Tag Archives: mount fuji

Fireflies

Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

On the 11th June, I visited the Pola Museum of Art. This museum was opened in 2002 but I hadn’t known its existence until a couple of months ago. Tsuneshi Suzuki had been the former president of the Pola Corporation, one of the Japanese cosmetics giants. He passed away in year 2000, and the museum inherited his collection of art and antiques.

The museum’s collection was impressive. I mean, it couldn’t be compared to the collections of the Metropolitan or the Louvre. But it was a very impressive collection for a private art museum in Japan. The museum had a good number of Western modern paintings such as Renoir and Monet and French Art Nouveau glassworks and oriental ceramics. I really liked the works by Emile Gallé and Daum Brothers.

I visited the museum on Saturday. Surprisingly enough, the place wasn’t too crowded. The most famous piece of art work housed in this museum is probably Girl in a Lace Hat by Renoir. Thankfully, I could ‘monopolise’ it for several minutes without being bothered or interfered by anyone. I personally prefer to keep some distance from a painting to see it as a whole but that simply wasn’t possible in crowded museums because someone would surely get in the way.

Jakuchu Ito is my favourite traditional Japanese painter. A big exhibition had been held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno to commemorate his 300th birthday. It began on 22nd April, which happened to be my mum’s death anniversary.  After visiting my parents’ grave in Kawaguchi in the afternoon, I called at the museum on my way back to the foothill of Mt. Fuji. It was Friday and, when I got there, it was still 4:00 p.m.: office clerks were supposed to to be still working. But the museum was ridiculously crowded. It was simply impossible to appreciate art works under such circumstances. And later I came to know that it was the least crowded day in the exhibition period – people had had to wait for hours to enter the museum after that day. I had a similar experience in Kyoto when I visited the Kyoto National Museum to see their special exhibition for traditional paintings by the Kano-School painters in the early Edo period.  From those experiences, I came to a conclusion that, in Japan, you should avoid special exhibitions held in big cities because they are always extensively advertised and, as an inevitable result, are terribly crowded. Instead, look up the collections of each museum on their websites in advance and visit them for their regular displays.

Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

On my way home from the Pola Museum in Hakone, I stopped by at Gotenba to shoot fireflies with Mt. Fuji. We were in the midst of the rainy season. As it had been raining or overcast for a week, I had wondered if I wouldn’t have any chance to take photos of Fuji with fireflies this year. Luckily, I could capture this image before the clouds blocked out the summit.

This place had been known only by a small number of people. I came to know it through a local photographer a couple of years ago. When I arrived there, there had already been four photographers waiting for the sunset, and I thought it was rather crowded. But, to my surprise, more and more photographers came along as time went by and the place was swarming with a couple of dozens of photographers at the end of the day.

This is why I’m reluctant to tell you the exact locations for my photographs when I’m asked. There are simply too many people in Japan, and it is part of the Japanese mentality that everyone wants to take the same photos. Nowadays, some websites provide users with locations for uploaded landscape photographs in the form of GPS data and everyone uploads photos on social media such as Twitter and Instagram: even a place like this can attract too many photographers.

There was a novice photographer who tried to capture fireflies by firing the flash, which was a rather typical mishap under such conditions and was of course utterly nonsensical – you cannot capture their lights using the strobe. He devastated photographs taken by the rest of us. So I had to yell out before anyone else got furious:  ‘Could you please stop firing the flash? You are messing up our photos.’ My voice was loud but I tried to keep the tone calm. In my opinion, it is important to use polite language in such a case.  If you cry out something like ‘What the fuck are you doing?  Stop firing the flash you idiot!’ it will very likely to end up in a furious row. I’ve witnessed some photographers (often old male photographers) uttering something like that and causing commotions.

Mt. Fuji with the Chureito pagoda in spring
Mt. Fuji with the Chureito pagoda in spring

As Japan is rapidly ageing, there’re a way too many pensioners who are not working any more. In the good old days, I had been able to exercise my privilege as a freelance and enjoy beautiful landscapes without being bothered by other people. Not anymore. But as I said, everyone wants to shoot at the same place at the same time such as Diamond Fuji from Lake Tanuki or Mt. Fuji with cherry blossoms and the Chureito five-story pagoda in spring. Many of my acquaintances take photos of Mt. Fuji and my stream on Facebook is flooded with the same scenes taken by different people. To put it the other way round, it is still possible to take beautiful photos of Mt. Fuji without being jostled about, if you avoid such popular places at the most attractive time. Alternatively, you can go to remote places that require hours of hiking to access such as the Southern Alps.

