Posted by: tsubakuro | February 26, 2013

Back to the Central Alps

Here’s another old post from an old blog. This is about my climb on Kiso Komagatake and Houkendake in May of 2008.

Things didn’t look good. I had come four and a half hours by train to take the bus up to the cable car going up to the Senjojiki Cirque where I would begin my climb and now I was being told that due to the strong winds this morning the cable car wasn’t running and so the buses weren’t running up there either. All hope was not lost, however. The bus driver told me that in an hour and a half they might resume operations. I passed the time by exploring a forest nearby; enjoying some very creamy soft ice cream and watching the clouds clear away and reveal more of the mountainsides. At last I heard the cable car was running again and the bus would come by 12:40.

Up at the cirque it was still cloudy and visibility was limited to 50 metres. There was still thick snow everywhere. I had expected a little green to be showing but that would not happen for several weeks it seemed. After doing a test run in order to check the softness and iciness of the snow and how well I could find the route in the clouds, I began trudging through the snow, passing remnants of small avalanches. I couldn’t see any trail marker and only a faint trail of brown crusty snow told me where other climbers had gone perhaps the weekend before. I tried to follow that route and though I had never gone up this way before I had seen enough photos to have a good idea about where I was. But still I relied a lot on intuition.

Climbing out of a cirque is like climbing out of a bowl: as you near the top the route becomes steeper. Near the end each step requires kicking one’s feet in three or four times to ensure secure footing. A slip could mean sliding down several metres in heavy icy snow where it is easy to get stuck suddenly and flip over head first. I still haven’t bought the proper boots and crampons because of the great expense and my spring crampons hardly helped. But they helped enough. I finally made it to the rim of the cirque and as a sign appeared out of the mist I knew I had found the right route.

In the area were a few lodges, and all but one were closed for the season with snow still going up to the roof on the shady side. It didn’t matter so much because I was going to stay in my tent, but it was nice to have a place in which to sit quietly by a stove drying my socks and reading a book while the clouds remained obscuring the view outside. It was a windy night in the tent but I knew the weather was going to improve by the next morning.

At 4:00 AM I awoke and looked outside. Orange light was already visible and I could see the clouds had cleared off though some still lingered over distant mountain tops. Once I set out for the ridge to find a suitable viewpoint for a morning shoot I felt how strong the wind really was. Near the edge of the cirque it blew hardest and nearly knocked me off balance at times. The stream of melt water I had splashed through the day before was frozen hard enough I could walk on it. The morning looked good with the light, the snow and the ice but the wind was making it very hard to find a place to set up my gear. I finally found shelter over the lip of the cirque and behind some weathered granite boulders. Here I could shoot with my 35mm and medium format cameras in peace but I didn’t take out the large 4×5 camera. It was still too blustery.

Sunrise was not a blaze of colour but the subtle hues of pink and orange that fell on the snowy range were very beautiful and I was not disappointed. Later I photographed patterns in the ice of the melt water and got nearly blown off the mountain when I climbed up to a nearby ridge to check out the view. At one point I looked up and saw these wraith-like clouds blowing past. They twisted and contorted their shapes and made smooth arcs and curled claws. The clouds moved swiftly and it was all I could do to just run with the camera in my hand and keep up with the rapidly changing shapes. They were like a skin of cloud, a cob web, gas from a nebula. And then they were gone. Others came by some minutes later but not as impressive as the first show.

After that I climbed over the nearest peak called Nakadake and then finally found my way up to the top of Kiso Komagatake – 2,956 metres, the highest mountain in the Central Alps of Japan and one of Japan’s Hundred Famous Mountains. It was my 23rd of these hundred mountains and since 23 is my favourite number I dedicated the climb to my as yet unborn son. I won’t be climbing my 24th until after he is born.

