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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.


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 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.

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




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


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.


[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

The peonies have hats.

yuushien yuushien
These pictures make me smile.

The view from the tea room.


[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.

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


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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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


The rest are here.


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.


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.

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.


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

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 ;-)


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



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.


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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[hikone castle]

There are hundreds of castles in Japan. A number of them are ruins; a number have been rebuilt recently. Twelve still have their original keeps; Himeji is one. Hikone is another.

We took a train to Lake Biwa, to see Hikone Castle and the neighboring Genkyu-en garden.

First we visited the castle museum (shoes off). There were screens painted with battle scenes from Sekigahara (heh, wikipedia has a picture of one). We also stopped to watch a video of Noh theater that had been recorded in a stage in that building. I hadn't realized how much Noh tradition I was already familiar with, mostly from Kurosawa's films.

Then, we walked to the keep, where there was a crowd gathered around a white cat mascot (that we had seen in the various stores walking up to the castle, in plush, paper, and ceramic. Maybe even tombstone; not sure about that, but we did see a Hello Kitty tombstone earlier).

I was curious, so I did a little googling.

Of, course, Hikonyan! How could I not have recognized the character that businessmen commissioned an artist to create for the 400th anniversary of Hikone Castle in 2007!

Cute little bugger, too. With his own copyright infringement lawsuit.

The castle itself was kind of pretty, too.



I also took the opportunity to justify bringing my IR camera.

hikone hikone


We then went inside the keep, which was quite obviously built to be fortifiable, not comfortable. The stairs were steep; maybe a foot in height and six inches deep. We navigated these while holding our shoes in bags in one hand, the handrail in our other hand, as the crowd slowly pushed forward. There wasn't a whole lot to see; the archery and gunnery holes were sealed, the windows covered in plexiglass, and the dim interior packed with people.

We were glad to find ourselves at the end, ready to put our shoes back on and head to the Genkyuen garden, which was peaceful and pretty.


After our Manshu-in adventures, my father was reluctant to go to another distant light-up spot, but I convinced him we should go to Jisso-in.

We were again kept inside, and not allowed to photograph the interior of the temple. There was a famous room, with the autumn leaves visible through (and framed by) the rice paper screen doors, and reflecting on the shiny hardwood floors, but photographing that scene was expressly forbidden, though you could purchase images of that room with cherry blossom and autumn leaf and show covered branch exteriors.

Still, it was beautiful. I don't think my photos captured that well enough.

jissoin jissoin



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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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


outside manshu-in temple

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[jet lag, or lack thereof]

I intentionally didn't sleep very much on the flight; I knew if I arrived around 6pm local time and stayed up a few more hours, I could adjust seamlessly into Japanese time.

Then again, 8:30am here is 2:30pm California time, which is pushing the limits of how late even I can sleep in. Maybe I'm still on relatively the same sleep schedule.

[nanzen-ji, eikando, konkai komyo-ji]

It was overcast and sprinkling, and a number of the recommended locations for viewing autumn leaves were relatively close to the hotel.

These gave me a chance to get back in the swing of taking pictures; I haven't had the time or energy to do so back home. (Plus I'm a little bit jaded, walking the same photowalks in SF over and over.)

Though I'm drawn to the exteriors of Japanese buildings and gardens, I've been generally uninterested in their interiors. I think the strict rules against indoor photography, plus being forced to remove your shoes (and often carry them around with you in a plastic bag), and the whole crowds-in-cramped-spaces thing, combine to form an interior-of-most-famous-japanese-buildings-aversion.

The outsides and gardens are still beautiful, though.

During the walk to Konkai Komyo-ji, it began to rain fairly hard, so we took shelter by a street food vendor with nearby covered seating. There we had some oden, which I had never seen before, and which surprised me with its very bland appearance but hearty and warm taste. We ate as the monks in the temple chanted their prayers.




I love visiting the various locations in Kyoto that are lit up for viewing. We did that during cherry blossom time; Shoren-in was the first during autumn leaves.

