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Back at camp, a zebra baby and mum were eating grass and nursing just outside our tent. This was a good omen for the evening.

Sayari Camp

Serengeti

We started our evening safari in great spirits, wondering how we could possibly top the cheetah sighting earlier. (I secretly wanted to go back.)

Serengeti

Serengeti

Serengeti

Serengeti

Serengeti

Then we came across the newborn zebra, still wearing its afterbirth. The perfect finale to an amazing trip.

Serengeti

Serengeti





(The bright flashes are me getting worried about depth of field + focus, and stepping down the aperture.)

An ibis posed in the water for us afterwards.

Serengeti



Serengeti

Our final campfire, with drinks, and final dinner, were sentimental, with speeches. Tim, a National Geographic employee, had his photos running in a slideshow -- mine are unabashedly wildlife-centric; his actually told the story of the entire trip quite eloquently, giving me ideas for future trips.

This was the perfect day.


The rest of the photos are here.

Previously:

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On Thursday, we took a quick morning safari before heading to the Seronera airstrip, where we took two Cessnas to northern Serengeti.

Serengeti

Our new vehicles were fully open on the sides but covered on top. I found it a bit more limiting for photography but managed to do pretty ok anyway.

We were greeted by the Mara river, and giraffes, and baby warthogs.

Serengeti

Serengeti

Serengeti

Serengeti

Sayari camp was beautiful, and welcoming, and we needed escorts to walk us to and from our tents at night, since animals regularly walked through camp.

We went back out, braving the rain.

Serengeti

Serengeti

Serengeti

Serengeti

We drove up to the Kenya border.

Serengeti

At some point, I took this photo, and when I got back I photoshopped it as best as I was able. I'm mixed. I think I'm going to stick with the subtler infrared filters and less photoshop.

Serengeti

At the end of the day, as we were hydroplaning a bit over muddy roads (dusty or muddy, nothing in between!) we caught sight of a leopard cub. Our first. At a great distance, in the dark.

Serengeti

The rest of the photos are here.

Previously:

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On Tuesday we woke early, to enter the park as soon as it opened. The first animal we saw was a baby jackal, which I took as a good omen.

Ngorongoro Crater

Soon afterwards, we were driving full speed over the dusty road, catching air whenever we hit a particularly big bump. Marc said this was the rarest of mammals we would see all trip: the rhino, which was down to 27? in the region due to poaching.

(I didn't expect to use my 2x extender nearly so much, but it turned out to be very handy. These guys are still small, even at 800mm.)

Ngorongoro Crater

We saw a couple zebras bickering.

Ngorongoro Crater

We ate breakfast by the water. Hippos in the water, zebras and cape buffalo drinking at the watering hole. Little birds stayed close as we ate, knowing someone would drop something tasty.

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

After breakfast, we saw the wildebeest running, as if from something, and then we saw it -- a large male, awake.

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater



Ngorongoro Crater

Not too far off, we saw a large cluster of vehicles, a sure sign there was something exciting to see. And there was: a cape buffalo / pride of lions standoff.

Ngorongoro Crater Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

I could have stayed and watched all day.

Further along, we saw 181 grey crowned cranes by the water -- as I understand it, the majority of the regional population, and a larger group than had been sighted together to date this year.

Ngorongoro Crater

To end the safari, we saw a serval cat hunting, and I managed to capture it as it pounced.

Ngorongoro Crater

We had the afternoon off, during which I exhaustedly tried to nap. I ended up skipping dinner to go to bed early, which meant I missed my surprise birthday celebration. I'm fine with that; it was the best birthday ever.


The rest of the photos are here.

Previously:

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On Monday morning, we visited a Maasai chief. He answered questions about his culture: how all cows belong to the Maasai; how they herd the cows away when wildebeest are giving birth, since the afterbirth is poisonous to the cows; polygamy; how they traditionally stained their furs red but now bought red-dyed clothing.

Maasai

After lunch we drove to Ngorongoro Crater, where, because of the protected conservation area, there were lots of animals. Grey crowned cranes; jackals; hyenas.

Ngorongoro Crater

We drove up to a hippo pool and saw them up close. None of this struggling-at-800mm like the day before.