Mt. Fuji over the Kofu basin taken from Mt. Houou in the Southern Alps.
Mt. Fuji over the Kofu basin taken from Mt. Houou in the Southern Alps.

The ageing population of Japan, combined with the declining birth rate, is supposed to be a fatal issue. But do we really need more people in this small archipelago? 127 million people are living in a country smaller than California. The population of Japan exceeded 100 million in 1966—50 years ago. Until then, it had never exceeded 100 million. In fact it hadn’t exceeded 35 million until the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. The country is overpopulated, and too much population is destroying the country’s nature. Many people assume continuous economical growth is necessary. But what will be waiting for the entire human race after more years of continuous growth? Destruction of nature, famine, expanded economic discrepancy leading to aristocracy or fascism. To me, it does look like a balloon being inflated until it bursts. I can only imagine dystopian futures as long as the human race continues this.

Apart from the declining population, of course, the unbalanced demographics are also an issue. One thing I don’t understand is the policy regarding Euthanasia or ‘death with dignity’. Both my parents died of pancreas cancer and both came to know the fact that they had the cancer at stage four, which meant too late to cure. My mum pleaded the doctor to kill her when the pain became unbearable. She knew it was incurable from her experience with my father’s death, and thought it was pointless to just prolong her life in agony knowing that she would never restore acceptable QoL. But, of course, the doctor could not kill her since he would get arrested. The patient wanted to die. Her family also wished peaceful, painless death. The doctor also wished to assist if he could. But we could do nothing. As a result, she lived for a month since she had started to plead for death. What’s the point to add an extra month of agony to the end of her life? The great part of the cost needed for that agonising extra month was paid by the National Health Insurance, for which financially-challenged younger generations have to pay their insurance fees every month. Shortage of physicians is another social issue in Japan in addition to the overwork of nurses, and they’re working hard to extend the life of patients who don’t want to live any longer.

Death is inevitable. It will surely come to me one day. When I’m unable to do anything creative, I’d like to die quietly and calmly.  If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. You don’t have to. But how can you impose your belief on others who don’t share the same belief with you and want to control how their own lives end? Our lives are not yours.

By the way, the day I took those photos was my 45th birthday. Many thanks to those who congratulated me.

The Bhagavad Gita for Landscape Photography

Nikon D810A + AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

Listening to audiobooks has been one of my favourite activities for nearly a decade. It is a great pleasure to gain knowledge while driving, walking, jogging, cocking, and ironing shirts like a character in a novel by Haruki Murakami. Lately I started listening to audiobooks while shooting landscape photographs. Because you often need to wait for the right moment when shooting landscapes, there’s nothing left to do until you press the shutter button after you set up your tripod and camera. So I was listening to the Bhagavad Gita translated into English by Eknath Easwaran while shooting the sunset yesterday.

A brief description for those who are not familiar with the Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Indian text which is part of the epic Mahabharata. The Gita is a dialogue between the supreme guru Krishna and his disciple Arjuna, who is facing the duty as a warrior to fight his relatives. In Hinduism, Vishnu descends to Earth in a from of an avatar to restore the world. Krishna is said to be  the eighth avatar of Vishunu, Buddha is referred to as the ninth avatar, and the tenth (and last) avatar Kalki is predicted to appear in the future .

Lord Krishna says:

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engaged in action, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself — without selfish attachments ,and a like in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.” (2:47-48)

I saw thin clouds over Mt. Fuji and left the house in anticipation of a dramatic sunset. Yes, I went to Lake Yamanaka because I expected a good result. In a strict sense, this action seems to indicate attachment to a good result. But it can also be regarded as part of my dharma (duty).

Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

As a photographer, I should try my best to take good photographs making full use of my knowledge and skills. But, once I make a decision on where and when to shoot, I just take care of things I have control over such as finding the best composition and getting perfect focus and appropriate exposure. Then I detach from the result: “I may capture a beautiful sunset or maybe it will be mediocre. But in either way, I will be content.” How nature changes its appearance is beyond my control, and I shouldn’t worry about things I have no control over.

