Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In High Knowledge With Lovely Princess

I sat at the computer till 2 o'clock in the morning jotting down notes.  I was wide awake.  As the notes piled up I started to wonder if I was planning way too much.  But what difference would it make?  4 hours of sleep later and I was waking to the jarring sound of the alarm.  6:34 stared me in the face with giant red numbers.  Yes, it was time to get up.  A clothes change, a gear check, and I headed out into the hazy morning air.  I glanced back at my scrawled notes.  They weren't the most detailed but I hoped they wouldn't fail me.  When I get to a fork in the road that tells me nothing more than some obscure hamlet is one direction and other route doesn't offer a much different option, having that information is useful.  No matter how many times I try to remember a road number it always changes in my mind.  It could be rather annoying but for how many times this has happened, I've always figured things out.  So the moral of the story is that I could just continue my bad habits and never end up bad situation.  Well, that is just preposterous thinking on my part.  We wouldn't have any of that today. I turned off the main road and followed along a deep river valley.

Rock Spills

Sometimes there are shallows.  Sometimes there are deep water holes where you could do 50 feet jumps and sink safely into the emerald depths.  Once long ago I stopped at a bridge running across this river.  I had the terrible impulse to throw my car keys into the river.  My hand was clutched on the keys in my pocket.  I can't say if it was a real thought or not.  I had to release my hand just in case.  It was too absurd to entertain such thoughts.  I walked back to the car and safely put my key in the ignition that day.  Since then there have not been any similar impulses nor were there any on this day.

Look at That Nature!

I still haven't figured out how nature created that uncanny heart shape.  I stared at it for about 5 minutes calculating how the water currents from the heavy waterfall in the back must have been responsible.  I can't really say for sure though.  There was a railing that nobody would have gone past to go down there so I don't think humans were capable.  I had gone to this fall before but I didn't know that the real fall is much higher up.  It is one of two falls in the entire area that are over 100 meters tall.  I tried to take a path next to this tiny basin but it ended at a group of silent bee hives.  I walked back to the car only to finally see some obscure path with a rusty railing hidden off to the side. Up and up the windy path went.  Eventually the path started to become non existent and was marked by haphazardly pink ribbons tied to large tree trunks and insignificant shrubs.  It was perplexing and frustrating.  It never occurred to me at the time that the waterfall was over 100 meters tall so when I got to a much smaller fall I thought I had reached the destination.

Painting With Sugi

My notes had already failed me. I didn't know it at the time anyway so no big deal.  It was much easier to see the poorly placed ribbons on the way back.  Whoever put them up must have done it in reverse.  But where had I come to?  The trees tend to disorient me.  It is like groggily looking out of your eyes after waking up.  I shook my head a few times and wiped the sweat off my brow.  Things came back into focus.  It was time to get out of the wet forest.

Sugi Blinds

My shoes were soaked after walking down that stairway.  It was more like a waterfall with stairs underneath because of all the rain from the previous two days.  I really should have prepared more appropriately.  I didn't bring any extra shoes or socks except for some flip flops.  Oh prune feet aren't so bad as long as you aren't walking on them all day long.  The ratio of driving to walking was lopsided.  I had no problems.

Watch the Water

We can let the mockers talk.  They know nothing of the wonders of rock and water.  The path to Kisaki Hole had several quaint flights of metal stairs. I enjoy narrow flights of steep stairs because they were somehow wedged into a tight or precarious place.  The ingenuity, or often lack thereof, impresses me.  I hate to think who had to carry all the materials though.  That drives me insane.  Infrastructure in the middle of nature.  At least Japan is good at that so I can feel crazy all the time.  The path dead ended at a little cage that was rather disappointing.  The steep and wet cliff sides nearby were no wise thing to approach.  I had lots of time but not enough to properly make a path to the lower part of the fall.  Into the memory bank it went.

Kisaki Hole

My gasoline didn't appear to be too empty by the time I made it back to some civilization.  It was only momentarily though.  I grabbed carrots and bananas that were slowly going the route of rot.  They were half price and I was being too thrifty.  When I paired this with a loaf of bread and some steak pastrami slices it made for quite the mediocre lunch.  That's what I get for buying the half price goods.  I figured my car would make it across the mountains with enough time to find a gas station in the near future so I continued on my merry way.  The valley in this area was very peaceful in the spring sunshine.  Various greenery was coming back to life along the roaring stream.  I sped around hair pin turns while listening to eclectic chip tune music.  In other words, music no one really cares to listen to but me.  I stopped for lunch along the road at what was supposedly a waterfall.  An obvious park had been constructed on the tiny hillside with a incoherent layout of paths.  I sat under a gazebo and slapped my makeshift lunch together.  The jar of pickles that had been living in my car the past day was better than all of it at the end of the day.