There is a long and interesting history about Kiso Komagatake but I will not go into that here. After going back to my tent site I refreshed myself with food and drink and then climbed up the granite peak of Houkendake, the symbol of the Central Alps. Only one part was really dangerous – a steep chute of snow between the granite boulders. I made sure each step was secure in the snow before taking the next step. If I slipped here it would be a fast trip swooshing down the snow into a steep and rocky ravine tens of metres below. Life-threatening for certain. Since I didn’t have the right footwear I checked with each step how to slide if I did actually slip. While sliding in the snow one has a certain ability to manoeuvre and I wanted to know exactly what I would do in case of an emergency. I could twist and roll myself over to grab some rocks for example. While coming down Nakadake I actually came to an iced-over patch of steep snow where I knew I couldn’t keep my footing. So I let myself slide and directed an outstretched foot to a rope and iron pole sticking out of the snow. I was able to successfully break my slide before hitting my hip into a rock.

I made it across the snow without incident and climbed to the highest boulder on Houkendake, and there I relaxed and looked almost straight down to the cirque below. Far below were Komagane City and the Ina Valley. Across the valley and getting lost in the rising haze were the South Alps with Mt. Fuji sticking up in the background.

Then it was time to head back. I crossed the snow patch without incident and returned to my tent site. I packed and went down the steep snow slope of the cirque and returned to the hotel. And from there on it was all cable car, bus and three trains to get back home. The only really unpleasant part was getting on a train in Tokyo as it was rush hour and the trains were packed. I missed two trains because there was no room to get me and my gear on board. But I made it home and the shower sure was good.

Some of the photographs from this hike were included in my book The Japan Alps and are also in my photostream on Flickr.

Posted by: tsubakuro | May 16, 2012

Satellite Images of Glacial Cirques in the Japan Alps

As part three of my posts about the Japan Alps on Google Earth I planned to add imagess from the North/Kita Alps showing glacial cirques that were created during the last Ice Age.


In this image of Kurobegorodake (黒部五郎岳) in the western region of the Kita Alps, the mountain peak is just left of centre. From the peak and extending toward the centre of the frame is the remarkable cirque for which this mountain is famous.


This view of Tateyama (立山) has the spine of the mountain running in a top/bottom orientation through the centre of the image. On the right side of the ridge there are three very distinct cirques. A fourth one is just to the south, between Tateyama’s Oyama peak and Jododake. The west side of the mountain was also a bed for a great glacier and the alpine route – the winding black line – sits in the valley that the glacier was carving out. Snow fills a hanging valley that descends toward the Kurobe Dam in the bottom right.


Resembling Tateyama, Yakushidake (薬師岳) also bears three distinct cirques, along with other local evidence of glacial scouring on the west side.

Yari/Hotaka Range

Possibly the most famous of the glacial parks in the Japan Alps, the Yari/Hotaka Range is rife with glacial features. The matterhorn of Yarigatake looks a little pinkish in this image and is near the top centre. Glacial valleys can be seen descending from either side of the peak. The one on the right is Yarisawa – possibly the best example of a glacial valley in Japan, it is said. Two minor cirques appear heading south of Yari and on the east side of the ridge. The last two big cirques are below the Daikiretto col and the largest cirque in Japan – the Karasawa Cirque, which appears as a very prominent depression below the peak of Hotakadake, the main mountain massif in the lower part of the image.

Posted by: tsubakuro | February 22, 2012

The Japan Alps – a cursory glance from above part ii

Continuing with my collection of images copied from Google Earth, this second installment of images is of the Kita or North Alps of Japan.

The Kita Alps / The Hida Range 北アルプス/飛騨山脈

This is the overall view of the Kita Alps. The volcano of Norikuradake is at the bottom and Lake Suwa is off at the bottom right. Toyama City and the Sea of Japan are at the top left. Some of the main mountains are labeled in this image.

The Tateyama/Tsurugi Mountains and the Ushiro Tateyama Chain 立山・剣連峰と後立山連峰

The northern reach of the Kita Alps can be seen here with the Ushiro Tateyama mountain chain stretching up on the right. The Kurobe River flows west of this range and the Kurobe Dam is labeled. Tateyama and Tsurugi – both higher than any peak in the Ushiro Tateyama chain – sit watching over the Kurobe Dam and Kurobe Gorge.

