Posted by: tsubakuro | February 5, 2011

Japans Alps Photos in American Magazine

(I am a couple of months behind in posting this as it was first news in November)

The Fall/Winter 2010 issue of Nature Photographer magazine, an American publication, features my article about winter mountain photography, entitled The Snow Must Go On, from pages 150 through 156. The seven pages include text and six photographs, and all of the photographs are from the Japan Alps.

When I had the slides scanned for the book I did with about the Japan Alps, I decided to submit them to the magazine instead of the originals as I used to do. Partly this was because the magazine only scans 35mm slides and not larger formats. By sending them a disk of my scanned slides, I could include medium formats as well. Out of the six published photographs, five of them appear in my book, and five of them were captured in medium format: 6×4.5 or 6×7.

This is not the first time photographs I made in the Japan Alps have been published in the pages of Nature Photographer. For the articles Why Mountains? (Fall 2005), Autumn Comes to the Mountains of Japan (Fall 2007), and Documenting or Creating? (Fall/Winter 2009) various photographs from the Japan Alps were included to illustrate each article.

In addition, The Japan Alps was recently revised and a new version with a few small corrections and amendments to the text now takes the place of the original book.

Posted by: tsubakuro | December 21, 2010

The Holidays Are Upon Me!

I have had little time to think about the Japan Alps recently (other than to miss them that is). However, during my two-week absence from work and wordpress, I hope to get up a new post or two, even if it is just to recount a past glory in the Japan Alps. I also plan to get my book proposal “out there” in January and I will be looking at revising the text in my current book, “The Japan Alps” because I have found a few necessary changes I want to make.

Posted by: tsubakuro | September 14, 2010

The Japan Alps Photo Book

The book arrived at my house already three weeks ago and it has taken time to get a post up about it – the completed project, but perhaps having waited a little has provided time enough to gauge the responses of the general public (my friends and students).

I had no doubt that I would receive favourable comments from my adult students but I was pleased to see some teenaged students and even elementary school children enjoyed the photographs. It seems the pristine snow captured in some of the photos in particular attracted the interest young and old alike.

I have been posting photographs on Flickr and FaceBook and the compliments have been coming in. But as I always have said, compliments are greatly appreciated; however, they do not put money in the pockets. Sales would be appreciated even more!

That said, a few people here in Japan have requested copies and I am awaiting the delivery of an order of hard cover and soft cover copies. The price is a little higher than I would like, despite the low dollar, because the shipping is still costly, even choosing the cheapest method.

One of my favourite bloggers, mountaineer and translator (he has translated Kyuya Fukuda’s book Nihon Hyakumeizan into English), Project Hyakumeizan is my first international customer and he has been very kind and written positive review of my photography in the book on his blog. I extend a warm thank you to him for that and hope to return the favour someday soon when his book is published.

A few words about the photographs: all were captured on film, almost exclusively Velvia 50, and in formats 35mm, 6×4.5cm, 6x7cm, and 4×5 inches. I tried to capture scenes from all three ranges throughout the year, making a point of heading out at least once each month to capture alpine scenery. It was important also to cover as much ground as possible and so, consulting the maps in my guidebooks, I tried to spread my foot prints as far and wide as possible.

The project, however, is not complete.

Though I put this book together and I think I have done a fairly nice job, it is, as I stated before, only a test. My original intention was not to produce my own book of the Japan Alps but to test the quality of for future projects that I would do more for personal enjoyment than a kind of business venture. This completed book here will also serve as a vehicle to advertise my work and abilities along with my proposal for a book, Sanmyaku: Photographs from the Japan Alps, which I fully intend to continue submitting to the publishing companies of Japan.

For that matter, the photo collection is incomplete. I still have a dozen more locations I wish to photograph to feel I have captured a more satisfactory and complete view of the Japan Alps. Naturally, this will mean an even greater selection of images from which to choose and already many photos I really like were not able to fit in the blurb book. Some were also away in a calendar submission, and even though some images would have been highlights of the book they had to be omitted due to their unavailability.

If possible, I would like to include the following locations in a professionally published project:

From the Kita Alps – the Hotakas viewed from Chogatake in April; Tsurugidake viewed from Senjinike in autumn; autumn scenery and the Shirouma Mountains from Tsugaike Shinzen Kouen; the glacial cirques of Kurobe-gorodake and Yakushidake in summer with wildflowers; the area around Harinokidake and Eboushidake.

From the Chuo Alps – the view from the north of Kiso-komagatake; an ascent of Sengairei and Kosumoyama.

From the Minami Alps – a summer view from the cirques of Senjougatake or a re-attempt for a winter view; an ascent of Hijiridake; a re-attempt for a winter view of Shiomidake; a visit to Aseyomine for a shot of Kitadake and Kai-komagatake; a visit to one of the lower mountains in the sub-ranges of the Minami Alps around Kamikouchidake and Tekaridake.

