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Photography has changed the way I see the world around me.

Through it I discover new things and rediscover old ones. Like my island, New Caledonia.

This blog is just me sharing my world through my photography.

Hope you enjoy.

Posts tagged christophe robert hervouet
HITACHI SEASIDE PARK AND ODAIBA

Japan

day nine

Our second last full day in Japan. Today we head to Hitachinaka, just north of Tokyo, to visit the Hitachi Seaside Park. Then we head over to Odaiba island for the evening.

There’s about an hour train trip and a half hour bus ride from Tokyo to get to the Hitachi Seaside Park. This place is a lot bigger than I had ever imagined. We spent about two and a half hours and only saw a fraction of what there is to see and do. Most of our time was spent in the beautiful nemophila (baby blue-eyes) and poppy fields on Miharashi Hill. With different flowers blossoming every season, you can be amazed all year round. The park has so much more to offer though. Hitachi Seaside Park is also a huge amusement park for families with cafes, restaurants, boutiques, stores and that’s not all. BMX course, golf games, trampoline, water games, ferris wheel, a 400 metre obstacle course in a tube and lots more. You can even hire push-bikes to wander around this enormous 350 hectare park. We came for the baby blue-eyes fields and other flowers but if you decide to visit, give yourself a whole day. You won’t regret it. There’s so much to do and see here.

We headed back to the hotel a little early to relax a bit and freshen up before going to Odaiba. To get there, we took the Yurikamome, a computer operated train that runs on rubber wheels. There are no drivers nor guards onboard. Pretty cool, I must say. Another reason we took it is because it crosses the Shuto Expressway No.11 Daiba Route. Publicly named Rainbow Bridge because of it’s beautiful lights at night. We, unfortunately, didn’t get to see the multi-coloured lights. We got off at the iconic Statue Of Liberty replica for some blue hour photography. Lady Liberty is only 11.5 metres in height but looks much taller because of it’s strategic placement, overlooking Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge. Beautiful views from there.

Once blue hour was over, we made our way to the Oodeo-Onsen Monogatari. This place is a complete onsen theme park. It’s literally a replica of a town from the Edo era. This place is open from 11 am to 9 am the next day. And you need all that time to experience the place. There’a so much to do and see here. There’s a food court with street foods, there are restaurants, shops, bars, saunas ,spas, onsens, relaxation rooms and tatamis, massages, the list goes on and on. Checkout my last post where I talk a little more about this amazing place. As I mentioned on the post, a must visit but give yourself a full day to appreciate and immerse yourself in the experience. Two days if you’d like to visit Odaiba.

That’s it for day nine my friends. Thank you for watching and hope to see you for the last video of Japan. Oyasuminasai.

RAINBOW LIBERTY

Odaiba, Japan

Situated on the artificial island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay, this replica of the Statue Of Liberty was originally a temporary fixture for The Year Of France In Japan in 1998-99, a celebration of the two countries relations. Her popularity though won her a permanent return in 2000. Standing at 11.5 metres hight (1/7th of the New York original) and weighing 9 tonnes, the statue is impressive and beautiful. Lady Liberty is not an only child though, she has a sister in Shimoda and another in Osaka but neither with such magnificent backdrops.

And talking about backdrops, the Rainbow Bridge is the best way onto the island. Opened in 1993, Shuto Expressway No. 11 Daiba Route is the official name of the bridge. Named Rainbow Bridge by the public, I’m guessing, because of the multi-coloured lights cast on it at night. We took the Yurikamome to get to Odaiba. It’s like a train but with rubber wheels and guide-rails. Completely controlled by computers and there are no drivers onboard. The ride was petty smooth and quite fast. Lots of fun.

We arrived at blue hour and only a green light was cast underneath the bridge with white on the towers. Though we took photos till dark, an hour after sunset, the bridge didn’t live up to it’s name. Well, I say that but maybe it did. We went elsewhere where the bridge wasn’t visible and came back over it around 11:30 pm so it may of lit up in the meantime. Where did we go? Find out on the next post.

Not the best framing but the best I could do while it was still blue hour. There were a lot of people around so I couldn’t pick the perfect spot and didn’t have much time to look around either. A single five second exposure with minor editing and a very subtle Orton Effect added. I think if the bridge was lit like a rainbow, it would’ve given a very different mood to the photo. A festive feel rather than the peaceful mood this image has. I like it.

75 mm, 5 seconds @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

SAKU AND SHINJUKU

Japan

day eight

Today we spend the day with my best mate and his wife, Marcin & Chie, in Saku then head to Tokyo before nightfall.

After last night’s late nightcap, we got up late this morning. In fact, just in time to checkout of our hotel, the Ueda Plaza. A small room but clean, comfortable and affordable. The hotel is also well located near the Ueda Train Station and centralised to, just about, everything else. We both wished we had more time to visit Ueda a little. Not just the city but it’s surroundings too. There’s so much to see here.