They forced us to wind through the entirety of the temple, while holding our shoes, to get to the garden, evidently to guide us past their gift shop and tea shop.

However, the garden was worth it.


We didn't have to go inside, here, which was nice. They said the rain, while inconvenient, should make things even more beautiful, which was true.

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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.

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[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 =)

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[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.

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[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.

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[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.


Apr. 13th, 2008 04:05 am
escapewindow: escape window (Default)
himeji castle
i loves me some castles... neuschwanstein, salzburg, and that small castle in spain on that island in that river. himeji is definitely up there, if not at the top. apparently it was bombed twice but survived. most likely due to near misses rather than uber architecture.

gun holes
i think this wall was in kagemusha. definitely saw some familiar courtyards where the horsemen ride out in ran.

i like wide angle lenses.

the sakura were much prettier once i had my allergies mostly under control.


in unrelated news, i just got a boxful of small, medium, and large slave unit shirts, since our first order is pretty much down to a handful of larges and a ton of x-larges.


Apr. 11th, 2008 11:17 pm
escapewindow: escape window (candles)
i went to a toy store today.

i remembered going to toy stores in japan as a boy; back then they were vast expanses with towering shelves full of wonder and magic.

now they're cramped, crowded shops with chintzy overpriced items with more nostalgic value than actual playability.

i liked the old version better.
escapewindow: escape window (Default)


On Friday we went to Ginza and stopped by Kabuki-za. Hunh, I was completely unaware that that was the center of Kabuki theater. That's cool.

Standard tickets had long since sold out, but there are day-of tickets available on a per-show, first-come-first-served basis (for much cheaper). We were thinking about just attending the first of the three afternoon shows, but a kabuki regular (who was unable to buy her standard tickets due to the popularity of this particular set of shows) recommended staying. We ended up buying tickets for all three.

Armed with bento and our commentary handsets, we filed up to the nosebleed seats above the balcony. The seats were narrow and cramped; the seats in coach had more leg room. Still, I was there for a new experience.

The first show was modern (1930s) and set at the end of the Shogunate, shortly after Commodore Perry and the Kanagawa Treaty. It was surprisingly realistic (due to its modern style) with a set that included the first 10' of a house, complete with sliding doors and raised veranda. The makeup and acting were realistic, with little of the over-the-top stylistic flair that one would associate with Kabuki. Overall it seemed like one of the lengthier expository scenes of a Kurosawa film.

I found the commentary a little jarring for this one; recorded dry English commentary in one ear and the live Japanese dialog in the other. At times I turned the volume down to listen to the Japanese. Overall I liked it, and the intermission gave me a chance to stretch my legs.

The second show was a classic, telling the tale of Minamoto Yoshitsune and Benkei using guile to evade detection (and execution) at his half-brother Yoritomo's roadblocks. This one was fully Kabuki with Noh artifacts, with thirty or forty traditional Japanese musicians accompanying the ten or so actors. This one was great, quite a treat. We were glad we didn't just see the one.

As a side note, I experienced my first earthquake in Japan during the second show =) A 4.0 quickie; the actors didn't stop acting.

The third was ultra-modern, having been written in the late 90s. An amusing but waaaaay too long comedy with maybe eight different scenes and set changes that were obviously not written for the people sitting in the backseat-of-a-yugo footroom nosebleed seats. Without the commentary I probably would have fallen asleep.

Still, we were glad we went, and by the time we left, it was dark, allowing me to photograph Ginza at night.

[night shots and roppongi]:

The city is so much more beautiful at night.

After humoring me for a while, my parents wanted to head back to the hotel. I decided to wander around Shinjuku for a while to get some of those shots I had missed the first time around... my first time oot&aboot Tokyo by myself.


Kinda wanted to pop into a pachinko parlor to see what the fuss was about, but not enough to actually do it.

Headed over to Roppongi by train since Tim had regaled me with tales of girls in outrageous costume: the loligoths and cosplay and various other outfits crowding the streets... just something you gotta see. Maybe I got out the wrong exit (there were six or more widely dispersed exits from the station) or maybe he was exaggerating... I just saw a bunch of fairly normally dressed people, "gentleman"s clubs and bars, and a bunch of shady types trying to lure people (in shady ways) to walk into said clubs and bars. The better to part with your money, my dear.

