Hakone: Goshinkasai Motomiya Reisai Festival

Two Shinto priests are using a bow drill to light a fire while two others are trying to keep them out of the strong winds.

Every October 24, on top of Mt Komagatake in Hakone, the Goshinkasai Motomiya Reisai festival takes place. It is an important festival for the Hakone shrine and it consists of lighting a fire of which burning coals will be distributed to all related shrines in the area.
This year, the top of Mt Komagatake was covered in clouds which gave a special feel to this matsuri. In the photo to the right, two Shinto priests are using a bow drill to light a fire while two others are trying to keep them out of the strong winds. Once the torch was lit, the Guuji (head priest) of the shrine brought it to the pyre and light it. The ceremony continued with a miko dance and offerings of sasaki branches and prayers. By this time the pyre was ablaze and the priests circled the fire clockwise and anti-clockwise after which some coals were collected in a special box and brought to the nearby shrine.
The ceremony had taken place in some ancient ruins of what once had been a much larger shrine. Once this part of the ceremony was finished, we walked over to the tiny Hakone Shrine Motomiya (“original shrine”) and got in for the second part of the ceremony. The torch is lit and the Guuji (head priest) is on his way to the pyre to light it.The shrine was packed but I was happy to stand in the back and bowed when everybody else bowed and clapped my hands twice when everybody else clapped their hands twice. Before the start of the ceremony outside, we each had made a donation to the shrine for which we had received tickets in return. Once the ceremony inside the shrine was finished, this ticket gave us a naorai, a thank-you gift from the shrine with an Ofuda, a nice bentō, some sake and katsuobushi shavings.

Access to Mt Komagatake

Access to the top of Mt Komagatake is via the Komagatake rope-way which is not covered by the Hakone Freepass, but the freepass gives you a small discount on the price of a round trip ticket. Inexplicably, there is no bus connection from Hakone or Motohakone to the Komagatake rope-way station which probably explains the few non-Japanese at the matsuri. Although the rope-way is only a little over three quarters of an hour walk from Motohakone, about 2km lead over a treacherous and dangerous road with many curves and no space to walk on either side. It is probably best to take a taxi to the rope-way station.

A Miko offers a branch of a sasaki shrub to the fire kami now the pyre is lit.


The Guuji offers a branch of a sasaki shrub to the kami. The altar already contains many other gifts of fruits, fish and sake.
The Guuji offers a branch of a sasaki shrub to the kami. The altar already contains many other gifts of fruits, fish and sake.

Shinto laymen
Shinto laymen

The pyre ablaze
The pyre ablaze

Kamikochi — a photographer’s dream


Taishoike pondWe had taken the bus from Takayama JR station to Kamikochi and got off in front of the Taishoike Hotel where we had reserved a room in advance. Typhoon #9 of 2007 had just passed over the area and the weather was just getting better. The hotel was the usual small Japanese room but it had a pleasant surprise in the form of a nice view from the communal bath and an excellent dinner from a table with the same breathtaking view over the Taishoike pond. The next morning I woke up around around 5AM and after I took a look from the window, I grabbed my photo gear and took some of my favourite photos from the hotel room window. We got up and dashed outside where the first hikers were just getting ready. The Taishoike pond was covered with some early morning fog which together with the lonely decaying trees created a very surreal sight and it was difficult to put the camera down.

Kappabashi bridge and beyond

We checked out of the hotel and arranged for our luggage to be dropped off at the bus terminal for collection the next day and continued on foot towards Kappabashi bridge. It is close to the bus terminal and it is the main destination of most visitors who have their photo taken on the suspension bridge and buy some omiyage (souvenirs) to bring back for the family and colleagues who stayed behind.Kappabashi

Behind the bridge is a campground and the visitors centre which was worth a visit. Much more stunning scenery was awaiting us beyond Kappabashi, so it was time to move on and we continued on the anti-clockwise loop. By now we ran into warnings for bears and the people we met on the footpath became quickly fewer and fewer but more and more of those people were dressed in hiking gear and would have bells attached to their rucksacks to warn any bears you might otherwise scare.
Eventually we arrived at the Myojinkan Ryokan and Myojin-bashi bridge. This is the furthest most people go and where they turn around to return to Kappabashi and the bus terminal.

Tokusawa Lodge

From the Myojinkan Ryokan, we kept on the right side of the river and continued over the now empty footpath. The riverbed became narrower and the landscape wilder while we made our way to Tokusawa. Tokusawa Lodge

At Tokusawa there are two lodges and a campground and it is used as base for people going rock-climbing. The atmosphere and people were completely different from Kappabashi. The lodge we had reserved, Tokusawa Lodge, was like an European chalet on the outside and the rustic inside immediately warmed up to me. The room was like any ryokan and dinner and breakfast were simple and traditional but plentiful. Electricity was only available between 16:00 and 21:00 but everybody was so tired that nobody really minded.
To reserve you’ll have to contact the Tourist office in Matsumoto.

