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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 japanese
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.

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.

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

HIROSE

Kyoto, Japan

A very early start meant no breakfast before arriving at our destination, Saga-Arashiyama Station. We were visiting the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama and Bamboo Forest this morning and now that we’d arrived in town, it was time for breakfast. Being hungry and the lack of coffee didn’t help with the frustration of seeing most places still closed.

Until we came across Hirose. Small, cosy, very affordable and wonderful atmosphere. Literally a mom & pop coffee shop. Most likely a couple, the old man takes care of the hot beverages and food while the old lady handles the cold beverages, the service and cash register. They’re very friendly and like to converse with customers. They serve very good coffee and the cinnamon toast is delicious. So much so, we had seconds.

As you can see, I loved the gorgeous sometsuke (blue and white pottery) cup and saucer so much I had to photograph it. Though, I wish I had opened my aperture by a stop or so, to get a slightly wider depth of field. I would’ve liked a little more of the image on the saucer in focus. Still love the photo and it will always remind me of this amazing little coffee shop, Hirose.

40 mm, 1/80th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 500

JINRIKISHA

Himeji, Japan

Leaving Miyajima, we headed to Hiroshima Station to catch a Shinkansen to Himeji to visit their famous castle. Surprisingly, you can see castle from the Himeji Station. From their you just follow the main street straight to the castle. Easy-peasy.

Along the way though, we saw these beautiful jinrikisha, literally meaning man-power-vehicle. Or rickshaw in English. Women pulling rickshaws are very rare, apparently, I haven’t seen any and the men I’ve seen were very fit and young. We saw jinrikisha here in Himeji and in Kyoto as well. Specifically around the bamboo forest. We didn’t try them out but saw Japanese in kimonos and tourists use them.

I edited this image with my favourite split-tone. The jinrikisha, the castle and the old stone and chain barrier lend itself to an old fashion photograph. Well, my take on it anyway. Editing these kinds of images I always set my white balance first before converting to black and white. Then I edit the monochrome image to my liking and finished off by adding my split-tone preset over it. Tweak it and that’s it.

53 mm, 1/200th second @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

HIROSHIMA AND MIYAJIMA

Japan

day two

Ohayo my friends and welcome to day two of our trip in Japan. Today we leave Kyoto and head to Hiroshima. From there a local train then a ferry to Itsukushima Island, also known as Miyajima.

We had a late night and thus didn’t want to get up for the early train to Hiroshima. We decided to wait after peak hour to avoid the locals going to work and school. We had breakfast at Delifrance (of all places) but ate things that weren’t very French. Delicious though and their coffee brewing method is interesting to watch.

By the time we arrived at Hiroshima Station it was lunchtime. We left our bags at a luggage holder and went looking for something to eat. One of the dishes my friend, Géraldine, had on her to-eat list while in Japan was the famous Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. To our great surprise we saw advertisement for the dish everywhere as we were walking through the station. A couple of floors up and we found a corridor of restaurants with two or three of them specialising in okonomiyaki. We picked the one with the most crowd, Goemon Okonomiyaki, and sat right at the counter in front of the hotplates. A very memorable experience. From watching them prepare the dish in front of us, to tasting the meal, to seeing every single staff member saying goodbye to every single client leaving the restaurant. That was amazing. It was quick, delicious and surprisingly fun.

With our stomachs full, we started our long walk to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial or more popularly known as the Atomic Bomb Dome. Though long, it was nice to see a little of the city along the way. The landmark is quite impressive in itself but to see how everything has been rebuilt around it, is just a amazing. It makes you wonder if there ever was a atomic blast. Walking around the park felt like I was on religious grounds. I’m not a religious person but I felt an inner calmness and peace. A respect for what had happened here and the courage and strength the people of Hiroshima, of Japan, had to get through it. And build a park that evokes peace. A well named park.