We caught the train to Sakudaira Station, the next stop on the line, to spend the early afternoon with Marcin & Chie. They picked us up from there and we drove through Saku city to the beautiful Pinkoro Jizo, the guardian deity of children. In general, Pinkoro Jizo means to wish for a long and healthy life with a quick and peaceful death. I wish for that. With a small Shinto Shrine and a couple of large Buddhist Temples, this place is beautiful, peaceful and fascinating. Very happy Chie brought us here.

As you walk out of the temple’s main gate there is a long, narrow pedestrian alley with one stall held my an elderly man. I could imagine this alley busy with stalls, people and festive on weekends or special days. The man was selling a lot of things but also did palm readings. My mate, who’s interested in that sort of thing, decided to get it done. It was a 30-40 minute reading that I won’t go into. Suffice to say, Marcin wasn’t too impressed.

On that same corner, is a restaurant specialising in carp, called Kagetsu. Cooked and prepared in different ways, it was an eye opener and a delight to the palette. No b-roll of the meal as I wanted to enjoy these last moments with my friends before heading off.

They dropped us back at Sakudaira Station where we caught a bullet train to Shinagawa Station in Tokyo then a local train to Shin-Okubo Station. Our hotel, the Shin-Okubo Sekitei, was only a ten minute walk from there. A Japanese-style Ryokan (Inn) with decos from the Showa era. Though the rooms are small and doorways low, they are very nice, comfortable, clean, inexpensive and well located. Great as a base to travel in and around Tokyo. It was perfect for us.

We dumping our luggage, freshened up and heading back to the train station. We got off a few stops farther at Shinjuku Station. From there we navigated the underground labyrinth to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This is the headquarters of the Government that governs all the towns, villages, cities and wards that make up the Tokyo Metropolis. It comprises of two high-rises, both with an observation deck. We were hoping to make it up there for, at least, blue hour but we almost gave up on the idea when we realised one of the decks was closed and saw the queue and bag search before getting into the elevator. To our surprise, they were very quick and efficient, and we arrived up there right on time. You are wowed as soon as you walk out of the elevator. An open, high ceiling room with a cafe and souvenir shop in the centre, and huge windows all around with magnificent cityscapes of Tokyo. I was so busy taking photos of the skyline that I forgot to take some b-roll of the interior. I tried a time-lapse but that didn’t turn out to well. Nonetheless, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government Building is a must visit when in Japan. I highly recommend it.

We headed back to Shin-Okubo as there are a lot of places to eat and the hotel was only 5-10 minutes away. We had dinner at Tenkazushi, a small conveyor belt or sushi train restaurant. Fast, cheap and excellent quality. They have an English menu and very helpful staff. Oh and everyone says hello and goodbye. Everyone. Impossible to enter or leave discreetly. We loved this place.

OK my friends, that’s it for another day. Thank you for watching and hope to see on day 9. Oyasuminasai.

SHINJUKU PARK TOWER

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo skyline from the Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. Amazing views, almost 360º. Even though there was a long queue and bag search before entering the elevator, we got up there fairly quickly and just in time for blue hour. The observation rooms huge and there a cafe in the middle. Worth going up if ever in Tokyo.

I’m not certain that all three of the buildings in this image are named the Shinjuku Park Tower because the Park Hyatt Tokyo is located in these towers too. What grabbed my eye to this scene was the roads that winds behind the towers which adda a colour contrast and helps lead the eye of the view into the image. It was a little challenging shooting this photo, actually all the photos, as there was a lot of reflection from inside the observation room. I set my tripod and camera as close as possible to the window, framed and set the exposure then used the 10 second self-timer to give me enough time to wrap my jacket around the camera and up to the window to avoid any reflection off the glass. It also gave the camera enough time to stop vibrating from the jacket being placed around it. The result, no reflection, sharp and a very happy me.

In regards to post-processing, I cooled the image quite a bit to represent what I saw at the time and added the Orton Effect to the three towers and the orange roads that wind around them. The Orton Effect adds a glow to an image or part of an image. It’s the first time I’ve actually used it and, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I like it or not. The towers seem slightly blurry even though they aren’t. I know it’s an effect primarily used on landscape photography to give a dreamy look and feel but I’ve seen it used in other genres too, like back-lit street photography, with great success. So there is a use case for it, I just have to figure out in which cases.

28 mm, 15 seconds @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

SHIRAKAWA-GO

Japan

day seven

Traveling through the mountains via coach from Kanazawa to Shirakawa is fantastic. And especially beautiful as you head down the mountain and see the village in the valley. We arrived on a cool but sunny day yet we could see snowcapped mountains in the not too distance. Shirakawa-go is a small, traditional village within Shirakawa, best known for their gassho-zukuri style minka houses. Recognisable by their very steep and thick thatched roofs designed to easily shed snow. An interesting fact, the upper floors of the two and three story houses were used for sericulture, silk farming. Not sure if that’s still the case though. One thing’s for sure, they still grow rice. All the farmhouses have, at least, one small field around the house.