Dark Spring

Suddenly my makeshift scribbling of notes wasn't a failure after all.  To this point it had been more than useful actually.  I just feel it's proper to chide them so I do a better job in the future.  My eye caught an insignificant sign that said something about mulberry river valley (the name in Japanese).  I turned off and followed the road in excitement as it ascended upwards.  I went past some abodes that were well in tact but unfortunately lonely and sad even in the bright sunshine.  The road abruptly ended and turned to gravel.  Well my notes had said to follow the forestry road after all.  I wasn't surprised.  I opted to walk the road instead of taking my trusty vehicle over the unknown road.  Mud hardly exists so I never worry about getting stuck.  It's the uneven undulations of the road from massive dump trucks that worry me.  After a pretty short but sweat inducing walk, I made it to a valley overlook.  There was some hogwash sign about watersheds but that's only because I couldn't be bothered to read it.

Aka Taki View

So far away but the sheer drop was beautiful.

Aka Taki

Enough time passed for me to feel content and there was still much more distance to cover.  A lizard scampered up the mossy rocks and rustled some leaves.  These lizards frighten me.  My first thought is always snake.  That is more than likely a good thing and definitely proved to be true later in the day.  I walked back down the short distance to the car and saw an old man pulling up in a car.  I wanted to yell hello at him but my presence seemed to be too odd for his comfort.  Maybe he hardly noticed me anyway.  He was more worried about turning his little car around on the extremely narrow road.  It just so happened I had taken up the only legitimate spot one could turn around on.  He managed it quite well without me moving.  I felt bad for a moment and then quickly forgot until now.


I still had a long way to go to get across the mountains.  I set my sights and raised my speed to a more adequate level.  In no time I was driving through an eerie and long one way tunnel which carried me into the neighboring prefecture.  I came out in one of the most expansive sugi forests I can remember.  The road was littered with branch and needle debris.  It was dreadfully awful.  Sometimes it was hard to distinguish the road properly.  Sometimes it turned into gravel.  I winced in frustration hoping that I wouldn't be forced to traverse bad forest roads.  Luckily the gravel portions were rare and randomly infrequent.  I sighed in relief when I made it out of the sugi forest.  It took a decent amount of time to reach a main road and my fuel light had come on.  I didn't pay it attention because I was going down hills and it lies to me in that situation.  I passed a one pump gas stand and fought with all my might to make myself stop but I was too prideful.  Hopefully that pride wouldn't come back to haunt me later in the evening.

Hachiken Canal

Where in the world was I?  I was getting closer to my planned destination from the very beginning.  I painfully researched the directions of how to reach what looked like an amazing waterfall.  The directions mentioned a tiny shack of a power plant that looked like a house.  The word was that one should follow the intake pipe leading into the back of this house.  Supposedly if one went up along the side of this pipe they would come to an old water canal.  I saw the pipe on my first look but thought there had to be another because it didn't look like a picture I saw.  I went along a nearby stream and came to a dead end.  I went back and decided to follow the pipe and see where it went.  Sure enough, after walking up 10 meters the pipe gave way to much longer section that ascended the entire hillside.  I quickly scrambled up the side of the pipe along a worn path.  Just as I began to lay my foot down for a final push past a steep section I jumped back.  A three to four feet long rat snake was crossing my path.  I felt the adrenaline tingle in my spine and face.  It was enough time to see that it wasn't a mamushi, a member of the pit viper family, also known as a venomous snake.  I finally reached the top of the pipe and saw the water canal.  There was a chain draped low to the ground between two poles practically welcoming me in.  I can only guess the nearby sign said enter at your own free will, at least that is what I would tell the police if they were to ask me.  I swiftly followed the tight concrete path next to the canal in earnest.

Canal Folley

The canal abruptly ended at a concrete intake.  Those yellow rubber ropes probably make you feel safe.  If you were to slip you would probably go through or under the rope into a deep water hole.  I'm sure you wouldn't get hurt that badly but you would have to walk all the way back up to see the waterfall up ahead.  That would just be terribly annoying.  I have to say that I was really looking forward to the waterfall.  After the entire day of driving and exploring I was ready.  However, I'm not sure that I was prepared to see what lie before me.


The atmosphere in this hillside cleft was a drastic shift from everything surrounding it.  The flow of water was was thundering loud.  It was surreal to be standing at the bottom.  In fact, the waterfall looked so beautiful it seemed to be fake.