On the way back to Hiroshima Station, we walked by Carp Castle, better known as Hiroshima Castle. Actually, it’s the castle’s second compound that you see here. The original castle was, obviously, destroyed in the atomic blast and a replica built in it’s place. Now though it serves as a museum of Hiroshima’s history before World War II. We didn’t get to visit as time was short to get to Miyajima before sunset.

Back in Hiroshima Station, we jumped on a local train to Miyajimaguchi to catch a ferry to Itsukushima Island, better known as Miyajima. This is a gorgeous place. Little town atmosphere on the shores of Hiroshima Bay. The old and the not-so old architecture. The Itsukushima Shrine is amazing and it’s Torii is just a wonder. We got here in time to drop our bags at the hotel before heading straight back down to the torii. We stayed about two and half hours taking photos of it and the shrine, and watching the sun set. What a beautiful sunset it was too. Then we made our way to the town to have a look around and find one of the very few restaurants still open. Both Géraldine and I loved the main street of Itsukushima Town for it’s old look and atmosphere. It gave us the impression of being in a different era. We chose to eat at Mametanuki restaurant. A wonderful little place where the owner is, I think, English but the cuisine definitely Japanese. Very friendly place with good service and delicious food.

Once full and warm we made our way back to our hotel, Kikunoya. A beautiful hotel with a restaurant and onsens. When we told the receptionist we weren’t going to have dinner there, they happily showed us the locations of restaurants that were going to be open and advised not to eat to late as their kitchens close quite early. Very friendly and helpful. Oh and they have a foot spa at the front entrance.

Well that’s it my friends. The end of another wonderful day in Japan. Hope to see all of you for day 3. Oyasuminasai.

ITSUKUSHIMA TOWN

Miyajima / Itsukushima Island, Japan

The staff at Hotel Kikunoya, where we stayed, were very friendly and helpful. Really can’t say enough great things about this place. They have their own onsen and restaurant. We had dinner in this street though, in Itsukushima Town. The town pretty much shuts down after sunset and only a small handful of restaurants stay open for tourists. It looks very empty here but I promise you it’s packed with tourists and locals during the day. We wandered down this little street and ultimately back up to a restaurant called Mametanuki. The owner speaks English and is, maybe, British but the restaurant is very much Japanese.

Though this is a long exposure photo, I had a couple walk in the frame and stopped just long enough to appear as ghost figures. So I used the first shot I took of the street to mask them out of the frame. Otherwise, it’s a single exposure.

It’s these types of streets and alleyways that really make me feel like I’m in a different country, a different world. We both wished we’d organised, at least, two nights here. So much to see and visit.

41 mm, 25 seconds @ ƒ/11, ISO 50

FROM ARRIVAL TO KYOTO

Japan

day one

Ohayo my friends and welcome to our first day in Japan. I’m travelling with one of my best friends, Géraldine. If you follow my blog or Instagram, you would’ve seen a couple of photos she’s in. This is just a small video of our arrival, train trip to Kyoto and afternoon visit of the city.

Because of the language barrier, I thought we were going to have problems getting around. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the moment you land to the time you leave the airport, you are guided and helped. We exchanged our JR Passes with no difficulty and they even reserved seats for the Narita Express train to Tokyo and also for our bullet train (Shinkansen) onward to Kyoto. I highly recommend the JR Pass if your trip to Japan involves a lot of train travels between cities. We bought the 14 day pass for our 10 day trip and calculated we saved between 40-50% on tickets. It’s even valid on some local trains, ferries and buses. 

Not only did we get to see Mount Fuji from the plan on our approach to Narita Airport but also from the Shinkansen to Kyoto. We were pleasantly surprise on our first day in. Another surprise was how delicious the food on the Shinkansen was. My best mate, Marcin, told me to try it out if we ever got the chance to. Not all Shinkansen have the food carts onboard but this one did and it was lunchtime. The bento boxes were fresh and oh so delicious. They even sell beer. What more can a man ask for? 