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

A lion was sleeping in the distance, our first big cat.

Further along, we saw two lions sleeping next to the road, lazy after mating. They rolled over, and I managed to get a picture when the male lifted his head, just for a moment.

Ngorongoro Crater Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

We arrived at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge just as the sun was setting.

Ngorongoro Crater

At dinner, the lights went out, then the servers came out with a lit torch, singing in Swahili; I guessed this was their birthday ritual.


The rest of the photos are here.

Previously:

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We met our travel companions on the morning of the sixth. As always, I left the people-photographing to others, so I'm hoping we do end up sharing photos. We all got along pretty well.

We headed out for Lake Manyara, which we reached in the afternoon. Our Land Cruisers had pop tops, but without the miniature roofs, which allowed for greater freedom.

I think of that first outing as getting our feet wet; a chance to see what it would be like, without overwhelming us. I definitely had too much gear along with me; by the end of the trip I left my Kiboko at camp and was a lot comfier.

lake manyara lake manyara

lunch termite mound

lake manyara

Our new digs were pretty swank. Evidently we were spoiled -- others had small rooms, but for some reason we had the huge palatial room.

bedroom

bathroom

That one's the bathroom. For the bath. And the shower. The toilet's in the next room. There was also an upstairs with a divan that didn't see any use.

plantation lodge dining room

Our dining room.

The rest of the photos are here.

Previously:

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Months of anticipation and preparation: camera research; safari blogs; a trip to Safari West; vaccinations. Considering each item for its utility and weight, to stay below the 33 pound limit; packing and repacking.

I flew to Tanzania on October 3, meeting my father in a long transfer line at Schiphol as we changed planes. My previous strategy of downloading a season of television on my phone worked well, again: this time it was Firefly. That, and Sid Meier's Pirates.

After some twenty-plus hours of travel, we set foot in Africa for the first time. Albert had been sent to pick me up at Kilimanjaro, but thought there would only be one passenger, which worried us, but it turned out to be fine. He checked his papers in the car and we were off to Arusha.

The roads were strewn with speed bumps: three small, one large, three small. My standing theory: these replaced speed limit signs and laws. The houses by the side of the road were largely dark shapes of rusted corrugated iron, some ready to fall over with a strong huff and puff.

I kind of wish I had documented the actual trip a bit more, rather than focusing so strongly on wildlife, and to a lesser degree, landscapes. The hotels were all beautiful and comfortable and guilt-inducingly luxurious. The food was tasty. But I had my focus, and something had to take a back seat. I recuperated in the evenings rather than pore over photos and write up blog posts; these scribblings are all from memory.

Albert taught us Swahili phrases as we drove, and I dozed off for a bit. We were greeted at the hotel by wet cloths, fresh fruit juice, and iced coffee. The room had a canopy-like mosquito net.

Untitled

We had arrived a day earlier, and spent the next day relaxing. We asked about taking a walk outside the plantation, and were warned that it would be dangerous for us.

Yuki:Danger from animals? Or humans?
Guard:Humans.

We stayed inside.

Untitled

My father wanted to see a big cat of some sort. (Later this turned into a major hankering for a leopard sighting.) I wanted to see, and more importantly, photograph, a cheetah kill.

Untitled
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[mosquitos]

From Miyajima, we took the ferry, the train back to Hiroshima, the shinkansen back to Kyoto, then the train down to Nara, Japan's first capital.

On Thursday night, there were mosquitos.

I was surfing the web in my yukata and noticed a number of bites on my left leg and another couple on my right, all itching fiercely. I started hunting them down, and managed to kill a couple.

While we were in our futons trying to sleep, the mosquitos would buzz right by our ears. I tried staying completely under the covers, but ended up with a bunch of bites on my forehead. Plus I was hot. So I eventually gave up, and got eaten alive. I still have some of the bites.

(Not unlike Loft Ness back when I didn't have window screens, actually. I love those things, screens. Screens that cover the whole window. Screens that stop making you choose between overheating and getting bitten to death, neither of which allow you to sleep.)

I thought I was the only one, since mosquitos tend to love me, but we all had a somewhat sleepless night.

The next day I went on a mosquito killing rampage. I neared double digits killed, each of them plump full of our blood that smeared on the wall as they died.

