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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.

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Posts tagged explore
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.

EDO TOWN

Odaiba, Japan

In a little corner of Odaiba, near the docks, you’ll find the Oodeo-Onsen Monogatari. This is an onsen city, literally. With an indoor replica of a Edo Town (photo below), indoor and outdoor baths and spas, multiple rooms to meditate, sleep, relax, a food court and restaurants, boutiques, stores, stalls, games and a watch tower. Open from 11 am to 9 am the next day, you can immerse yourself in this absolutely amazing and gorgeous onsen theme park. So much to see, do and experience here.

This is where we came after our blue hour photography from the last post. There’s a little ritual entering this place. As soon as you walk into the main front doors, you must remove your shoes and store them in a small locker located nearby. You walk pass a small stand where they give you a pass and make your way to the front desk. There they explain how things work. They give you a bracelet with a key and a tag with a code bar on it (I’ll explain that later). From the front desk you make your way to the Yukata Shop where you get to choose your Yukata. Once chosen, you go into the change room (separate change rooms for men and women) where you strip down and put on your Yukata. Your clothes and anything else you don’t need, like your wallet, go into the locker (the key you received at the front desk). From the change room you enter Edo Town (photo below). Here you use the code bar tag for all your purchases. Whether it be food, souvenir, a massage, whatever you have to pay for is done with that tag. Leaving is the same but in reverse, with one exception, the Yukata is placed in a clothes bin in the change room. At the front desk they scan your code bar tag for all your purchases and add the admission fee. Once you’ve paid, they give you a pass that you hand over on your way out at the same stand you entered through. Oh and don’t forget to put your shoes back on. You kind of get used to walking around barefoot.

We only spent an evening in Odaiba and were very impressed by it but you really need a whole day, if not two, to visit everything. You can easily spend half a day in Oodeo-onsen Monogatari alone. This place and Odaiba in general should be on your bucket list when visiting Japan. A must visit.

28 mm, 1/30th second @ ƒ/11, ISO 3200

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

MIHARASHI'S BELL

Hitachinaka, Japan

This is one of my favourite images from Japan. This little girl was trying so hard to grab that rope and ring the bell of Miharashi no Oka Hill. Unfortunately, I have no idea what this bell is doing up here nor why people ring it. If anyone knows, drop me a comment over on Facebook or Instagram.

You may have recognised the ferris wheel in the background and the blue flowers from my last post. Miharashi no Oka Hill, from which I took both photos from, is located in Hitachi Seaside Park. And as I said in my last post, everyone should visit this place once in their lifetime. And bring the kids along too, there’s plenty to keep them busy.

I was hesitant taking this shot. Taking photos of children in public can be sensitive. But this little girl was so cute and trying so hard to grab that rope, I had to snap a photo. I have to say, I was very lucky not to have anyone else in the frame as there were a few people there. I was also lucky she was trying for a couple of minutes to grab that rope, it gave me the time to put some distance between us, to be less conspicuous, and to adjust my camera so that I just had to point and shoot. Because I was in Manual mode, my exposure was already locked in, I just had to change my focus mode to Auto and zoom all the way in. In regards to post-processing, I tried a black & white conversion but didn’t like it as much as the coloured.

75 mm, 1/3200th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 100

HITACHI SEASIDE PARK

Hitachinaka, Japan

Hitachi Seaside Park is one of those places everyone should visit once in their life. Choose well your season though as these gardens change constantly throughout the year. Magnificent, colourful plains of flowers, herbs and shrubs depending on the season. Though we visited it kind of in-between seasons, it was still stunning. As you can see by the green patches which are normally covered by blue flowers, we were towards the end of the Nemophila season. But, it was the beginning of the Poppy season which are the orange flowers on the bottom of the photo though they are everywhere within these fields.

The Hitachi Seaside Park is more than just a massive garden, it’s also a recreational park for families. With different golf-like games, BMX course, air trampoline, athletics course, water/pool area, a 400 metre obstacle tube and not forgetting the ferris wheel. And of course there are restaurants, cafes and other specialised stores. You would have to spend the whole day here to take advantage of everything. A great place.

Now you may have noticed I shot this photo at ƒ/2.8 … and I have no idea why I did that. Apart from the bottom quarter of the photo and everything beyond the ferris that is slightly blurry, the image is sharp. I would’ve gotten the same exposure though using 1/200th sec @ ƒ/11 but with the added bonus of having everything in focus and sharp. Lesson learned from a silly mistake.

75 mm, 1/3200th second @ ƒ/2.8, 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.

SHIRAKAWA-GO

Shirakawa, Japan

A small, traditional village situated in a valley along the Sho River. Shirakawa-go is best known for it’s gasshō houses but has so much more to offer. We spent about five hours here and it still wasn’t enough time to visit everything. So much to see.

