"Amagisan Doro", written 天城山道路 in Japanese, means "Amagi Mountain Road". "Amagi" itself is a place name written with the characters 天, meaning "sky" or "heaven", and 城, meaning "castle". The place is on the backbone of the Izu Peninsula of Japan that lies between Suruga Bay and the Pacific Ocean just south of Mt. Fuji, and about 100 km from Tokyo.
When I lived in Japan, I spent many happy hours hiking among the tall cedars, and along the stone terraces where the famous Japanese radish "wasabi" has been cultivated for hundreds of years. Wasabi requires plenty of cold, clean water, and the mountain streams that run down out of the highest points in Izu are diverted into cascading stone-walled beds. The wasabi paste that accompanies sushi and other Japanese fare is made by simply rubbing the root on a rough surface.
The Amagi area is also well-known as the setting for what is commonly regarded as Japan's most famous short story, The Dancing Girl of Izu [伊豆の踊り子].
The music of Amagisan Doro is peaceful and contemplative. It evokes the sounds of two classical Japanese instruments: the koto, a sort of wooden harp with strings that are plucked, and the shakuhachi, a wooden flute.
The music is accompanied by sequence of photos and videos I captured during my walks in those mountains. Enjoy!
In the last 5 weeks, I have:
- Moved out of my apartment of 6 years in Ito
- Left Japan after 10 years, two-and-a-half months of residence
- Shared goodbye meals with some good friends with the hope that it won't be too long before I see them again
- Been living out of a suitcase, a hotel, and a rental car
During my residence in Japan, I had the chance to visit the USA at least a couple times a year, and during my years working with the Reno Air Races, I usually spent about two weeks in September immersed in American culture.
While in Japan, those visits to America always seemed like a dream, and while in America, Japan seemed like a dream. Maybe that's because I have so few friends who have straddled both worlds.
But I have always felt like both places had their special strengths and weaknesses, their unique attractions and flavors. And as I reached the decision during the early months of this year to leave Japan and return to the US, I began to focus more on those things that were hard to do in Japan, but easy to do in the USA:
- Take photos before sunrise: Japan lies at the eastern edge of its time zone, and the sun rises during mid-summer before 4:30 AM. And because I never owned a car, and always used public transport in Japan, it was impossible to be where I wanted to be at sunrise. So, I missed half of the magic hours that photographers cherish, only being able to shoot sunsets, but no sunrises. And since I lived on the east coast of the Izu Peninsula, with a tall range of mountains to the West, shooting sunsets required some travel. In the USA, I can drive to where I want to be whenever I want.
- Play music: we'll see how this goes. But my apartment in Ito was electronically very noisy. My building being one of the tallest in town, there were a lot of antennas on the roof, and I suspect they were the source of all of the hums and buzzes that I could never get rid of whenever I tried to do some recording in my apartment. I am hopeful that this won't be a problem when I move into a place here. And I also expect I can find some opportunities to play out in town - there were very few live music venues in Ito, and moving equipment was always a problem - it's hard to lug a guitar, much less an amp or anything else, on the bus or train.
- I can express myself: even after 10 years in Japan, I don't feel like I have the cultural context to express myself the way I can in American English. Not surprising, but still it is a pleasure to be able to speak with shades of meaning, and be playful with my native language, where I may have been only slightly better than, "See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!" when speaking Japanese.
Do I miss Japan? Every day.
Will I go back? I certainly plan to.
But in the meantime, there is lots to do here to get settled again. I feel lucky to be where I am in Colorado - from here in Boulder west across the Rockies into the Four Corners and down into Arizona is an area that contains some of my favorite territory in North America. I am lucky to be able to live here.
I have already had some great hikes, and although my best camera gear is in storage awaiting delivery when I am able to receive it, I have been able to scout some places that I want to return to again.
This morning, I left my hotel at midnight, and drove an hour to the trailhead leading up to Long's Peak - one of Colorado's 53 so-called "14-ers" - mountains whose summits exceed 14,000 feet above see level.
I met up with two new friends from Denver [thanks, Glenn and Marble!], and we climbed through the darkness starting at 2:00 AM. By 3:00, we had climbed from about 9,400 to 11,000 feet and were above the tree line.
We were not alone: the parking lot was nearly full and there were lots of other hikers on the trail, getting an early start for the summit. I took this photo at 3:04 AM - the light traces from the headlamps of climbers bobbing in the darkness like giant fireflies.
By 4:00, we had reached 11,500 feet elevation, and the point where the trail to Chasm Lake, our destination, separates from the route to the summit. And by 4:30, we were approaching the Lake, and I turned around to shoot this image of the approaching sunrise.
I had just enough time to climb the last 500 feet or so over a hump of slickrock to race around to the east side of Chasm Lake to be in position to shoot this panorama as the sun hit the face of the Longs Peak range.
After so much climbing in the dark, it was nice to have the sun, and I shot a few more photos during the descent back to the trailhead, arriving there at about 9:30 AM. From there, it was an hour's drive back to Boulder and a nice nap!