Karst Plateau & 剣山 Tsurugi Yama (sword Mountain)
Akiyoshidai Karst Plateau in Autumn is a tall sea of grass. At the time of my visit, the grass (miscanthus sinesis or 尾花 'Obana' Japanese Pampas Grass) was in full flower, with silvery pink feather-like blossoms blowing in the wind. The tips of limestone pinnacles were just visible above the grass and would otherwise be fully revealed in other seasons. The section of the plateau selected as a focus point was 剣山 Tsurugi Yama (Sword Mountain). This small mountain was mentioned in the survey results by a resident of the area of 55 years who regularly hikes along walking trails in the plateau.
The limestone karst topography of this plateau was formed in the Paleozoic era by the uplifting of coral reefs, which resulted from the folding of the Earth's crust. Prior to the advent of agricultural practices in Japan, the plateau was heavily forested. Sections of the plateau contain patches of farmland, however, the porous soil makes it unsuitable for growing rice, the most popular staple in Japan. Rain water drains through the limestone into the immense network of caves under the surface.
The plateau is maintained in its current state as a national treasure by Yamaguchi prefecture. Each February, the grass is burnt in a festival called 'yamayaki' or mountain burning, preventing the regrowth of trees. This tradition originated from agricultural practices but is now used to maintain the plateau's topography for tourism and scenic purposes.
On Tsurugi Yama, there are a couple of stone seats nestled amongst the grass away from the primary site. I chose a spot which immediately felt 'right'. The tall grass provides a sense of privacy from the trail and I occupied this site for close to three hours. Around the seat were not only grass, but also young bamboo plants and a few 'Fujibakama' 'Mistflowers', one of the traditional Seven Flowers of Autumn (秋の七草 Aki No Nanakusa).
The north wind was strong and relentless, allowing me to obtain some dynamic recordings with microphones tucked into the base of the bamboo, or shielded by the bench. The low undergrowth recordings were rich in insect sounds and the dramatic rustling of leaves, capturing the microcosm of the plateau. The 'surface' recordings depicted waves of wind coming from wide distances. The sound of wind in the grass (mentioned by a couple of survey respondents) is remarkably soothing. Being immersed in the higher pitched rhythmic waves of rustling is a meditative experience, especially when coupled with the rhythm of steady walking.
I had to weigh down my pleated arc drawing with rocks, which became pauses and punctuation marks in the piece. The work is dominated by the sound and sights of grass in the wind, as being seated in the middle of the work, distant views of landscape are obscured by walls of green. This site is characterised by bamboo, bent grass, karst rocks and effervescent clouds. It is as though I have stepped into a traditional Chinese painting which has its elements spread out on a vast, earthly horizontal dimension.
Second drawing session for the pleated arc and folded globe, third session for the walking scroll. There was far less wind today, but the UV was very intense due to the overcast sky. The weather on the plateau is perfidious. Surrounded by mountains heavy with trees, the plateau seems to be a magnet for clouds but the wind blows them along too quickly for the sky to make up its mind. As there was less wind, the constant trill of insects and a couple of crows were the key sounds I recorded in my drawings.
Caught on the ground but with the sky feeling very close, I am just as susceptible to the weather as every other part of this topography. As the closest shelter is a twenty minute walk away, I realise just how much weather shapes both me and my experiences in this place. Each day that I draw here I become more familiar with both the path and the ever changing atmosphere. This place seems vast and distances long, but the gradual accumulation of knowledge makes each visit less foreboding.
It is the formation of familiarity with the well trodden paths through this landscape that I am recording in my drawings. Although Tsurugi Yama is a lookout proffering distance vistas, the pleated arc and walking scroll drawings are grounded in the microcosmic surface level of the plateau. The nature of this Autumn season with the corridors of grass creates this low narrowed focus. The folded globe incorporates both sounds from the surface and distant views.
This day was dedicated to both a morning and afternoon drawing and recording session at Tsurugi Yama. As it was a Saturday, the morning session proved the most rewarding for recording as there were fewer cars and people. I was able to obtain sounds of insects in the grass, including a very shy insect that I often hear chiming along the trail, but stops as soon as you approach.
The sun was very intense in the morning and I was forced to use an umbrella for shade, having to juggle this, and four pencils in my left hand while I drew. The physical demands of working outside in the landscape make it challenging to retain focus. It required much stamina and endurance and I was very tempted to abandon this site and seek out the shade of a tree. The heat began to give me a headache by 12pm and I stopped for lunch.
Thankfully the sun retreated behind some clouds in the afternoon and I was able to continue work in a second session, finishing both the Pleated Arc and Folded Globe. The Walking Scroll piece had been completed while walking to the site in the morning. All three pieces were completed in four sessions and are too crowded with marks for a fifth.
It is quite incredible seeing the changes in the colour of the grass in just four days. The tips have begun to turn a bright orange and some have become a deep magenta. This change is particularly noticeable in the afternoon sunlight. Several people in the surveys mentioned dusk as their favourite time to visit the plateau. I will attempt to do this in the coming weeks.
Drawing documentation first session:
Drawing documentation second session: