Jun. 12th, 2011 02:18 am
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On a whim, I started taking a photo a day... the 365 project. I'm 47 days in.

I've learned a bit, and taken some good photos. I've also found myself "cheating" by taking pictures of just about anything at hand when I run out of time in the day. Sometimes that results in very creative photos; other times you can tell I'm going through the motions.

In a way, the subtext of the photos is a bit more about me than I'd have expected.

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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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The original idea came to me when I saw a large backlit ad on the streets of San Francisco, and I thought it would look really good as background blur. The problem: What do I put in the foreground?

Then I remembered loving photos of Kewpie dolls that one photographer brought everywhere with her... kinda like the Amélie lawn gnome, I suppose. Later, the Bone Room brought everything together.

Wire and fishing line solved the issue of how to suspend the nautilus shells in front of various backdrops... I just needed an arm attached to a tripod.

Then the conundrum of which lens(es) to use... why not several, to try 'em out? And maybe a jacket for when it gets cold. And reading material for the diner. And the tripod and rope and shells. And no, I don't have a ton of locations scouted; I'm just planning on walking the length and breadth of the city looking for locations that catch my eye. With this ever growing bag dragging on my shoulder.

Turns out? A boom mic stand works great. It's way heavier than a standard tripod, but it's great for suspending things from without getting in the shot. And as far as backdrops? Turns out my TV works great. Hey, access to all my gear without having to lug it *anywhere*.

That's the type of photowalk a lazy bastard like me can really get behind.

Not a great way to find your nautilus shell has broken.
Luckily I have several.

full set.


Apr. 5th, 2009 10:34 pm
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For those of you who haven't been following along, I headed out to Monterey this weekend.

Full sets are here and here.

[EDIT] ... Just looked at all the EXIF data and I'm pretty surprised at how many shots were in that 70-200mm range.

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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.

February 2017



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