From Chichibu to Koma Shrine

The other day we took the train to Chichibu in Saitama province, arriving at the Seibu-Chichibu station. Chichibu is famous for its winter festival and the pilgrimage of the 34 Buddhist temples dedicated to Kannon. Pick up a tourist leaflet/map at the station to find your way around. From the Seibu-Chichibu station it was a short walk to temple #13 and temple #15.

We got a very nice reception at the gorgeous Jigenji Temple (temple #13) where the woman taking care of the temple served us tea and some dedicated candy. This temple is dedicated to illnesses of the eye and the sutra storehouse on the right-hand side of the precinct contains a hexagonal Rindo and images of the 13 holy priests enshrined there. Turn the Rindo twice while reciting your sutras to get relieve on eye related issues.
Shorinji Temple (temple #15) is a short walk away and was built in the last year of the Meiji period and features some rare architecture.

We continued to Jorakuji Temple (temple #11) which is not very remarkable but it gives access to a tiny Shinto shrine up on the hill with an amazing series of red toriis leading up to the shrine.

FUJICHROME Velvia 50

FUJICHROME Velvia 50FUJICHROME Velvia 50

We continued to the Chichibu Shrine which is beautiful and was very tranquil the day we visited. This is the scene of the 3rd largest Shinto festival every December 3. The omikuji (the random fortunes) are washed in the tiny stream running over the area of the temple complex to reveal their meaning.

FUJICHROME Velvia 50

FUJICHROME Velvia 50

From the shrine it is a 10 minute walk back to the Seibu-Chichibu station but it is worth paying attention to the architecture of the old houses on the way. Too often old shops and restaurants have made way for non-distinct and boring modern buildings, Chichibu seems to have more than average share of quaint old buildings.

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On the way to Chichibu we had passed Koma station, Koma is of course the home of the Koma Shrine with its strong links to Korea as it enshrines Koma no kokishi Jakko, a Korean who settled in early Japan. Koma station, by the way, is not the best way to access the shrine as it is a few kilometre walk along a moderately busy road. The better access is via Komagawa JR station from which it is a 15 minute walk.

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I did enjoy this shrine a lot, the way it was almost inserted into the mountain slope with large trees almost embracing it.

FUJICHROME Velvia 50

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Behind the shrine was a thatched roof shed with a Korean pottery exhibition, access was free.


A few hundred meters behind the shrine, away from Komagawa station is the Shoden-in temple nested on top of a mountain. The access is quite magical with beautiful gardens in the lower areas and a fabulous gate.

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Once you continue up the stairs, you discover that access is 300 yen for the inner area. After having paid, you step onto a large area over which the temple looms from the plateau above. All of a sudden it starts to look brand new and even the gardens all of a sudden are mere attempts to aspire to something profound and the view from the platform at the top was rather plain and didn’t give me the glimpses of the temple buildings I had encountered in other places.

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I would certainly recommend a visit to this temple but wouldn’t visit the upper parts anymore but admire it from below.

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A sacred mountain in the Tokyo area

Takaosan (Mount Takao) is a sacred mountain less than an hour away from Shinjuku. The Yakuoin temple and Shinto shrines on Takaosan are dedicated to good fortune. I guess that you can imagine what that means for a visit on a weekend in these difficult times.

We visited twice; the first time we had little time to spend and went up by cable car; the second time I went alone and hiked through the woods over the trails to the top of the mountain which was preferable. Both visits the fog in the distance covered the view of Mt Fuji. The Yakuoin  temple and shrine areas are beautiful but packed with visitors even during the week.

Adox CHS 25 ART stand developed: Pre-soaked for 5 minutes followed by APH 09 developer in a 1+120 dilution, 1gr borax, agitated for the 1st minute and then left to stand for 1 hour.

I hiked up the Inariyama trail and passed all the other hikers by going my own speed, most of the other hikers were dressed like they were attempting an ascent of Mt Everest and I felt slightly foolish in just my jeans and hiking boots. Still, it is an easy hike and other than a pair of good shoes, some insect repellent, rain clothes (just in case) and enough to drink, I don’t think you need anything special for these hikes.

