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Manager Paul Cato (at left) chats with visitors at Chiiori, a renovated farmhouse turned inn. I’m sitting on the polished wooden steps of a 300-year-old farmhouse in Japan’s Iya Valley, looking out on a succession of mountain folds densely covered in deep green cedars. Standing at low tide, the torii on Miyajima is thrown into silhouette as the sun sinks behind a mountain.
Outside Shibuya Station in Tokyo, a crowd of pedestrians crosses a busy intersection beneath the glare of lighted billboards and neon signs. The clamorous labyrinth of stalls in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market showcases all manner of seafood—from live sea eel to pickled octopus—and reflects the well-ordered confusion of Japanese society.
A father cradles his sleeping son during breakfast at the Daiwa Sushi restaurant in Tokyo’s immense Tsukiji Fish Market. Traditional lanterns illuminate a walk home in Chiba, one of the five main cities that surround Tokyo Bay.
Whale sharks thrill a crowd at the Churaumi Aquarium on Okinawa, part of the Ryukyu archipelago south of mainland Japan. A wall goes digital in Roppongi Hills, a shopping and entertainment complex in Tokyo that boasts an arena, restaurants, and residences, as well as a 360-degree view of the city from the top of its centerpiece, the Mori Tower.
Rice cakes, or mochi, are a favorite in Japan, particularly during the New Year, when they are traditionally given as gifts, set out decoratively in the home, or offered at shrines and temples.
A brilliantly decorated lantern float stands out against the summer night sky during the Neputa Festival in Hirosaki. Designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations, Himeji-Jo is one of the finest surviving examples of classic Japanese architecture. In 2005 Japanese waters were inundated with swarms of Nomura's jellyfish--like the pair seen above cruising off the coast of Fukui Prefecture in November 2007. Scientists have since been racing to unlock the mysteries of this giant jellyfish species in an attempt to forecast invasions and prevent damages. This June researchers at Hiroshima University made some of the first surveys of the jellyfish's spawning grounds off the Chinese coast.
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Brian Skerry has been a contributing photographer for National Geographic magazine since 1998.
Shallow-water corals in Kingman Reef, 2007The remoteness of the Line Islands' Kingman Reef, which barely breaks the ocean’s surface, has kept it relatively unspoiled and removed from the overfishing and pollution affecting more easily reached locales. Southern right whale and diver, New Zealand, 2007It was a stunning scene—a 45-foot-long, 70-ton right whale hovering over the bottom just a few feet away from a diver standing on the bottom.
Moray eel, Japan, 2008Washed by a mix of nutrient-rich currents, the temperate waters of central Japan hold a stunning array of wildlife. Batfish, Japan, 2008Far from the frenetic activity of mainland Japan, marine life surrounding the Ogasawara Islands moves to its own rhythm.
Black coral, New Zealand, 2006The resilience of the oceans is evident within the many marine reserves throughout New Zealand. Giant clams, Kingman Reef, 2007Swimming through the waters of Kingman Reef is a feast for the eyes: Gardens of giant clams clutter the bottom, their neon-colored mantles glowing vibrantly, and are juxtaposed with brightly hued mushroom corals ranging in size from silver dollar to dinner plate. Coral goby on soft coral, Japan, 2008In spooky forests of whip coral, a pair of shrimp, male and female, are found living on a single strand, while nearby a goby mimics the brilliant orange of soft coral as a defense against predators. Harp seal pup, Canada, 2002I found that living with harp seals around the clock in full immersion was inspiring and addictive in a way that few wildlife experiences have been.
Subscribe to National Geographic magazine and save. Print and digital editions available for as little as $12. A volcano in a James Bond setting flared to life Wednesday, sparking lightning and a huge ash plume as well as prompting evacuations.
Lightning crackles over Japan on Friday as ash and lava erupt from Shinmoedake peak, one of the calderas of the Kirishima volcano complex. A "tentacle" of lightning stretches over Japan in a long-exposure picture taken Thursday of the ash plume rising from the Kirishima volcano complex.Kirishima is a grouping of about 20 volcanic peaks on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu (map). A dense plume of ash rises and spreads from Japan's Shinmoedake peak on Thursday.The Japan Meteorological Agency raised its volcano alert level Wednesday and warned people living near the peak to evacuate. A man in the town of Takaharu snaps a picture Thursday of ash rising from Japan's Shinmoedake peak, about 7 miles (11 kilometers) away. Japan's Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite, or GOSAT, captured an image of the Kirishima plume on Wednesday, before the increase in activity that prompted the call for evacuations.Built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the GOSAT spacecraft measures concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane, two major greenhouse gases. David Rumsey spent decades collecting more than 150,000 maps, and a new center lets the public explore them like never before.
