Hiking Japan: Living Journal Nagano People Walking

Summer Walks Part 3- So September Blue

Houhou cloudwalk

View of the Shirane-Three Peaks, with Mt. Kitadake, the second highest mountain in Japan, off to the right side. Here Mt. Noutori rises above the clouds. The valleys hid in shadow below, while the world above basked in late summer sunlight.

Conversations heard along the trail.

“Where did that dog come from?”

“What dog?”

“The one standing there on the trail, looking down at us.”

“Wow. How’d he manage to get down those rock faces? We had to use chains!”

“And he’s just standing there, politely waiting for us to pass. A mountain dog with good manners!”

“Looks like he’s just out for an afternoon stroll. I wonder if he’s going or coming?”

“Coming, I guess. If you were from around here and knew this killer trail, would you be starting up right now?”

“He probably thinks we’re a little daft.”

“No doubt. Do you think that’s a smile on his face?”

“Look, I think he wants to pass now. I guess all this babbling has ruined his solitude.”

“Best let him pass then.”

“There he goes, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.”

Mt. Kannon

Looking back over the ridge toward Mt. Kannon. The whole array of peaks in the Houou Three Peaks range pay tribute to Buddhist luminaries, like the bodhisattvas Kannon and Jizo. Everywhere you walk tiny shrines and offerings to statuettes concentrate the presence of walkers’ involvement with the place. One ridge, where numerous walkers have died, shelters a group of jizo statues in memory of the walkers’ spirits. An almost eerie sense of others watching pervades the whole mountain range.

“I did not say that I didn’t want to wait for you, or that…!”

“You always have to show how tough and manly you are! Why can’t you just slow down?”

“I am slowing down. I’m trying to match your pace…”

“What, so you think I can’t climb this trail? You think I’m too weak to handle it?”

“I didn’t say that. I just don’t like falling behind and having to walk right behind some stranger in front of me.”

“Oh, so you think everyone here is too slow? FIne! I’ll just pick up my pace and make sure to be better than everyone else! See you later!”

“Hey, don’t do that. Come on. Where you going? Oh, come on. Don’t be silly…”

Houhou Fuji Man

Like a dark queen Mt. Fuji rises to the southeast. Though the deity that lives in the volcano is considered male in Japan, Mt. Fuji has always seemed like a female monarch to me. In the over thirty five years I have seen her, including five years living right at her base, where she surveyed me below in my apartment window, she has never revealed herself the same way twice. Dark and fiery red on summer days, wreathed in clouds in autumn, even gliding ghostly white on moonlit nights, she sits aloof and alone in her vast throne between the surrounding, more timid mountains.

“Are you all right?”

“I feel sick. I think I pushed myself too hard.”

“Here. Try some water. It might make you feel a little better.”

“I wasn’t trying to slow you down.”

“I know.”

“I’ve only been in the mountains once this year.”

“I know.”

“I slept badly all night.”

“I know.”

“That climb was really hard !”

“You can say that again! It was so steep and slippery I couldn’t even stand still to take a break!”

“I still haven’t forgiven you yet.”

“I know.”

Houhou Shy Fuji BW

The last peak before Houou descends into the valley. Seemingly from the top of every creeping pine, windblown larch, and outcropping, nutcrackers called and winged amidst the drifting clouds. Called “hoshi-garasu” (star crow) in Japanese, their spangled breasts flashed white as they whisked by.

“Would you like another chicken dumpling?”

“No thanks. It’s too hot to eat chicken.”

“Really? It goes well with the pork broth rice balls. Follow it with some salt-pickled celery. Nice and crunchy!”

“I don’t see how you can stuff yourself like that in this heat. You’re like a drunk salaryman.”

“Better grab some while they’re still available. This walking does wonders for the appetite. Sure you don’t want some? They’re remarkably good. I thought they were your favorite?”

“You’re unbelievable. You’ve begun savoring convenience store food. All discrimination right out the window.”

“In the mountains everything tastes good. Sure you don’t want one? Last one!”

Houhou Skycrags

Stunted yellow birch hold on tight to the rocks to survive the relentless winds. The rock garden above Kannon Peak Mountain Hut seemed like something out of a surreal painting, the colors and forms so intense and twisted.”