The southern region of the Kita Alps 北アルプス南部

The southern region of the Kita Alps looks more convoluted than the northern region. Major peaks are labeled here, including the infamous Yarigatake. Also Kamikochi and the Karasawa Cirque are labeled.

The final installment will focus on glacial cirques of the Kita Alps.

Posted by: tsubakuro | February 7, 2012

The Japan Alps – a cursory glance from above

As a mountaineer in the Japan Alps, you have probably scrutinized the maps and are well familiar with the routes to the famous peaks. If you are a diehard fan you might have gone as far as to memorize every ravine, ridge, and summit and can write the Kanji and cite the elevations of all the major peaks as well as many minors ones too. I love maps because I love to see how real-life geographical landscapes are prepared as a visual language on paper and to compare that flat 2D world of limited chromatic range to the living landscape.

I also love aerial and satellite images because they are offer a third perspective that bridges map with reality. In February, I intend to post three installments of satellite images pilfered from GoogleEarth – for educational purposes! – to share with the curious and interested views of the three ranges of the Japan Alps to add that additional perspective to your memory banks.

Today’s first installment is the Chuo (Central) Alps – 中央アルプス – and the Minami (South) Alps – 南アルプス, also known as the Kiso Range and Akaishi Range respectively (木曽山脈、赤石山脈).

The Chuo Alps / Kiso Range - 中央アルプス / 木曽山脈

First, please notice the orientation of the image. The North/South orientation of the range has been rotated so that the range fits in diagonally in the image frame. This was so I could fit the entire range in the image while getting as close as possible.

Major peaks are marked with a red asterisk, the one for Houkendake (宝剣岳) slightly more distant from the text than the others because of text space limitations. The Senjoujiki Cirque (千畳敷カール) is also marked. The two Hyakumeizan (百名山) are Kisokomagatake (木曽駒ヶ岳) and Utsugidake (空木岳).

The Chuo Alps is the smallest of the three ranges and is located entirely within Nagano Prefecture. The highest point is at Kisokomagatake – 2,956 metres.

The Minami Alps / Akaishi Range Northern Region - 南アルプス / 赤石山脈の北部

This image of the northern region of the Minami Alps has the major peaks marked with a red asterisk. The Hou-ou Sanzan (鳳凰三山) is comprised of (from NW to SE) Jizoudake (地蔵岳) where the famous granite spire The Obelisk stands, Kannondake (観音岳) the highest peak of the three at 2,840 metres, and Yakushidake (薬師岳) with its famous granite tors. Kitadake (北岳) is the highest peak in the range the the second highest in Japan. Recent measurements put it at 3,193 metres.

Minami Alps / Akaishi Range southern region - 南アルプス / 赤石山脈の南部

Due to the presence of cloud in the satellite image, the image quality here is a little foggy. The main peaks as well as notable neighbours are marked here. One glaring omission from the Minami Alps images is Shiomidake (塩見岳), which is north of this image and just south of the previous image. It seems I zoomed and saved too hastily to notice that this Hyakumeizan was cut out of both pictures.

Chuo Alps and Minami Alps with tectonic lines - 中央アルプス、南アルプスと糸魚川静岡構造線/中央構造線の一部

Here is the grand view including both the Chuo and Minami Alps. Several other geographical landmarks are marked, including Lake Suwa (諏訪湖), Fujisan, Kinpusan (金峰山) of the Kai Okutama Chichibu Mountains, the mountains of Yatsugatake (八ヶ岳), and the volcanoes of Ontakesan (御嶽山) and Norikuradake (乗鞍岳).

The red lines indicate the tectonic lines of the Itoigawa/Shizuoka Tectonic Line (main and right) and the Chuo Tectonic Line (left). The Itoigawa/Shizuoka Tectonic Line (糸魚川静岡構造線)drawn in by hand here by me, veers a little too far to the east. According to the map on Wikipedia, the line cuts in closer to the west. I had assumed the tectonic line followed the river as many of them do in Japan.

The Chuo Tectonic Line (中央構造) here is only shown where it cuts through the Tenryu River (天竜川)  Valley and separates the Chuo Alps from the Minami Alps. Looking at the map on Wikipedia, we can see the tectonic line cuts across much of the Japanese Archipelago.