My current financial situation, sadly enough, makes completing these hikes a three-year project at least. But I guess I have time. Finding a taker for this project may require a few more years of perseverance. In the mean time, I hope people will enjoy my photographs and book The Japan Alps, which is for now, as far as I know, the only book in English about the Japan Alps.

Posted by: tsubakuro | September 7, 2010

Waking Up on the Moon

Stories behind the photos in The Japan Alps photo book, available from

One of the classic views of the Japan Alps is from the Karasawa Cirque in the Kita Alps in autumn when the rowan leaves have all turned a brilliant red and there is a thin layer of ice in a pool of water that reflects the peaks of Oku-hotakadake and Karasawadake. The best of the rowan leaves and autumn colours in the Kita Alps occurs usually during the second weekend in October, which is also a long weekend since Undonohi – Athletic Day – is on Monday. Unfortunately for me I do not get to take advantage of this three-day luxury because my work schedule has me not only working on Saturdays but also Sundays on this particular weekend thanks to the fact that one of the kindergartens our school works with has its Sports Day on the Sunday of that weekend and I usually have to attend.

In 2008 I was busy during that weekend yet again but the following week I heard the happy news that the colours were late turning that year, and a photo in the paper showed hikers climbing up past rowan bushes that were still somewhere between green and yellow/orange. I very much had been hoping to shoot vivid autumn scenery at the Senjoujiki Cirque in the Chuo Alps and was planning to go the following weekend for an over-night trip. So, the news of the autumn scenery in the Kita Alps being delayed stoked the fires of my hopes for hitting the mountains at their autumnal prime. However, when I stepped off the cable car and out of the hotel into the Senjoujiki Cirque I was shocked and disappointed to discover that all the leaves had already fallen from the trees here. Neither rowan nor dakekanba had any leaves left on their bare branches. And as I set up my gear to try for the standard shot of Houkendake from the bottom of the cirque I realized that I had forgotten to bring the shoe that fits on the bottom of my cameras so that they can be securely locked onto the ball head for the tripod. How was I going to shoot landscapes with extreme depth-of-field or in the low light of dawn and dusk with being able to secure the cameras to the ball head?

My plan was to do the short hike up to the main ridge above of the cirque and follow it along to Utsugidake where I intended to stay at the emergency shelter below the summit. Under clear skies I began my trek, stopping to capture a few scenes while the light was bright enough for holding my camera on the tripod with my hands while shooting with small apertures.

At Kumasawadake I found myself facing a typical dilemma: stay here to shoot the sunset or press on to make more headway on the trail. There were many great boulders of granite about which made for some excellent foreground subjects for the mountain views, and as the sun was starting to go down, the light was getting warmer and the shadows longer. This would be a great place from which to shoot the evening light and sunset. But I still had about two hours of trail time left at least. On a few occasions in the past, I had chosen to press on and found myself at sunset in places not very conducive to good landscape photography, so I decided to stay here and see what I could do without being able to fasten my cameras down tight. Needless to say, shooting was a challenge. I couldn’t shoot vertical views, and combining the huge boulders with mountains on the horizon put me in the very difficult situation of trying to use f/16 and f/22 with a precariously balanced camera. I remember one moment where I pushed the cable release and after the shutter closed and the mirror came plunking down in the Pentax 6×7, the camera tipped off the ball head from the vibration and into my waiting hand as I had anticipated the possibility of the camera falling.

With the sun down I considered that I might not make it to the emergency shelter tonight. There was a lodge between the peak of Ustugi and Higashikawadake but it was closed for the season. Perhaps I could just sleep somewhere around the lodge, I figured. I didn’t have a tent this time. Twilight fell over the mountains and an hour after sunset I finally snapped on my headlamp. The mountains lost their details to the night shadows and the stars spread out across the clear sky. There was no moon yet.

By seven thirty I had been hiking for an hour and a half from Kumasawadake and Utsugi’s black form rose into the night. I couldn’t see how close I was and it seemed with each dip and crest I was not even reaching the lodge. At last I stood on a small peak on the ridge and decided that I would just throw the sleeping bag down here. There was a good flat area on mostly granite gravel and sand and only a few rocks and almost no dwarf pine boughs around. The sky remained clear with little more than a light breeze, cold though the breeze was. I put out my ground mat and sleeping bag, packed my things in the bag to keep the batteries from freezing, and used my pack as a kind of wind block. After a bit of warm food and drink, I pulled the sleeping bag closed and settled in for the night.