I was amazed at how huge Kyoto Station was. The number of tracks, the boutiques, cafes, restaurants… didn’t think it was so big nor that Kyoto was such a large city either. As soon as you walk out of the station, you see Kyoto Tower. I was looking forward to get up there.

We made our way through little alleyways to get to our hotel, the Karasuma Rokujo Hotel. We did have the help of an extremely nice lady, who went out of her way to walk us to the front door of the hotel. She was actually heading in the opposite direction. We were a little bothered but greatly appreciated her act of kindness. We found the hotel very well placed in Kyoto. Only a ten minute walk from Kyoto Station and Kyoto Tower. And not even five minutes from the grand Higashi Honganji Temple. Yet located in a very quiet area. We were very pleased with the Karasuma Rokujo Hotel.

We literally dropped our baggages and headed back out. We visited the wonderful Higashi Honganji Temple. I thought I was amazed at the entrance to the temple but when I saw the interiors of the founder’s and Amida Halls, I was literally in awe. These halls are stunning from the ground up. The structures, the tatamis, the decorations, the amount of gold… the beauty and wonder of it all really struck me. Unfortunately, we were not permitted to photograph nor film the interior of the halls but you can see some photos on their website.

Our next stop was Kyoto Tower to checkout the view for potential photos at blue hour. Unfortunately, as we approached the tower, police arrived and stopped everyone from entering. The policewoman that stopped us, later approached us with a translation on her phone saying there was a bomb scare and to move away of the area. So we went for a walk around Kyoto. Saw the torii (gateway) of the Fushimi Inari Taisha Otabisho and a couple of Geisha or Maiko, or just a couple of women dressed in Kimonos, I don’t know. We did head back to the tower in hopes it was all over but it got a little more serious. The police had moved across the road from the tower and men in black were now positioned at all entrances. We ended up taking photos from the Kyoto Station side and was pleasantly surprised by a small water, light and music display.

After blue hour we looked around little for a place to eat and stopped at Saikatei restaurant. We ordered sashimi, dumplings and a few other things, and a couple of Japanese beers. Service was quick, food was delicious and quite cheap for the quality of the food and service.

Well that’s it my friends. Thank you for joining me on our first day in Japan and I hope you will join me for day 2. In the meantime, head over to my website or Instagram to see photos of the trip. Oyasuminasai.

MUSIC : Zen Garden from Adrikm (YouTube)

AMIDA HALL

KYOTO, JAPAN

The Higashi Honganji Temple has two halls, the Founder’s and the Amida. The roof of the latter is what you see here. You would have seen part of this roof on a previous post too. I asked my friend, Géraldine, to pose to show perspective and add a human element to the image. As you can see just by the railing that everything is grandiose. The structures are made of huge wooden pillars. Very impressive. It’s hard to believe these structures have stood for centuries. I can’t imagine the work that goes into maintaining it all. It’s a shame we weren’t allowed to photograph the interior because it is amazingly beautiful. Check this link to see interior photos from their website. You’ll be blown away.

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

HIGASHI HONGANJI CHANDELIER

KYOTO, JAPAN

Just look at this magnificent chandelier. Intricate details covered in gold leaf hanging at the entrance of the Higashi Honganji Temple main gate. You can see it on the photo from my last post. This chandelier is huge, I’d say almost two (2) metres in circumference. I’m not sure if they’re the same size but you can find many more in the Founder’s and Amida Halls. A lot of protection from birds added to the temple and rightly so. Not so great for photos though. As you would have seen from my first post from Japan, the chandelier isn’t the only thing covered in gold. Some details on the roofs and carved murals in the halls have had the treatment as well. Make sure you visit this beautiful temple if ever in Kyoto. Entrance is free and it’s only a five (5) minute walk from Kyoto Station. Well, maybe ten (10) by the time you make your way out of the station.

1/400th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, 57 mm