We went to where all tourists and photographers go to capture an image of this beautiful village, the observatories. There are two, the Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck and the Tenshukaku Observatory. Though the latter you are not permitted to use a tripod. I got told off by the local photographer. I didn’t argue.

I took panoramas at both observatories. Both images are good but I chose to share this image because I prefer the view of the village from this point. It was taken from the Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck. I stitched the eight images in Lightroom which did a very good job. Well, as long as you do the necessary out in the field. Meaning, levelling your tripod and overlapping your exposures by, at least, a third of the image, LR will usually do a good job. I converted the panorama to black and white and used my split-tone preset than added grain to it. The reason being, I think it would look great printed on rough or corse paper, giving another dimension and adding to the mood of the image. Wanting to somewhat recreate that, I added grain. I like it. I like it a lot. And yes, I think this is one of my favourite images of Japan.

panorama from 8 images | 28 mm, 1/50th second @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

KANAZAWA

Japan

day six

Ohayo my friends and welcome to the small town of Kanazawa, or so I thought until I saw it was more of a city. We could tell as soon as we walked out of the station. We were only here for the day and night. An early rise the next morning to catch the coach to Shirakawa-go. Which we bought the tickets for just outside the station.

I think we arrived just before 11 am and, once the Shirakawa-go tickets bought, took the JR bus to the Omicho Market. Our hotel was on the other side so we walked through it to have a look. There’s everything from meat, fish and seafood, fruits and vegetables, patisserie, ice-cream and confectionary, florists, cafes and restaurants… I think you get the gist. Quite fascinating walking through here. 

The Hotel Pacific is a great place to stay and is pretty centralised in Kanazawa. Loved the entrance, a cafe that doubles as a reception. And a beautiful cafe at that. And they make a great coffee too. Rooms are small but that standard in Japan. Clean, tidy and great service. If your on a budget, the Hotel Pacific is worth checking out.

Once we dumped our bags and plugged everything that needed to be recharged, we went back to the market for lunch. I saw a restaurant with things on skewers in a broth and thought we should try it out. Géraldine wasn’t as enthusiastic as I but she went along with it. Once the kimono girls had finished, we passed our order, a few skewers in a bowl with the same broth they’re cooked in. I ordered a Japanese beer with the meal and Géraldine an ice tea. She also wanted to try what the girls on the next table were all having, a White Horse. We couldn’t tell what it was from the menu but when I ordered at the bar, I knew she wouldn’t like it. White Horse Scotch Whisky and lemonade. Wish I had capture her face on camera. Light, crisp, not bad for a lunch drink on a hot day. The food, well, what can I say? Probably the blandest meal I’ve tasted on the trip. Everything was cooked in the same broth so it all tasted the same, really. The textures was the most noticeable difference between the servings. Overall not bad but, really, nothing to brag about. An experience though.

Once we had dessert at the market and looked around a little more, we made our way to the Kanazawa Castle. Surrounded by spacious green lawns, ponds and waterways, the castle is on a slight elevation. We could see similar characteristic to other castles but seemed to be built in length rather than height. We entered through the  beautiful, gigantic Kahoku-mon gate, which is where I took the photo of the Hishi Yagura from. Walking through the main courtyard, San-no-maru Hiroba, we saw a couple of women getting rid of weeds against the wall of the gates. The L-shape castle is very dominant and impressive as you walk through the courtyard. Then we saw a couple of men doing the same work as the women around a small fence near the Information Center. We left through the Ishikawa Gate, making our way to the Kenroku-en garden via a footbridge.

There is a beautiful little alley with shops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and ice-cream alongside the Kenroku-en garden. Talking about ice-cream, I had to try the gold and platinum leaf covered ice-cream. Apart from the slightest metallic taste, there is nothing special about it. The ice-cream, overall, was very nice though. From the subtle vanilla flavoured soft-serve to the thick and crispy wafer and rich yet smooth chocolate tip, all the flavours and textures were well balanced and complimented each other. I particularly liked the wafer. ¥300 fee gets you in to the perfectly landscaped Kenroku-en. We were here in Spring where everything was green with beautiful flowers. Ponds, waterways and waterfalls all contribute to the harmony, tranquility and beauty of the garden too. It’s no wonder it’s one of the Great Gardens of Japan.

After visiting the garden, we walked our way towards 1 Chrome Higashiyama suburb in hopes of seeing Geishas. Arriving at the Asanogawa Bridge though, we got a little distracted by the beautiful and tiny suburb of Kazuemachi. Where wooden structured homes and restaurants lined small alleyways running along the Asano River. We kept walking upriver to a small bridge that had a view of the Asanogawa Bridge. We crossed the river and made our way back down, deciding to head back to the hotel for a shower and rest before dinner.