Around eleven I awoke because of a chill draught that was coming in through the opening in the sleeping bag. I turned onto my belly and tried to close the hole. But as I glimpsed the view outside I was surprised to notice how bright it was. I slid forward and stuck my head out into the night air that was now around freezing. From ground level I peered across a foreground of gravel and sand and a couple of bare rocks. They were positively lit up by a bright light from somewhere outside the narrow scope of my view from inside the sleeping bag. In the distance, the black two-dimensional silhouette of Utsugidake filled the lower portion of the sky while above the stars coldly shone down from deep space. There was not a cloud, only that endless black sky stretching beyond hundreds of thousands of light years and the light of a million blazing suns that were reduced to tiny points of light by the unfathomable distances of space.

What a strange view. I was lying on a landscape of nothing but rock and sand. The mountain’s bulk beyond gave no hint of vegetation and above was only the universe. In this mysterious light I could easily imagine I was lying on the surface of the moon. All was grey, white, and black. I was an astronaut that had fallen on the surface of the moon! I pulled back the opening of the sleeping bag and turned to see the source of the light. It was, of course, a gibbous moon that had come over the eastern horizon and was hanging low over the Tenryu Valley and the city lights, completely dominating the view for brightness. This grand-looking lemon-shaped orb, still coated with a pale orange/yellow from the atmosphere through which it shone, had turned the appearance of my bedroom for the night into a simulacrum of its own surface. I took a moment to marvel once more at the scene and let my imagination run its wild course before the cold seeping into my sleeping bag convinced me it was time to batten down the hatches once again and stay snug inside my cocoon of down.

The following morning I repeated my struggles with low-light photography and then descended a short slope to the lodge. From there the scramble up to Ustugi was longer than I had anticipated but I made it. After a bit of time being the only person around since leaving Harinokiodake the day before, I was joined by two young guys on the summit. It was a bit of a long stretch back down and I descended into forests with beautiful autumn colours. However, nothing could top that remarkable sensation of waking up on the surface of another celestial body under that black sky of the universe!

Looing back to Kiso-komagatake and Houkendake from Harinokiodake

Posted by: tsubakuro | August 21, 2010

At World’s End

Stories behind the photographs in The Japan Alps, a photo book available at

Akaishidake. The name for me resonates with symbolism and reverence. It somehow has a magnetic force to draw my imagination and send a shiver of excitement surging through my spine. Exactly why, I can’t say. It is not because Akaishidake is the namesake of the Akaishi Range or because it is a Hyakumeizan. And it’s not likely that its almost feverish charm for me is because it is Japan’s 7th highest summit – seven being a magical number. Considering its immediate northern and southern neighbours, the mountain does not have the mass of the Arakawa Sanzan, nor does it have the graphic harmony of Hijiridake’s Kanji (聖): the Saint Mountain. Perhaps it has to do with Shiro Shirahata’s photos of Akaishidake from Senmaidake, a lesser peak on the shoulder of Arakawa-higashidake – a.k.a. Warusawadake, or maybe it’s the lure of ice age excitement as Akaishi bears the most southern evidence of glaciation in Japan. Again, I can’t be sure. But when I came down Arakawa-nakadake and saw the wide green skirts of Akaishi with a head of rock protruding from the frayed upper hemline, I felt the size and weight of the mountain in my soul.

In the Minami Alps of Japan there are few mountains that can compete with the rugged and treacherous splendour of the Kita Alps. The tree-line is higher in the south, the mountains less glaciated. Where in the Kita Alps one may find keeling towers of rock and capacious cirques with perennial snow patches, the mountains of the Minami Alps are generally more conservative in form and appearance even though their elevations may rival that of their northern brethren. Akaishi’s rocky top is barely a tiara surmounting a voluminous green dress that expands immensely as it falls into the valleys below.

During what is perhaps the week of the most capricious weather all year – the O-Bon holiday week when the weather changes as often as the faces of the dice on a Vegas craps table – I chose to make my debut in the very southern region of the Minami Alps in 2008. I knew to expect all kinds of weather and rapid changes on any day. I made the long hike up from Sawarajima to the Senmai Lodge and tent site under clear skies only to enter a misty and phantasmagorical wooded landscape once I reached the lodge. There was early morning rain, sunlit views on the way up Arakawa-higashidake, clouds at the summit, and a ferocious wind on the morning I awoke on Arakawa-nakadake that chilled the air to seven degrees Centigrade. When the sun glared down upon me as I got my first good view of Akaishidake from the northern approach from Nakadake, I felt the mountain an overwhelming force drawing me to its broad flanks.