That was definitely the low point, there, but things got better. And we slept well the next night.


[todai-ji]

On Friday we went to Todai-ji to see the Daibutsu (big buddha)... which was actually the reason I brought the fisheye lens. (I was worried it might be too large to get in one shot, and thought the fisheye might see more use than my 17-40, but it turns out my 24-105 was wide enough. Ah well.)

todaiji todaiji

todaiji todaiji

daibutsu daibutsu

daibutsu

daibutsu

daibutsu todaiji

todaiji
The two flanking towers are no longer there.
The daibutsu-den, along with the daibutsu's head, were rebuilt after an earthquake.
The daibutsu's body is hundreds of years older.

todaiji
A miniature of the daibutsu-den, with a miniature daibutsu inside.

daibutsu

daibutsu

daibutsu

aki gets bored; himo-den; the feeding of the shika )

[wrapup]

This was an amazing trip. I had so much fun and got to spend time with my parents, who live in SoCal. Lots of good food, lots of beautiful places. And monkies. And deer. And Hiko-nyan!

We definitely were burning out on the trip a little bit near the end... so much walking, so many temples. At one point I was looking forward to getting back to work, so I could sit all day.

I think my photography chops are back, and are about to become rusty again. I kind of want to take a photowalk in SF again, maybe this weekend.

I think I had more to say, but if I can't remember, it must not have been that important.

... The full set of pics from Nara are here.


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(aka, a shit ton of pictures about the same thing ;-)

(Back in SF; this is the first of my final 2 blog posts about this trip.)

[itsukushima at low tide]

On Tuesday, we checked out, walked to Hiroshima Castle, then walked to the train station. A quick train trip and ferry ride later, we were in Itsukushima, commonly known as Miyajima (shrine island).

I've seen so many breathtaking pictures of Miyajima that I knew this island would be a treasure trove for photography, and I was right. A dead giveaway: the number of people on the ferry with us, with significantly larger and pricier camera rigs than mine. (The same was true at the Eikando light up.)

All waiting for that first view of Itsukushima Shrine.

view from the ferry
The view from the ferry (low tide).

This torii was first built in 1168, and has been rebuilt 7 times. The most recent was in 1875. They built it from a single tree, and spent twenty years searching for the perfect tree.

We arrived before our room was ready, so we left our luggage at the hotel and walked to the shrine.

itsukushima at low tide itsukushima at low tide

itsukushima at low tide

We paid to enter the shrine itself, and planned to come back later during high tide (around sunset) but that never happened.

itsukushima at low tide
You could tell how the water would rise to hide the pilings at high tide.

itsukushima at low tide
There was a lot of seaweed left behind at low tide.
We later saw a cleanup crew gathering it and hauling it away, like leaves.

itsukushima at low tide itsukushima at low tide
There was a wedding happening in the shrine's main building, with a view of the torii.
Tourists lingered and took photos; I didn't feel right doing that, so I moved on and took pictures elsewhere.

itsukushima at low tide
The tide slowly coming in.


shika; itsukushima shrine at night; setonaikai )

Full set here.

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Originally, we were going to stay in Matsue for three nights, and travel from there to Miyajima on Tuesday. While researching what I wanted to see during the trip, I saw how close Miyajima was to Hiroshima, and that the A-Bomb Dome still stood in Hiroshima today. (Also, normal radiation levels.)

Since I didn't really see how we'd spend two and a half days in Matsue, and since I wanted to see the A-Bomb Dome, I suggested we spend some time in Hiroshima. And got my wish.

[atom bomb dome]

This was a famous green-domed building, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, and wasn't completely destroyed because it was almost directly beneath the hypocenter of the blast.

This became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, though not without some controversy. Japan was far from blameless in World War II; quite the opposite, in fact. But the site, plus Peace Park across the river, are part of a movement to eradicate nuclear weapons around the world.

atom bomb dome atom bomb dome

atom bomb dome

atom bomb dome
There were a number of school groups here on field trips, all wearing these yellow caps.

atom bomb dome

atom bomb dome

atom bomb dome

atom bomb dome
A flame + reflecting pool + stone arch framing the dome.
Paraphrased, the stone says "Rest peacefully, for this mistake will never be repeated."

