Saturday, March 29, 2008

I've Never Taken a Good Photograph of Mt. Fuji

And while I like to think it's not from lack of trying, since I haven't been to any of the more picturesque locations around its base you could probably make a cogent argument that, in fact, I haven't tried at all. The photos I've snapped of Mt. Fuji have all been from the shinkansen as we sped by.

My last attempt was in August 2007, during my summer vacation. On the way home from Tokyo the sky was a brilliant blue, so I had high hopes. But Mt. Fuji has its own weather:

You can see while the mountain is wearing a shawl of clouds, it's bareheaded. Bald even. During parts of the year snow rests on the peak and down its side like the long white hair of an ancient wise man. Or woman. Although sometimes it seems like Fuji has a beard. How can we best anthropomorphize this mountain so that we might create a vivid visual of wintertime Fuji when all we have are summertime pics?

Maybe we should just shut up instead. See the problems created by my not being able to take a decent photograph? I have to rely on words instead and words are notorious tricksters.

Mt. Fuji as seen from the shinkansen dominates one of the ugliest, most beautiful landscapes in Japan. You come out of the dark green mountains and there it is, but sprawling all around it like children's toys- the kind the government makes manufacturers recall- are the smoke-belching factories of Shin-Fuji. The area is heavily industrialized, and thanks the rising slope of Fuji, it seems to spread out forever. Your eyes take in a massive array of buildings and houses all at once.

My first trip through here I actually missed Fuji. I didn't see it at all. My first glimpse of it came on the return trip at which point I felt foolish for not having seen it the day before. How could I have missed such a thing? When you fly from Nagoya to Tokyo, you get to look at Fuji the whole way, once you're at cruising altitude. That's how big it is. These photos don't do its size justice.

You have to be some kind of genius of unobservant behavior not to see Mt. Fuji from the shinkansen. A complete dumb ass.

What I like about these photos (certainly not the compositions) is they manage to capture the light quality of a blazingly hot and armpit-weepingly humid August day in Japan. The windows of Shin-Fuji glittered, insects probably zinged away among the leaves and in the small gardens of the houses beside the tracks, the people on the streets more than likely carried towels to wipe away the sweat.

While the heat and humidity work your body (stomach, lower back and kidneys) like rowdy strongarms on the payroll of some cosmic loanshark you hubristically stiffed, the sun and sky take turns slapping you in the face, left, right, left, right... leaving you stunned and senseless.

Anthropomorphic weather report courtesy the blogger whose imagination has taken a vacation of its own.


RAB said...

You may be selling these photos short. The mundane rather than picturesque foreground locations only amplify the contrast with how...supernatural this mountain looks. These shots seem to depict a mountain on top of the clouds, not surrounded by them, and seeing these I can only imagine how mind-blowingly awesome it must be to see in person. Could people see this sight and not think it was the home of gods and goddesses? For that matter, Miyazaki being able to conceive something like Castle In The Sky seems a lot more reasonable too...

If your pics inspired me to think of all that, they can't have been so bad, now can they?

Todd Brown said...

Lol I took a picture of Mt Fuji from the Shinkansen this January at practically the same exact spot of your third picture. It has the orange striped chimney!

Joel Bryan said...

RAB- Thanks! It is an amazing contrast between the massiveness of Fuji itself and then the relatively fragile human structures beneath. The scale of it is beyond anything Hollwood could imagine.

There is a Miyazai-esque quality about a lot of the sights here. Sometimes it's like living in one of his movies.

Joel Bryan said...

Todd- That cracked me up! I have to say your photo is a lot more impressive than mine, too! Awesome snow-peaked shot.