However, as I set up my 4×5 camera to capture the awesomeness of the view, a sneak layer of cloud cover began encroaching from the west, and Akaishi’s small but proud rocky summit thrusting up to 3,120 metres above sea level was engulfed without ceremony. My one exposure of the cloud-covered mountain was made after waiting patiently and hopefully to no avail for a retreat or thinning of the clouds. When at last I reached the summit there was little to see but rock, scrubby alpine vegetation, and the summit marker. On a bus to Hirogawara once, a fellow hiker had told me that when Rev. Walter Weston had returned from Akaishidake he was reported to have said, “I missed the view but I viewed the mist.” Those words could hardly draw the same smile from my face on the summit as they had when I heard them on a bus that was taking me to a yet-to-be-had adventure. It was a matter of shoganai, that Japanese saying of acquiescence that comes in so handy so often. What can you do? That’s life (in the mountains). C’est la vie. After lingering about the summit – perhaps in wait of a revelation or sign from the mountain itself – until I felt the chill of a million almost microscopic water droplets drifting into the fibres of my clothing and making it damp, I decided that it was best to start making my way to the next camp. I began picking my way down into the steep sawa below one of the cirques and crossing the exciting metal catwalks suspended above the trees and tied to the sides of the rockier parts that afforded no path. The sky remained calm and grey all afternoon at the Akaishi Lodge and tent site. There was no hint of the forthcoming drama.

I awoke well before daybreak and delighted at seeing a starry sky devoid of clouds through the tree branches. My goal was to reach Fujimidaira, a flattish shoulder on the ridge descending from Akaishi to Sawarajima. Through the trees my headlight swung and bobbed as I kept a good pace. I could hear but not yet feel the disturbed air beyond the trees. Not until I broke through the forest and stepped onto the exposed shoulder did I see a scene that held me transfixed with utter fascination and in the same token gripped me with a compelling instinct to flee.

I was alone on an isolated island of rock, dirt, and thrashing dwarf pine. The wind came at me with the force of a massive current that could almost sweep me away. To my right and left slept the black hulks of Arakawadake and Hijiridake. But the view before me was what filled me with trepidation. An ocean of cloud was dammed up behind Akaishidake and the mountain’s stature had succumbed to the overwhelming surge. A huge cap of grey vapour, almost liquid in appearance, was cresting the mountain’s summit like some nightmarish tsunami. The mass of grey not just cascaded but plummeted from the top of the mountain with a speed that was frighteningly un-cloudlike. Great plumes of cloud rushed down the slopes from which I had descended only the afternoon before. The titanic cascade of heaven seemed to be falling straight for me, and each time I beheld the spectacle of this unnaturally swift down crashing of the sky I feared that I would be inundated and made to vanish from the earth. Of course I knew better, and logic could quell my fears by simply observing that the clouds parted over the blade of the ridge crest and with a powerful whooshing sound they vanished into the darkness of the sawas. I was a mountain mystic, the last alive in this part of the world, watching heaven’s violent descent to earth and its meteoric obliteration, a reverse big bang as the sky collasped back into the shadows below.

A band of orange light lit the north eastern horizon and I knew it was time to prepare for the morning shoot. There was no way in that wind that I was going to get anything with my large format camera, so I took out the 6×45 and 35mm gear and arranged the lenses for quick use in a protected recess in some dwarf pine. Gripping the tripod with each exposure, I hoped to capture a sky that was unbelievably alive with colour. Alas, the wind was so strong that most of my 6×45 photographs were blurred enough that I deemed them unusable. Even the first 35mm photographs of an enormous pink and totally smooth cap of cloud adorning the peak of Akaishidake were blurred from the relentless gale. Only as the sun came up and the landscape regained its tones of summer’s matured verdure did the wind at last abate and the clouds over the summit dissipate and vanish. By the time other hikers came up to join me there was only a pleasant warm breeze blowing and a thin veil of cirrus clouds in irregular patterns that gave the impression of a sky stripped down to a threadbare state after the morning’s savage intensity. “What a gorgeous day,” people commented as I greeted them. I felt like a survivor, a lone soul who had seen the collapse of the world and lived to see the birth of a new one. But there I was, feeling the exuberance and joy of a sunny warm day in the mountains, the tense emotion of an hour earlier now a memory that was nearly beyond my ability to describe to anyone who had never stood before such a spectacle. For that, my visit to Akaishidake gave the mountain new heightened significance for me.

Not the photo from the book, but a view of the shrinking clouds that blustery morning on Fujimidaira

Posted by: tsubakuro | July 8, 2010

This is Only a Test

A couple of months ago, a reader of this blog posted a comment referring to, a produce-on-demand book publishing company. He wished me luck with Project: Sanmyaku, but added that if I couldn’t find a publisher I could always check out LuLu. At first I gave it little consideration. I was not interested in some do-it-yourself self-publishing service because I had already lots of experience with that. This was not just a collection of a few favourite images or photographs of my son captured over the last few months. This project is meant for the big time, a real publisher.

But LuLu returned to my thoughts in May and I decided to look into it. The concept attracted me and I began seriously researching not only LuLu but other POD services as well. It seemed that might actually be a better company for a serious photo book project, if I were to try to make something. I considered some ideas and decided to check out the Blurb bookstore and see who was creating what. Several books were of landscape photography and looked very nice on the computer screen. I chose a few authors and sent them a long list of questions about Blurb quality. All of them were kind enough to reply within a few days and answered my questions to my satisfaction. The results were that two photographers were very impressed, one was very satisfied, and one said Blurb quality was not as good as other publishing services but still good enough.