Extinct in Stockholm less than a century ago, the rebounding rodent is damaging the city's treesa€”and at the same time charming locals.
Peek at Jupiter through binoculars and you should also see its icy moon Europa, thought to host a global ocean that may support life.
The banks of a rushing brook are littered with colorful leaves in a spectacular scene of the fall season. As the University of Colorado Buffaloes do battle on the football field, the real spectacle is taking place outside the stadium. In Japan the colorful blooming of Lycoris flowers peaks around the period of the autumn equinox, so the plant is named equinox flower or Higanbana. The placid waters and colorful foliage of Cooperstown, New York, frame a bucolic fall retreat. Brilliant autumn sunshine and an inviting carpet of colorful leaves entice walkers ever-upward along a path on Japan’s Natagiri Pass. The West Branch of the Pleasant River in Maine tumbles through a rocky gorge lined with trees sporting evergreen needles and cloaked in fall color.
A colorful collection of leaves and needles floats on the surface of the West Branch of the Pleasant River at Gulf Hagas, Maine. The Yellowstone River flows past banks aglow with golden fall color as it makes its way through Montana’s Paradise Valley.
A pond of colorful koi mirrors the fall foliage of a delightful private garden in Hagi, on Japan’s Honshu Island. New Hampshire’s White Mountains live up to their name as a beautiful white snowfall on the high peaks contrasts with a colorful canopy of fall leaves below. Skeins of morning mist rise from the valley floor, hang in wispy balls in the air, and tangle in the surrounding slopes.
The 12,388-foot (3,776-meter) volcano, which last erupted almost 300 years ago, is for the Japanese an enduring national symbol of serenity and strength. The famous vermilion gate was built in 1875 and is the largest in Japan, standing about 53 feet (16 meters) high. Rice, which has been cultivated in Japan for at least 2,000 years, is an important staple of the Japanese diet. Fishing in Japan is increasingly the labor of an older population, as fewer of the industrialized country’s young people are attracted to the trade.
Japan’s young people pride themselves on having a unique, up-to-the-minute style, projecting an edge in a country steeped in custom and convention. Fish has long been the protein staple of seagirt Japan, which consumes more than a tenth of the world catch. Known for its vertiginous growth, bamboo has numerous uses in Japan, particularly in Kyoto, where it is made into baskets, flutes, pipes, benches, dolls, garden fences, and artifacts for tea ceremonies. The aquarium features marine life found off the subtropical island, which is one of four “Blue Zones” where inhabitants enjoy extraordinarily long lives. Entertaining Japan’s male elite through music, dance, song, and conversation, geisha are valued as much for discretion as for beauty. Japan is well known for its artistic, sometimes spiritual, approach to gardening, and visiting botanical gardens is a popular activity. Living farther north than any other non-human primates, they rely on thick coats to help them survive the frigid temperatures in the highlands of central Japan and spend time soaking in the region’s many thermal springs.
Their surfaces dusted with flour, the sticky, glutinous cakes are often stuffed with sweet beans or served in soup and, when not made by hand in a complex process, are widely available in supermarkets. The Japanese language commonly uses 15,000 kanji characters, which are borrowed from Chinese.

Once supported by the patronage of emperors, Japan’s national sport has roots going back nearly 1,500 years. Often depicting warriors and shaped like fans, the floats are accompanied by traditional drums. Dating from the early 17th century, the striking, white-walled castle is also classified as a national treasure in Japan. Covering only 454 square miles (1,176 square kilometers), Okinawa is noted for its fine beaches and for the long life expectancy of native islanders, who maintain ancient values and a vibrant culture distinct from that of mainland Japan. A massive menace from the sea seems poised to invade Japan anew this summer, experts predict. The giants clogged fishing nets and poisoned potential catches with their toxic stings, costing coastal fishers billions of yen. The team found a huge new brood lurking in the waters, prompting experts to warn that another giant jellyfish invasion may be on the horizon. His new book, Ocean Soul, features spectacular images from a 30-year career in underwater photography.
Within Kingman’s massive lagoon, water quality is exceptional, allowing reef systems to thrive, and in every corner, wildlife teems.
Swimming over the volcanic sands of Suruga Bay is like entering a fairy tale, with characters to be found around every turn and each dive like another chapter.
The undersea terrain here morphs from boulder-strewn shallows to coral reefs, each with its own cast of characters.
In places like the Poor Knights Islands, Fiordland, and Goat Island, no-take protection has resulted in a rebounding of marine life, creating a new baseline for healthy marine ecosystems.