One interesting consideration I have had concerning average elevation of the three ranges and the relationship to tectonic lines is that, in general, the Kita Alps have more mountains over 2,900 metres and their range (the range of the 2,900-metre plus peaks) covers a greater surface area than the Chuo and Minami Alps. The Chuo Alps have only two peaks over 2,900 metres (three including Nakadake of Kisokomagatake) and the range of 2,900-metre plus peaks in the Minami Alps is limited to the central range and does not extend to any flanking ranges as in the Kita Alps. Is this because the mountain building forces in the Kita Alps were concentrated along only one tectonic line – the Itoigawa/Shizuoka – while the forces were exerted over two tectonic lines in the south, hence the formation of two separate ranges? The Minami Alps cover the greatest surface area but are comprised of many lower mountains. Were it not for the Chuo Tectonic Line, would the Minami Alps have developed with more 2,900-metre plus peaks? Would they have sustained further glaciation than they have? Would there have been a “Minami Yari”?

Interesting enough to ponder, however one should keep in mind that the Minami Alps are said to both have been higher during the last glacial period and still rising as orogeny – the process of mountain building – does its work. Over the course of geologic time, the Minami Alps may well grow in higher.

All images from Google Earth. Colour slightly saturation slightly increased and geographic landmark names added by me. The images here are for educational purposes only.

Posted by: tsubakuro | January 17, 2012

Climbing into the Storm

Recently I have not been posting much about the Japan Alps, only updates on what is happening with the photographs. Last night I once again looked over some old posts from another blog site where I used to post and I found this story. This dates back to July, 2008.

Kitadake is Japan’s second highest mountain – 3,193 metres and a full 583 metres lower than Mt. Fuji. I had been to the summit once before but this time my plan was to shoot scenes of the mountain from the south side, from a mountain called Notoridake. My original idea was to climb up Notori and cross the ridge to Ainodake and then descend by Kitadake. But the hike from below Notori was long and I wouldn’t be able to get there early enough to reach the campsite on the ridge before dark. So I decided to go up by Kitadake and cross over to Notori and descend. This plan was later changed to just going over to Notori and coming back by Kita.

I went with my friend, Mr. B. We left by train early Saturday morning and went to Kofu City where we transferred to a bus and reached the trailhead around noon. It was a hot, sunny day though the top of Kitadake was hidden away in a soft crown of clouds. We joined several groups of hikers on the trail. Some groups were only three or four people large; some were over 20 people large. My pack was big and heavy, as always, and every time we passed people there were many comments about my pack. Especially since there were many women over 55 in those groups (they were carrying day packs and heading up to the nearest lodge) there was a lot of chitter chatter and exclamations when they saw my pack. In truth, though I often go with a 25 or 30 kg pack, this time I was feeling the weight more than usual.

When we reached the first lodge I was welcomed with applause. Mr. B had gone ahead of me and was sitting with four men, the youngest just under 60 years of age, and having a beer. Though we still had more climbing to do I was glad to take a rest for a bit and I too hoisted a can of draught beer. I’ll tell you, beer never tastes better than after a couple of hours of grueling hot exercise.

The other hikers were staying at the lodge and were already in party mode. At one table they were hitting the sake and one man insisted he had to try to carry my bag. Like a drunken clown he strained and groaned and laughed out loud. A woman at the same table looked at the scars on Mr. B’s legs and asked about them. I told her he likes skateboarding, snowboarding and motocross. She gave him an admonishing look like a mother would her son. I said he liked outdoor activities. She said even outdoor activities have limits. When we loaded up to continue up to the ridge, the woman looked at us like a mother seeing her grown sons off on some potentially dangerous journey and told us over and over to be careful.

From here the climb really wore me down. I didn’t know but one of my straps had lengthened itself and my pack was not evenly sitting on my shoulders. I developed a very painful backache and had to stop many times. Clouds had come in and thunder boomed in the far distance. I nearly gave up once but Mr. B kept encouraging me and finally helped by taking my tripod, which was about 3kg. At last we made the ridge. High overhead a few clear openings in the clouds revealed huge billowy ships of cumulus clouds catching the orange rays of sunset. There was a wind blowing but no rain fell. Thunder continued far off and sounded like a heavy drawer being closed inside a mattress.