Based on the reviews I read and the comments from those four photographers, I decided to go ahead and try to make a book through Blurb, and it then occurred to me to consider what one photographer had said: he would use his Blurb book as a promo to send to publishers. Already toying with the some photos in the Blurb BookSmart software, I decided to give Sanmyaku: Photographs from the Japan Alps a test creation. I was already planning to revise my proposal with a virtual sample book and perhaps more small prints from more recent trips. Why not create the whole book and show the publisher?

So, that is what has been consuming my time as of late. I have made a test copy of 40 pages, just to see how the quality turns out and if I can adequately adjust the brightness of photos for printing with the software I have, and to test out the BookSmart software for other future projects I might want to handle on my own. Here’s what I experienced with Blurb and BookSmart so far.

Blurb vs. LuLu

Thankfully, many other people wrote about their experiences with one or the other company or both, so I learned a lot in advance. LuLu’s strong points were stitch binding, smaller dot matrix printing, ISBN numbers, and the possibility of sales on Amazon or in major bookstores with the ISBN number. But many photographers claimed they enjoyed the results they got with Blurb more. Blurb appears to be more geared towards photo books, while LuLu seems to have added that possibility to their menu only recently. Blurb software (BookSmart) was also rated as the most versatile of the various POD companies out there, and one photographer said that although Blurb print quality was not as good as Apple’s My Publisher, it was better than LuLu’s. Blurb currently doesn’t have an ISBN acquisition option but you can still get one on your own and add it to your book.

Looking at the Blurb web site, there are many things to help you along with your project. The software is easy to use, very versatile indeed, and the company hosts a blog and webinars telling you how to get the best colour from your images, how to put together a great book, and so on.

Using BookSmart

The software has to be downloaded and installed on your computer. One person complained that this was an archaic way of doing things but since I only have internet access when I bring my lap top to work, it was convenient for me to work off-line at home and then bring the computer to work when I was ready to upload the book.

I am not a technically savvy guy and even though I welcome the intellectual challenge of figuring out software, I am often frustrated by programs and computers. I decided to tackle BookSmart not as a potential enemy but as a potential good friend. I had a few minor frustrations at first until I took a moment to see what the main screen offered and how I could do what to get what I wanted. After the first 20 minutes, I had all the basics sussed and was impressed at how smoothly most things were going.

Loading my photos from my computer was a cinch. On the screen there’s your book for viewing in the middle with the option to see just one page, a two-page spread, or several pages at once, which is good for checking continuity and flow. The pages also appear as a strip across the bottom of the screen. At the top is the tool bar and to the left is your photo pool. You can choose to show all photos in the pool, or only the ones you haven’t used yet. Ones that have already been placed in the book receive a check mark. The photos are easily dragged and dropped onto the pages.

Page formatting took a few moments to figure out but turned out to be genius. There are over 70 templates from which to choose, but even if you don’t like any of them, you can choose anything and then edit it to design your own page. Text and image boxes can be added or removed, and headers and footers can be selected and removed as well. For flow text (text that should run over more than one page without breaks) some text boxes shouldn’t be altered or the flow text will break with each page leaving unjustified lines. And with locked text boxes images can’t overlap. But if any of these few restrictions bother you, you can create your page yourself in your chosen software and save it as a JPEG or PFD file and drop it on your book page.

Photos can be sized, cropped, and placed freely on the pages, as can text boxes. There are many fonts available and also options for choosing right, left, center, or justified text and so on. For the most part, I found it easy to create pages by choosing a template from the menu and editing it to my taste. At first this became a little tedious, but then I found I could save my custom pages and select them for later pages. Since I had a particular format for 35mm photos in vertical and another one for 35mm in horizontal, I was able to create custom pages for both formats and for left-page formatting and right-page formatting. Later I could add pages and choose from my custom templates and easily set up my pages for photos and text.

The One Sour Point

The more I played with BookSmart, the more useful I found it. But there were some mysterious and frustrating problems with the text boxes.

The first problem was that in two lines of text the last word in each of the two lines projected outside of the text box. Why only two words or lines? Why not all lines then? I tried changing the sentences, re-justifying, and one or two other things but the words always stuck out of the text box. At last, I noticed that I had indented with Tab in all cases except once where I had indented with a double-hit of the space bar. Once I corrected this the text didn’t stick out anymore.

The next problem I had was that after making a correction to some text, one paragraph became un-justified. I couldn’t understand why but re-justifying solved the problem.

