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.


  1. Hi Peter. First came across your work when I saw a pic of Shiraito no Taki whilst looking for waterfalls in Japan on the net and was very impressed. Got your book through the mail from Blurb earlier this week after reading about it in Gakujin. Having read the above post, I think I understand your sentiments. Print quality is not as high as say locally released photos such as the Tsubakuro one released this year by Mainichi Shinbun. Nonetheless I’m still a very happy owner. It’s great that it covers so many different peaks. Most Japanese mountain photo books seem to focus only on a particular mountain or sub-range. I enjoyed the writing as well. It was well researched, thoughtful and quite personal. However I was curious about one thing re the book, there was a lack of wild animals featured? Also a more general question, do you know why most mountains shops in Tokyo such as ICI Jimbocho don’t sell mountain photo books (such as yours)?

    • Warren, first let me express a heartfelt thank you for not only your generous and encouraging words but also for having enough interest in my book to splash out for the costly shipping fee. Though the print quality is below the standards I have desired for my photographs, I am pleased that you are satisfied to own the book, nonetheless. Thanks to that article in Gakujin I have received three messages regarding my photography (yes, only three but I am greatly appreciative of each one). So, I feel there has been more reward to publication than the usual personal gratification and monetary benefit.

      Yes, that Tsubakuro book (perhaps the third on that mountain I have seen in the last 12 years) is beautiful, and now that you mentioned Mainichi Shinbun I think I should target them next with my proposal. My Blurb book was created in part because I love making books and showcasing my work but more importantly as a vehicle for promoting the idea I have been tossing at publishers since 2008 (five or six companies have received my proposal, all have politely returned it). Yes, that many books focus on one mountain or range was one reason why I chose to tackle all three ranges. I have seen perhaps only one or two books that have attempted to feature all three ranges. I also felt the relative homogeneity of the three ranges (being uplift ranges along a particular tectonic line, or pair of lines given that there is a secondary one between the Minami and Chuo Alps) and there common history where the Alpine Club of Japan was concerned was a good reason to create a book for the trio. The research is always incomplete and in fact, I have prepared over 30 typed pages of text for the proposed project. But each time I read Project Hyakumeizan’s 100 Mountain’s of Japan blog, I learn new things that I want to add and soon I find myself nearly rewriting his posts! For the few pages I had in The Japan Alps book I tried to stuff in as much basic information as I could. The personal writing came a bit more easily.

      There are two reasons for the lack of wildlife photos. The first is that I have always considered myself more a landscape photographer than a nature photographer and even where I chose “nature” subjects such as leaves and flowers I tend to view them as a medium range or close range landscapes. I have captured some images of animals during my explorations of wild landscapes around the world, but most of them are substandard compared to real wildlife photographers. The other reason is that I don’t usually see so much wildlife. I have shots of monkeys and ptarmigan and even some water fowl or insects on leaves. And I have seen kamoshika and inoshishi from a bus window, and of course I have seen many deer at dusk. But my cameras are stocked with low ISO film for tripod shooting and I am simply not prepared in most cases to whisk out the camera and begin shooting handheld under the canopy of the forest or in the dim ambiance of twilight. Also, I stop to shoot and unpack my gear. While on the move my stuff is usually packed away, so even when the lighting is good I am simply not prepared to shoot any wildlife I encounter.

      As for your final question, I do not know why they don’t sell those books, nor have I honestly noticed. I love to visit those shops but I think I have been down that way only three times. It would make sense for them to sell them. I guess you’d have to ask the managers. Thanks again for your interest in my book and blog. I am afraid I don’t do much updating here these days but perhaps I can start using that prepared text for my proposed book and post some more about the Japan Alps. Wishing you a glorious autumn in Japan!

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