I’d like to point out the fact that yoga mentioned in the quotation from the Gita doesn’t mean physical exercises. In the West, the physical postures (asanas) of Hatha yoga (one of the branches of yoga) became very popular and now people call such physical exercises yoga. In my opinion, it’s as absurd as calling the act of sitting on a floor zen. In this part of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks about Karma yoga, which is is the process of attaining Nirvana in action. The Bhagavad Gita also teaches two other paths to self-realisation (Bhakti yoga and Jnana yoga), but I don’t write about them for now.

This was how far I could apply the knowledge of the Gita to my photography. I’m sure I will gain more insights from this ancient wisdom and apply them to my everyday life as I read (and listen to) it over and over. But I can safely say that it wasn’t too difficult to detach from the fruit of my action in this case since I love nature in any form.

Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

The exposure time of the above shot is 300 seconds and I had to wait for another 300 seconds for noise reduction. So it took 600 seconds (10 minutes) all together. It gets cold in winter in the area and I don’t use my Kindle when the temperature is below the freezing point. But it is getting warmer now. I find Kindle is quite useful when waiting for a very long exposure to finish after sunset or before dawn as it lets you read books in the pitch dark. Perhaps it is also a good idea to meditate while waiting for a very long exposure to finish. But I wouldn’t do it in Yamanakako as this area isn’t that deserted and I may appear too far-out. I meditate in nature when trekking in the backcountry.

A Day Trip to Nagano

Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

I went on a day trip to the Nagano prefecture and visited many places yesterday. I usually visit one place  to take a special landscape photograph. At times, I stay at the same place for a couple of days. But sometimes I want to take photographs in a more casual way and so I took a lot of hand-held snapshots this time.
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I Climbed Mt. Akaishidake and Met a Japanese Serow!

YUGA KURITA Japanese Serow_9E40668Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA ART 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

The Japanese serows are rare animals. It is quite rare to see them even for a person like me who often lurks in mountains. They went nearly extinct in the 50′s. The Japanese government designated them as a “Special National Monument” and prohibited the hunting of the serow. Since then, the number of the serows increased. If you’re lucky, you might meet them in the country like I did.

Actually, it was the second time for me to meet them. The first time was the day before the day I took this shot. I climbed Mount Akaishidake (3,120m/10,240ft). It’s already November.Lodges in the mountain are already closed. So you need to carry your own sleeping bag and tent (or something similar) to get to the top of Mt. Akaishidake in this season.  It wasn’t easy mountaineering for me as the summit was frozen and rather slippery but the snow wasn’t thick enough for crampons.
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My Sweet Hououzan (Part I)

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji from Mount Houou blue sea of clouds dawn long exposure_4E02109Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA ART 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

The South Alps (of Japan) is sort of a sacred area for landscape photographers specialized in Mount Fuji. Fuji does look really awesome when seen from other high mountains.  Needless to say that the most important sacred place is Mt. Fuji itself for us. But we can’t shoot Fuji when we are on the top of Fuji, you know?

According to my brief research on the South Alps, the Mount Houou is the best destination for me, because it isn’t too hard to get to the top even if you aren’t very experienced in climbing but the view of Fuji from this mountain is really superb.  I concluded this mountain should be my first target in the South Alps area. There are some course options. The easiest route runs from Yashajin-Touge but I chose the Dondokozawa (ドンドコ沢) route, which features a couple of waterfalls, for ascending, and the Chudou (中道) route for descending. As I forgot to record a GPS log, the line showing the route in the map is not very accurate.
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Reflections of Mount Fuji are just like vain dreams

Yuga Kurita Lake Saiko Mount Fuji Reflection_KE06536
Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM

For landscape photographers, Saiko (Lake Sai) is the least popular lake among the Fujigoko (Fuji Five Lakes). The number of photos of Mt. Fuji taken from this lake is much less than the other four Fujigoko lakes. The main reason why this place isn’t very popular is that Mt. Ashiwada lies between the lake and Mt. Fuji and thus we can only see the top of Fuji from Saiko. By the way, “-ko” indicates lake so Lake Saiko is a bit redundant translation but I think it is more understandable for those who are not familiar with Japanese. There is one great location for shooting mount Fuji on the lakeshore of Saiko, which is located at the western bay of Lake Sai.