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the atomic bomb; Hiroshima Castle and atom bomb trees )

All in all I'm very glad I went.

The rest of the photos are here.

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[kyoto -> matsue]

On Saturday, we ate breakfast at the hotel, then bid Kyoto farewell. A bus ride and two shinkansen rides later, we were in Matsue.

This was a pretty big change. After a week in Kyoto, arguably the cultural center of Japan, with its hundreds upon hundreds of temples and shrines, we were in a very small city with only a handful of touristy spots in town.

Also, we went from a fairly westernized hotel setting to a more traditional, tatami-and-futon Japanese room. I bathed at the hotel's public bath -- a first for me since I was a boy (several tattoos and piercings later) -- and am pleased to say that no one accused me of being yakuza or made any sort of fuss at all; everyone pretty much kept to themselves.


[matsue castle]

Matsue Castle is the third of the original construction castles I've been to. Back in the Meiji Restoration, a number of castles were torn down to emphasize the end of feudalism as it once existed, but the people of Matsue begged to be allowed to keep their castle. I'm going to guess that Matsue was also not a strategic target in World War II, saving the castle from bombing.

matsue castle matsue castle
They call it the Black Castle.

(more)


[yuushien gardens]

On Sunday we took a shuttle bus from the hotel to Yuushien Gardens, which was one of the places i had found in my research about Matsue that piqued my interest. (Adachi Museum was my first choice; Yuushien my second.) A pretty decent drive later (well outside of city limits; I think it's even in a different province), we arrived.

We were all very much surprised when we got in; Yuushien is arguably the most beautiful garden we've seen on this trip. There were very few people there for the first portion of our visit; I think that helped us enjoy it as well.

yuushien

yuushien yuushien

yuushien
The peonies have hats.

yuushien yuushien
yuushien
These pictures make me smile.

yuushien
The view from the tea room.

(more)


[adachi museum of art]

We took a bus to the station and another bus to the Adachi Museum of Art, which was absolutely packed. Also, the gardens were off limits; you had to admire them or photograph them from inside or behind barriers. And, of course, no photography inside.

The museum has the largest collection of Yokoyama Taikan's art, which I enjoyed. A looped video showed how the entire museum, including the design of the garden, was inspired by Yokoyama Taikan's art.

The website has a few pictures of Taikan's art. The autumn leaves screen was my favorite, and took up an entire wall.

I finished the main section of the museum fairly quickly, then noticed there was an annex with a large collection of paintings and other art much later, right before we were about to leave. I could have spent more time there, but it was crowded, we were tired, and after this bus there wasn't another one for over an hour and a half. We left and took it easy in the hotel.

adachi
Blown out skies still make me sad. But it was pretty.

adachi

yasugi
These were at the Yasugi station; I think there's a local cartoonist with these characters.

Our original plan was to take the shinkansen to Hiroshima -- a 3-4 leg trip. Then we found there was a direct bus from Mitsue to Hiroshima, which would be cheaper, faster, and less of a hassle with transfers. Unfortunately, even though the morning's bus was nearly empty, they were very strict with luggage size/weight limits.

It turns out that there's a very cheap and efficient way to send your luggage across Japan, called takkyubin. My parents had already used that several times, to send their luggage to the next hotel before traveling lightly themselves. I put my laptop, all my camera gear, and a few days' worth of clothes in my backpack + camera bag, and we shipped my suitcase to the hotel in Nara.

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[kokedera]

I did a quick bit of research about Japan before our vacation, and one of the things that caught my eye was Saiho-ji, aka Kokedera (Moss temple). The temple, with its moss-covered gardens, requires you to submit an application to visit, via Japanese postcard.

My parents arrived weeks before I did, and sent a postcard, and we got an invitation to go to Kokedera. So on Friday morning we took a bus to the Arashiyama district, on the other side of Kyoto from the hotel.

The bus was slow, and we arrived late for our 10am invitation. Turns out we missed the ritual of copying the sutras and we were the last to write our wishes/prayers onto strips of wood. Then off to the garden, which was very peaceful.

kokedera kokedera

kokedera kokedera

The rest are here.