“The woods smell nice.”

“Balsam fir. I got some of the sap on my fingers. Here, take a whiff.”

“I like just lying here under the trees. I could lie here all day.”

“Too bad we have to get back to work tomorrow.”

“My legs feel like rubber bands. Don’t think I can take another step.”

“We have some time. Let’s just close our eyes and forget about the time for a short while.”

“Shhh. Listen. The wind rustling the leaves.”

Larch woods appearing out of a lifting mist, along the steep trail out of Gozaishi Kousen.

“That sign said forty minutes till the end!”

“How many minutes has it been?”

“One hour and thirty minutes.”

“Perhaps the sign was meant for faster walkers.”

Houhou Surreal

“This ice cream really hits the spot! I think it’s the best ice cream cone I’ve ever had!”

“Do you think we have time for a hot spring bath? I could really use a bath right now.”

“The bus comes in twenty minutes. I don’t think so.”

“Hope the other bus passengers will survive my influence! I don’t have a change of clothes.”

“Well, you might knock them all unconscious, so probably you don’t have to worry about their reactions… Ow! That hurt!”

“Serves you right! Hey, can I take a bite of your ice cream? I’m already finished with mine.”

Fuji Puff

20 replies on “Summer Walks Part 3- So September Blue”

I enjoyed the conversations too Рfunny, poignant, sad Рvery human. And I agree with Pascale Рthe Mt. Fuji photo is stunning and goes way beyond clich̩- but they are all wonderful. Thank you for this respite from my work day, Butuki, I feel like I have accompanied you for a few steps on the trail.


Oh, I was asked for a login password and couldn’t remember it! Anyway, after a few attempts with a new one, I’m here. Such a wonderful post and photos, bringing the trip alive for me, with the humurous and very real life conversations. The spiritual aspects of these mountains really come alive with the many monuments and strange rock groups. I can imagine how refreshed and alive you must feel after this trip, and all set to go with full energy on your creative projects.


FanTAStic photos. I love the first one of Fuji. The small figure in the top right makes the photo for me.
The overheard conversations actually made me laugh out loud.
“Perhaps the sign was meant for faster walkers.” 🙂
Thank you for that. It actually reminded me of an old post of yours about conversations overheard on a train. I think that at that time I suggested to you that the concept would make a great book project. This could be the start of the mountain chapter…


Thanks everyone, especially the comment about the Fuji photo. It’s funny how some photos happen. When I was looking through the camera’s viewfinder, composing the Fuji photo I didn’t realize at first that there was a person standing up there on the top right. I was concentrating on Mt. Fuji. Suddenly the person moved and I saw this photo. But I only had split second; WIthout really thinking I reacted instinctively, snapping the photo. Then, before I could snap another picture, the person turned and walked out of the scene. It was one of the serendipitous photographic moments.

Personally I like the last photo more. But that’s just me.

Pascale, I feel like I’m not reciprocating by not commenting in your new blog… but honestly I never have any idea how to respond to the religious posts you make. They are way beyond my knowledge. Sorry.

Cassandra, it’s good to see you here again. I’ve missed your insights and subtle way of listening. ANd of course your own blog continues to draw me every day.

Marja-Leena, sorry about having to add the registration process again. I’ve been getting some awful comment spam lately, almost all from this person who titles them “Hi there”. May spammers rot in the hundredth level of Hyper-Hell.

Lisa, you and Sally comprise my biggest fans in Seattle! I just connected to Google Analytics the other day and saw, for the first time, the demographics of this site. I was surprised to learn that Japan, the Northwest, California, the Northeast of the United States, southern Britain, France, southest Austalia, and New Zealand are the places from which most people visit. Everything else is basically a blank on the map. It’s sad that no one from South America, Africa, the whole of Central Asia, and (though it’s not represented on the map) Antarctica stop by. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a reader from Antarctica? Five years ago I was a member of an online nature writing group. Somehow, I don’t know how, I managed to make a connection to a gecko researcher in the middle of the Ecuadorian Amazon. For a year we corresponded. Now how unlikely is that?