The biggest problem occurred while editing text for pages 8 and 9. With BookSmart’s flow text, you only have to create the first page for any text. Let’s say you have four pages of text. You set up the template for the first page and copy and paste your text into the text box. BookSmart automatically creates enough pages to fit in all your text. It will justify all paragraphs if you tell it to and the text ending on one page will naturally continue on the text page. It’s great! When I first set up my pages, I thought I had to create each page and so I created a page 8 and a page 9, but I didn’t notice that my page nine, a right side of the book page had a left side of the book template. The text is not centred in these templates but a little to the left for left pages and a little to the right for right pages. This is so the text doesn’t slide into the gutter of the book. It took me a bit of work to get the flow text working for my two pages but at last it came together. And then I noticed the problem.

First, I created new pages and dropped in the text. But since the program creates pages as needed, I ended up with an unnecessary extra page that I had created. No problem. Just delete that page, right? But when I did, the flow text didn’t work out right on the page the program had created. It was a lot of trouble to correct and in the end I had to delete my pages and re-create them four times, each time deleting the automatically included headers and footers and adding my own text box for the title. During this process, an extra page 1 was added by the program twice. I couldn’t understand this as I was working on pages 8 and 9. And when I deleted that extra page then pages 8 and 9 became reversed. Furthermore, the justification of the first paragraph came undone and the flow text was broken between pages 8 and 9 again. I spent an aggravating 30 minutes trying to figure out how to keep the flow text, without getting extra pages I didn’t need in other parts of the book or having the text on the pages swap places. It did all come together in the end. The solution was simple. Just let the program do the work and don’t try to do even one small thing on your own. Otherwise the program gets confused and gives you crap.

So what does this mean?

Does it mean I will just make my own book and give up trying to find a publisher? Not at all. I will use my book as a promotional tool for my idea. In the meantime I can try to sell my book to friends and others who might be interested in a book of the Japan Alps. If a publisher takes on the project there is no guarantee that they will make a book in English or that they will make a book of as many photographs as I wish to include. And if no one shows any interest then at least I will still be able to share my idea with the world on a smaller scale rather than in Japan on a large scale.

A winter morning on Murodoyama looking over to Ryuodake, Kita Alps

Posted by: tsubakuro | May 18, 2010

On the Roof of Japan

Oku Hotakadake from Kita Hotakadake

The Shinshu (信州) area of Japan is home to most of the top 100 highest summits in the country. It includes the three ranges of the Japan Alps, as well as the peaks of Yatsugatake, the western fringes of the Kai Okutama Chichibu Mountains, and the volcano chain on the border of Gunma and Nagano which includes Asamayama, Kusatsu Shiranesan, and Azumayasan. Because of all the high ranges and peaks concentrated in this area, it is known as Nihon-no-Yane, the Roof of Japan.

It was the first Golden Week holiday period in 50 years that it didn’t rain, and I was fortunate enough to have three days in a very important part of the Japan Alps. Taking the night bus from downtown Tokyo, I reached the foot of the Hotaka Mountains at Kamikochi at 6 AM on May 2. I spent the day getting up to the Karasawa Cirque – the largest glacial cirque in Japan – and setting up camp. The following day I woke up at 1 AM in order to try to reach the summit of Kita Hotakadake by sunrise. Alas, I was not swift enough on my feet and missed a brief but glorious display of alpine glow. I made it to the top of Kita Hotaka later that morning and so as not to miss any good evening light or sunrise the following day, I stayed in the hut at the summit. Unfortunately, the skies did not cooperate. The sun set in thick haze that evening and it was a dark and cloudy sky that greeted me at 4 AM on the last morning. Nevertheless, I was pleased with my accomplishments.

For the full trip report, visit my Tsubakuro blog here.

In the Karasawa Cirque

This trip was very important for the Sanmyaku project for two reasons. The first is that I still wanted to shoot more scenes of the Alps in spring snow. The second is that I wanted some more views from the Hotakas. Having been to the Karasawa Cirque only twice before, I shot almost image I took home with my compact digital or phone camera. Yet any book or even calendar of the Japan Alps includes photographs from this place. Having managed to get some very nice photographs of the Hotakas at dawn and dusk on my previous visit in the summer of 2007, I wanted to revisit the same views in a different season for contrast. Furthermore, as these mountains are the most rugged and craggy in all the Alps, I really wanted to shoot them with snow.

Yarigatake and the North Alps

Shooting in snow is still a challenge for me even after 21 years of using slide film. The standard rule of overexposing one stop does not hold true in many a situation. Depending on the angle of the sunlight, the time of day, the intensity of the sunlight, the weather conditions, and so on, a one-stop exposure can sometimes be too much, sometimes not enough, and sometimes almost or just right. Recently I have been overexposing too many captures, so I decided to overexpose by only a half-stop or full-stop, but no more. The result from this trip was that the bright daylight photos were all a little too light for my taste but the late afternoon and low-light morning shots turned out very nicely on 35mm slide film (Velvia 50). Eight of the nine exposures made with the 4×5 were on Velvia 100F and one on 50. The results were surprisingly excellent. All exposures are good and the ones made in the late afternoon of the second day are the best. I am really encouraged to shoot more with the large format camera.