Although I had never been to Roppongi before, I've seen it. The hustle, the girls on the other side of the doors, the drunks, the glassy-eyed men stumbling in or out. Not really what I was looking for at that point.

Instead I popped into the Tokyo Hard Rock, dodged some vomit, and took the ultra-packed train back home.

[homeless encampments + winter]:

After I showed so much interest in graffiti and homeless, my father showed me a small homeless encampment in Shinjuku Chuo Gyoen (the park just outside our hotel room). While others picnic nearby, homeless doze off on benches or take advantage of the free water and bathrooms. A small neat cluster of little tents, small enclosed shelters covered with blue tarps, lay in one corner of the park.

I asked my father where they go when it snows... is there a shelter? He said he saw them clustered underneath City Hall, in the parking area.

All men. My mother hypothesized that women adapt easier to new situations, so it's easier for their friends and family to take them in. I think there might be another reason as well.

They don't panhandle, so they're most likely getting some sort of handout from the government. I wonder what sort of carrot or stick keeps them well behaved and relatively neat and clean.

It's sad in a way. If my mother had been right, and there were no litter or homeless or graffiti or crime in Japan, that would have been some comfort, that there is a way for humans to reach a sort of utopia in this world. Who knows, maybe it's there in Canada or somewhere, maybe it's all about the moose. But Japan, with its strongly capitalist ways (privatized rail, privatized health?) doesn't have it, unless you have money.


Ginza is the high class shopping district. Before kabuki we walked to Nihombashi, the site of an old bridge, 4 train stations away.

We finished our walk in Mitsukoshi, the oldest department store. Old enough to have a train station named after it: Mitsukoshimae, or "in front of Mitsukoshi".

Another notable train name: the Chiyoda line. Literally, "blood of Yoda". ;-)

Small police stations abound, three or four police per (and often a couple are out patrolling). These certainly contribute to the safeness of the city.

Akihabara is the electronic store district. Yodobashi Camera is a Circuit City / Fry's mix. The US isn't terribly far behind in tech these days, so it wasn't mind boggling... but I really liked the camera section. They had a number of camera bodies out and a greater number of lenses, all tethered to the counter. I was able to try out the various lenses in-store. The rest of Akihabara is just kind of crazy.

The cherry blossoms in Shinjuku are definitely fading fast, and will most likely be gone next week.

On Sunday we took the shinkansen to Kyoto, which is gorgeous. One 4gb card lasted me all week in Tokyo; I'm afraid I'll fill up my second soon and today was our first full day in Kyoto. Internet access is a bit more limited here and they cut off anyone who's a bandwidth hog, so I'm going to wait to upload photos til Tokyo or when I'm back in SF.

escapewindow: escape window (escape(window) typewriter)


Greater Tokyo is 239 square miles (618 square km) and is home to more than 17 Million people in the day time and 12 Million at night.

When walking from point A to point B downtown, there are often 4+ levels to choose from: street level, a level above (bridges above the street), and two or more levels of subway. The subways aren't merely entrances to train routes, but also connect to skyscraper basements and other street entrances many blocks away, so that people are able to walk under the streets to their destinations without having to enter the paid train areas.

Under each skyscraper there are restaurants and stores in the basements. Under every department store highrise there is a basement level consisting only of sweets and snacks, many freshly made that morning. These help lure the surface dwellers below.

You see, the population of Tokyo has slowly diverged as the subterranean lifestyle has become more and more self-contained: the surface-dwellers go about their business above ground, while the underground dwellers have grown pale and sun-blind, preferring to burrow in the cool, moist earth. They lure the surface dwellers below with sweets so they can hunt, culling the herd of the weak, sickly, and old so they can feast on their succulent flesh.

[shinjuku gyoen]:

We visited Shinjuku Gyoen, or Shinjuku Park, on Wednesday. Just us and several thousand of our closest friends and neighbors.