[monkey park]

Two more things caught my eye about Arashiyama: the bamboo forest and the monkeys. We were in the area, and I wanted to see monkeys, so we went to see monkeys.

monkey park
They warned you not to feed them, show them food, or look them in the eye.

monkey park
The park itself was very colorful.

monkey park monkey park

monkey park monkey park

monkey park

Monkeys!

The rest are here.


[tenryu-ji]

We were done with temples by this point, so we decided to go see the bamboo forest and go home. Arashiyama was very very crowded, so as we made our way over to see the bamboo forest, we took what we thought would be a shortcut away from the busy streets. Turns out we couldn't get there via that route without paying to enter the Tenryu-ji gardens. So we did. And it was the prettiest shortcut you ever did see.

tenryu-ji tenryu-ji
Crowded, though. it was hard to get good pictures. But very very pretty. I think I should have brought my full filter kit to help avoid the blown-out white skies.

tenryu-ji

We actually didn't go to the bamboo forest; the bamboo on the edges of the Tenryu-ji gardens was enough, plus the place was crowded, so we got our fill of the gardens and went home.

(The rest are here.)


[eikando at night]

For our final light up in Kyoto, we re-visited Eikando, which was a serious grand finale.

eikando
These people do not fuck around with their lighting-up-of-autumn-leaves.
Three or four of these crane-mounted lighting rigs, plus built-in lighting, plus a fairly sizeable crew.
It was crowded, but pretty.

eikando

A very short video of walking through a small part of the garden:

You know.


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[fushimi inari temple]

This shrine of [allegedly, and quite possibly really] 1000 torii gates was founded 1300 years ago. The gates, as they stand today, are all fairly recent -- the last 25 years or so. Each has writing on them, generally for the people or company that paid the million? yen to have that particular torii placed there.

There are also a whole bunch of small, foot-tall or smaller, torii, and other prayer items, that visitors can purchase for amounts that you might carry around in your wallet. I had been wondering why this shrine didn't charge admission, but this seems like a solid business plan.

The whole thing was highly impressive, both for the sheer number of torii and their religious capitalism ;-)

Here's a much less cynical view :)

inari inari

inari

inari

inari inari

The rest of my pics are here. (I made a quick video of us walking through the torii, but I was stupid and did it in portrait rather than landscape, and it doesn't work that way. Can I rotate it? Probably. Do I care enough to? Evidently not. Here's someone else's video ;-)


[byodo-in]

I have to admit, I wasn't sold on this place. Maybe the fact that it's on the back of the 10yen coin and that my brother-in-law loved the Oahu replica weren't enough to sway me.

My parents really wanted to go, though, and I played along. And I'm really glad I did.

This place was built in the 11th century, and looks it. I much prefer it this way than its original orange-red garish color.

byodo-in byodo-in

byodo-in

byodo-in

So... too much polarizer on the standard shots, and a bit too much glare in the IR shots. Still, I like 'em.

The rest are here.


[uji]

Byodo-in is in a section of town called Uji, known for its green tea. All the stores reflected that; there was green tea bread, green tea candies, green tea chocolates and cakes and even plain green tea for sale.

On the way back, we had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner of tenzaru chasoba (tempura + cold dipping green tea soba noodles) while overlooking the Uji river. Yum.

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel. No light up that night; we took it easy and I finished up my first few blog posts.


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[morning]

Tuesday was a national holiday, a Labor Day equivalent. Since Kyoto is famous for its autumn leaves, and Thanksgiving week is the height of said autumn leaves, we decided it might be best to try visiting autumn-leaf-less places to avoid the crowds.

We took the bus to the Kyoto station and walked a ways to Sanjusangen-do. Inside are [a claimed] 1001 Buddhas: 1000 semi-identical, human-sized standing Buddhas, and one large seated Buddha in the middle.

A priest chanted his prayer in front of that central Buddha; visitors donated coins and prayed, or purchased candles to write their prayers on.

I would have pictures, but every 5 feet there was a sign saying that anyone taking pictures would have their camera confiscated. Wikipedia has a picture.

Afterwards, we walked across the street to the Kyoto National Museum, where we learned that no photography was allowed, and their collections were currently closed to the public. But we could go see a wonderful exhibition of historical priest garb [!].