Throughout the more than 700 islands there are mangrove nurseries, coral reefs, and deep oceanic trenches, all perfect habitats for a wide variety of shark species. The more I saw, the more I wanted to see, and as each roll of film was wound up, I wanted to shoot another. The site featured in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, serving as the secret base of the main villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.Although the complex is often active, Wednesday's eruption is the strongest recorded atKirishima since 1959, ABC News reports.
But agency volcanologist Sei Iijima told ABC News that he doesn't think the eruption is a sign of bigger things to come."You can never say never with a volcano," Iijima said. The town hosts an evacuation center for people who left villages closer to the peak that were littered with volcanic debris.So far,the thick ash has also forced cancellation of a handful of domestic flights and several railway trains in Miyazaki Prefecture. The setting sun lights up the evening sky with an incredible palette of autumn color before it drops behind the Flatirons in the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The equinox is a Buddhist holiday in Japan, and the flowers are commonly seen in cemeteries to honor ancestors who have made the transition from this Earthly world.
This scene may appear timeless, but a number of ever-changing environmental variables like temperatures and soil moisture ensure that no two autumns are exactly alike when it comes to Mother Nature’s color palette. The recipe for red leaves appears to be a stretch of warm, sunny days punctuated by cool (but above freezing) nights.
Those taking this trail follow in the footsteps of the great poet Matsuo Basho, who traveled it in 1689.
Here at remote Gulf Hagas, the river tumbles down a series of waterfalls to drop more than 400 feet (122 meters) over four miles (6.5 kilometers). This remote gorge, Maine’s “Grand Canyon,” is deep within the 100-Mile Wilderness and accessible to hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The area is known for world-class fly fishing, but also rewards those who simply wish to soak in the scenery. Japanese cherish the season of Kouyou, or “changing colors,” just as much as their better-known spring cherry blossom festivals. Days grow short quickly during the Finnish fall, but fading light and frosty weather combine to create a spectacular foliage display during the months of September and October. The dusting presents a reminder that in this season of plentiful harvests and striking beauty, the chill of winter is not far behind.
The country’s hilly and mountainous landscape is particularly suited for farming the grain. Short but intense, most matches last less than a minute, with the grandly attired gyoji serving as referee. Folk festivals featuring traditional music, dance, and costume are an important cultural element in Japan. In the handful of places like this that remain, we can learn how coral reefs were meant to function, and create models for conservation elsewhere. Instead, the whale also stopped, turned, and hovered over me as it stared with that soulful eye. In these waters the ocean has also transformed shipwrecks from bygone wars into lush gardens of life, and oceanic caves hide species not yet described by science. Some of these places were protected because they were extraordinary; others became extraordinary thanks to protection. Far from being the solitary, aggressive monster they have often been portrayed as, sharks are complex animals, and they are crucial to the health of the oceans. For a few nights each year in spring, firefly squid spawn in the deep waters off Toyama Bay. Unable to protect their leaves from the chill they shed them after extracting the foliage's essential nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous.Before leaves fall in autumn they treat peepers to riotous color displays—but most of them don’t “change” color. Rice farmers employ the plants for a more practical use—their poisonous bulbs are meant to keep mice and other pests out of crops.
Readers of his backcountry journal, Narrow Road to a Far Province, have sought the path ever since. Because of its obvious attractions, fall is among the most popular times to hike in New England. Emigrant Peak, part of the Absaroka mountain range, provides a towering backdrop to an iconic scene of autumn in the American West. The country’s most colorful trees include the Japanese maple, the ginkgo, and, of course, the cherry.
The only sound is the drip of predawn rain from nearby branches and from the farmhouse’s roof of thick thatch. A few seconds later, I resumed swimming alongside the whale, making pictures, and savoring every second. The gift that warm water provides is the gift of time, being able to spend prolonged periods in the water so that we can begin to make sense of all that we see. Diving in these waters, surrounded by schools of fish and seeing animals everywhere, people become aware of the restorative powers of conservation. With clear, blue water as a backdrop, this tropical locale is the ideal environment for an underwater photographer seeking to capture the special blend of power and grace that these animals exude. On moonless nights they rise to the surface, and dying females get swept by currents to nearby beaches, glowing an eerie blue as they wash ashore.
We had a radio on the boat and a satellite phone that I used occasionally, but for the most part it was just the ice, the seals, and me. Natural pigments called carotenoids, which produce yellow, brown, and orange hues, are always present in leaves.