We strolled though the small village on our way up to the lookout, which has a magnificent panoramic view of Shirakawa-go. There are two lookouts or observatories, the Ogimachi Castle Observatory Deck and the Tenshukaku Observatory, both with quite similar views though the latter has a couple of restaurants and a few boutiques. Not much left at the Omigachi Castle Ruins near it’s observatory deck but the best view, in my opinion.

Rain had started to fall whilst at the observatories and didn’t really stop for the rest of the day. The weather changed quite quickly and we could feel the cold now too. We explored farther into the village, getting a closer look at the minka houses and crossing paths with not-so-scary scarecrows. There’s a lot to see around this tiny village too. Restaurants, cafes, boutiques, stores, museums, Shinto shrines, the Big Bridge, the Sho River, so much to see. We were here five hour and weren’t able to visit everything.

Cold and hungry, we ducked into Shiraogi, a restaurant that serves set meals. Very nice and inexpensive. Warmed up with soup and tea… OK, I had to try the rice ale too. Once finished, we made our way back to the bus stop for our coach to Toyama.

From Toyama we caught a bullet train to Ueda where we were staying for the night and catching up with my best mate, his wife and his family. We had just enough time to check-in before meeting up for dinner at a Japanese pub called Hananomai, near Ueda train station. After dinner we accompanied his parents and aunt back to Ueda Plaza Hotel, where we were also staying. We, on the other hand, headed to Uotami, another Japanese pub, just down the road from the hotel. All in all, a great catchup.

Just a couple of words on my thoughts about Shirakawa-go. In 1995 it gained the status of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Unfortunately, it is in danger of loosing this status. Here is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article on Shirakawa:

The local economy is dominated strongly by seasonal tourism. Due to the income from the tourists who came to see the gassho-zukuri villages, the financial condition of the village has been greatly improved, and tourist traffic increased further once the village became a UNESCO site. However, the increasing number of visitors has resulted in damage to the area from pollution, and by local inhabitants their homes into hostels, gift shops and parking lots, which in turn has endangered its World Heritage status. There is also a fear growing that the change to catering to tourists will harm the charm of the area's simplicity and fundamental Japanese scenery.

Shirakawa, Gifu (village)

Having visited this amazing village, I can attest to this. I really hope they find an equitable balance to keep their World Heritage status on one hand and profit from the economics of tourism on the other.

Once again, thank you very much for watching. Hope you enjoyed it. See you on the next one. Oyasuminasai my friends.

KAZUEMACHI

Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa is known for it’s Geisha teahouses so we thought we’d wander over to 1 Chome Higashiyama for a look. It was a 20 minute walk from the Kenroku-en garden, well actually, about 30 minutes. We got distracted at the Asanogawa Bridge when we saw a small alley with wooden houses. We ducked into it to satisfy our curiousity and found ourselves back along the Asano River. We continued walking upriver till we reached a little bridge and crossed over. Kazuemachi was the tiny suburb we had just walked through. Beautiful area along the river with wooden restaurants and houses looking alike. Apart from a couple of locals there was no-one around. It felt like a small village. We didn’t end up visiting the teahouses, deciding to head back to the hotel for a rest and shower before heading back out for dinner.

My edit for this image is slightly different to what I usually do when I use split-tones. I edited the photo in colour first and once finished, I dropped the vibrance to -100. The pale colours that are left are the most saturated colours of the images. This is when I added and tweaked my split-tone preset. Then I increased the general saturation slider to my liking. Just enough to add a bit of those over-saturated colours to the image. An interesting edit but I’m not sure if I like it or not. Not a process I’d use on a lot of images… Still not sure about the edit.

75 mm, 1/160th second @ ƒ/11, ISO 1600

KYOTO

Japan

day five

Ohayo my friends, an early morning rise meant no breakfast until we got to our destination, Arashiyama. We were hoping to come across an open cafe for breakfast once we got off at Saga-Arashiyama Station and made our way down towards Katsura River. It was still quite early so most places were closed but we found Hirose, a little mom and pop coffee shop, literally. A small place with big vibes and wonderful atmosphere. You could tell the, quite old, couple have been doing this for a long time. Each were very efficient in their own work and together. Very friendly and helpful with customers. We were served in beautiful sometsuke (blue and white pottery) cup and saucer. We had a quick little breakfast, coffee and cinnamon toast. So delicious though, we had seconds.

Once we arrived at the river, we saw the saddest thing of our whole trip in Japan. Old and young men, women, kids and even school kids in uniform with their teachers, all volunteers on a Sunday morning cleaning up the banks of the river of rubbish left by tourists. There were even groups in diving suits in the river. It shows that a lot of tourists have no respect for their surroundings, their environment and worst, the people that live there. It’s a shame because Arashiyama is a beautiful place. And Katsura River run pretty much through Kyoto. A very sad scene.