We didn't take them up on that, for some reason.


[kiyomizu-dera]

After having gone out of our way to avoid the crowds, we decided we were in the area, so we might as well visit Kiyomizu-dera, despite the fact that it would probably be one of the most crowded attractions.

I had already been, twice, during cherry blossom time.


It was a little crowded.

kiyomizudera


It was also pretty.


This manju machine caught my eye. We bought some, hot; they were tasty.

And the way back was crowded, too. But a fun walk.


[manshu-in]

My father didn't really enjoy this, at all. It remains one of my favorite memories of the trip so far.

We took a taxi up to Manshu-in Temple after dark... fairly far from the hotel, up winding mountain roads, heading far from the city lights.

When we arrived, the taxi driver offered to wait for us, for a small per-minute fee. We declined, noting that there were other taxis there; we'd take one of them, instead.

This was another one of those "please take your shoes off and come inside" places; we weren't actually allowed into the garden, but would be allowed to take photos of the garden from inside the temple.

There weren't a lot of colorful leaves on display... but what I loved about the place was it seemed so wonderfully creepy and spooky to me.

manshuin

Afterwards, we went to get a taxi, but it turns out they were all waiting for other people. So we ended up walking a fairly long distance down the dark mountain road, til we eventually found civilization.

I thought that was all a great adventure, seeing parts of Kyoto I would have never seen before otherwise. Plus, if we had gotten one of those taxis, I would never have captured these, which I think are among my best photos so far:

manshuin

manshuin
outside manshu-in temple

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sedona, az









If I had had my new camera and/or a tripod I would have tried some HDR. I didn't bring my polarized filter either. However, I brought the perfect two lenses.

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[kyoto - heian jingu]:

I had been interested in seeing Heian Jingu early on, since we could see the torii from our hotel and it was listed as one of the five best sites for viewing sakura.

We went on Tuesday, I think. I didn't know very much about it, other than it was a Shinto shrine with a huge gate, orangish in color until you view it in overcast light, when it looks a deep red. Probably learned more from the wikipedia link above than I knew before.

There were some pretty sakura in front of the shrine with a crowd of people with cameras. I'd give up trying to photograph one tree since there were just too many people crowding me, and I'd look around for a better shot of another tree without anyone around, and I'd walk over to it. I shoulda camouflaged my actions a bit better because whenever I did that several people peeled off and ran right into my shot with their cameras.

That became a theme at Heian Jingu; making shots despite the crowds. Aiming high or taking wide shots worked a lot. So did walking to places where people hadn't crowded. Yet.

The courtyard was fairly impressive. I looked at the expanse of gravel and wondered how many trees had to be cleared and rocks crushed to originally make it.

The entire courtyard was too large for me to get in one shot, even at 17mm (~27mm with 1.6 crop factor).

There was a traditional Japanese wedding going on in that far building in that last photo. No photos allowed in there or I would've stolen one. Seemed like a nicer place for a wedding than the Hyatt Regency hotel lobby (where we saw a wedding being set up my final Saturday); at least the public was fenced off at some distance away.

After photographing the inside of the courtyard, we paid to go back into the [huge] gardens, where there were a ton of sakura in full bloom.

That first shot shows a good number of people; if you can imagine the path snaking around to where I'm standing, and every bit of that path being filled with just as many people, you get an idea of what it was like.

I missed quite a few shots 'cause of people in the way. Not as many as I did here at night, though.

This was my father's favorite place in Kyoto, since they had never been while the sakura were in such full bloom. I liked it too, especially the water shots, but I'm not sure it beat out Nijo-jo for me.

We asked, and found that they were open Thursday through Saturday nights with the gardens lit up, and a concert in that building on the water. We were leaving Kyoto on Friday morning, so we bought tickets for Thursday, after getting back from Himeji.


[heian jingu at night, or, umbrella hate]:

We bought the tickets at one of the Lawson's nearby (24hr convenience store); there's a machine in each of 'em, where you type in a search phrase for your show, then narrow it down by area in Japan, then city, then date, select how many people, then print it out and pay for it. Best part? No Ticketbastard convenience charges; the cheaper advance tickets are, in fact, cheaper. The worst part? I think you have to be literate to use 'em. Not being able to read kinda sucks.