We reached camp after dark and set up in the chill wind, got inside the tent and changed into dry clothes and heated up water for dinner. Outside was dark but flashes of distant lightning frequently added illumination. We looked outside and saw a gigantic white mushroom over the Kofu Basin emerging ominously from the darkness with each pulsing glow from inside the cloud.

Mr. B woke me up saying the sun was coming up. A dark orange ember stretched across the horizon. It was still 45 minutes before sunrise and ten minutes before my alarm was going to go off. We ate, dressed for the chilly wind outside and went out to photograph the dawn. One man near me was having an epiphany. “The sun has come up! The world has turned once again!” He clapped his hands together in what would have seemed like mock prayer because of the big grin on his face but I think he was serious. Had this been sunset I might have taken him for drunk. But he was simply expressing his appreciation for the beauty of a sunrise seen from a mountain. I have seen a number of sunsets on mountains but I have never seen someone so intoxicated by a sunrise before, so he actually caught my attention more than the sunrise.

Mr. B and I finished our shoot and began the climb up to the summit of Kitadake. The clouds came in and soon we were walking in fog. Fortunately, as we stayed on the summit with some 30 other people, the clouds cleared off and once again we could see the neighbouring mountains. I was geared up to continue to Ainodake. Mr. B followed me down from Kita, but I got the impression he had accomplished his goal as was content to stay longer on the summit and then go back. He had to go that day. I still had one more night.

We hadn’t gone far up the path toward Ainodake when Mr. B said he was tired and would turn back now. We parted ways and I continued climbing. Clouds came in and I took some time to photograph wildflowers. The weather wasn’t improving. Ten minutes from the summit of Ainodake I stopped for lunch and looked at the grey mist. The sake party members passed and greeted me. I decided not to go to the summit of Ainodake. I had been there before and this time I would just be standing in the clouds. Notoridake would be out of view. I went back towards Kitadake and stopped by the lodge for a rest.

After 3 o’clock I decided to give up on the weather. I started the hour-long haul back up to the summit of Kita, which I had to cross to reach my tent on the other side. The rain started when I was about 20 minutes from the summit. I had a pack cover and a jacket, but the jacket was not meant for pouring rain and soaked through within minutes. Hail fell and thunder boomed near. I had heard that on mountains lightning can actually travel uphill. The sky flashed and thunder came with a tearing sound, a sign that the strikes were not so far away anymore.

I realized my predicament. Here I was climbing up into a thunderstorm. Lighting strikes higher objects and I was about to reach the summit of the second highest object in the whole country with a thunderstorm sitting right on top! I thought about seeking shelter under a large rock until the worst had passed but there were no large rocks with a sheltering dry space below and the wind was blowing the rain horizontally anyway. Also I was still warm because I was moving. If I stopped I would start to feel cold and that could lead to hypothermia. Another concern was that in this strong wind my tent might not stay put. The ground was too rocky to get the tent pegs in securely and so Mr. B had tied the strings on the fly to large rocks. I didn’t trust them in this wind, however.

So I climbed up and lightning continued to flash. I knew I had only one option and that was to keep going. I thought about my wife and child and hoped God wouldn’t think it appropriate to strike me down with lightning now. Even if a lightning strike didn’t kill me it could leave me unconscious or immobilized and I might die of hypothermia. But I crossed the summit unscathed and made the slippery journey down the other side back to camp.

The rain abated and the lightning moved on. I came back to camp at last, a bedraggled mess, and saw my tent on its side and struggling to hold on to (or break free from) the last of its tethers. I rushed over and struggled to get my pack off and thrown inside to weigh down the tent. Everything was wet from rain blowing in through the bottom and dirty from the dust that got everywhere in the dry weather. I managed to get things in order and dried myself with a towel I had brought. Thankfully I had had the foresight to put my dry clothes in a plastic bag and I could change right away. I then heated water and had cup pasta. Feeling better I went out and re-secured the tent, then slid into my sleeping bag and waited for dawn. I hoped for a sunny day so I could dry my things before heading down.

