I have always felt that the world is an erotic place… For me cities are enormous bodies of people’s desires. And as I search for my own desires within them, I slice into time, seeing the moment. That’s the kind of camera work I like. — Daido Moriyama
花鳥風月, Kachou Fuugetsu: “experience the beauty of nature, learn about yourself.”
A tangle of scrub pine, roots bone-white in the gunmetal blue of a Hokkaido dusk. Around us low, forested mountains rolled out to sea. In one direction, the Russian Far East; in another, Tokyo and main-island Japan. Only 1500 meters (4500 feet) above sea level, but the harsh climate of Hokkaido — Japan’s northernmost, frontier island — put us already well above treeline. Below, I knew, higuma brown bears, cousin to the grizzly back home in Canada, foraged among the bamboo grass for bedtime snacks. We stood in the triangular shadow of the summit as night crept up-slope, looked over a lightless wilderness, and marvelled at the irony of two city kids from Canada travelling halfway around the world, to one of the most urban and densely populated parts of Asia, to wind up alone on a mountaintop in bear country.
Grizzlies weren’t high on the list of things my admittedly eclectic research on Japan had prepared me for: a sporadic diet of Lone Wolf and Cub, Black Rain, Kurosawa movies, Akira, and Godzilla, had prepared me more for the 85 million-person conurbation on main-island Honshu, the Tokyo-Osaka megalopolis. Nature, for all I knew, was limited to the disciplined gardens of bonsai trees and ikebana flower arrangements, rather than big-N Nature red in tooth and claw.
But in fact, as I was quickly learning, this high tech, near-future, post-industrial nation still has plenty of countryside and even wilderness. In fact, in many parts of the archipelago it seems more like the people are squeezed into what arable land exists, mainly on the coasts, while large parts of the island interiors remain uninhabitable, and thus undeveloped.
Of course, Hokkaido is not main-island Honshu. In fact, that’s kind of the point:
Japan is a surprisingly big and diverse place. 6,000 islands hang pendulously from wintry Russian Far East, all the way to distant Taiwan in the semi-tropical south. Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku and to an extent Hokkaido and Okinawa make up the bulk of what most visitors think of as “Japan,” but there are literally thousands of smaller islands which unfurl into the East China Sea.
Some islands are heavily developed, such as main-island Honshu with the Tokyo-Osaka conurbation (though, as you will learn, there’s still a lot of wildness left even on Honshu); others still have untouched forests of antediluvian fern and palm — such as on Iriomote — and millennia-old cedar — on Yakushima — at their mountainous hearts.
It still feels like late summer/early autumn here in The Big Sushi, but in the mountains to the west of Tokyo koyo autumn foliage season is already burning up the forests, all Halloween reds and yellows. Last weekend R. and I took a (longish) four-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Senjojiki Cirque, on the slope of Komagatake, in Nagano prefecture’s Chuo Middle Alps for a long weekend of hiking and photography. We stayed at Hotel Senjojiki, a fancypants mountain hut/rustic hotel attached to the ropeway station at 2,662 meters: the highest ropeway station in Japan (and Japan has ropeway stations!). Continue reading “Japan Photo Hikes: Senjojiki Cirque”→
Autumn is settling over Tokyo, but in the town of Kogamane — four and a half by bus from Tokyo — in the highlands of Nagano prefecture, it’s in full flourish. Kogamane is at1660 meters (4,980 feet) elevation, and is home base to the cable car ropeway that carries hikers up to Senjojiki Cirque and the peaks of the Chuo Central Alps. But Senjojiki is another story… coming soon! Continue reading “Japan Photo Hikes: “Koyo,” Autumn Leaves at Kogamane, Nagano”→
The Kiyosato Kogen Highlands rise to the southern foot of the Yatsugatake volcanic mountains in Yamanashi prefecture, near the border with Nagano. Yamanashi is most famous, of course, as home to Mount Fuji, and on a clear day you can see Fujisan rising solitary behind a screen of mountains from the Southern Alps and Chichibu ranges. Continue reading “Japan Photo Gallery: Kiyosato Kogen Highlands”→