The first time we visited we walked down over the paved trail #1 which was easy but a bit difficult on the knees. The second time I visited, I went left and right over the different trails to include visits to the Miyama bridge and the Jataki waterfall. At the latter a Shinto ascetic ceremony was taking place and nobody needed a spectator, so I moved on. It looked like the waterfall was closed off if no ceremony was taking place, so I would not really recommend coming down the mountain via the Jataki waterfall trail as it is a really long trail that brings you back halfway between Takaoguchi Keio and Takao JR station.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

Even though the Yakuoin temple and shrine complex are very beautiful and contain some excellent examples of woodcarving, I didn’t feel a connection with the place. I was sort of left in no man’s land. The place was very busy and business like and there was no intimacy. While I visited, a group of 30 or 40 pilgrims, who had taken the cable car up for the mountain, arrived at the temple complex and were admitted to one of the secondary buildings while waiting to be admitted to the actual temple for a Buddhist ceremony. They all looked like top level executives of a very large company, but it looked like they didn’t really want to be there: Just before entering the temple complex, a few of them separated themselves from the group to make already group reservations in the restaurant they passed, to smoke a quick cigarette and to make phone calls. I’m sure they did the right thing but somehow it is not what I associate with a Buddhist pilgrimage where one tries to take distance from the worries of our day to day life and focus on the spiritual.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

Adox CHS 25 ART stand developed: Pre-soaked for 5 minutes followed by APH 09 developer in a 1+120 dilution, 1gr borax, agitated for the 1st minute and then left to stand for 1 hour.

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Things I noticed during my stay in Japan

Intended to be read tongue in cheek. I’ll keep updating this post, please revisit if this post amuses you.

  • Outside the cities the yellow light has no meaning when driving a car and it is perfectly okay to drive through the red light and get annoyed with pedestrians and cyclist when they get the green light and start walking.
  • Japanese idols,  I’ll let you in on a secret: A song that needs a few words in English thrown into the lyrics randomly does suck big time and you better ask your record company to make an effort for a change and come up with some better lyrics, BABY!
  • On the topic of music: Japan has some great musicians in every genre of music where they win international acclaim. Jazz, classical music, rock, etc. You just don’t see them on TV where cute and androgynous idols rule ad nauseam. Check out Mr Children, Dragon Ash, The Blue Hearts, and my current favourites SCRAP.
  • It is perfectly okay to sit on the Priority/Courtesy seats in trains as long as you pretend to be asleep so you don’t need to get up when somebody boards the train for whom these seats are intended. Or wait, that cannot be right!
  • A lot of TV programs are about food and include a lot of outcries of surprise and invariably ends with tasting the food and then declaring it to be UMAI!!
  • All TV programs are presented to a panel of celebrities whose faces are shown as inserts to show their reactions so the viewing public at home knows when to be amused, interested, sad or surprised.
  • Murder makes for at least a week of repeats on the news where the same details of the police investigation are repeated ad nauseam. Japan must be terribly unsafe when cute girls can be murdered in their apartments by a neighbour! (No it is isn’t)
  • The fact that the same police almost let the Aum suspect Takahashi escape twice and the manga cafe owner had to urge the detectives to check his identity after first deciding it wasn’t the guy, never made much of a splash in the media. This was a few days after the police had already missed a big chance to arrest him. Clumsiness like this does make me question how well protected we are.
  • Is there a TV program imaginable that doesn’t include Katori Shingo?
  • An umbrella is a bad idea in a typhoon, but a raincoat does keep you dry very nicely as I found out during the passing of typhoon #4 last week. So why does everybody use an umbrella, gets drenched and blown all over the place in the strong winds? A mountain of broken umbrellas was left the next day which makes for cool photography and TV, I guess.
  • It is very likely cheaper to buy a new camera in your home country than in Japan by a considerable amount. This includes the shops in Akihabara I visited. As sales tax is still at only at 5%, ‘tax free for tourists’ is hardly worth the bother.
  • The local yakitori place doesn’t think twice to leave a bucket of uncooked chicken skewers out in the sun for hours at temperatures around 30°C (or rain for that matter) without any cooling. I haven’t heard about a local surge in food poisoning related deaths in the neighbourhood, so I guess he knows what he’s doing.
  • Large protests and demonstrations are not newsworthy on TV. I guess a celebrity visited some shop that day which took priority of course (This in context with the demonstrations of thousands I witnessed in Yoyogi over the weekend and the protests related to the hurried restart of the Oi nuclear reactor, neither was mentioned on the news, and the incredible amount of time the TV spends on celebrity related “news”)
  • A silly hat and/or silly glasses is reason enough to be on TV! Hot smile
  • Bread comes in many flavours: white, white, white and white, sweet and very, very sweet. Could kill for some whole wheat bread…
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Flickr.com and maps

Am I the only person who finds that the Yahoo provided maps in flickr are very poor for certain countries? On the satellite or hybrid maps I cannot zoom into a level where I can recognize where I have shot my photos anywhere in Saitama, Japan or plenty of other locations around the world. And, half of the locations I try to search for aren’t recognized. Thankfully LightRoom 4 includes a Map facility based on Google maps that works as one would expect. Flickr, why offer half a service?