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What are the virgin landscapes of Japan?

I have trouble translating this article. If I could, I wanted to translate the title of the article as “What are the Genfukeis of Japan?” A genfukei seems to be a concept only exists in Japan. Or at least, It doesn’t exist as an English word. I couldn’t find any words that directly correspond to the word.

Genfukeis (原風景) are landscapes that remain in one’s memory most vividly when he/she gets old. It depends on each individual. But when we use the phrase “a genfukei of Japan (Nippon no Genfukei),” it indicates landscapes that invoke the emotions of nostalgia for the majority of the Japanese.

After I posted  a blog entry about Mt. Fuji and cosmos flowers, I received an unexpected reaction from a Slovakian guy. He argued that cosmos bipinnatus originated in Mexico and introduced to Japan in the Meiji era. They explosively proliferated in Japan, and now represent the autumn season.  He said the photos are beautiful but it isn’t good in terms of environmental protection.  Honestly speaking, I didn’t know that cosmos flowers were introduced to Japan in the 19th century. Kanji characters given to cosmos flowers is 秋桜. 秋 indicated autumn and 桜 indicates cherry blossoms. I vaguely thought that it didn’t originate in Japan but  it was probably imported to Japan much before than that.

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji Terraced Rice Fields Lycoris radiata_9E49437
Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

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Come to think of it, it’s the equinox day!

YUGA KURITA Mount Fuji Taikanzan Dawn_DSC7785
Nikon D5300 w/ AF-S Nikkor 18-140mm f3.5-5.6G ED VR

According to the weather report, it is going to be fine and Fuji will probably be visible. I hate shooting in a crowded place in weekends. It is a Tuesday. I’ll probably enjoy shooting Fuji without being bothered by anyone.

I somehow wanted to go to Taikanzan, a popular vantage point to admire Fuji in Hakone. This place was haunted by legendary Japanese painter Taikan Yokoyama as he loved drawing Mt. Fuji from here. This mountain was originally called Daikanzan but was changed into Taikanzan in memory of the great painter after he died. That’s the story written in guidebooks. I’ve never found any authentic sources to prove the story though.

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Cosmos flowers also look very nice in the landscapes of Mt. Fuji

YUGA KURITA Cosmos Mount Fuji Lake Shoji_4E00970
Nikon D800E w/ AF-S Nikkor 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED

“Evening primroses look very well in the landscape of Fuji,” said Osamu Dazai in his popular novel Fugaku Hyakkei (100 views of Mt. Fuji). As I told in my previous post about the novel, Dazai didn’t actually see Fuji and evening primroses together in the same landscape. Some thoughtful people interpret this sentence as meaning that Dazai likened Fuji to the Japanese society and himself to evening primroses. When Dazai wrote this novel, Japan was governed by the military juggernaut. He was not conscripted into the army as he was physically as well as mentally fragile. I can imagine how he felt towards the society. It was a dark age in the history of Japan. There was no freedom. The military dictatorship severely controlled individuals. I think every creators and artists would hate such a government. Evening primroses don’t look spectacular at all. I thought they were just blooming weeds till recently. Honestly, speaking there are other flowers that look much better in the landscapes of Mt. Fuji. To name a few, cherry blossoms and cosmos flowers come to my mind.

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Mt. Kokushigatake is an amazing place to shoot Fuji!

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji from Mount Kokushigadake DSC02089
Sony α7 (ILCE-7) w/ FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS (SEL2870)

I’ve always wanted to shoot Fuji from the top of Mt. Kokushigatake. I tried to climb the mountain last November, but the gate of the forest road leading to the mountain was closed earlier than usual due to heavy snow.  I was very busy with my exhibition in summer.  I waited for ten months, and eventually I got an opportunity to try again.

I left home at midnight heading to Oodarumi Touge (大弛峠), which is located on the northern border of Yamanashi prefecture. My house is located in the southern part of Yamanashi prefecture. According to Google Map, it takes three hours, much longer than going to Gotenba or Hakone. Two deers and one fox jumped in front of my car on my way there. Since I expected some animals would do it so I could safely avoid them. Yamanashi prefecture is one of the least populated prefectures in Japan. If you see a sign board making alert of animals, drive slowly so that you can safely avoid them.

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