The moon came out at night but dawn brought more fog. I waited until some time after seven and then finally decided it would be better to just start heading back. I ate and packed up camp, the wind still trying to send my tent off into the sky. I was ten minutes down the trail when the rain began again. My clothes from the day before were already soaked through and packed away. Now my dry clothes were getting wet. My rain pants held out the best. It was nearly an hour before I felt my legs damp.

The route down was steep and made more difficult by the rain. Rocks and earth became slippery and unstable. I had to go down not only with groups of other people but also had to step aside for groups of people coming up, sometimes as many as 20 people in a group. The rain went on and off. Whenever I thought, “Well, at least the rain stopped now,” it would start again. Some people had umbrellas and stood at the side of the trail, waiting. I managed a smile and looked at the situation lightly. I was soaked. There was nothing I could do but continue down the trail. There had been patches of sunlight in the valley below when I first stated out but they were replaced by mist and rain. The trees looked beautiful. A kind of birch with bark peeling back to show a caramel colour reached their branches into the mist. All leaves glowed soothingly green and buttercup-like flowers made yellow spots in the fresh verdure. Further below in the valley I found rushing streams, waterfalls, shiny boulders with striated patterns sitting in roiling foam, and the sweet heady scent of a healthy, damp, oxygen-producing forest. It was tempting to stop for photos but the rain always threatened to start again soon. It did stop at last and in the final hour of my descent I began to dry off a little.

Today, two days after coming back, my legs still ache and walking isn’t easy. I haven’t felt this sore for a long time. Usually hiking a few times a year prevents me from having stiff legs but this time it’s like I haven’t hit the trails for a year. Maybe my pack was too heavy. I am off for five days next month. I had better check the weight of my pack before I go. And I should not take distant thunder so lightly.

Posted by: tsubakuro | November 17, 2011

Yama-to-Keikoku Again!

Big news! I was at the platform the other night, waiting to catch the train home, when I checked my email on my phone and found a message that gave me quivers of excitement.

The staff member at Yama-to-Keikoku (山と溪谷) magazine who had looked after my book and photos was writing to me. He first apologized for the delay in returned my submission (good because I was getting worried about it). He then went on to explain about an annual publication that comes out in January that is a guide book to mountaineering supply shops, mountain huts and lodges, and other practical things for mountaineering in Japan. It’s 350 pages of information.

I could already guess where this was heading but next came the part I was hoping to read. Of the photographs I sent them from my Japan Alps book they were thinking to use five of them for six pages. Each issue begins with a portfolio of photographs by one photographer and for 2012 they wanted to use my works. Fantastic!

To get into the pages of YamaKei has been one of those major accomplishments towards which I have been striving and now they have come to ask me for permission to use my photographs. Indeed, this is something to be thrilled about!

Posted by: tsubakuro | October 5, 2011

Yama-to-Keikoku and a year has passed

Last week I called the famous Japanese mountaineering magazine, Yama-to-Keikoku (山と溪谷 Mountains and Canyons) to ask about my book, The Japan Alps, which I sent to them for review back in February. I was told the book was mentioned in their May issue, a brief introduction to the book of barely three sentences, but a mention (with a B&W reproduction of the cover) nonetheless in a magazine of such esteem and prestige.

It was just over a year ago when I put the book up for sale in the Blurb bookstore and shortly after that time I looked at the book dozens of times, the memories of making the book with all my grand intentions (not all of them realized) and the adventures I experienced during my photographic pursuits still fresh. Then I sold all but two copies and those two were sent off – one to YamaKei and one to a publisher of photo art books along with my proposal for the project.