The spray swirled around the basin in gusts of wind.  It was hard to find a spot not reeling from the mist.  But by far one of the best falls I've ever seen.  My entire trip was more than worth it for this fall alone.  I walked back along the canal ecstatic.  I had planned to check some other spots along the road but I didn't want to be unimpressed so I headed onward.  I stopped to eat at a Chinese restaurant once I got outside the mountains.  After the meal, the lady who had served me asked where I was from.  I told her where I was from in Japan as if it was more natural for her to understand that.  She looked at me with confusion on her face and I corrected what I said.  "I'm from America," I said and she asked back, "Where is the first place you told me? Is that near America?"  I then realized, most of us don't have any clue what exists beyond the confines of our jobs, school, cities, and lives.  I wished I could convey to her what I had seen a few short hours earlier but, alas, she was never looking anyway.  Not many of us are.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Up to Higashi Taki

I pulled my car off to the side of the road and watched the clouds intently. I leaned back in my seat and grumbled about the conditions. It was going to take a lot to get me out of the car. I recalled that the winter fat on my body could use a bit of a work out. It was far more important to circulate the blood than give up. The walk was 1km up hill and that meant I would be a pool of lovely sweat.

Eastern Fall_01

The countryside is full of junk, heaps of junks nobody will ever do anything with. Whoever did a land survey last year tied plastic markers on many trees along the way. A year later and those are strewn along the path. Nobody is around here enough to care. It won't change. Much like these empty glass bottles that will sit here for another hundred years before they are broken into pieces, lying in wait for a poor soul to dig into the earth.

Eastern Fall_02

I didn't forget this house was along the way. The path is far overgrown and the single wooden log leading across a stream is unsafe at best. I checked it once, then twice, and then again once more. It held this time but the next time is might be rotted away.

Eastern Fall_05

Wood and rust. It's mostly what one can see in these decaying relics. Old sheet metal left in the rain far longer than anyone imagined they would. Relics in nature's control.

Eastern Fall_04

I peeked in the window and saw a paper bag hanging from the rafters above. Too new and out of place to be safe. It looked abandoned but some decrepit old man might have gone off to tend his dying orchards in the mean time.

Eastern Fall_03

The entry way far too warm and cheery in its filthy state, I couldn't edge the door open any wider. Not because it was stuck but because up through the trees rustled noises. Noises not of nature but of man. The house was brooding. It wasn't in the mood to allow me to play. For me there is rarely never, it's just next time.

Eastern Fall_11

Goshiki made me break a sweat but this felt harder. So that is why I didn't want to leave the car earlier. It was a continuous upward walk. Devoid of much scenery except sugi and bamboo. Bamboo would have never been here long ago. Is it a pest or a blessing? Finally the audible sounds of water came into my ears and a nice rest was in store for my dripping brow.

Eastern Fall_10

A few hours earlier I was sitting at a temporary desk and was contemplating. But here is where my real desks are.

Eastern Fall_06

Okay I will concede that you relaxed my soul. But I want you raging. I'll be back in June. You do your part. Until then my love.

Eastern Fall_12

Back through the bamboo and back to home.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Shikoku Ridge: Part 2

The man I met at the Kamegamori trail head was very friendly. I'm no stranger to impromptu conversations out in the mountains. They were welcomed. Most people are out because they have an interest in nature and the outdoors. These are the best people to meet. It's easy to strike up a conversation about favorite spots and past triumphs. No one is ever boasting of their achievements though. People share because they love the places and things they do. It's so natural to talk in this manner. I was offered a cup of coffee and I couldn't refuse. In the sunny late afternoon, as I sipped the scalding coffee, I felt satisfied. I sat long enough in the sun that I developed a slight burn on my cheeks.

I exchanged some information with the man and he then gave me a nice spot to view on my way home. He even pulled out his map and showed the approximate location. I wasn't paying attention that closely. I didn't think I would even go. He told me it was a weeping cherry tree that would be lit up in the garden of an old shrine and that is when I changed my mind. I never have much to lose in these situations. Already so far from home, another 15 or 20km doesn't matter. I bid my goodbye and said lets meet again somewhere sometime. But it will only be by chance probably. Down off the mountains I went and on the way I stumbled upon a beautiful little spot along the road.

Shikoku Ride_14

The sun was sinking toward the lower hills in the distance and the light was hitting the gathering of sakura just right. A family of three was taking a picture with the sakura in the background. I wonder how well their picture came out.