Tips if you plan on travelling to Kamikochi:
  • Access to Kamikochi is by bus only and buses leave from Matsumoto and Takayama. Try to avoid the weekends as it gets really crowded and there usually is a big traffic jam of buses getting into the bus terminal. Alternatively, get off at the Taishoike Hotel and walk the rest and I would even recommend this option for people travelling outside of the weekend as you won’t have to go back and forth to the bus terminal when visiting Taishoike.Myojin-bashi
  • For a small fee you can arrange for the hotel to transport your luggage to the luggage room at the bus terminal so you need only take the things you need during your stay with you.
  • Hotels around Kappabashi are expensive, consider the Taishoike Hotel which we thought was really value for money considering it included an excellent dinner and breakfast. The view over Taishoike from the dining room was awesome.
  • Yearly, Kamikochi has a photo competition and the results of the previous year’s competition can we viewed in one of the buildings at the bus terminal. Make sure to pick up an entry form when you check out the photos.
  • The walks as described are mostly flat over excellent footpaths along the riverbed; however, there are lots of proper hiking opportunities. At normal walking pace, it’ll take you about 45min from one point to another, see map. However, reserve a lot more time if you are a photographer.
  • One thing I missed myself and still curse myself for is a visit to the Bokuden-no-yu cave bath at Nakanoyu onsen which is located just before the entrance of the bus-only tunnel entrance to Kamikochi at the Nakanoyu bus stop.

Herlinde Koelbl Lecture

Yesterday evening I attended the lecture “Eyes Don’t Lie”  by Herlinde Koelbl which was held in the series Photomeetings Luxembourg which was just as interesting as yesterday’s lecture. Luxembourg is not London so it is important that when a few important photographers and photo editors visit Luxembourg for a series of free lectures that you make sure you attend :-)

I particularly paid attention to the way she approached her projects. Now that I want to approach my photography also more as a series of projects, I was very happy that Mrs. Koelbl spent quite a lot of time on that subject. 

I will make sure the to visit the vernissage at Galerie beim Engel for the photos of her latest book, Targets. The photos she showed us during the lecture were powerful stuff!

John G. Morris lecture

Yesterday evening I attended the lecture “A Personal History of Photojournalism”  by 97 years old John G. Morris which was held in the series Photomeetings Luxembourg, and it was a pleasure to hear the stories he had to accompany the wide-range of photos that he presented to us. Having been photo-editor at Life magazine, Magnum, Washington Post, New York Times, etc, etc, and having worked side by side with so many of the greatest photojournalists of the last century, you can be sure that he had us spellbound for the duration of the 90 minutes talk.
I was, of course, mostly aware of all his achievements, but the one thing I wasn’t aware of were his efforts in working for peace which I do applaud. It’s clear that none of the war photographers can be counted among the ‘hawks’ and I do understand their worry that their photos might be used to glamorize a war.

I’m looking forward to his upcoming book, Getting the Picture, that he intends to finish at his centenary.

Infrared: Efke IR820 film

After having used infrared film in 2012 and earlier, I have been struggling a bit with fogging. I’m pretty sure the problem was due to the fact that it takes a while to load my Pentax 67II; my Pentax 645NII is much easier to load in a darkened room so I went back to this camera even though it meant that I had to remember to switch off the exposure data recording on the side of the negative as this also fogs the Efke IR820 film.

Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds

This summer I wanted to try again, I followed the notes that I had taken for this film and used F/11 and 0.5 seconds as exposure on that fine and sunny day.

Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds

As I was only experimenting, trying to see if I could successfully expose and develop a roll of Efke IR820 film, I only exposed a handful of negatives. Of course, then the weather changed and the clear skies and burning sun were gone.

Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds

I didn’t want to wait too long before developing the film, so in the end I decided to expose the last frames as a normal ISO 100 film without using the Hoya R72 filter. What do you know, the results are a bit grainy for an ISO 100 film, but overall it isn’t a bad film.

Temple 32: Hosho-ji

This will be a series of occasional blog posts going into a few more details of the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temples pilgrimage that I walked in October/November 2013.

One of the most impressive temples of the pilgrimage is Temple 32, Hosho-ji. The much photographed Kannon hall is located next to a cave, very picturesque, but there is also a path that will lead you to another kannon statue and a nice view.

 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.

When waiting for the stamp, the monk pointed us to a set of stone  ‘footsteps,’ standing on the footsteps ,you could just make out a kannon statue on the top of the rock. It takes about an hour to visit and the path involves a bit of climbing and holding onto iron chains and railings for dear life. There were signs up there in kanji which I, unfortunately, couldn’t read but after a while I made it up to one of the statues.