Our first big visit of the day was the Monkey Park Iwatayama. I was a little apprehensive of the conditions I would find the monkeys in but was reassured once we arrived on the plateau and saw them all wandering freely. Only one cage was visible and that was part of the shop where you buy food, water and feed the monkeys from. Or just get a bit of shade or escape the monkeys and relax, enjoy a drink. Magnificent view of Kyoto from up here as well. The monkeys seem to stay in and around the plateau but I’m guessing that’s because of the food. I’m sure if they head back into the forest once the park is closed. There are a number of supervisors making sure there’s no monkey business going on. I felt safe surrounded by the monkeys but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t careful. They can get aggressive with each other, as we witness just as we were making our way back down, which can be very dangerous if you’re caught in the middle. It was broken up fairly quickly by a supervisor. Watching them, you quickly realise how similar they are to us, humans. The way they act and react to things and each other, the emotions they show each other and have in their eyes, even moments between a parent and a child. And talking about kids, the baby monkeys are just adorable. So funny seeing them playing around the pond trying to catch fish without falling in. Typical kids.

Our second visit was the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Located just on the other side of the river from the Monkey Park, we strolled through the town a little before ducking into the forest. Unbeknown to us, we took a turn that make our visit quite short and miss half to two thirds of the Bamboo Forest. And it wasn’t the best part either. We left Arashiyama Bamboo Forest unimpressed but not just because of that. We got there at the wrong time of day, midday, and there were hundreds of people, tourists and locals alike, strolling through the forest. I think we would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if we’d visited before the Monkey Park and the crowds. And of course, the whole forest would’ve been nice to visit. I think a great way to visit the Bamboo Forest would be on a jinrikisha or rickshaw, as the two young ladies in the video did. They have their own path and stop for photo opportunities. And they’re not that expensive. Next time?!

Third visit of the day was Kinkaku-ji or Temple of the Golden Pavilion. For that we had to leave Arashiyama and head a little farther north. Located on the Rukuon-ji complex or Deer Garden Temple complex, Kinkaku-ji is magnificent. Absolutely stunning. I was worried I wasn't going to be able to avoid the crowds in my photographs but I worried for nothing. Though there were hundreds of people around, the pond in front of the temple made it possible to captured beautiful photos void of humans, people. A very impressive temple and even more so in real life. Even the small islands in the pond look like miniature gardens on their own. Just wonderful. The walk through the complex is beautiful and quite peaceful, even with the crowds. Near the exit there are stalls of food and souvenirs, and a beautiful teahouse to experience.

Our last visit of the day was the Gion District but not before heading back to the motel for a shower and relax little. There are no video of our night in Gion because I left all my gear back in the room, except for my camera. Done on purpose, I wanted to concentrate on photography and take a break, chill, relax a little this evening. Thus the reason for only pics of the area. Gion has a great vibe, atmosphere. It’s lively. Géraldine and I both loved the small streets and alleyways that lead to bars, cafes, restaurant, boutiques. Some plain, some colourfully decorated and most lit with different types of lanterns. We saw Geisha or Geiko as they prefer to be called in Kyoto and Maiko, apprentice Geiko. Beautiful women in magnificent kimonos. They were one of the reasons we wanted to visit Gion. So happy we got to see them. We ate dinner in one of the restaurants along the river called Ponto. More an informal Japanese pub (Izakaya) but looks more like a restaurant to me. Pulled out my phone for the food but I think that was a mistake. Did the best I could with the clips. Lovely restaurant, especially dining on the terrace at sunset, beautiful. Great food, drinks, service. Glad we could experience a restaurant along the river. After dinner, I thought we’d checkout a bar I saw, as we were strolling the alleyways, called Bar Hop Seed. They claimed to have a variety of Japanese whiskies so, a nightcap we had. They had Japanese whiskies I’ve never heard of but tried one I did and have wanted to taste for quite a while. The Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony. Very nice. They also offer their own rum arrangements. Géraldine tried their apple/cinnamon rum and loved it. The place was almost empty when we arrived but filled within a half hour or so. Mostly tourists and a handful of locals. Though small, Bar Hop Seed is cosy and has a nice, lively atmosphere. Anyways, on our way to the bus stop, I thought I’d take another photo of Yasaka Shrine. It looked beautiful illuminated in the night. Didn’t catch the bus though, saw a taxi and caught that instead. Home in ten minutes. Excellent.

Till next time my friends, Oyasuminasai.

BAR HOP SEED

Kyoto, Japan

After a beautiful and delicious dinner at Ponto restaurant, taking the time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere, we came here for a nightcap, Bar Hop Seed. I’d noticed this place earlier and saw they had a range of Japanese whiskies on their menu. Thought it would be a nice end to the night.