The photos posted here were all captured with my compact digital.

Clouds over Jounendake

I still have five or six more target locations for this year but for the moment I require more funds. That means I need to get more stuff published. So, I had better get to work on it! I was looking at the Central Alps again in June but I think I won’t get out until July now and the glacial cirques of Senjoudake in the South Alps are my destination then. I’ll be looking for the summer wildflowers.

Looking down from Kita Hotakadake

Posted by: tsubakuro | April 21, 2010

Elevation Gain

The Japan Archipelago is a chain of mountain islands created by the tectonic forces that push the Pacific Ocean Plate and Philippine Plate under the Eurasian Plate and part of the North American Plate. The mountains are either a result of uplifting or volcanism and generally run the length of the archipelago.

One exception to this is the Japan Alps. The three ranges of the Hida, Kiso, and Akaishi Ranges run roughly through the middle of the main island of Honshu. The reason for their atypical orientation is found the tectonic line that separates the Eurasian Plate part of Japan from the North American Plate part (yes, I too was incredulous when I read “North American Plate” but it’s true). Splitting the island from Itoigawa in Toyama to Shizuoka, it is known as the Itoigawa/Shizuoka Tectonic Line. Pressure from the two plates pushing against one another caused the three ranges to be uplifted, the Hida and Kiso Ranges (North and Central Alps respectively) being largely composed of igneous rock like granite and andesite with sedimentary rock being also found in the North Alps, and the Akaishi Range (South Alps) being more sedimentary as parts of the range were once a seabed.

It is interesting to note that the Kiso and Akaishi Ranges lie almost parallel to each other and that neither range has as many high mountains as the Hida Range, even though the Akaishi Range covers more area. The explanation lies deep in the Tenryu River Valley of Nagano. Here a second tectonic line, the Chuo Tectonic Line, branches off from the Otoigawa/Shizuoka. As pressure from the plates was spread over two tectonic lines, two ranges were formed – one short and under 3,000 metres and the other broad but with only a single spine of mountains clearing 3,000 metres flanked by many minor subranges mostly below 2,500 metres – while to the north all the pressure was applied to a single tectonic line and as a result a high, broad range was created with sub-ranges all reaching above 2,900 metres at at least one peak. (The above explanation is my own conjecture. I am searching for documented supporting evidence.)

Previous to the uplifting of the Alps, large volcanoes already existed where the Hida Range is now, most notably around the Yari/Hotaka Range and around Jiigatake. These volcanoes collapsed and the remaining shells of their calderas were pushed up by tectonic forces. The uplifting of the Alps took place mostly between 1.7 million years ago and 0.6 million years ago. The igneous intrusion of the Kurobe pluton in the Hida Range was formed at depths of 4 to 10 kilometres below the surface, but due to rapid tectonic processes and consequent uplifting, followed by erosion, the rocks are now exposed at 700 to 2,900 metres*. Compared to most other ranges in the world, the mountains of the Japan Alps were uplifted in a geologically short time. Following the collapse of a volcano that resulted in a huge caldera, the Yari/Hotaka Range was originally uplifted to around 4,000 meters; however, erosion, perhaps mostly from glacial periods, has since reduced them to their current elevation of less than 3,200 meters.

In these three ranges stand 92 of Japan’s 100 highest peaks with Kitadake in the Akaishi Range being the highest at 3,193 metres, second in the country only to the much higher Fuji San (3,776 metres). Fujisan, a composite volcano, is an anomaly here because it reaches heights far greater than any other mountain in Japan, while the succeeding 99 highest peaks follow a very gradual decrease in elevation as the list goes down. Consider that Fujisan is 583 metres higher than Kitadake but the next nine highest are all between 3,193 metres and 3,101 metres, a mere 92 metres in difference.

Kitadake – 3,193m

Oku Hotakadake – 3,190m

Ainodake – 3,189m

Yarigatake – 3,180m

Arakawa Higashidake (Warusawadake) – 3,141m

Akaishidake – 3,120m

Karasawadake – 3,110m

Kita Hotakadake – 3,106m

Obamidake – 3,101m

The difference in elevation between Kitadake and the 100th highest mountain, Nokogiriyama (2,685m), is 508m, less than the difference between the first and second highest mountains in the country. This list of the 100 highest peaks includes uplifted mountains as well as volcanoes, so Fujisan’s superlative height is clearly is an isolated exception, at least in the present day.

Ainodake in the Akaishi Range is Japan’s fourth highest peak and stands across a col from Kitadake. However, due to the amount of erosion rubble observed around the mountain, it is believed that Ainodake may have been much higher** during the peak of the last glacial period and at the time was higher than Fujisan.

