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.

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…

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?

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.

FUJICOLOR SUPERIA X-TRA400

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!

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.

IMGP9911 Panorama

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.

IMGP9922 Panorama-Edit

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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Infrared film techniques

I have been experimenting with infrared photography with the Efke IR820 Aura and Ilford SFX200 films. If you start looking into IR photography it can be a bit confusing at first. Googling the film name will probably yield lots of unexpected questions in forums and even more, seemingly, conflicting answers to these questions. While getting into infrared photography myself, I started to make sense of it slowly and wrote down my findings below; I hope that it helps you to get started too.

Photo above: Dovecot in the walled garden, Eastcote House Gardens. Efke IR820 Aura f/11, 0.5 seconds, filter: Hoya R72; Developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

Infrared films

At the moment of writing, I think only two infrared films are available and several more films that have extended sensitivity to red:

  • Efke IR820 available in normal and AURA versions. The latter doesn’t have an anti-halation layer and can create some interesting effects when the light reflects off the back of the camera. This film is also sold under the name Maco IR820c Precision Infrared film. ** update: This film is no longer available after the Fotokemika factory in Croatia shut down **
  • Ilford SFX200 film which isn’t a true infrared film but does have some extended sensitivity to infrared up to 740nm.
  • Rollei Retro 80S is also red sensitive to 750nm which puts it in the same class as the Ilford SFX200 film.
  • Ilford Delta 3200

The popular Kodak HIE film has been discontinued in 2008, unfortunately.

Filters

The use of a filter is required to bring out the sensitivity of the film to red light. If you were to use an infrared sensitive film without any filter, you can expect a normal black and white photo.
Some people recommend a normal red filter, like the 25A as is used in black and white photography, but I would recommend buying one of the special infrared filters like the Hoya R72 or the IR-720 filter to maximize the effect. Both filters block all wavelengths shorter than 720nm to only let the infrared light through. The problem is that the filter will appear opaque to the eye so you will need to do all focussing before putting the filter on the lens. I usually focus, put the lens in manual focus mode if it is an auto focus lens and proceed by putting the filter in front of the lens.

Ilford does make the Ilford SFX200 filter available but I didn’t have good results with that filter in combination with the Ilford SFX200 film, the results I got with SFX200 film in combination with a Hoya R72 filter were much better.

There are other, stronger infrared filters available, but do make sure that the filter still passes through light for which the film you are using is sensitive, or else you will end up with no image. Smile

Exposure

As the result of an infrared photo is quite unpredictable and you cannot chimp on an SLR, I would certainly recommend bracketing each shot at least +1 and -1 stop.

As the filters usually recommended with infrared film are blocking out so much light, the exposure needs to be corrected. For example the filter factor for the Hoya R72 filter is 16 which translates into 4 stops.

  • If you are using an external light meter or would like to use the TTL lightmeter on your camera before putting on the filter, the clever thing to do is to take the filter factor into consideration when setting the EI of the film on the meter or camera. For example, the boxspeed of the Efke film is 100 ISO, to take the filter factor into consideration, you would set the EI at the meter at 6 ISO (100-50-25-12-6) and then you can set the recommended exposure time for the aperture used manually on the camera.
  • If your camera has TTL metering, you could use the camera settings of the exposure after you put the filter on the lens, in that case leave the ISO settings on the camera at the boxspeed of the film. This could be a bit of a gamble as it is possible that the lightmeter your camera uses is not (very) sensitive to the light that passes the filter which may result in bad exposures. You’ll need to experiment to find out.
  • Another option is to use the various rules of thumb you can find. I did some research and found that the recommended starting exposure for Efke IR820 is 0.5 seconds at f/11 for a bright sunny day. This is also a good way to find out how your camera TTL lightmeter works: if the camera recommends something close to this under these circumstances, it is likely that the lightmeter of your camera works fine with this filter.

Focussing

If you have manual focus lenses you might have noticed the red line/dot/diamond that is located just to the left of the centre of the lens in the area that usually lists the different apertures and that you may have used to maximize the depth of field for a given aperture. As infrared light with its long wavelength focuses slightly differently from visible light, you need to adjust the focus a bit after you focused for the visible light unless your lens is marked as APO. The idea is that after focussing and optionally correcting for the depth of field, you turn the focus ring to the left such that the point of the focus ring that was in the centre of the lens now aligns with the red line/dot/diamond.

Unfortunately this is usually not possible for auto focus lenses. In that case you will need to solve the problem by selecting an aperture such that the object you want to focus on is included in the depth of field. However, be aware that infrared light will increase any lens diffraction so it is recommended to not automatically select the smallest of apertures. Keep it at f/11 or f/16, I would say, and avoid f/22 or f/32.

Other considerations

Be very careful when loading infrared film as it is easily fogged. Surprisingly enough, it is the 35mm versions of these films that are in danger of fogging the most. The felt in the light trap of a 35mm film cartridge is not infrared opaque and loading the film in any other place but a dark room could easily spoil the first few exposures.

Beware of unexpected light sources or leaks that can fog the film. For instance, my Pentax 645NII camera imprints exposure data on the edge of the negatives and this did fog the Efke film I was using. Plastic development tanks and plastic backs of cameras are usually safe to use, but note that the transparent window in the back of some 35mm cameras that shows the film information on the cartridge inside can be a cause of fogging and it would be probably best to cover it up with some aluminium foil and tape.

Note that infrared film is not sensitive to heat radiation, it doesn’t supply night vision or heat vision. Heat is indeed infrared radiation but with wavelengths far longer than the wavelengths in the sensitive area of the film. This is a good thing, probably, as otherwise we could only shoot infrared film from very expensive cameras with extensive cooling. The infrared films register the infrared radiation from light sources as it is reflected from the different subjects. For instance, chlorophyll in leaves absorbs the ultraviolet light and reflects most of the infrared light which results in leaves turning almost white on infrared film.
Still, you should develop exposed infrared film as quickly as possible, preferably on the same day as waiting longer than necessary will only increase the risk of increased base fog on the negatives. And, like any other film, do store infrared film in a cool place before use, preferably a freezer.

Film and airports

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. Smile


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.

Little Venice, London

At the start of May, the Canalway Cavalcade 2012 was held in the area of London between Paddington Station and Warwick Avenue better known as Little Venice.

It is the point where the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal meets the Regents Canal and every year, since 1983, a festival is organized at this location showcasing the beautiful boats, boating skill and lots of people in most interesting outfits allowing for some cool street photography.

All photos shot on Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:80 for 19 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every minute.

Kootwijkerzand / Radio Kootwijk

If you ask a random person to describe the Dutch countryside, 99 times out of 100 they will mention cows in a field that is so flat, you could play snooker on it. I used to live on the Veluwe, a forest-rich ridge of hills in the province of Gelderland. This is where the place the polar ice sheets stopped during the Saale Ice Age before retreating and leaving the deposits behind.

To me, the fields with cows are just as foreign as to you. One of the most interesting places around where I grew up was Kootwijkerzand, a 7km2 large area of sand dunes and Scots Pines. The area was lucky enough to be too poor to be turned into grasslands and it stayed like it was since the Ice Age for a long time. Unfortunately, due to the larger amounts of nitrogen in the atmosphere due to the increased traffic, the previously infertile dunes now can sustain mosses and trees which are now cut back regularly to keep the unique landscape.

It was this empty area that the authorities picked as the location to build the huge radio station to keep in contact with the colonies in 1922. I do remember the huge aerial on the roof which was torn down in 1980.

Film photography, travel, techniques and background information