Shikoku Ride_19

White and pinks. Branches full of thick blooms.

Shikoku Ride_20

If I had a blanket I would just lie underneath and gaze upward. Let the petals fall on me I say. It's the most delicate rain you can be in. No need for a towel. Just wipe the petals away.

Shikoku Ride_16

Up close and personal. I almost felt that this was eavesdropping of the worst kind.

Shikoku Ride_12

I liked the shadows. I liked the colors. I wanted to freeze a memory of this time forever.

Shikoku Ride_18

Sometimes even the softest end up being the boldest.

Shikoku Ride_17

It was then time to be back on the road. I was never lost but I did go out of my way at one point. I wanted to eat something so badly. I turned around to stop at a noodle place. By the time I saw it come into view, they had already closed for the evening. The more time I ate up the better. It was almost dark by the time I made it to the weeping sakura. I had gone a long way to get there. The moment I saw it I knew it had been worth it.

Shikoku Ride_21

Casual onlookers strolled into the garden and tried to take snaps with their phones and pocket cameras. All they ended up with were blurry images of long sakura branches that look like some flower octopus probably. There were also the photographers sneaking around, waiting turns to get the perfect shots. It was a minefield of people in dark places. Every other step seemed like you were getting into someone's way. The tree was pleasant although it was a tiny bit past its prime. But I never would have gone there if it wasn't thanks to that chance occurrence and a cup of coffee.

Shikoku Ride_22

After leisurely taking pictures for who knows how long I packed up and started the long drive home. With a smile on my face I knew it was just one of those days.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shikoku Ridge: Part 1

I looked out the window on Saturday morning and it was sunny. It was also very cloudy. It looked like the clouds wouldn't be a problem. I should have known better than to expect the weather to be pleasant up in the mountains. The conditions changed similar to how they did last week as I made my way up to the Yosakoi Pass. This time it was more rainy and wet. The temperature wasn't low enough to cause snow. Plus, all the snow from last week was gone because of the warm temps this past week. When I got to the three way junction at the pass it was so foggy that the visibility in front of the car must have been somewhere between 30 and 60 feet. I was going to walk from that point 7km or so to reach Kamegamori but as luck would have it, the gate was open. I don't think I would have wanted to do it in the wet fog anyway. I kept hoping it would somehow clear up. A gray car came around a corner without his lights on very suddenly. It was hard enough to see another car with lights on anyway. That car was in stealth mode and it made me very angry. Who drives around like that in those conditions? Pitiful.

I pulled into the parking lot at Kamegamori and decided to wait things out for a bit. In the meantime I had to use the toilet. I just can't do those Japanese style squat ones. I don't bend like that. If I use those I have to take off my pants in order to keep them from getting in the way. Mission accomplished and I didn't drop my keys down the hole either. After a good hour of waiting around I gave up and decided to drive back through Omogo on the other side of the mountains. As I started down the road past the Ishizuchi trail head the clouds were acting funny and I stopped to take some pictures.

Shikoku Ride_02

After a few minutes the clouds were continuing to sweep up into the sky and the sun was coming out. More and more clouds were dissolving before my eyes. Blue skies were opening up.

Shikoku Ride_03

Toward the peak of Ishizuchi the clouds still continued to roll over the top and kept it mostly shrouded till later in the afternoon. It would have been beautiful up there on the peak on a day like today. I think I'll make a few trips up Ishizuchi this year because the scenery is quite nice. It's even better if the clouds play along.

Shikoku Ride_04

With the drastic change in weather I could do what I had really wanted all along. I could walk around Kamegamori on a clear blue day. It was 12km all the way back to where I had come from but I enjoy the views up there so much I don't care at all.

Shikoku Ride_05

I look forward to the following view of Kamegamori and this cliff face when it is a lush green from the summer rain.

Shikoku Ride_11

I've found that I don't mind the drive much anymore to get up here. I'll probably be spending more time along the ridge. It's easily one of my favorite parts of Shikoku. The road continues on toward Kanpuzan offering a number of small side trails to a number of peaks along the way. I haven't been up any of them but sometime I will.

Shikoku Ride_06

I wasn't quite sure if I would go all the way to the top of Kamegamori. Because most of the trees are still a lovely shade of brown, the views up top wouldn't be much better than below. I decided to walk through the lower sasa grass fields and see what the view was like.

Shikoku Ride_07

I love this place. I've always climbed to the peak via the more direct route. The lower route is longer and it offers great views of the vast bamboo grass fields. Every time I wish it was an actual meadow. I'm sure I've said this every time I've written about it too.