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Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine

Yesterday, I visited the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. I have been to Tokyo many times before and I do like to drop in on the places I visited before. We dropped in on the garden of the Empress Shoken which was in full flower. The irises where a little droopy after the recent typhoon and excessive rain of the last few days and that must have frustrated the several people painting the flowers as it would make their efforts look like cheap aquarelles had they painted according nature. I had loaded colour film for the occasion and am looking forward to some nice photos, especially of the people painting the flowers.

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We continued to the Meiji Shrine and it was wedding ceremony rush hour: For the day we visited, there were 18 weddings scheduled and during the 45 minutes we spent there, we saw 5 or 6 weddings, I lost count. I had a chat with one of the guards and he pulled out a large schedule with lots of information as to what shrine area the wedding took place, etc. I also had a chat with a Miko and she said that this time of the year was most popular which surprises me a little as it is supposed to be the rainy season. The ceremony is 1530000 yen in the weekend (40 persons) or 980000 yen (20 persons) but weekdays are a bargain at 380000 yen.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

What surprised me the most was that all the bridegrooms looked like they were 20 or 22 years old at most, so young!!

FUJICOLOR SUPERIA X-TRA400

Notable fact: The Meiji Shrine wedding photographer uses two Pentax 67 cameras for his work!

We left the Shrine area and turned around to visit Yoyogi Park. This is an excellent area for a wannabe street photographer like me. It is very easy to walk up to the performers and either point at your camera or ask “shashin totte mo ii desu ka?” Invariably you’ll get a nod in agreement. I think the language barrier makes things even easier for once. Took some nice photos of saxophone players and drummers working some amazing rhythm on some African drums. While we were enjoying the atmosphere, the park guards rode their bikes up to the drummers and made them stop playing. Really too bad. I had a chat with the guys afterwards and they told me the guards were just doing their job. I was expecting them to be a bit more defiant, but they appeared to accept their fate without too much resentment. I told them that I didn’t really understand the logic of the guards, everybody visiting that area of the Yoyogi Park comes there for the spectacle and why pick on some awesome music? They wouldn’t byte, but when I left  I noted that they had started playing again. I guess it is just a friendly game with the guards as long as you play it the right way and don’t come on strong as my natural reaction would have been. Lesson learned! Smile

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

The photo on the right is of a professional saxophonist from Mali practising against a wall in the park, I guess he couldn’t practise at home. Two would-be-street-photographers were stalking him from a short distance. The guy looked amiable enough so I walked up to him and had a chat about Jazz music and favourite artists and finally I asked if I could photograph him while practising. He nodded and started jamming again. I took my shots, thanked him and nodded to the two other photographers on my way back who had watched the exchange with a bit of surprise. Smile Street photography is so easy in Japan!

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Iseya restaurant in Tokyo

Inspired by a great blog post by Lee Chapman on his TokyoTimes.org blog, we dropped by the Iseya restaurant in Kichijoji, Tokyo. It is located on the Kichijoji exit of the Inogashira park that also includes the Ghibli Museum, so you might find yourself visiting a location closer to this restaurant than you would think.

Shot of the inside of the Iseya restaurant, Tokyo

It is a yakitori and sukiyaki restaurant and the grilled chicken is great with a couple of cold draught beers. The place is dirty and full of character and the patrons are a nice mix of Japanese society. Quite different from most of the restaurants a tourist usually ends up in and therefore heartily recommended.

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Personally I love these kind of gritty places, I prefer to visit a salarymen lair above another one of those chain restaurants you find everywhere. The problem is that these kind of old restaurants are quickly disappearing, even Iseya which was damaged in the March 2011 earthquake will soon close for renovations. It will close 8 July 2012 and reopen next year.

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As lots of people want to capture the restaurant as it was before it closes for renovation, the place appears to be packed most of the days, be prepared to queue outside for a bit. The good thing is that it is open non-stop from noon till 10PM.

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Lee’s blog post contained a great photographic reportage and I was inspired by it. I have mainly shot film on my Pentax 645NII camera this trip, but yesterday I brought my Pentax K20D DSLR with my Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX DG Aspherical lens and cranked the ISO settings up to 3200, while I usually keep it at 100 ISO.

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The results are some very noisy photos that converted brilliantly into grainy black and white images in Adobe LightRoom.

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For the first three images in this blog post, I managed to stitch several photos together to get the wide angle and space that I do prefer for this kind of work. Click through on the images to get a larger version.

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