Saturday, August 18, 2012

What I'm Up To Part 2

Here we go again. Time for me to slow down and write an update about what I've been up to. I've been doing a lot of moving around.   Been exploring the Japanese nature for the first time and it is a blast. If you don't mind eyes full of sweat and a hike constantly uphill with a backpack with 40 lbs + of camera gear, it is the best time ever. Japanese mountains are beautiful. At dawn and dusk they are white mist clouds cling to the tree tops.  When it rains the mountainside becomes a cascading slide, as water drains down to the cities below.  Trails are many times hundreds of years old and have the sweet treat of finding some sort of old building or structure that use to be where some lord use to live, or had some sort of importance in an ancient war.  It is a landscape photography playground, and i was playing on it. 
I arrived to the first mountain in Kaizu-shi and the sun was quickly setting. I wanted to get to the top and shoot the mountainside in twilight. I was glad to see there was a fast option of getting to the top.  Instead of taking a long winding path up the mountain that would take a long time and would cause me to miss my chance at getting the shots i wanted, there was an old stone stairway going strait to the top. There was an old man exiting the steps and i thought to myself, "he came down pretty fast. This is the way to the top, and i'll have a little extra time to set up."  The person who was with me decided to take the long winding path and i soon found out why. The top of the steps were about 200ft up and this was a steep climb. Each step was almost knee high, and i had the 40 + lbs bad on my back.  I've been doing a lot of walking the past month so i feel this won't be a problem.  I crack on and up the steps i go.  I'm racing the sun, and ignoring the burn in my legs, and the sweat in my eyes. About 1/4 of the way up I turn and look down and see my friend is gone and the old man sitting at the bottom.  Still feeling good I continue on. About half way up the steps I begin to slowdown and take a breathing break. I turn around once again and HOLD ON, THE OLD MAN IS ON MY HEELS. I start up that stares again and it isn't long and he passes me.  There wasn't any turning back now, I was half way up and that old guy passed me. I get 3/4 of the way up and I'm really beginning to  regret taking the steps. I look up and see the old man on his way back down the steps. I'm justifying in my head  that taking the steps was a good idea becasue it is going to be worth getting to the top before the sun sets and with extra time. I continue, now using my hand on the steps in front of me. This last 1/4 of the climb took a while.  my legs were shaky, sweat was in my eyes, and i was thinking "how am i going to walk down after this?" I reach the top and guess who is on my heels again. WHAT THE HECK OLD MAN? ARE YOU EVEN HUMAN? Now that i'm at the top i find a place to put my backpack down and start setting up my large format camera.  Did taking the steps save me time? Not really.  Like 60 seconds later here comes my Japanese friend.  Well we both beat the sun and i did have an extra min to set up.  If nothing else it was cool walking up very old steps that maybe a lord and samurai once walked.  I took my shots of the mountainside and big clouds that had formed at twilight on 4x5 Velvia 50 slide film. I'm very excited to get them developed to see how they turned out.
When you go to the mountains it is a good idea to bring dinner with you.  That is exactly what this photo above is. This is a Japanese style lunch box called BENTO. Our bento has chicken with two kinds of sauces; honey, and miso, egg roll type things, pumpkin with sesame seeds, cabbage, mini omelet,  and cherry tomatoes.  The triangle shaped things in the top of the photo are rice wrapped in seaweed, called onigiri. It doesn't look like much but on a hot hike like that day it is all we needed and was quite filling.
Soon the sun went totally behind the mountains and the city lights came out. Right now in Japan is festival time and the music and drums from the city below could be heard warmly on top of the mountain. We were just about to make our way down from the mountain when a firework show began, a few cities away. We watched the fireworks for a while before the bugs came out and decided we were dinner. When I got back to the car I couldn't stop my legs from shaking.
A different day went back into the mountains but this time instead of climbing them we walked down to the base and explored the rivers. This was a rainy day which was great becasue it cooled everything down to a comfortable 80F. I forgot to put my SD card back into my camera so i don't have any digital photos to show you.  The river is a great place for camping and we did see some people with tents on the rocks along the river and cooking fish they had caught.   It is an awesome view.  Everything is up from the river.  mountains and trees are all the eye can see.  The sounds of rain in the trees, water turning over the river rocks, and evening cicadas humming out their song.  The river has a blue color to it.  I guessing from minerals in the mountain, carried down by the rains.
Last week was a holiday week in Japan called Obon. Obon is a Buddhist event focusing on dead ancestors. Most Japanese celebrate it weather Buddhist or not. It is a time when a person puts flowers and cleans the family grave.  Spirits of dead family members are believed to return to the family alter for a visit at this time. I don't know too much about this but it isn't a morning time.  It is more like a reunion and many Japanese use this time to visit living family as well. People also have fun at a festival during this time and dance a traditional dance called "Bon-Odori." This has been a practice in Japan for over 500 years.

COPIED FROM WIKIPEDIA: "Bon Odori originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren), a disciple of the Buddha, who used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother. He discovered she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering.[3] Greatly disturbed, he went to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and, thus, saw his mother's release. He also began to see the true nature of her past unselfishness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him. The disciple, happy because of his mother's release and grateful for his mother's kindness, danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori or "Bon Dance", a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated."

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