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Travels: Senjogahara Plateau: Tochigi Prefecture, Japan

Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, 50mm f4.5 W, Fuji RXP, on the Senjogahara Plains

It is an early start. I’m here on the second weekend and I think I should be going back to complete Nikko, but to another direction, and another attraction… hiking in the highland marshes. This will be an ideal location to do some landscaping pictures. Of course it would be good if I was there when the sun is coming up, but no car and the first bus is later than that anyway, so got to file up the thoughts first.

Tobu-Nikko standard train (Ricoh GR Digital)

I’m not too sure there are metros running at this time of the morning, it’s 5am and I’m taking the Tokyo taxi instead, zipping past quiet streets, trying not to look at the ridiculously fast counter on the dashboard that shows the eventual 4000Yen price to get from Shinagawa to Asakusa by taxi. That’s almost the price of the all-in-one ticket to Nikko including the train fare! I’m on my way to Tobu-Asakusa Station to catch the first semi fast train to Nikko. Semi fast because the real first train stops everywhere and would take longer time to get to the destination so this is the second train it seems. Semi-fast too because if you double your fare you take the glamourously faster super-express-whatever trains that shave 20 mins off a 2hr 30mins journey. Not enough for me. I’ll stick to the cheap one.

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, Early Morning Tokyo

748hrs: Zipping through the Japanese countryside right now in the 6:20am Tobu Express to Tobu Nikko. The train looks like a long distance metro train. Nothing bullety about it, or serious looking. I’m in the first two cars as usual, the others get dropped as we go along. I’m already a veteran on this route. This first express train for the weekend is packed with hikers. Question. Why do hikers always look like hikers? Looks like everyone is wearing flimsy cotton cargo pants from one of those outdoor brands that claim to make specialized gears, t-shirts with the obligatory checkered shirt on top of it, backpacks with things hanging on them and maps, and high cut boots that all look the same. No gore-tex jacket yet but I think I’m not far from seeing one! The other commonly represented demographic in this car are golfers. Apparently there are plenty of golf courses on the way. Here I am, only one in bermudas, t-shirt, and after last week’s rain, an umbrella just in case! My small daypack is packed with gears. As usual. Not planning to go bulky today, heavy yes, but rapid action, everything in one bag. The plan is to trek at least 10km today from Yunoki waterfall down through Senjogahara Plateau and if I have time, to Kegon Waterfall. North-south seems to be the logical path. How I miss my GPS this trip!

And the best thing: I’m going landscaping!

Strange looking battery vending machine in Nikko (Ricoh GR Digital)

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, Workers repairing infrastructure in the vicinity of Yutaki Waterfall

This trip packs a Mamiya RZ67 with 127mm KL lens and a 50mm RZ, Leica M3 with 50mm Summicron f2 and my Ricoh GR light meter, which incidently is running out of battery when I checked in the train. I intend to load my RZ back with Tri-X in one and Fujichromes and Portras on the secondso I hope I don’t run out of battery before tonight! How I hate contraptions that run on batteries. Loads of film, and a cable release and a bagel fills the lone outer pocket of the pack. Ipod in my pocket.

854hrs: Bus 2A leaves the front of Tobu Nikko train station at exactly 8:37am and the train arrives about 10 minutes before that. Just nice. It goes to Yumoto Onsen and passes through lake Chuzenji and Senjogahara. I will take it to Yunoki Waterfall which is further up, and then walk down to Chuzenji. Just finished loading a roll of Provia 400X into my Mamiya 120 back. Some sun today, but not enough to allow Velvia 50 handheld at small apertures. Excited! Be quick bus! You move like a snail!

915hrs: Going towards Chuzenji Onsen stop, the bus winds through 20 turns uphill, more like up mountain. Steep one at that. There are signboards telling the number of the turn. Strangely the bus seems to be stopping for a break at the Onsen stop! Hey! Where is the driver going? Bon. Makes no difference to me. The sun is shining brightly thru a break. The weather forecast today is cloudy the whole day with 20% of rain. I’m starting to realise that this Plateau I will be hiking in is on top of a high moutain. Nice… weather should be cool up there. Now I know why everyone else is not wearing shorts!

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, School kids at Yutaki Waterfall

1005hrs: Stopped at bus stop 40, called Yutaki Iriguchi, or if my chinese doesn’t fail me, looks like “Entrance to Yutaki”. I guess if it says Yutaki-no-taki Iriguchi it means entrance to waterfall. Without a go-anywhere pass it would have costed me at least 1500Yen to get here. From the bus stop its a 5 minute hike down hill to a car park where you can already hear the waterfall. Busloads of students are here on a weekend excursion. Better students than foreign tourists  in buses!  The waterfall itself looks nice. Not the type that falls vertically, but flows down at an angle, whatever the scientific name is for those. Wow google! Just checked, its a slide waterfall. Opened my day pack and started to assemble my Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm lens and Provia 400X to shoot 2 frame with an angler at the bottom. I’m sure the dynamic range sucks, but since I’m here might as well try it out.

Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, 50mm f4.5 W, Fuji RXP, at Yutaki Waterfall

Right after Yutaki its time to continue straight into the forest. There’s a path that  leads to Senjogahara and the signboard will say Akanuma, which is the bus stop entrance to that place. The trail follows a stream that winds through a forest. You don’t actually walk on the forest, there’s an elevated two laned path that guides you (not in some of the pictures though, but I can say its 90% elevated!). People here don’t leave out the details! There are not that many trail walkers this morning, just anglers fly fishing in the stream. Air is cool, I’d say about 20C temperature at the most. Maybe even lower.

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, Fishermen along path

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, Fly fishing on the Yukawa River

After 1 hr of walking (I take a slow path and plenty of nature appreciation breaks!) I finally come to an area that looks very much different. I dont have the map with me, but what I remembered, this looks like I’m entering Senjogahara. I know why its a marsh now, although its quite obvious. I took a couple of detours to take a wide 50mm 6×7 shot of the tundra like plains but the ground seems to be mushy and you can feel the watery squishes. No problem as my shoe is water proof. No its not quicksand and my shoe doesn’t get stuck. A couple of low level RZ67 shots and I’m back on the 2 laned elevated path. There were a couple of places with flowers where you can shoot macro, and I’m glad I had a RZ67 and not a Mamiya 7 in this instance! What I need next would be a low tripod so that I can support better. Its not easy handling a 3-4kg camera that low.

Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, 50mm f4.5 W, Fuji RXP, on the Senjogahara Plains (Looks dark on some monitor, but on slides its perfect!)

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, White Birch at Senjogahara

The landscape is amazing at Senjogahara. Flat plains, river streams with trees. I’m sure in the morning with the mist in some areas its going to be eerie. The only issue is to shoot off the path will take some balls. In most cases, the marsh is walkable, but you will get your shoe wet. But some areas look like peat bog. Last thing you want is to be swimming in bog with your camera and tripod with you. Most of the people here are the abovementioned hiker type, but there are some misinformed tourists too. Haha. They are in Senjogahara in the countryside with high heels, makeup and generally city fashion! Lucky no glamourous goggled sunglass here.

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, Wild flowers at Senjogahara

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, Senjogahara's elevated pathway

1429hrs: Finally emerged at Akanuma stop number 37 after covering the route I wanted. Going to Chuzenji Onsen. If I had more time I would have walked all the way there and tested all the trails, but I want to see Kegon waterfall before going back. And since I have to be in tokyo before 9pm tonight, I need to catch the 5pm train at least. A bus arrives on time and we cram into it. The buses here seems to be the all seating type, and you’d think that they’re trying to be funny with it because seating bus, of course, takes less passengers. But there are some areas where the road winds like crazy and you get headache just sitting in it, and those professional bus drivers here take it at full speed. So standing is not a good idea. The best you get is a folding middle seat to accomodate a 5th person in the row in the aisle. Seems to be quite common in Japan, like electric automatic toilet seats. Flashed my All Nikko Pass and get the bus for free.

 Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, Fishermen taking a break

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, Yukawa River

1453hrs: Kegon-no-taki. At Kegon waterfall now. Conveniently 300m walk from Chuzenji Onsen bus stop. Quite spectacular fall, at least 300m drop from the top. Looks as though some crazy earthquake tossed land that high up and start to form lake Chuzenji. Not that I saw the waterfall connect to the lake but its a little big of common sense sprinkled here. Got a few shots with the RZ67 before a busload of loud American tourists came and hijacked the front row of the viewing platform. Wait a while and some more tourists, most likely from the same bus, pile in. I decide to move on. I don’t like sheep herded tourist spots.

1539hrs: Munching on a bagel from last night, since I have not eaten since 6am, this makes it my lunch. Now very hungry so I can wait. Waiting for the bus 2A to bring me back down the winding mountain road back to Tobu Nikko station. So this is bus stop number 24B. Starting to get cloudy now, clouds covering the mountain in front of the bus stop. It looks like the rain type, but the sun still gets to beam thru the cover. I guess it will not rain today.

1645hrs: Just arrived at Tobu Nikko station, in time. To sense how popular Nikko is, there was a traffic jam near the junction where Sinkkyo bridge is. Still. train leaves at 1657hrs and although platform 4 is quiet now and no train to be seen, I’m sure it will be on time. Like everything you see in Japan. That should get me into Tokyo before 8 pm, time to return to the hotel and attend a 9pm conference call. Could have taken the last train and miss the work, but to really cover the whole of Nikko, more than a day would be needed. Maybe thats the project for next time. Say, camping out there in the marshes of Senjogahara and catch the mist clearing in the morning.

I like hiking. I like hiking in the countryside. Better still no path, but maybe I’m not ready for that. And perfect if its hiking in the countryside with cameras. I will need to look for a small and low level tripod that I Can carry easily. After the rain soaked Nikko trip last week, this time I had an umbrella with me. Strange, but better safe than looking good in the countryside! Total photos taken, countless with the digital point and shoot as usual, but 4 rollsof 6×7 and 2 rolls of Portra 160NC from  the Leica. Nice tally. Maybe I shot too many 120, should restrain myself soon.

I think I will have to come back here sometime in the future, but maybe this time to camp so I can see the sunrise. Ok, this post is long enough. Over and out from Tochigi.

Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, 50mm f4.5 W, Fuji RXP


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