Just getting familiar with my Luxembourg after having moved here a few weeks ago. The old city is beautiful and will be returning to it for several more photos shoots.
I visited Kita-in temple over several occasions; the first time I visited it was more on an exploring mission as I knew I would be revisiting the next day. While doing my recon I was approached by one of the gardeners who explained to me the importance of the Edo Castle remnants and the fact that the ticket price also included access to the Gohyaku Rakan, the 538 very personalized statues of the disciples of Buddha carved out of rock.
The gardener turned out to be a really nice chap willing to answer questions and passing on information that wasn’t to be found in the guides. During my subsequent visits I kept bumping into him and was allowed to revisit the statues at several occasions to check on details he had provided us. Very cool!
Some of the statues carry hats or gourds, others take a typical pose or have an animal with them. All animals of the Asian zodiac are represented (the dragon twice). Find the statue with the animal that corresponds to your birth year, give it a 1 or 5 yen coin and rub its head for luck.
The whole of the temple area is very pleasant with some lovely chances for photography.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I did enjoy this shrine a lot, the way it was almost inserted into the mountain slope with large trees almost embracing it.
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.
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.
I would certainly recommend a visit to this temple but wouldn’t visit the upper parts anymore but admire it from below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What surprised me the most was that all the bridegrooms looked like they were 20 or 22 years old at most, so young!!
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!
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. Street photography is so easy in Japan!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The results are some very noisy photos that converted brilliantly into grainy black and white images in Adobe LightRoom.
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.
I’m preparing for a three weeks stay in Kawagoe (Saitama), Japan and decided the bring the bulk of the film I will be needing with me. It will all be 120 roll film as I will only bring my Pentax 645NII camera and its lenses. I bought three boxes of Fuji Acros 100 for general use, a handful of Fujichrome Velvia 50 for landscapes and a random collection of rolls of Ilford HP5+, Fujichrome Xperia 400 and an expired roll of Fuji Neopan 400. I decided against bringing my favourite ADOX CHS 25 ART as I will be shooting handheld, I will be leaving my sturdy tripod at home as it is just too heavy.
As I will be flying from Heathrow Airport, I checked their Advice for Photographers and they claim anything below ISO 400 is safe in their hand luggage scanners. They do make it clear that film cannot be packed into the hold as those scanners are far more powerful. I knew that already, but it is good they point it out.
I also checked the information on the Narita webpages, the airport for Tokyo, and they claim that film up to ISO 1600 can be brought through the carry-on luggage scanners. I do wonder about that claim in the post-9/11 world and this might be slightly out-dated information.
I have brought 35mm film through customs in my hand luggage before and had it scanned without any issues but it is the first time I bring 120 roll film and I do hope that the people operating the scanners will (still) recognize it as film especially as I intend to bring the plastic containers that ADOX uses for its film to store my exposed rolls and prevent any accidental exposure.
Update: I have now returned from my trip and have not had any problems with the film (up to ISO 400) that I had brought with me and that I put through the handluggage scanners. Good to see that in post 9/11 airports, film can still be brought on the plane without any problems.
Driving on the M1 in the area of Nottingham, the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station is difficult to miss. I had noticed it on our trips to the Peak District and earlier this week I decided to drive up there to see what I could capture on film. I have to confess, I do know that these kind of coal powered power stations are a disaster for the environment but I do love the contrast of the concrete cooling towers in the middle of nowhere. I know that Michael Kenna came up to shoot here, so I’m not alone.
If you look up the Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station in Google Earth (February 2012), you get some old aerial photos presented which don’t show the East Midlands Parkway railway station that has been constructed just next to the power station in 2009 and which has opened up the whole area. You can trust the road and roundabouts drawn in the middle of some trees and a field in Google Earth. I was really surprised how close you can get to the cooling towers. A great location, recommended!
Directions: Follow the M1 until J24, exit the motorway and follow the signs to the train station down the A453 and exit left once you arrive at the power station.
Early October, the UK was bathing in a heat wave and we decided to visit the Peaks as it is located a mere two and a half hours away by car. We were clearly not the first to think of this as no Bed & Breakfast was available in the Edale area. We booked the last room in a hotel in nearby Buxton instead.
We arrived about lunch time and had a lunch at the Old Nags Head Pub in Edale which is also the start of the Pennine Way. After lunch we continued down the road of the pub and turned right at the Grindsbrook signpost to come onto some moorland (see above) and we followed the ever narrowing Grindsbrook until we turned around to check into the hotel.
The next day we decided to walk from Edale to the Edale Cross along the Pennine Way that leads from Edale all the way up to Scotland. The first part of this hike was easy, the path followed the valley floor until it arrived at a stone bridge after which immediately the Jacob’s Ladder begins which brought us on the plateau and to Kinder Scout.
Once above, it is just a short distance to the Edale Cross. The stone cross marks the boundary of the three wards at the Forest of High Peak: Campana, Hopedale and Longdendale and it is not actually on the Pennine Way which turns north to go up for Kinder Scout.
As indicated already, the trail was packed with hikers and I had sometimes to wait to get the photos I wanted. However, most likely due to the fabulous weather, everybody was super friendly and I didn’t mind.