The restaurant we wanted to go to was booked out so we ate at a small Kaiseki restaurant just down the road from the hotel, called Kokochiya. We were able to get a table but not before the chef made himself understood that tonight was a set menu. A set menu of which we have no idea of what it comprises, all for it. We were lead upstairs to be seated and, literally, closed off to the rest of the tables. Very private. Though we were served tea, we ordered hot and cold sake. The hot sake was for Géraldine, I don’t particularly appreciate it. I didn’t film all the servings, mainly because my stomach had the upper hand on my state of mind. There were ten servings all up and suffice to say, the whole meal was delicious. Sure, there were a couple of things that had gooey textures but delicious nonetheless. We quite enjoyed the whole experience and even had a bit of a laugh at the end. No one had come back to check on us for quite a while after the soup was served. So not knowing whether there was another serving or they were just waiting for us to finish up and leave, we thought we’d check downstairs to see what was happening. We slowly made our way down the stairs like kids sneaking out of their bedroom to see what their parents are doing. A waitress suddenly appeared and startled us as I was peaking around the bottom of the stairs. Rushing back up we quickly realised we were being quite childish for a pair of adults. It was time to leave.

Hope you enjoyed this little video. The next one will be of an ancient little village in the middle of a valley. 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

A PATH IN PERFECTION

Kanazawa, Japan

Originally the outer garden of the Kanazawa Castle, Kenroku-en is one of three great gardens in Japan. For it to be so, it must have certain attributes and be beautiful throughout all four seasons. It was the end of Spring when we visited and it was magnificent. With luscious green foliage, ponds, waterways, waterfalls, paths, bridges, teahouses and the list goes and despite all that, the garden is harmonious and peaceful. You can easily find solitude and tranquility as you walk through it, even though the garden is spacious and there are many visitors. You may have seen another photo from a previous post of the largest pond of the garden. It’s one of my favourite photos of our Japan trip.

As you can see in this photo, Géraldine is alone. I asked her to walk up the path and had plenty of time to frame and take the shot. I didn’t have to wait for anyone to get out of my frame nor was anyone waiting behind me for me to finish. Yet there were a lot of people visiting. Having Géraldine there also helps give dimension to the scene without altering the mood. I really like this image.

41 mm, 1/400th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 100

KAHOKU-MON GATE

Kanazawa, Japan

We only spent one day in Kanazawa and no, it’s not enough to see or do everything they have to offer here. We arrived around 11 am and headed straight for the hotel. Once unpacked, we went back to the Omicho Market, which we walked through to get to the hotel, for some lunch and a bit of a wander.

Kanazawa Castle was only a couple of blocks from the hotel so we headed there next. Wide, open grounds outside as we approached and the same goes for inside the compound. Unbeknown to us, we entered through the main gate called Kahoku-mon. The photo is taken looking back out from where we came in. I saw the huge, wood and metallic doors and frame and used them to, well, frame the Hishi Yagura. Which is a part of the Castle. From the gate to the grounds to the castle, the workmanship, the details, the beauty is amazing. And quite peaceful as you stroll through the grounds. This Castle is a must when visiting Kanazawa.

Once again I used my preferred split-tone preset, at the moment, for this image. Not a lot of colours in the middle of the day and black and white just wasn’t good enough for this photo. And I think it suits this kind of image well.

28 mm, 1/320th second @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

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.

YASAKA-JINJA

Kyoto, Japan

Our long day in Kyoto and beautiful night in Gion ended with this photo of Yasaka Shrine. Though it was late, around 10 pm, there were still a number of people going in to visit or worship. A stunning shrine located on a main road and surrounded by greenery. Behind this entrance is a huge park with many shrines, gardens and ponds. Magnificent.

I took two photographs of this shrine. This one and another with light trails in the foreground. The light trails weren’t criss-crossing the way I liked so I kept this one. I went with a desaturated look with one of my split-tone presets added on top of it. It’s the same preset I’ve used on a number of other photos from Japan. Now, I wasn’t sure about keeping the dead space in the foreground but without it, the mood of the image changes. It becomes cramped and busy. Not forgetting the aspect ratio changes to panoramic. Keeping it, I found, pulls the viewer back, showing a more tranquil scene. Less busy. Showing a few people instead of a small crowd. Makes all the difference.

We were going to catch a bus, just to the right of the image, back to the motel but when I saw a cab approaching, we jumped in that instead. Home in 10 minutes, fantastic. And the cabs are super clean and quite affordable. We hesitated taking them for the first two, three days of our trip, thinking they were expensive. Hearing they were expensive. Not the case at all. The only time we caught them though was to head home quickly at the end of a night. More sleep. Sleep is important hahaha! Goodnight.

28 mm, 1/30th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 3200

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