda

Mound and Moat, Sakitama Burial Mounds, Gyoda

Rock detail, near Nagatoro

Rock detail, near Nagatoro

Morning in Higashi Matsuyama

Morning in Higashi Matsuyama

 

 

A New Camera – part two

Again, why the Sony? Minolta was always known as the camera manufacturer for serious amateurs. I could never afford the professional Nikons and Canons. I was never in a position to be that kind of professional. Nevertheless, my Minolta photographs were getting published. Many years ago, renowned Canadian photographer, Sherman Hines gave a presentation at Whistler, British Columbia. He showed a collection of slides which impressed his audience. Then he told them that all the photographs had been captured with a compact camera. The magic was not entirely in the camera but in the photographer’s ability to shoot and his/her understanding of the camera. If you know how to use your camera, know what it can do for you and what it can’t, you will be able to produce great images. With the 350’s 14.2 megapix I knew the file size was large enough. The reviews gave a lot of praise to this camera, and my experience with a good compact digital camera had already taught me a lot about histograms and white balance. I figured that if I was later going to be in a position where I could afford something much higher up the line then it wouldn’t be much of a waste to spend the 22,980 yen now, a small price to pay (in comparison) for acquiring DSLR freedom for the time being. The one nagging fact that remained was that I was buying a camera that was already four years old. My camera was obsolete before I ever held it. And yet is it really? If I can produce publishable images with it, then I see no problem.

So, where does this leave my film camera collection? The Maxxum 7000 has been in retirement for 11 years now. The 807 is 12 years old and still working. The medium format cameras have given me a bit of grief from time to time (same exposure as with the 35mm but the 120 slide is darker – shutter speeds need adjustment; maximum depth-of-field employed but the middle is out of focus – film not sitting flat over the plate). These two I have often considered selling, but what I really want is the Pentax 645 NII – a film camera! The 4×5 is still the beast producing either stunning works or failed images with the focus not quite right (an image from Oku Nikko that I had great hopes for sending to Yama-to-Keikoku for the 2013 calendar submission call has turned out to have focusing issues).

In a way, it would be easy to leave this gang on the shelf for now and just concentrate on getting good digital captures. As I stuffed my remaining film stock – 35mm, 120 format, 4×5 sheet film – into the freezer to protect it from the rising temperatures of April, I thought that it might be better if I still tried to use it during the next two or three outings. But knowing me, I might very well just expose it without proper care just to get it out of the way and spend more time working the DSLR. That wouldn’t be right. As a serious photographer I should consider any film exposure in a professional manner, with the idea that each exposure might just be worthy of a magazine, book, or calendar page. Just as the 4×5 has joined the 35mm on outings and received due care and attention, so should any of these cameras when they join the DSLR. Or it’s also possible that I might concentrate on the film cameras and neglect the digital camera. It’s up to me to be sure that I use my equipment to its best potential no matter how frequently or infrequently I intend to use it.

One idea is to take a film camera along on any outings and use the digital one for exploring subjects and compositions and once a really pleasing one has been found, bring out the film camera to capture it too. I have done this with my compact digital camera on a couple of occasions where I found inspiration to shoot with film while seeing what was possible with the compact camera. Another thing I have already been doing is taking the camera with me to work and shooting when I have time. Wednesdays are best because I have a 3-hour break during which time I make the 50-minute walk from a kindergarten through a rural area to my main school. I could always have brought my 35mm film camera for shooting; however, since I almost always shoot Velvia 50 that would mean bringing the tripod and adding bulk to my load to carry around for the day. One big advantage to using the DSLR is that I can make hand-held exposures more easily since I not only have the image stabilizer built in but I can also adjust the ISO at any time to 200 or 400 and still get very good results. That means on a bright day I can easily pass my walk back by leisurely shooting macro shots of roadside and field-side nature. There is also a marshy area along the way with turtles, frogs and waterfowl. I may still yet be able to produce material for my stock agency.

Now I am looking forward to my first hike with this camera. You can bet the film cameras – at least one if not two – will be part of the fun. But I want to try using the Sony alpha 350 on a tripod and with filters, just like my film cameras.

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

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.