Small entrance, small place on the first floor, cosy, nice atmosphere and Japanese whiskies you’ve probably never heard of before. I didn’t know there were so many. I went for a whisky I’ve wanted to taste for a long time but never had, the Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony. If we weren’t getting up early the next day, I would’ve tasted at least a half dozen Japanese whiskies. Especially the small boutiques that don’t export. Another time. Géraldine tried one of their home-made rums, apple cinnamon. She loved it and I quite liked it as well actually. They serve tapas-like food here too, if you have the munchies. There were only a couple of people when we walked in but within half an hour all the tables and stools were taken. Mostly with tourists. We met a couple of Australians who were there for the Japanese whiskies too.

Anyway, we had a lovely night and if you’re ever in Kyoto, check this place out Bar Hop Seed.

28 mm, 1/80th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 3200

MAIKO

Kyoto, Japan

One of the reasons we wanted to visit the Gion District was in hopes of seeing a Geisha or Geiko as they prefer to be called in Kyoto and Maiko, apprentice Geiko. We were not disappointed as we saw a handful of them while strolling the alleyways. They are just stunning. Beautiful. And we both wished we had booked in advance a restaurant where they performed. Next time.

I’m not a portrait photographer but on very rare occasions I’ll tempt it. This evening didn’t start as one of those occasions but ended as one. We had seen a few Geiko and Maiko on our stroll and though Géraldine captured a couple of portraits, she wasn’t satisfied with the results. Not her fault though but largely due to seeing them too late and not being able to frame in time. Don’t get me wrong, we kept our eyes open but they seem to come out of nowhere. So I thought I’d try as well, hoping between the two of us, we’d come back with, at least, one satisfactory portrait. And we got lucky. Seeing these Maiko early enough to be able to snap half a dozen photos from full body to head shots. Unfortunately, only two are usable but two more than we had and are happy with.

So how did I get the shot? Preparation.

  1. I needed a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action and get a sharp photo. Because of their attire, Geiko do not walk very fast so I thought 1/250th of a second shutter speed would be fast enough.

  2. I wanted a shallow depth of field to blur the background. ƒ/2.8 is the widest my lens opens too so I used that.

  3. Have an ISO high enough to give me a proper exposure. In those little alleys nearing sunset it was 400.

All I had to do now was frame and shoot. But I forgot one thing, to put my camera in Continuous-Auto-Focus mode. I had left it in Single-Shot-Auto-Focus which isn’t ideal for subjects moving towards you. Hence, getting only 2, out of 6 or 7, shots in focus. A real shame because the close-up portraits were pretty good but unfortunately out of focus. A lesson learned for me but, I hope, a lesson for someone out there.

Now you’re most likely to see a Geiko and/or Maiko from an hour before and after sunset as they make their way to an appointment. They’re not on the streets for very long as their place of preparation and their appointments are not far from one another. Just keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready.

This post was updated on the 24/07/19. I previously said the main subject in this photo was a Geiko but is in fact a Maiko, an apprentice Geiko. A huge thanks to my friend, Géraldine, for correcting me on that. The lady in the light pink kimono to the right is a Geiko. Sorry for the mistake.

75 mm, 1/250th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 400

GION DISTRICT

Kyoto, Japan

After a very long day visiting the Monkey Park and Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama then the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, it was time for us to relax a little. First we headed back to the motel for a shower, dressed up and came down to the Gion District.

We love this neighbourhood. Especially it’s little streets and alleys that run along the back of all these restaurants. Everywhere actually, on both sides of the Kamo River and the main road that lead up to the Yasaka Shrine. In fact, the restaurants’ front doors are in those alley. Lively little streets with lots of, well, restaurants but also bars, cafes, boutiques, people everywhere and the occasional Gaisha or Geiko, as they prefer to call themselves in Kyoto, and Maiko, apprentice Geisha. You’ll also see many Japanese wearing traditional attire.

After wandering the streets and alleys for a couple of hours, we had dinner at Ponto, the third place along on this photo. Not haut cuisine like some restaurants here but what they call an Izakaya restaurant. A type of informal Japanese pub but Ponto looked more like a restaurant than a pub as we know it. Anyway, great food and drink, service is good, the view is magnificent and the atmosphere just wonderful. Oh and some restaurants have Geisha performances but you have to book in advance for those.

Gion District, a must when visiting Kyoto.

28 mm, 1/500th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 100

KINKAKU-JI

Kyoto, Japan

Better known as the Golden Temple or Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji literally means Temple Of The Golden Pavilion. It’s located on Rokuon-ji complex, Deer Garden Temple complex. That aside, I have to say, this temple is magnificent. Photos do not do it justice. Unfortunately, you can’t visit the temple but just walking round and being so close to it is impressive enough and worth the visit.

Though there were a lot of people here, I was able to capture two or three images void of them. You just need a little patience.

The surrounding pond is stunning with it’s tiny garden islands. I’d love to see this place in winter or autumn. Beautiful surroundings as you snake your way through the grounds towards the exit. Here you’ll find the teahouse and many stalls of food and souvenirs. A few interesting things to see and taste here.