The book proposal was returned (after spending eight months in the courier’s warehouse and an afternoon with the publisher) and now I have one copy of my book at home. This morning I took a few moments to just look through it and see what I thought, without reading any of the text. It’s has been almost a year and a half since my last exploits in the Japan Alps and time and other activities have removed me from the direct memories of putting together the book. I tried to look at the book from an outside perspective. How do the photos look? What does this book say visually about a landscape that I made dear to me? Is this an attractive photo art book? I adopted the role of an armchair traveler or someone with an interest in the Japan Alps but without great familiarity.

The cover I have always enjoyed. Snowy, rugged mountains with soft curves of snow in the foreground, a bedding of cotton clouds below the peaks and the jagged spire of Yarigatake in the far distance. The print quality is very good too.

Turning to the first photograph inside however, there is a noticeable drop in the print quality. The glossy sharp edges and clear colours are softened and muted slightly. It’s a bit like listening to a modern digital recording and then putting on an album from the sixties. The quality of the reproduction just can’t compare. But after turning the pages a few more times the lower print quality – like the lower sound quality of a sixties album – becomes all but forgotten as the photographs (or music) become more important in what they have to say.

Most of the photographs came out alright and the light and colours and mood are preserved very well. Once the journey through the seasons in the Alps is underway, there is much wonder to enjoy and appreciate. Vast mountain scenes, delicate portraits of nature, and scenes capturing the enormity and grandeur of the high peaks begin to weave out a tale of alpine splendor. There are the steep fluted cliffs of Kashima Yarigatake that recall Himalayan mountains. There is Hotakadake towering over the Azusa River at Kamikochi. There are intimate views of alpine flora and details of snow and rock and ice. There are rocky peaks glowing orange in the alpine glow and cloud seas filling the valleys below illuminated crags. And there are wide-angle views capturing glacial cirques and steep cliffs with peaks marching off into the distance. Sometimes I can see the influences of Canadian photographers Freeman Patterson and Janis A. Kraulis in the photographs. Sometimes the ghost of Eliot Porter has come to whisper. Other scenes echo the images of modern day Japanese photographers. By the time the final pages are turned and the last photograph is viewed, I feel I have successfully told a visually satisfying introductory story to the Japan Alps.

Of course the project was never completed to my designs. I had at least seven more hikes planned that I have yet to make. Some important views were not captured due to weather being uncooperative and on one outing my timing left me tramping through the trees on both days as two of the finest displays of alpine glow teased me through the tight stand of silhouetted tree trunks. Ideally, this would have been a 160-page book with views from several more locations and during specific seasons included. But for those who are not closely acquainted with the Japan Alps, I think this book has much to say and will surely inspire.

It’s a very nice book, if I do say so myself. However, the quest for a quality art book publication will continue.

Posted by: tsubakuro | September 22, 2011

Read All About It

Sean McIntyre, a reporter for a paper on Saltspring Island, BC found out about my book The Japan Alps and requested a copy to write about for the Alpine Club of Canada’s journal. A year later nothing happened with his piece so he moved it along to this site and a feature post was written. Though not all the facts are 100% accurate, any publicity is welcome and I appreciate him taking such an interest in the book.

The Campsite Blog

A short while ago a young American woman coming to Japan requested me to write something about a favourite place in Japan. Naturally I wrote about the Japan Alps and she posted my bit on her site and mention my book as well. You can read what I wrote and her blog posts here.


Posted by: tsubakuro | July 15, 2011

The Japan Alps in Gakujin?

In the September issue of Gakujin magazine (on sale August 12th), there will be a four page piece about why I stayed in Japan after the great earthquake and subsequent nuclear power plant crisis. One of the reasons mentioned will be my self-published book on the Japan Alps and that I want to continue promoting the book and photographing in the Japan Alps. Several photos from the book will accompany the text. Though no link will be provided to, I am pleased to know that my mention of the book will be included.

Posted by: tsubakuro | February 15, 2011

The Englishman and the Beer Hunter

I found a collection of posts about my hikes in the Japan Alps that I had originally posted on another blog site a couple of years before coming to wordpress. Here’s an amusing anecdote from my traverse of Warusawadake/Akaishidake in the Minami Alps in the summer of 2008.