Unlike yellow or orange colors, always present but often invisible in leaves, red-colored anthocyanin pigments are produced during the fall season itself. As we move slowly through these places, patterns begin to emerge and behaviors are revealed.
Scientists aren’t sure why, but suspect the process is meant to protect leaves just a bit longer by serving as antifreeze, insect repellent, or sunscreen. I feel as if I’m in the hermit’s hut in a 17th-century ink-and-brush painting.“Extraordinary, isn’t it?” says Paul Cato, the expatriate manager of this farmhouse, inn, and living-history classroom. On that trip I discovered a Japan I hadn’t known existed: A place of farms and fishing villages, mountainside shrines and seaside temples, rugged seacoasts and forested hills, time-honored traditions and country kindness.
Thirty-two years later, I’ve come back with Kuniko to celebrate our 28th anniversary and to see if I can rediscover that special place. While Kuniko relishes time at home with her family, I’m on a solo sojourn tracing pilgrims’ trails and winding one-lane roads in search of this lost Japan.Kuniko’s hometown, Johen, is a tranquil place of about 9,000 people in the southwestern corner of Shikoku. Although it is a main island, Shikoku is what most Japanese consider tooi inaka, the deep countryside.

Though there are a handful of famous sights—the 17th-century castles of Matsuyama and Kochi, Ritsurin Koen garden in Takamatsu, and the hot spring spa of Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama—and though three bridges now link the island to Honshu (the first opened in 1988), Shikoku remains a mystery to the average Japanese. It’s even more mysterious to foreigners, who rarely venture this far off the beaten path.On my first visit here, I literally fell off the beaten path. Everything was going beautifully until Kuniko and I reached her family’s house, which was located on a lane that seemed narrower than our rental car, with a ditch on one side and a stream on the other. And that’s how I met my future parents-in-law, asking if they could help me lift my car from the trench. Kuniko’s mother, Obaachan, recalls this moment 32 years later, as the entire family gathers outside their home to bow me off on a sunny September day. Last night, over sushi, beers, and a shiny new Shikoku map, I had asked Kuniko’s parents and two brothers to tell me where to go to find the heart of Shikoku.
Kuniko’s older brother, Nobuhisa, had nominated Cape Ashizuri, the same place he took us on my first visit. The main street curves along the seafront, past a placid row of shops: vegetable market, hardware store, hair salon, bakery.
Behind one house three men in wide-brimmed straw hats tend a fire of backyard vegetation, the smoke stinging the air. A thickly forested hillside rises steeply behind the houses, and gray cemetery obelisks zigzag in patches of cleared land up the slope. The summer air is still.“Wah!” the grandmotherly woman behind the counter at the bakery says when I walk in.
Her wrinkled, tanned face crinkles into a bright smile.I ask if she grew up in this village. For me, there’s no reason to leave.”When I pass her some coins to pay for my canned ice coffee, she waves them away. Have a safe journey!”Threading my way through fish-pungent villages, I eventually reach the tip of Cape Ashizuri and stand on the lookout point where Kuniko, Nobuhisa, and I stood 32 years before. I gaze at the gleaming white lighthouse, the craggy coast, the cedar-covered mountains sliding into the sea.
This is a picture I carried in my head and heart all those years—pristine, peaceful, offering a wideness of sight and soul that you never find in urban Japan.
Shikoku opens up your mind and your heart like no other place in Japan can.”That night I stay in a nearby inn with a sweeping view of rice fields, mountains, and one of the longest white-sand beaches in Japan—and an owner whose own mind and heart seem as expansive as the view. He started the inn after years working at an international hotel chain in Bali, he tells me.
Do you know aoi kuni Shikoku?” I do.The next day, I’m white-knuckling along one-lane roads through the green, steeply sloping mountains of the Iya Valley.
Villages are carved into occasional clearings on the mountainsides, and I pass farmers hoeing and digging, with occasional bushels of barley standing on hardscrabble plots.
Welcome!” calls Paul Cato, the American resident manager, as he slides open the inn’s wooden doors.
The interior of the house is exquisitely empty, one open room about 40 feet long by 20 feet wide, all gleaming wooden floorboards, thick exposed wooden beams, rice paper lanterns, and rice paper screens. Stepping over the threshold is like stepping back in time.“That’s actually true,” Cato says when I mention this feeling. Because of the wet climate, the farmers would hang the leaves from the rafters to dry inside, over the smoking hearths. They were ingenious in other ways, too.” He lifts a broad wooden floorboard to reveal a pile of stored potatoes. Volunteers have come from throughout Japan and around the world to live here, work the crops, and maintain the farmhouse, and local farmers teach the traditional techniques. So this truly is a piece of old Japan.”One modern feature of Chiiori is excellent Wi-Fi, and I get an e-mail from Kuniko. Fumiyaki says it’s the most peaceful place on Shikoku.”As dusk shrouds the mountains, Cato and I slice and dice radishes, onions, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, and pumpkins from Chiiori’s garden for a rich stew that we eat around the charcoal-fired hearth.
