Japan IV - Landscape

Somewhere near Takachiho

Somewhere near Takachiho

All of these images were made when I toured the country near the city of Kumamoto, visiting the Aso area and Takachiho. As you'll see, it was a little damp, a little beautiful and a little sunny - we really got some great weather for pictures. I'm not one who feels that it is important to have perfect light (whatever that is), rather I prefer interesting light, particularly when it suits my subject.

Rice fields, from the main road

Rice fields, from the main road

One of the great aspects of taking a private tour is that you can shout out when you want to make a picture. Fortunately our fellow guests were also happy to snap away, and Helen (the ever wonderful Helen) from Explore Kumamoto was only too happy to indulge me. I suspect on a brighter day the rice fields would have been even more golden. I was fascinated to see the cut rice being stored in a very similar way to the way wheat sheaves were constructed in the UK in the days before automation (nowadays, you'll probably need to find a pub sign to see a wheat sheaf). I do fear the focus in the image above is a little out but there you go, it is what it is.

Grass, Aso

Grass, Aso

More grass, Aso

More grass, Aso

The grasslands of Aso proved to be an almost perfect subject for me. I love the delicate nature of the fronds of Suzuki Grass against the mountainous landscape. Once a year, the grass is deliberately burned, thereby enabling the landscape to be preserved. You can find more details of that process here. There is a possibility the images above would look great in black and white but I'm reluctant to process the images away from being representative of the film stock used (Portra...if you're interested).

Rice bowl hill

Rice bowl hill

Of course, the features of a volcanic landscape are both unusual (for me) and fascinating...if only slightly scary (like when we discovered the orange mark on a hill in a distance was magma <insert screaming Emoji here>). In Aso, you find features that seem fairly unique in my estimation (this is not an informed view) - such as the rice bowl hill above. This is named for, I hope, fairly obvious reasons that I won't bother to explain here.

A horse, Aso

A horse, Aso

More horses, Aso

More horses, Aso

No horses, Aso

No horses, Aso

Interestingly, I also found parts of the landscape strangely familiar. Having spent many years living in Edinburgh, the landscape around Kusasenri (the three images above) seemed pretty similar to Arthur's seat...also formed through volcanic activity but far less active now (just to the left was the magma...admittedly 2km away). I don't recall seeing horses graze on Arthur's seat, I do recall that a change in light can definitely change the impression of the landscape, much as above.

Oshito (or Oshido) stones

Oshito (or Oshido) stones

I have a bit of an obsession for stone circles, and so it was great to make a side trip to the Oshido (or Oshito) stones. There is some controversy as to whether these are natural (which seems to be the consensus) or man made. It probably doesn't really matter, it is clearly a magical place and the rope tied around some of the stones shows their importance in Shinto (the rope indicating the a spirit lives in the stone). What is clear, having seen evidence of it, is that some of the stones interfere with compasses, indicating the presence of a spirit or some magnetic rock - you decide!

Takachiho gorge

Takachiho gorge

Iwato river, near Ama No Yasukawara Cave

Iwato river, near Ama No Yasukawara Cave

Given the volume of rain we saw on day 2 of our tour (and in prior trips to Japan), it is not surprising that the landscape is cut with rivers. Some, such as in Takachiho Gorge, flow through volcanic landscapes. The gorge itself is stunning, with very interesting hexagonal rock formations similar to those seen at Giant's causeway. There are some great spots to view the gorge but nothing beats taking a little boat out onto the smooth waters (they won't let you go if the river is flowing too fast). Just make sure you have a good guide so you can avoid piloting yourself under one of the many waterfalls.

View from a window, near Ama No Iwato Shrine

View from a window, near Ama No Iwato Shrine

...and of course, we cannot ignore the impact man has hand on the landscape. The buildings, plants, roads and fields all form part of an integrated whole. What is interesting to me is when you visit somewhere for the first time, you see the landscape as one, whilst if you live within the landscape you probably see, and perhaps resist the change. That's one to ponder for another time I think. 

If you're interested in that sort of thing, I can tell you that all images were made using Kodak Portra, developed and scanned by the ever awesome Canadian Film Lab.