At the Arakawa-Nakadake shelter I decided to spend the night there. I had that bus ticket thing I needed to use up and since there was no tent site, the weather was looking like it could bring a thundershower, and I might have a good view first thing in the morning, I chose to stay there.

I met a guy who was originally from England, had worked in Sydney, Australia for a company there for a couple of years, was then transferred to the company’s Tokyo branch and had been living in Tokyo for the last four years. He was doing what I had only dreamed of doing – he was crossing from the Japan Sea to the Pacific Ocean on foot by following the ranges of the Alps. I rarely speak to other foreigners in Japan and so here was a chance for me to find out what someone else was up to. He was a decent and pleasant person to talk to though he was not staying and planned to hit the trail again soon.

Inside the shelter was a Japanese man who was there with his son who looked about 12. The man spoke some English and came out red-faced from the beers he had been drinking and wearing a big friendly smile. He had been talking to the Englishman and now saw his chance to join the conversation of two native English speakers.

Japanese man (to me) – Where are you from?

Me – I’m from Canada.

JM – Oh, Canada! I envy you. Yes. Skiing, Swimming. Simultaneous.

Me – Skiing and swimming simultaneously? I don’t think that’s possible.

JM – Yes, skiing, swimming. Simultaneous in Canada.

Me – I think that’s water-skiing.

Englishman – (laughs)

JM – Water-ski? You?

Me – No, I just climb mountains. (back to my conversation with EM) So, do you ever post any photos on the Net?

EM – Well, I have a Web site I modified since I first made it 25 years ago when the Web was young…

JM – Twenty-five years?!

Me – Cool. (noticing his bear bell) Have you ever seen any bears in Japan?

EM – Yes, actually. I saw one a couple of weeks ago when I was staying at a lodge near Asahi Dake…

JM – Bear? In Canada you have big bear! Grizzly! Too many grizzly in Canada.

EM – (ignoring the man) Yes, I was having lunch and I heard a sound in the bushes outside. I thought someone was coming so I called out, ‘hello, hello,’ and then this big, furry thing came bounding past the hut and leapt into the bushes. I think it was a bear. I only really saw the backside as it ran into the bush. I’m not sure because I have only seen photos on the front of a bear – you know, you usually don’t see photos of the backside.

Me – (laughing with him) Right.

JM – Your pack is America. Made in America. Osprey. American company.

EM – Oh, uh, yes, right.

Me – Your jacket is Canadian though. How is it?

EM – Yes, actually, it’s very good.

JM – Canada? Your jacket, Canada?

Me – Yes. Apteryx. It’s a Vancouver-based company, I think.

JM – Vancouver. Skiing, swimming. Simultaneous.

The Englishman was being very polite but clearly getting annoyed by the constant interruptions. We exchanged email addresses and soon he was off.

Later I was looking at the scenery wondering if the clouds would let any views show through when I passed the red-faced smiling man again. He was talking with a woman and another man. When he saw me he spoke.

“Are you happy I am here?”

I wanted to say, ‘actually no, I find you a little annoying,’ but I think he hadn’t phrased his question properly.

Me – Do you mean, ‘am I happy to be here?’

JM – Yes. Do you understand what I say?

Me – Yes. I am happy to be here.

JM – We are family. (gesturing to the others)

Me – (looking confused, knowing they were not his family) Oh, I see. We are all mountain people, so we are family.

The woman next to me had remained silent but she nodded like she understood what I had said. The man looked confused now. The smile dropped from his eyes but remained on his face.

JM – You see bear in Canada?

Me – Yes, I have seen a black bear three times but never a grizzly.

JM – You see grizzly? Too many grizzly in Canada.

Me – No, I saw a black bear. They are smaller, like a very big dog.

JM – Big dog?

Me – Yes. I saw them all from the roadside. They were beside the highway.

JM – Really? Was the bear your family?

I could not understand what he was getting at. I just looked at him and said, “How many beers have you had to drink?” The woman beside me laughed. The man, still smiling, answered, “Two.”

Me – No, of course the bear was not my family.

JM – Do you understand what I am saying?


The story ends here. And a photo from Arakawa-Higashidake looking to Arakawa-Nakadake is here.

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