I descend a hundred steps into a primeval scene of thick foliage and floating clumps of mist. Two “wedded” bridges appear spectrally—each a set of intertwining vines stretched across a rushing river. The higher and longer bridge is traditionally known as the male; the lower, shorter one the female. Fog rises from the river and obscures the surrounding hills.Of all the sights in Iya Valley—the mountains and temples and hot springs—this is the one other place Fumiyaki told me I had to go. The other one is touristy, but you can get a sense of old Shikoku at this one.”A sudden wind sways the vine bridge, slick with the day’s rain. Tentatively I set a sandaled foot on the first vine-entwined wooden plank, wishing I’d brought better footwear.
Swoop!My sandal slips, and suddenly I’m sprawled on my rump and my foot is wedged between wooden planks. The woods, the mist, the ghosts of the Heike warriors, all close in on me.“The people of Iya still believe that gods live in the mountains,” Fumiyaki had said, and now I understand why. I can hear them laughing in the trees.Finally I find a way to detach my foot from my sandal, scratch and scrape my foot through the planks, and extricate my sandal from the bridge. With the vines dancing and the wind creaking the boughs, I carefully place my re-sandaled foot and clutch the vine-looped handrails with both hands.
IN THE MAIN HALL at the Zentsuji temple complex, incense spirals into the air and monks intone a solemn chant while a half dozen elderly visitors bow and pray; outside, another young monk assiduously sweeps the dirt ground with a broom made of twigs. There are 88 temples all around Shikoku in the circuit, and pilgrims—o-henro-san—walk from temple to temple to gain wisdom and purity. I remember when I was a little boy the pilgrims would approach our door—you could hear the ting-ting of the bells they carried—and my mother would tell me to bring them rice and oranges. That’s why we welcome strangers on Shikoku.”A shop displaying books, beads, walking sticks, and other pilgrimage accoutrements entices me, and I lose all sense of time perusing a children’s picture book showing the life and legends of Kobo Daishi.
When I emerge, pilgrims are everywhere, clad in identical conical bamboo hats and loose, immaculate white jackets and pants, all carrying straight, sturdy staffs. When I ask them about the pilgrimage, the daughter reaches into a shoulder pouch and carefully lifts out a book with a cover of gold and red silk. I feel like I can do anything after I’ve finished the journey,” he says.“Of course,” the daughter says, “this is only our fourth circuit.
That o-henro-san there”—and she points to a wizened man draped in colorful sashes and dressed all in black—“is doing the route for the 333rd time!”As I watch the pilgrims pray and pose for pictures, I realize that they are a benedictory presence on Shikoku. In their fervent, plodding path, they remind us to slow down and keep a higher spiritual purpose in mind. And I realize too the deep truth of Ojiichan’s words, that the tradition of hospitality, kindness, and openness on the island must trace its roots to the pilgrim’s own openhearted quest.I tour the island for two more days, stopping to feel the texture of old straw-and-clay farmhouses, idling in serene fishing villages, bowing to pilgrims I pass. At a hot spring spa, a half dozen middle-aged women befriend me and insist on paying for my dinner.
When I’m lost at a coastal intersection, a truck driver goes a half hour out of his way to deliver me to the right highway.
At a roadside snack stand, the proprietress asks me if I’m doing the pilgrimage and when I tell her no, that I’m looking for the heart of Shikoku, she exclaims, “Then you’re a pilgrim, too!” and presents me with a strawberry shaved ice.On the fifth day, I arrive back at Johen just as dusk is falling.
The family is waiting for me with a feast of fresh-from-the-harbor katsuo sashimi and grilled aji, and fresh-from-the-garden mushrooms, tomatoes, and cucumbers.As we sit on tatami mats around a low table, Obaachan fastens me with her bright eyes. I found it in farmers’ fields and fishermen’s villages, and in the pilgrims who give a sense of the sacred to daily life.
And I found it over and over in everyday people who greeted me with a wide spirit and heartfelt hospitality.”For a second I’m not sure if anyone has understood my mangled Japanese. Then they all nod and smile.Ojiichan ceremoniously pours beer for everyone and raises his glass. Photographer Macduff Everton first visited Japan while hitchhiking around the world at age 18.

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