We walked there... maybe four blocks away, in the rain. It was a nice walk, rain pitter pattering on our umbrellas. But then we saw The Line. That snaked around the front of the courtyard gate, and extended down the sidewalk, and around the corner, and down that sidewalk, and across a street, and halfway down that sidewalk. A sea of umbrellas.

We waited, but once the line started moving, it moved at a nice enough pace... a slow stroll with some pauses. We got to the courtyard gates soon enough, with puddles in the gravel (some sort of burlap or something laid down where the puddles got a little too deep), snaked around there, went into the courtyard proper, where the line disappeared through the far left gate, came back into the courtyard through another, crossed the courtyard, and disappeared into the far right gate... the sakura on the left, the lake and the concert on the right.

I didn't really enjoy being there, with all the umbrellas not only blocking my view and dripping on me, but often (several times a minute) poking me in the head or face. Countless missed shots due to umbrellas in the way. (I closed mine for more maneuverability and less awkwardness while operating my dSLR. Plus I was getting a little punchy and anti-umbrella at that point.)

Still, it was pretty. And I'm glad I went.

I think that last one shows just how many sakura there were (in just that direction!) as well as how densely packed the umbrellas were. Imagine about five more umbrellas clustered all around the edges of the frame, their metal pokey bits aimed at my face, and you've got the idea.

Then we were back in the courtyard, then over to the lake, where we heard highly compressed/effected guitar and flute, and we got to see the backs of people's umbrellas crowded all around the lake, at least three deep.

I did manage to sneak in and get some shots though. I think I'm still a bit bitter (can you tell? ;-) about the shots I knew I missed, had I just been able to wiggle through to the front for five seconds (or if they just closed their f'n umbrellas), but oh well. The ones I got are nice.



And so, after getting as many photos as we were going to get, and after squeezing through a large crowd of people who were staying to watch the whole concert, we headed back home to get dry and warm and unpokey.

This was my final photoshoot in Japan... purty but exhausting.


Gluttons for punishment can view all my Japan pics here.

escapewindow: escape window (Default)

[kyoto - nijo-jo]:

Nijo-jo, or "2nd St. Castle", was the Shogun's palace way back when. We first visited in the daytime, in the rain, shortly before closing.

We rushed to see the inside, which was disappointing. They kept the entire place dim to preserve the painted screens, and it was difficult to see anything, really. I had a little tour guide headset in English that didn't really illuminate things for me.

But the garden was beautiful.




Caught a couple of cute pics of my parents too =)

At the end there was a looped recording played over the loudspeakers, of a clip of Auld Lang Syne and a female voice, in Japanese and English, saying "Thank you for visiting, but the gate's about to close so get your butt over here". Loose paraphrase.

After we got to the gate we found that they were going to re-open later that evening, with the garden lit up. So we made plans to go later in the week.


[nijo-jo at night]:

There was a pretty big crowd at night, but the clouds were pretty and I already had practice at handheld ~1 second shots... so I just took my time and got lots of photos I'm happy with.



I loves me some night photography. The entire set is here.

I had previously missed seeing some koto players... the koto is the instrument my mother played. I caught them this time around. Very pleasing timbre. That reminds me, I have even more photos on my laptop that didn't get uploaded... more vacation snapshot-y than works of art, but still.

I hope you're not on dialup =\

Only one more post, I swear =)


escapewindow: escape window (Default)

[kyoto - kiyomizu-dera]:

After Kodai-ji, we walked to Kiyomizu-dera, one of three sites we were able to see in both daytime and nighttime. It was roped off and guarded, so we weren't able to get in, but we were able to get some photographs anyway.

On the last full day in Kyoto (Wednesday? We spent Thursday in Himeji and Friday we took the shinkansen back to Tokyo), we went back. It's another of those sites that every tourist needs to go, so it was crowded, as usual.



The light green trees are Japanese maples, so in the autumn the valley is filled with red leaves. My parents are going back some autumn to see that.

There's an expression, "jumping from Kiyomizu-dera", that people use to describe a life-altering decision.