It’s well worth the trip and visit, and it doesn’t take long to tour the complex. Just to see Kinkaku-ji in person is worth the visit.

46 mm, 1/250th second @ ƒ/11, ISO 200

ARASHIYAMA BAMBOO GORVE

Kyoto, Japan

The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is just on the other side of the Katsura River from the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama. But don’t do as we did and visit the monkeys first. If you’d like a little peace and quiet and take beautiful photos void of people, visit the bamboo grove/forest first and early. Very early in my opinion. We made two mistakes. The first was to visit at midday. Way too many people and impossible to appreciate this potentially beautiful and peaceful area. The second, was bad planning on our part by entering the forest from the main street of the town. The forest didn’t feel as impressive as I had imagined and the stroll felt quite short. But that’s because, we realised later, we’d visited only half… a third of the bamboo forest. Very disappointing. You’re better off walking along the river and entering from the west. It’s a longer walk but there’s less people, it’s more beautiful and there’s more to visit. Don’t misunderstand me, you can get to see all that from entering via the town, just don’t take a wrong turn or your visit will be very short.

I was hoping to capture a couple of beautiful photos but came away with nothing special. And you’ll need a wide angle, maybe even an ultra-wide angle, lens to really capture the narrow path or canopy of the bamboo forest. I was hoping to include a lot more in this shot but 28 mm wasn’t wide enough.

Though we didn’t appreciate the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest as we had hoped, I, for one, am leaving it on my to-do list. With just a small reminder to get there very early and enter from the west. And always do your homework before visiting a place.

28 mm, 1/80th second @ ƒ/16, ISO 200

SAFE TO FEED

Kyoto, Japan

It’s quite amusing seeing the monkeys in the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama, especially the young ones. Quite funny watching them lean over the edge of the pond, trying to catch the carps without getting wet or worst, fall in. Then there are other moments like this, where there’s a lot of tenderness.

My wish came true when the little one turned his/her head and stared at me. I took the shot and left. I didn’t want to interrupt his/her lunch. During the visit, I quickly realised a 70-200 mm lens would have been perfect for this place. Not only to avoid getting too close to the monkeys and interrupting their activities but also to capture some close portrait photos. I would’ve like that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to walk amongst them but you tend to scare them off when approaching to capture a moment. A long lens would’ve avoided all that.

75 mm, 1/2500th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 800

KOBE, YAMAZAKI AND KYOTO

Japan

day four

First of all, I’d like to apologise in advance for the lack of video of the Yamazaki Distillery and the Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine. I was pretty sure I had recorded something but I couldn’t find the clips. And now I’m uncertain if I deleted them by accident or if I never took any in the first place. In any case, I’m very disappointed with myself. I added photos instead to help tell the story. Hope you enjoy the video.

After an uneventful sunrise, I went for a stroll around the Meriken Park looking for something to photograph. Lucky I took a shot of our hotel, we have no souvenir of our room. I also photographed the Starbucks with the Port Of Kobe Tower just behind it, before heading back to the room. We packed up a little, once Géraldine was up, then headed out for breakfast. It was still too early for places to be open so we wandered around the Meriken Park and the Mosaic before heading back to Starbucks for breakfast. Once our stomachs were full, we finished packing our stuff at the hotel, checked out and caught the hotel bus to Shin-Kobe Station.

At the station, we put our luggages in storage before making our way to the Nunobiki Ropeway. The cable cars took us to the top of the Nunobiki Herb Gardens. Magnificent views, on the way up, of the gardens and Kobe city. A beautiful building at the top with stalls, boutiques, a cafe and lots of flowers. We took the walking path to get back down which gave us the opportunity to check out the Nunobiki Falls - Ontaki and more views of the city. It’s also a beautiful forest walk.

The Yamazaki Distillery was our next visit for the day. It doesn’t look like much from the outside and we didn’t do a tour of the distillery itself but visited the museum and whisky tasted. The museum is very interesting, informative and quite amazing. Even Géraldine, who isn’t a whisky drinker, loved the museum. In the main hall and at the end of the museum, you’ll find a bar arranged in a circle. Here you choose the whiskies you’d like to test from a menu. I was surprised when I saw the Hakushu and Hibiki on the list. My choice was the most expensive whiskies on the menu. My favourite, the 25 year old Hakushu Single Malt Whisky.

We end the day back in Kyoto. We’re here for two nights. On full day. Once we checked in our tiny hotel and relaxed for a few minutes, we went to visit the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shinto Shrine. Didn’t realise there was going to be so many people there. I thought most would visit in the day and not so much at sunset. This place is amazing. Beautiful. I was able to get a few photos with very little to no-one in them. We were too tired to walk the senbontorii (thousand torii) all round the mountain but did a small portion which showed small, medium and large torii. They’re stunning to see. And so are the shrines. Small and large alike.