The park was in full bloom. Fifteen types of cherry blossoms, as far as the eye can see. It got a little ridiculous how many cherry blossoms there were. Apparently the blooming schedule is brief, only a couple of weeks or so, making this a rare treat, but since I had no non-blossoming context it definitely seemed like overkill.

The cult of Canon was out in full force; after a while I gave up trying to shoot around people and just started including 'em in the shot.

My allergies really started to act up around here, and I was out (bedridden) Wednesday and Thursday evenings dealing with that.

Still, despite all my bitching, I came out with some nice photos. Just goes to show, if an infinite number of monkeys armed with cameras are taking an infinite number of photographs, at least one of the monkeys will be named Aki.

[on litter and homeless]:

One of the oddities about the park was the complete absence of a) trash cans and b) litter; if you can bring something in, you can bring it out. The wind did blow a plastic bag into the lake, drawing a large murmur of disapproval from all onlookers.

Bathrooms tend not to have any paper towels. Napkins aren't necessarily guaranteed at restaurants... it's somewhat expected that you carry around your own handkerchief.

(I, of course, tote lots of Kleenex and my sleeves. Maybe I'll switch to a handkerchief one of these days.)

Any and all environmental impact is counterbalanced by the sheer number of disposable chopsticks and plastic bags that abound. However, moving to reusable chopsticks and a European-type expectation that grocery shoppers bring their own bags would not be difficult. The US definitely lags in all of these departments.

My parents are very proud at how clean Japan is, how there is no graffiti, no homeless, no litter, no crime. Then again, there's the lurking presence of Yakuza; I was able to gleefully point out some graffiti and litter in an out-of-the-way pedestrian tunnel back to Shinjuku station; and I victoriously pointed out an entire park full of napping homeless people in front of the Emperor's palace.

("They're just taking a nap during their lunch break," my mother said. But one of 'em had a ratty old suitcase he was obviously living out of, and a few more were sleeping on newspaper.)

My current theory is that there's just a stronger delineation between upper and lower class, and that the current hierarchy allows the upper class to easily overlook or ignore any goings on of the lower class, outside of how it affects them on a service level.


Tokyo is, for the most part, a relatively new city. Its history reaches back for hundreds of years, before the Europeans arrived in the Americas, but the Americans bombed the shit out of the place, so the bulk of the city (architecturally speaking) is post-war.

(My father grew up in Tokyo and has vivid memories of going into bomb shelters nightly, of B-29s bombing the city, napalm scorching the rice fields, and his childhood home(s) burning down twice. He turned 7 shortly before the war ended.)

I imagine the newness of the city allowed for more growth, since there were no historical preservation groups trying to keep you from building a skyscraper over a sentimental ramshackle shed. I believe that was the basis of Nero's argument as well.

(Still, the newness didn't completely remove all narrow back alleys like this one, where you can disappear and come back all Hello Kitty, your mouth having been stolen and sold to the black market.)

I'll get to see the difference when I visit Kyoto next week, which the Americans avoided bombing. The city, that is. As well as next week, hopefully. That would kind of suck.

[asakusa, emperor's palace]:

Asakusa is the oldest temple in Tokyo, though the actual buildings may have been rebuilt post-war. It's the one place Japanese visitors need to go, so despite the mid-day weekday visit, it was packed. The buildings there all try to reflect old architecture, though, so the entire area was kind of nice to see.

The Imperial Palace is pretty and insanely huge if you consider how precious real estate is in Tokyo. They don't let you into the actual grounds, just peek from over the bridge.

Still, when I was younger I was batshit about castles, and I remember my visits to Japanese (and Spanish, and German, and...) castles vividly. I'm still fond of 'em. It was nice to see this one, even non-functional, even at a distance.

We're off to Ginza soon, so I'll babble more later.

escapewindow: escape window (Default)

We've been waking up early... 4am or so. On Tuesday I took the opportunity to take some photos out the window before dawn; on Wednesday we went to the Tsukiji fish market.