The sakura were definitely well on their transition from blossoms to leaves.


escapewindow: escape window (sepia)

[kyoto - kodaiji]:

I loved that we kept finding great places to go photograph at night. Again, cherry blossom time only lasts a handful of weeks, so everyone's excited. There were crowds everywhere we went.

My father and I were going to take a cab to a few spots by the river since the concierge told him they would be lit up... but on a whim we took a taxi rather than the subway. The taxi driver told us the places we were going might not be that great, but we should go to Kōdai-ji. So we went.

After paying they led us inside, which definitely wasn't what I expected or wanted. I was consistently more interested in the outsides of the buildings and the gardens over the insides. Then we saw the inner courtyard: a very artificially lit scene. But pretty in its own way.

We were about ready to leave, disappointed, when we noticed the garden behind the wall... so we followed the path. And it was beautiful.

I had left my monopod in Tokyo and my tripod was only a tabletop model, so I got lots of practice at ~1second handheld shots.


Afterwards we walked to Kiyomizu-dera, which was closed, but we were able to get some good pics from the outside. That's for another post.


[kyoto - kinkakuji + jinkakuji]:

On a different day we took the bus to Kinkakuji, "The Golden Pavilion", where the most notable thing was a bit unfortunate. There was a small stone shrine and a bowl where people threw small coins and prayed... the ground was covered with 1 and 5 yen pieces but the bowl itself was empty. A group of American teenagers were loudly calling out for more 1 yen pieces as they hurled them, overhand, at the shrine and bowl.

Proud to be an American.

Then off to Jinkakuji, "The Silver Pavilion", which, despite its name, is not covered in silver as the Golden Pavilion is covered in gold. The Pavilion itself was being restored, but really, the highlight was in the walk to the site, since there was a small canal filled with sakura petals.

After that, we were off to Kiyomizu-dera for the second time, this time in the daytime.


escapewindow: escape window (escape(window) typewriter)

[kyoto - daigo temple]:

On Sunday we took the shinkansen to Kyoto.

The city was packed that day, since it was a weekend during the peak of cherry blossom time.

Distinctly different feel from Tokyo. My initial impression: Few highrises. More litter. Some urban decay photo ops during the cab ride, but I missed 'em.

We settled into our room, then took the subway (only two subway lines! in a neat Y shape, as opposed to the frenetic criss-crossing of subway lines in Tokyo. If you want to travel outside those lines you can take a bus.) to Daigo Temple, where Toyotomi Hideyoshi held his cherry blossom festivals centuries ago.

Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. We walked through the temple but weren't able to take pictures inside; the inner garden had that sense of utter serenity that you don't quite get at some of the Japanese gardens in America. Wooden floors smoothed with age, painted screen doors faded over time.

The old architecture looked a lot more beautiful with the cherry blossoms than the Tokyo highrises. And the varieties of cherry blossoms here are somehow more varied and prettier.


[kyoto - maruyama koen and gion at night]:

I was nearly passed out in our stuffy hotel room (A/C broken) til I opened the window and got ready for bed... then I was a bit more awake so my father and I walked to Maruyama Koen, where they light up the cherry blossoms at night.

Passed a few 24 hour convenience stores, nice. We kept walking, passed a bright orange Shinto gate full of grilled food vendors, kept walking, kept walking, and finally we decided to turn back.

We walked in Gion for a bit, where they raise and train high class geishas... the buildings there are amazing. Took some night photos there and the main street, then started heading back home.

My father found a map that said Maruyama Koen was just behind that orange Shinto gate we had passed by earlier. =)

We went and it was packed. Tons of young people on tarps eating and drinking and laughing and stumbling drunkenly around. Three or four f'n HUGE piles of trash, in stark contrast to Shinjukugyoen. The entire park was lined with food vendors selling grilled octopus or hot dogs or sweets; at regular intervals there were hanging metal cauldrons? full of glowing embers for people to warm themselves (probably good for toasting marshmallows too =) ... Cherry blossom time was a great big party.

At the center of it was a huge cherry blossom tree, lit from underneath for great effect, surrounded by people with camera phones and point-n-shoots and SLRs. That was pretty. My father's highlight of the day. I kinda liked seeing the whole shindig as a cultural thing.


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