So, all these places, the Nunobiki Herb Gardens, the Yamazaki Distillery and the Fushimi Inari Taisha should be on your to-do list when visiting Japan. If your a photographer, you’d probably want to visit the herb garden and Shinto shrine at sunset. All worth a visit but give yourself a few hours to, not only, see it all but to really appreciate your surroundings.

That’s it for day four of our little trip in Japan. Day five brings a very busy day of visits. Oyasuminasai my friends.

FUSHIMI INARI SHINTO SHRINE

Kyoto, Japan

After the Yamazaki Distillery visit, we headed back to Kyoto for two nights, one full day. We arrived late afternoon and once settled in our room, we made our way straight here, to the Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine.

We arrived just as the sun was setting and there were still hundreds of visitors around. This shot was taken as we were leaving. To the eye, blue hour had gone but not to the camera sensor. I bracketed four different exposures and merged them in Lightroom. Very happy with the result. This is not a unique photo but it’s my photo.

This shinto shrine is spectacular. This is the main entrance to many shrines, small to large, and to the senbontorii or thousand torii. Everything is beautiful here, from the architecture to the decorations and everything in-between. It’s one of the places you have to visit while in Kyoto. Give yourself some time though, there’s quite a large area to cover. Oh and talking about senbontorii, check out my blog post where I photographed my friend, Géraldine, inside the tunnel.

28 mm, 5 seconds @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

YAMAZAKI WHISKY

Yamazaki, Japan

So from Kobe we were heading back to Kyoto for two days. Along the way though, well, we had to stop by the Yamazaki Distillery. I would’ve liked to have done one of the tours but we got there too late in the afternoon. The museum and the tasting was still possible, though.

The museum is amazing and very interesting. You can learn so much just walking through it. Once you’ve gone through the museum, you come to the tasting bar. It’s a-la-carte so you choose the whiskies you want to taste-test. Just marvellous. A great idea except for the fact that you can not buy a bottle of whisky afterwards. They don’t even sell their own whiskies. Very disappointing.

Anyway, if you’d like to know what I tasted, check out my short blog post I published earlier. What a tasting. Yamazaki Distillery, well worth the visit if you’re a whisky lover or connoisseur. Next time I’ll do a tour.

75 mm, 1/640th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 1250

KOBE MERIKEN PARK ORIENTAL HOTEL

Kobe, Japan

I got up before sunrise in hopes of a shot of the Kobe Great Bridge all lit up with beautiful light as a backdrop but, unfortunately, neither happened. The bridge lights switched off just as I was setting up and sunrise wasn’t spectacular in any way. There was no interesting compositions either. Port Of Kobe is more beautiful at night than the day.

After the sun had risen, I went for a stroll around the area and saw this Be Kobe sign, meaning Kobe Bay. I realised I didn’t have a photo of our hotel and thought it made for a nice snapshot. Though it was still early morning, there were no interesting shadows, the sky was blue with no interesting cloud structures, it was a pretty bland scene. Thus the black and white conversion. Like I said, just a snapshot of where we stayed.

The Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel is shaped like a ship and is prominent on Port Of Kobe. A luxurious hotel where every room has a view. We had the northern views which looks out towards the city. The best view, in my opinion. We didn’t eat at the hotel but had a nightcap at the View Bar which looks out to the north and west. Apart from a singing pianist, it’s pretty low key and quiet. Perfect to wind down. It was one of two accommodations we splurged on. And it was all for the location and views.

28 mm, 1/10th second @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

MIYAJIMA, HIMEJI AND KOBE

Japan

day three

Oyaho and welcome to day three in Japan. Today we spend the morning in Miyajima (Itsukushima Island) before leaving for Kobe, with a stop-over in Himeji.

We started our day with a Japanese breakfast which we had pre-ordered the previous day from the reception of the Hotel Kikunoya. A savoury breakfast which looked a lot like dinner, really. We’re used to a bit of sweetness to start the day but we did enjoy our Japanese breakfast, nonetheless.

The hotel has onsen (hot spring baths) which we just had to try before checking out. Unfortunately, you’re not permitted, for obvious reasons, to film or photograph inside the baths. If I’d known I was going to be alone, I wouldn’t have left my gear in the room and have some b-roll to show you. Let me briefly explain how onsens work, if you’ve never been in one. Men and women have separate onsens. That said, if you’re shy being naked in front of the same sex, this is not an experience for you. In the change room you strip naked and store your clothes, in this case, in a basket on shelves. You may keep a hand towel as you enter the bath area. Yes, a hand towel. Not enough to cover everything, if you know what I mean. Before getting into the baths though, you need to wash yourself. There is a small stool and bucket, soap, shampoo and conditioner provided next to the shower heads against the far wall. Once you're clean you can make your way into the hot spring baths. Without the hand towel, of course. That’s just in case you get a little too hot and need to wipe the sweat of your face. Let me be clear, these are not spas. There are no bubbles whatsoever. No soap either. Just clean, clear water. I see you, you see me. Here they have two baths, one very hot indoors and the other very warm outdoors. I quite enjoyed that little onsen.