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.

I would have liked to explore the other directions but with my wife and friend waiting below, I chose to climb down again.

Travelling with the Pentax 67II

Going on a trip with my Pentax 67II is definitely different from travelling with my Pentax 645NII. The Pentax 645NII I can use like a 35mm camera, it goes everywhere and I can shoot it handheld at amazing low shutter speeds. I have brought it on my last two trips to Japan as my only camera.
The Pentax 67II, on the other hand, is too heavy to carry in a rucksack during our hikes so I found myself spotting for locations and then returning to these locations afterwards by car to actually shoot. A completely different experience for me and I came home with a very different set of my normal photos, far fewer snapshots, more thinking about the shots in advance.

ADOX CHS 25 ART; stand developed: pre-soaked for 5 minutes followed by APH 09 developer in a 1:150 dilution, 1 gr borax; agitated for the 1st minute and then left to stand for 2 hours.

ADOX Color Implosion

A few weeks ago I picked up a few rolls of ADOX Color Implosion film and gave it a spin at the Medieval Festival at Vianden Castle last week.

ADOX Color ImplosionADOX Color ImplosionADOX Color ImplosionADOX Color Implosion

Getting back the negatives from the shop was a bit of a shock: instead of the normal orange colour cast from a colour negative, the negatives were dark red. I scanned them in raw mode and corrected the colour cast by hand, not trusting the software to get decent results when applying its standard filters it uses for normal colour negatives.

As promised the colours were all over the place and it has got lots of toxic grain! Like the web site states, it looks like a cheaply developed film incorrectly stored for 30 years and just found in an attic. No Instagram filter will come close to the results.

Blast furnace of Belval

July 4 marked the date that blast furnace B opened its doors in Beval in the very south of Luxembourg, a few hundred meters away from the French border. Having worked almost next door and endured the constant noise, tremors and dust of the construction for so many months, I was keen to get inside and change my view of the annoyance that is working next to a construction site to the pleasure that is working next door to a great photo location.

The other blast furnace from the ground.</p><br />
<p>ADOX CHS 100 ART at EI 100, stand developed in APH 09 dilution 1:150 for 2 hours  The smallest of the blast furnaces in Belval, shot from the other blast furnace.</p><br />
<p>Foma Fomapan 200 @ EI 200; developed in HC-110 dilution H for 7 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds

I was not disappointed:The surroundings were transformed and the view over Belval was magnificent. For me the most fascinating part is the hall on the first floor where there is plenty of space and original parts of the furnace to imagine how working at a blast furnace must have been.

Foma Fomapan 400 @ EI 1600; developed in HC-110 dilution B for 13 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every minute Foma Fomapan 400 @ EI 1600; developed in HC-110 dilution B for 13 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every minute

Detail of the blast furnace in Belval.</p><br />
<p>Foma Fomapan 200 @ EI 200; developed in HC-110 dilution H for 7 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds A look inside the blast furnace, the tuyeres or nozzles that blew in the oxygen rich air are visible.</p><br />
<p>Foma Fomapan 200 @ EI 200; developed in HC-110 dilution H for 7 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds

But also the view from the 40 meter high platform is worth the climb with a view of the Halle des Soufflantes and the gas cleaning tanks and pipes surrounding the blast furnace.

Foma Fomapan 100 @ EI 100; developed in HC-110 dilution H for 10 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds Foma Fomapan 100 @ EI 100; developed in HC-110 dilution H for 10 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds

Belval is really recommended for a Photo Walk!

Inspiration

Maybe it is just me, but sometimes when I get to a location I feel inspired, visualize every shot and when I get home, I’m happy with most of my shots. Some other time, I get to the another location, or maybe even to the same location and the feeling isn’t there and when I go through the motions and take my shots, I have no idea what I’m shooting and  I’m certain to be disappointed by the mediocre results.

KODAK TMax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.
I call it “inspiration” but maybe you call it differently, but that feeling, that connection you have at that moment with the place is so very powerful yet so elusive. Wish I could pull it out of the hat anytime I am about with my camera, but it isn’t as simple as that. To get into that zone, I need to concentrate and approach the subject already in my mind before getting there. This usually means that I need to be able to focus and have the time to quietly explore a location. If it doesn’t happen the first visit, it might happen on a subsequent visit.  Revisiting a location certainly helps.

As a result, I’m not a person who will do well in a Photo Walk with a group of people all looking at each other, concentrating more on the cameras and lenses people have brought than on the opportunities in front of them, and, worst of all, hurrying from one location to another.

Travel, techniques and background information