Zen, might I make a slight correction to your Japanese? Just move the “wa”. “Fuji-san no shashin wa sugoi.”

Sasane, I’m not sure how different readers took the conversations. As Cassandra wrote, they evoked different emotions, I guess. I did hope, though, that some of them would make people laugh. Over the last few weeks it seems there have been so many earnest and sad conversations about the events in the world today and I guess I’m a little worn out. What I wouldn’t give to be sitting around a blazing campfire with a good selection of friends, sharing some good food and drink, telling stories, and laughing out loud!


hi and thanks for your comments and suggestions about blogging remedies. i will consider the options carefully and appreciate your comments very much.

your blog is delightful – the photographs are just remarkable! what an amazing part of the world you are in. what camera are you using? there is so much to see and read here – i will return. 🙂


All your posts are great; you know I’m a big fan, but his last is so much the best of them all. I felt that I was reading a book by one of my favourite writers, you know, the kind that makes your mouth drop open a bit when you discover it and you kind of fall into the world before you and lose track of time and space. It’s that good, Miguel, and Sasanne is right; it should be a book. I kind of envision a novel/ travel book of some kind. The characters’ conversations, whether overheard or imagined, carry us right into the landscape somehow. Oh the power of story! Magic!

And stunning photographs. I love the Larches with mist behind.Thank you for this gift.


I keep coming back to these photos; their clarity is breathtaking. The one of Mt Fuji against the blue sky is an absolute classic; I could see that one printed out as a huge poster. The larches too are so atmospheric – and that one I can relate to a little more directly as such scenes are to be found here in the UK too (as well as copious amounts of mist!)


Hi Andy… actually the clarity of my photos when I originally take them is probably not much better than yours. It’s just the nature of digital photography that post-production is probably just as important as when you actually take the photos. I use PhotoShop CS to work on my photos and try to bring out what I hope will be their best of their nature. I find that sometimes they work better in black and white, or else with colors strongly desaturated. Almost always sharpening is necessary, though I am still learning a lot about this. I’ve taken the liberty of using a method of retouching my photos that I’ve gleaned from the internet and talking to other photographers to rework the one on your site of the Alps (I hope you don’t mind… I just want to show you just how much you can punch out your own photos by retouching them):

Before retouching:

After retouching:

Pretty dramatic, no?

Do you use PhotoShop? I think you can use this method with whatever software is out there, but the controls may be a little different: Here’s my method:

1) Open the original JPEG photo(image file type… for photos it’s better not to use GIF, unless there is a lot of uniform color).

2) Go to the menu bar and choose “File”–• “Save As”. Go down to where it says “Format” and choose the software’s proprietary file type. In PhotoShop it is “PSD” or “PhotoShop”. The reason for saving the file in a different format is because JPEG is a “lossy” format in that with each subsequent save it loses information, until the file eventually degrades very badly. Use JPEG for image files that won’t be saved again, and for uploading files with small sizes onto the Web. Use PSD for reworking images, and TIFF or EPS for archiving your original photos in a more secure format. TIFF and EPS have huge file sizes though, so they are better left just for archiving.

3) Save sharpening till last. Do all the sizing, color adjustments and such beforehand.

4) After saving to PSD determine whether you want to change the image size or crop the image. For chainging image size go to “Menu Bar”–• “Image”–• “Image Size” and put in your coordinates. It’s better not to resize the image larger than its original size, because the larger size will cause the image to lose pixels, thus leaving an image with less resolution. For cropping, go to the Tool Bar on the screen, choose the “Crop” Tool and crop according to what you need.

5) From here I always start with “Menu Bar”–• “Image”–• “Adjustments”–• “Levels”. Sometimes I just use “Auto Levels” instead, because it often does a good job with balancing natural colors, but at other times it changes everything so badly that it is better not to use it then. In “Levels” a histogram will appear, with a mountain range-like diagram. Beneath the diagram are three triangular adjusters. Move the leftmost triangle inward to the right until it sits at the leftmost point of the “mountain range”. Move the rightmost triangle inward to the left until it sits at the rightmost point of the “mountain range. This will adjust the brightness and contrast of the image into a more natural range. The center triangle is used to refine the image. Often I adjust this because my original images out of the camera are often too dark. You don’t need to adjust the histogram if the “mountain range” sits neatly within the box.