The Hotel Kikunoya were very kind to mind our luggages after checkout, while we made our way up Mount Misen. Actually, they’re so great, they’ll pick/drop you and/or your bags off at the ferry whenever your ready. We just had our bags dropped as we made our own way there while visiting. We strolled through Momijidani Park to catch the Miyajima Ropeway to Shishiiwa Observatory. This park is beautiful and must be absolutely stunning in Autumn with it’s red and orange maple leaves. Along the way we saw the Shinomiya Shrine, walked by the closed Momiji-so restaurant and over a beautiful little bridge before reaching the Miyajima Ropeway. There are two different cable cars to catch to get to the observatory. The first is a six seater with views of Momijidani Park and Hiroshima. The second is a twenty standing place with views of the Seto Inland Sea and Hiroshima Bay. Once on Shishiiwa Observatory, you have stunning 270º views of Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Bay and the Seto Inland Sea. Magnificent ! That day was ethereal with haze and very thin, low lying clouds in the distance.

Our goal was the Misen Observatory. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t realised it was, at least, a half hour walk from the Shishiiwa Observatory. That’s not counting the time to get back and for photos once there. We just couldn’t spare the hour and a half. So we took the disappointing decision to head back down to town.

Itsukushima Town is very different during the day compared to last night. It was nice to see all the shops and restaurants open and feel the atmosphere of a busy little town. I loved walking down this street. It’s probably why I filmed so much of it.

Well, it was time to leave the beautiful island of Itsukushima and make our way to Kobe for the night. On the way though, we stopped in Himeji to visit the White Egret Castle as the locals call it or Himeji Castle for the rest of us. We didn’t actually want to visit inside the castle but rather see it up close from the surrounding grounds. Not only is it beautiful but quite impressive too. It was a easy ten minute walk from Himeji Station to the castle. You can even see the castle from the station and the single main road to get there. Well worth the stop-over.

Unfortunately, I don’t have anything in regards to Kobe, in this video. Apart from a brief look at the inside of the Meriken Park Hotel, where we stayed, and the view from our room. We splurged a little for this accommodation. We arrived late afternoon and exhausted. All we wanted to do was have a drink, eat and go to bed. We had a beer while taking photos of the gorgeous view. By the time we got ready to eat, it was quite late. We headed to the Mosaic on the Kobe Harborland. Unfortunately for us, most kitchens were closing so my wish for Kobe meat was out of the question. But meat I did have at the Brasiliano. And plenty of it. Skewers of perfectly cooked meats kept arriving at our table, carved right in front of you. Not forgetting the accompanying buffet of assorted salads, the service, the people, the atmosphere… made it an unforgettable experience. Not the Japanese meal we were hoping for but a memorable one nonetheless. To end the night, we headed to the hotel bar for a nightcap.

Sorry for the lack of b-roll of Kobe. We only spent the night and the next morning here. I have a little more for the next video. Until then, I hope you come back for the photo posts. Oyasuminasai my friends.

PORT OF KOBE

Kobe, Japan

We arrived in Kobe late afternoon and the last bus towards the hotel had already gone. Though we were tired, we decided to walk 20 minutes to get there. A nice walk through the city which made us realise there was a lot to see here. By the time we got to the Meriken Park Oriental Hotel, the sun was just about to disappear below the horizon. What a beautiful surprise when we opened up the curtains to the balcony of our room and saw this gorgeous view. You may have seen one of the photos in a previous blog post.

I quickly setup my gear and started shooting. Single exposures first then once blue hour was over I took a 180º panoramic view. We had arrived just in time to capture these images. So on the left we have Notre Dame Kobe hotel, Port Of Kobe tower, Kobe Maritime Museum, behind that the Hotel Okura Kobe and in front of all that the Meriken Park. You can also see the Bell Of Hortensia and Starbucks right next to it on the bottom right of the image. And not to forget, the cityscape of Kobe in the background.

28 mm, 5 seconds @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

HAKURO-JO

Himeji, Japan

Himeji Castle, also known as Hakuro-jo or Shirasagi-jo meaning White Egret Castle, is a prototypical architectural example of Japanese castles. It is magnificent ! Even from afar you can tell it is something spectacular.

Himeji was only a quick stop for us before heading to Kobe for the night. We didn’t want to visit the castle, just have a quick wander around the grounds and take a couple of photos. You need a half a day to visit the castle and it’s grounds. You can actually see Hakuro-jo as you approach Himeji Station and it’s only a ten minute walk from there. We couldn’t resist the stop-over.

Again here, I used one of my split-tone presets to give the ancient era feel to the image. Check out my last post for a quick rundown on my editing process for these types of images.

75 mm, 1/4000th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 100