Shikoku Ride_08

There is a dilapidated lodging house farther up the trail. It is quite a mess. I was going to explore one of the buildings until I saw some radio transmitter above a door. That looked too out of place for it to be there. Some type of alarm or sensor perhaps? Seems weird it would be there. There probably wasn't much to see inside anyway. I left but stopped to check the bathrooms first. Moldy green. My favorite color!

Shikoku Ride_09

I returned to the trail head. I met a nice gentleman who gave me a cup of coffee while we chatted about nature, hiking, and any related subject. I'm glad I ran into him. He made my return trip quite worth it because of a small tip he gave me. Surprisingly the sakura found me again as well. More on that tomorrow.

Shikoku Ride_13

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Neighborhood Akiba

I'm not sure what kind of picture the rest of the photographers were waiting around for when I said goodbye to the big sakura. There really wasn't much going on. The clouds rolled back over the ridge and blocked out the sun again. I split toward a few more spots of potential sakura. In hindsight I should have tried shooting some more pictures of sakura when they were pretty. But the fact I don't care for flowers much doesn't make me regret it THAT much.

Hyotan Sakura_09

I didn't take any close up shots of the actual flowers of the trees. I needed something to even that out. I knew that it would be good to make use of the rain. I crossed some rivers and drove up some hill sides to reach the Akiba shrine area. There is a famous festival there that might see its demise simply because of lack of population. It's coming and it won't be stopped. Sad but true.

Hyotan Sakura_19

Up from here is another old sakura but the lighting was terrible and some other people were in the way taking pictures. I just gave up on it and looked for some other spots like this old house I saw on the way up a narrow road. Has a nice Japanese feel to it, right?

Hyotan Sakura_21

The white specks on the mountain in the background are random sakura trees. I like those little irregular colors in the vast swaths of sugi forest. Look closely at the next shot and see the fine webbing only noticeable afterwards at my computer. There was some weird stuff going on in the blur in the background. Nice distortion with a patch of sunlight that poked out.

Hyotan Sakura_20

I really liked this garden. There was a stupid blue power line running across the middle of the tree so I had to chop the picture to keep it out. Those fat koi, evergreens, and dark water had great contrast on an otherwise dreary day. I chickened out and didn't tress pass down into the garden area. I'm responsible you see.

Hyotan Sakura_22

The light was fading and it was time to call it a day. This couldn't have been a better way to say farewell to the day. Till next time sakura. Till next time...

Hyotan Sakura_23

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Seems Worthy Enough for Spring

Last week was too soon but was today too late for another shot at the sakura? Most of the sakura in the lower areas were well past their prime by today. With the down pour of rain that continued on through half of the day, I wasn't feeling very hopeful. After falling asleep for 30 minutes, the rain decided to finally stop gushing around 2PM but continued with delicate bursts. I put the lens hood on my camera and fixed up the best weather sealing I could manage. A plastic bag taped around the end of my lens hood. That was a great idea. It would have been a mistake to try to use it without.

Due to the rain I didn't imagine many people would be up there. I was wrong about that. All the boys, and a few girls, were out with their cameras trying to capture the big sakura tree. Everyone was hanging out on some upper terraces but I didn't find those views very good. It was very windy and rather annoying trying to take a good picture at first. Trying to keep the lens free from rain spray was terrible. There are reasons that I don't like shooting pictures in the rain. I did manage to pull a decent shot until I decided to try my luck at the surrounding smaller trees.

Hyotan Sakura_02

Unfortunately most of the smaller sakura were going quite stale in color. The lighting was poor as well. Oh the woes of photography. After wandering off for awhile, the skies began to clear off a bit more.

Hyotan Sakura_03

I scrambled back up toward the big tree but this time I decided if the sun was going to come out I better get a good spot. I'm sure everyone else was trying to capture some artistic shot of the tree being illuminated from the side. I just wanted a good picture of what it looked like more than anything. I went down the slope and got into position for when the inevitable sun break would occur.

Hyotan Sakura_05

Bingo. One guy came down the path but looked at me with dismay probably wishing he had taken up my spot first. The worst part of this is that forsaken brown sign at the bottom of the picture. Whoever put that is a moron. If I was alone there I would tear it down just to make my picture look better.

Hyotan Sakura_12

I'm happy the blue sky showed itself.

The Hyotan, as it's called, is a nice tree. I just don't care much for shooting pictures places with a bunch of other people. This is just coddled nature anyway. But who am I kidding? It still made for a good picture.

Hyotan Sakura_13


A few more trailing colors of spring will follow in the next post so keep a look out.