6) From here it is a matter of taste. I often go to “Menu Bar”–• “Image”–• “Adjustments”–• “Hue/Saturation” to work on the colors and saturation. Very often I find that what I get out of the camera contains too much of one color and not enough of another. My camera tends to saturate reds too strongly, so I tone them down. Here it is that I often will pull out all the color and leave the image with a black and white tone, or a monochrome tone. I also desaturate all the colors but one in some images, to make that one color stand out.

7) When all the image adjustment is done and I am satisfied with the overall look, I finally go to the sharpening. Sharpening can be quite harsh on the pixels so care needs to be taken when doing it. That is why it is better to wait until the end to do it.

8) Go to the “Channels” palette on the side (if it is not open, got to “Menu Bar”–• “Window”–• “Channels”). This is usually sitting side-by-side with the “Layers” and “Paths” palettes. Select the “Green” channel (other colors are okay, too, but green tends to be the most neutral). Right click this and select “Duplicate Channel”. A new window will open named “Green Copy”. Click OK. A new channel, “Green Copy”, will appear in the Channel palette. Select this channel. Your image should should turn black and white now.

9) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “Filter”–• “Stylize”–• “Find Edges”. Your image will now appear as a heavily stylized group of black edge lines.

10) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “Filter”–• “Blur”–• “Gaussian Blur”. Set the value to “2.8”. This can be changed, of course, but this value has always worked well for me. You will get a blurred B/W image. Click “OK”. This effect is used to later create a softer overlayer that allows sharpening with a more feathered edge.

11) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “Image”–• “Adjustments”–• “Invert”. Your image will now appear negative. This is done to make it easier to view the levels contrast hereafter.

12) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “Image”–• “Adjustments”–• “Levels”. Here you will get the histogram with the “mountain range” again. Adjust the left and right triangles (not the middle one) so that each is more or less a centimeter (1/2 inch) inwards from the histogram “mountain range’s” tips. You want to make the blacks in the image quite dark and the whites almost shimmering white. Just don’t overdo it or there will be strong halos in the image later. Click OK.

13) Go back to the “Channels”/ “Layers” palette (if the “Layers” palette is not open go to “Menu Bar”–• “Window”–• “Layers” to open it). Select the “Layers” palette, click on your image. The original color image will re-appear.

14) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “Select”–• “Load Slection…”. Your image will now have some scintillating selection lines. These will determine which part of your image will be selectively sharpened. On your keyboard type (Mac) Command-H (Windows? something similar I guess) to hide the selection lines.

15) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “Filter”–• “Sharpen”–• “Unsharp Mask”. A new window will open with sharpening adjustments. You can do it two ways from here. Before I discussed this with Pohanginapete I always adjusted the controls this way:
Љۢ Amount: 145~280 %
Љۢ Radius: 0.4 pixels
Љۢ Threshold: 0 levels
Љۢ Click OK.

This worked reasonably well, but I often found that the edges in the images, especially when there was high contrast, came out quite harsh. Pohanginapete suggested these adjustments:
Љۢ Amount: 250 %
Љۢ Radius: 0.2 pixels
Љۢ Threshold: 0 levels
Љۢ Click OK
Љۢ Repeat.

With this method I sometimes had to adjust the Amount the second time around to something lower, like 145 % or so. Don’t adjust the Radius too high or really harsh artifacts appear in the image.

16) On your keyboard type “Command-H” again to bring the selection lines back, then “Command-D” to deselect the image.

17) Go to the “Layers” palette again, select your image layer (should be called “Background”), right click the image name text, and select “Duplicate Layers”. Click “OK”. A new layer called “Background copy” will appear in the Layers palette. In the dropdown menu at the top of the palette select “Soft Light”. Your image will take on a strong contrasty flavor.

18) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “Filter”–• “Other”–• “High Pass…” A new window will appear with a pixel levels control. Here you can adjust the level of details that will either be hidden or allowed through. Using this filter lets you further sharpen your image, but with a softer, more even touch. What it is basically doing is either allowing or preventing the transparency of the earlier sharpening adjustments to filter through to the image. I usually am very sparing with the numbers here, usually between 0.3 to 0.9, though sometimes when there is a lot of contrast and I’m trying to soften the halos on the edge of things, I will go up to 1.5 pixels. You can check the “Preview” box to see how your image looks as you adjust the settings. Click “OK”.

19) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “Layer”–• “Flatten Image” to merge your two layers in the Layers palette. You cannot save your image unless you do this.

20) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “File”–• “Save”. Your image is done.

21) To make a JPEG file for uploading to the internet, I first go to “Menu Bar”–• “Image”–• “Adjustments”–• “Brightness/ Contrast” and adjust the Brightness to “-12” (essentially temporarily darkening the image) so that the later JPEG image does not get washed out on the computer screen. Don’t save the image with this setting, or your original image will be too dark.

22) Go to “Menu Bar”–• “File”–• “Save For Web…”. Make sure the format is JPEG, quality “very high” (or “high” if the file size is still too big), and check “optimized”. Click “Save”

Your new image is all done. It sounds like a lot of work when you read it here, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it it is actually quite fast. The results are usually very nice. Why don’t you give it try? Tell me what you think?


Andrew, nobody EVER wrote such a long explanation for me…
Anyway, assuming that you had not edited your pictures, they already look great in their original version.


May… I had to laugh when I read that. Yes, Andy, your original photos DO look great as they are. I certainly hope I didn’t give the impression that I didn’t think so! We’ve been sharing talk of photography for long enough now that I felt I could interact more with you on this with the sharpening information. As fellow photographers we can always learn more…

Actually I wrote the tutorial partly for myself; I’ve been wanting to get all this information down in my site so that I had a place to refer to it and also so that others could use it for their own photos. I’ve already used the comment above to put together a permanent page for people to look at, though it won’t be up until I can finish it.

I hope to put together an entire section with tutorials and discussion on various things from photography, food, and backpacking, to bicycle travel, diabetes, and illustratioin. I’m just too busy at the moment to make it all happen at once!


In life it is good to have projects in mind and to look forward to carry them out.
The photo tutorial that you’re willing to share with other people can be helpful to many except to the lazy ones like me. I love taking pictures, especially of bodies, especially of mine. I learn by trial and error.
If I could express a wish for another topic for your section, it would be “reflections on life”.

I hope that the diabetes is kept under control.

PS – Still up this late?


Wow! That’s a fabulous tutorial; thanks for taking the time and trouble to type it all out. And don’t worry – I took it entirely in the spirit in which it was intended – one enthusiast sharing his “tricks of the trade” with another. One thing that ranks high on my list of pleasures is learning – and this is a perfect example of how learning is passed on.

I use Serif’s Photoplus, but the functionality is largely the same as Photoshop. Some of those tweaks I use – most shots I post are cropped to get the optimum composition (and its amazing how something good can be pulled from what seems a reject shot simply by cropping). I tend to use Curves rather than Levels, purely because I discovered that control first – the effect is similar, although I must revisit Levels to see if there are any subtle differences.

Btw, I’d already been quite aggressive in the use of the curves on that shot of mine – the original was much more concentrated in the mid-greys. But the effect of increased clarity you’ve achieved is quite remarkable – I must have a go on the full size original! May be a while though; I have a very full day tomorrow and a busy week, including evenings, next week… *sigh*


Okay… it didn’t work… 😦
I guess WordPress wont allow links to external images in comments… Maybe this will work? If it doesn’t, I promise I’ll stop filling up your comments with spam!!


Andrew: I think it worked. What do you have to do tomorrow, during the week and IN THE EVENINGS? I hate it when I have to stay at work later than 5:30 p.m., despite the fact that I work about 32 hours a week.

Butuki: what is Sunday like in Japan? What are you looking forward to do today?


Beautiful captures! Funny story.
>It’s sad that no one from South America, Africa, the whole of Central Asia, and (though it’s not represented on the map) Antarctica stop by. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a reader from Antarctica?
I hope a visitor from North Africa is acceptable for you map :-}


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