[Tsukiji fish market]:

We left at 4:45 to get on the 5am train; we arrived at 5:30ish and walked through the chaos that is the fish market in the early hours to the maguro auction. This is a warehouse room full of pallets with maguro (tuna) lined up from wall to wall. Buyers inspect the fish, looking inside the abdominal cavities, examining the quality of the meat where the tail has been lopped off (and placed inside the tuna's head through the gills for safekeeping). The auctioneer calls out in that nonstop frenetic chanting auctioneer way and buyers raise their hands: one finger, usually beaten by someone with two fingers raised. Each fish takes less than a half minute to sell.

One of the smaller fish sold for 12 million yen (approximately 120,000USD); one of the larger fish sold for 30 million yen (~300,000USD). Coupla those and you've got a house in San Francisco. You might want to ask for a short escrow, though.

The entire auction was over by 6am.

Then we walked around the place, which was full of every type of seafood imagineable. We had to constantly dodge motorized carts; not happy shiny electric robotic carts with friendly anthropomorphic personalities and permanent smiles rolling amiably along in a line, but gas-powered fish-laden contraptions appearing from nowhere, steered by madmen, roaring to and from every direction as they cut between slower traffic and crates, trying to zig and zag to find the quickest route to move fish from Point A to Point B.

I'm surprised I didn't see (or become involved in) some sort of collision.

They cut the frozen tunas with a table saw. The fresh tunas, however, involved several huge knives, including a knife so long that its maker must have had his penis length mocked by someone with a sword. Probably as tall or taller than me. The knife, that is.

I was a bit disappointed to see them carefully slicing the tuna rather than going all kendo kiai as someone slo-mo tosses the tuna up, the knife making several simultaneous blinding arcing blurs, the tuna landing gently in perfectly cut steaks. Still, it was cool.

Afterwards we stopped in a teeny tiny sushi joint (one of several) and had the freshest sushi I've ever had.

(Which reminds me: when we went to a Korean restaurant, I finally found a food my father wouldn't try: beef sashimi, which he finds unappetizing. I pointed out that he has cleaned a fish and eaten sashimi then and there; it's totally a mind thing. Then again, I didn't feel like eating steak or burgers outside the arena after witnessing the bullfights in Spain. I bet there are people out there who can eat rare steak after visiting slaughterhouses that would get squicked out by the fish market. Or even sashimi in general.)


Yesterday (Tuesday), we took the train to ICU, where my parents met, dated, and got married. Monday was their 45th anniversary [!]. It was cool seeing the campus after only hearing about it in stories. Lots of cherry blossoms.

Speaking of, the cherry blossoms are beautiful. I believe they're also responsible for the increase in my (and a significant number of locals') allergies, however.


This is the part of Tokyo where my father grew up, "one of several downtowns" as he put it. We walked around the station last night so I could get my bearings. The east side definitely looks more like I pictured Tokyo before my visit. I made the walk without pulling out my camera, but I did reference quite a number of places where I'd like to return, camera in hand.

We visited the Canon store here, where I tried a number of lenses and bodies I hadn't tried before, including some that aren't available in the US yet. The bodies probably aren't localized for English yet, but I'm thinking about picking up a lens or two. It's a disease.

We went up to a few viewing spots in skyscrapers which are open to the public. Pretty, but they definitely don't allow for good nighttime photography; the interior lights cause way too much glare on the windows.

Everywhere downtown it's apparent what a precious commodity real estate is. Hotel lobbies are spacious, but mostly up (vertically). And everything gets so crowded. The walkways are spacious after hours, but during rush hour they're packed. Certain elevators, trains: packed. The common surgical masks make sense since there's nowhere to turn to sneeze or cough away from everyone else. I did get a sudden urge to mimic that Rad Girls sketch where they went into an elevator with a whoopee cushion and a stink spray. Probably not as funny once you take into account the events from 13 years ago.

And now, after jumping around chronologically through the events of the past day and a half, and with my parents passed out in the mid-morning sun, I think I'm going to go downstairs for some more pictures.

Tsukiji Fish Market photos
ICU/cherry blossom photos
All my Japan trip photos

February 2017



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