Though the forces of erosion and weathering are at work wearing down the mountains, the tectonic forces are also pushing up the mountains. Kitadake is increasing in height at an average rate of 6.25mm a year. If the rate remains constant and the summit of the mountain does not collapse in a rockslide, Kitadake will reach an elevation of 4,000 metres in about 129,120 years.

Until the end of the 19th century, the elevations of Japan’s mountains were not precisely known. As Japan opened its doors to foreign trade, and engaged in warfare with other nations, it became a necessity to have an accurate map of the country with mountain elevations included. But it took time to do this using triangulation teams, and even up to the beginning of the 1900’s, it was believed that Yarigatake was Japan’s second highest mountain*** (it is actually the fifth).

Triangulation measurements reached their final target, Tsurugidake, in July of 1909. The map of Japan was complete. Yet the question of true mountain elevations has continued to fall under scrutiny and revisions and re-measurements have been made. For example, Tsurugidake’s elevation was given as 2,998 metres around 1915 but later increased to 3,003 metres on a map in 1932, and then was later reduced back to 2,998 metres in 1970. The current revised elevation as of 2007 is 2,999 metres. Other mountains have had their elevations revised after improved measurement systems were used. Most notably, Kitadake was upgraded from 3,192.4 metres to 3,193 metres.


The geological history of the Yari/Hotaka Range and Kamikochi:

Yama-to-Keikoku magazine, May 2007

Measuring Tsurugidake:

Yama-to-Keikoku magazine, June 2009

Japan’s hundred highest mountains. I have found another list that is slightly different from the one on the link below but my point about Fuji being an anomaly when elevation differences of the hundred highest peaks are considered still holds with either list.

Japan’s Hundred Highest Mountains

Kitadake’s growth:

Feature: Kitadake

Tectonic lines of the Japan Alps:

「信州山岳大展望台 日本の屋根」 Shinshu Sangaku Daitenbodai: Nihon no Yane (The Grand View of Alpine Shinshu: The Roof of Japan) a book

For a good map that shows the areas of the three ranges and information about their uplift see the site linked below:

Uplifting of the Alps

*I currently cannot find the source of these numbers in the italicized text, however, the link below reports similar information.

Rapid uplift in the Japan Alps

**I had read this about Ainodake on another site but when searching for that site again I found the same information on Wikipedia.

***I have lost the URL of the site where I got this information. Or maybe it was from a book…

The Yari/Hotaka Range from Sugorokudake in the Kita(North) Alps, a.k.a. the Hida Range

Posted by: tsubakuro | April 20, 2010

Links to Trip Reports

I actually meant to post this a week or two ago but it seems I might have not hit the publish button or there was some glitch. It should be posted now.

Before starting this blog about my book project, I was writing about my trip reports on another WordPress site. I still use that site to write about my experiences in photography, and the trip reports I write about there are different from what I post here.

Here are links to my trip reports in the Japan Alps.

Sanpuku Pass, March 28/29, 2010

Kitazawa Pass, December, 2009

Chausudake and Kamikouchidake, November, 2009

Washibadake and the Ura Ginza Line, September, 2009

Shiroumadake, May, 2009

Chichibusawa, April, 2009

There are older trip reports on another blog site. I may later post them here as well.

Posted by: tsubakuro | March 9, 2010

Gallery: The Southern Region of the South Alps

The southern behemoths of the South Alps

The South Alps receive less traffic than the North Alps for a few reasons. They have fewer high (over 2,800 metres) mountains than the North Alps; almost all lodges are closed from October to May or June; and access is either limited to the main climbing months or simply limited altogether.

The southern region of the South Alps is probably one of the most remote mountain areas in Honshu. Typically, it takes about 10 hours to reach the summit of any of the great peaks down here. If it were not for the fact that three of Japan’s 21 summits over 3,000 metres are here and four Hyakumeizan, it is likely that the number of annual visitors would be even fewer. The main attractions are the Arakawa Sanzan with Arakawa Higashidake (also known as Warusawadake) as Japan’s sixth highest summit at 3,141m, Akaishidake – 3,120m, Hijiridake – 3,013m, and Tekaridake – 2,591m.

The photograph here was captured one very blustery and cold morning in early November of 2009. Two days early, I had basked in warm sunshine in a small valley partway up the route to Chausudake, the mountain from which this photo was made. The next day cool cloudy weather became icy and bitterly cold. When I left the off-season room at Chausu Koya before sunrise, thick coatings of rime covered the rocks and vegetation everywhere. As the sun came up, I huddled behind a cluster of dwarf pine that formed a natural wind barrier and attempted to keep my tripod and camera as steady as possible. In the image here you can see from left to right Hijiridake, Akaishidake, Arakawa Higashidake (in the distant centre), and Kamikouchidake on the right.

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