Category Archives: Travel

A 100-temple Kannon pilgrimage

The 33 temples of the Bandō Sanjūsankasho (“The Bando 33 Kannon Pilgrimage”) form together with the 33 temples of the Saigoku pilgrimage and the 34 temples of the Chichibu Kannon temple pilgrimage, a 100-temple Kannon pilgrimage.
Now free Android apps for all three of these pilgrimages are available from the Android store.

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Of the three pilgrimages, at a mere length of 100 km, the Chichibu 34 Kannon pilgrimage is best suited for the tourist who can only dedicate a limited amount of time and would like to walk the pilgrimage. And as Chichibu is, undeservedly, still largely undiscovered by the majority of the tourists, you have a chance to enjoy a lovely area of Japan that is less than an hour from Tokyo by train.
See also here.

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The Chichibu Pilgrimage App for Android

The pages describing my experience of walking the Chichibu 34 Kannon temple pilgrimage on this blog remain popular and this makes me happy as that means that a lot of people are looking to get more out of their trips to Japan, decided to get out of the big cities and get a taste of the real Japan. I’m therefore happy to announce that I’ve written a free Android App that works as the perfect travel assistant specific for the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temples pilgrimage.

The Henro App is based on my own experience walking the pilgrimage and it is what I would have liked to have with me when I was doing the pilgrimage. Some of the temples are difficult to find. Even though there are some signs and stone markers guiding the pilgrim, especially in the Yokoze area, I found myself walking with both the books in my hand constantly looking at hand-drawn maps that were put together a long time ago and not always accurate or reading descriptions that were a bit confusing at times. I really felt like I wanted to have all the details of a temple and up-to-date maps easily accessible on my phone or tablet and even have the possibility to use GPS to indicate your current location or use for navigation to a temple.
Well, here it is is, a perfect pilgrim’s assistant and I have packed it with loads of details about other tourist attractions in Chichibu as well; so even if you don’t use it to do the pilgrimage, you’ll get plenty out of it when you visit Chichibu and it comes at a price you cannot beat. Available now in both English and Japanese (日本語版). 🙂
Check out the video on YouTube to see what to expect.

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Narita and Naritasan

With departures to Europe leaving Narita airport late morning or early afternoon, this means that a last night in Tokyo always results in getting up very early to catch the first Narita Express trains to be in time at the airport to make the flight. Of course it is not unthinkable in Tokyo that an earthquake or a typhoon knocks out the train traffic for a few hours, so that is why we typically stay the last night in Japan in Narita town rather than Tokyo and lately this has become the last two nights as Narita with Naritasan in its centre is actually a very nice place to visit!
Of course this is not a new idea and loads of tourists are doing this, profiting from the relatively cheap hotels and the convenience of a free shuttle bus to the airport that most, if not all, Narita hotels provide.

Narita town is as nice as any Japanese town but with some very good restaurants, especially the unagi restaurants are famous. At the heart of Narita town lies the big temple complex of Naritasan which makes a visit to Narita worthwhile from a touristic point of view too.

Naritsan pamflet
Naritsan pamphlet

Naritsan pamphlet

One thing the pamphlet only hints at is the unique chance Naritasan offers to join the devotees and visitors in the Goma ritual. Normally if you want to join in at a Buddhist temple in the morning ceremony, you need to get up pretty early. I would still recommend that you do this to give extra substance to your visit to Japan, but the great thing with the Goma ritual is that it is held every hour from early morning to late afternoon. I see so many tourists watch the ritual from beyond the glass wall, but it is just a matter of taking your shoes off, putting them in a plastic bag and sitting down inside to be part of it. When they hit that enormous taiko drum, you’ll jump like everybody else!
And when the ceremony is done, make sure to hand your wallet or camera or anything you would like to be blessed to the monks who will hold it in the smoke of the ritual for a second.

It is so easy to come back from a trip to Japan and have only stood at the window glimpsing in. Like a visit to an onsen, joining in at a temple ceremony should be high up on your lists of things to do for a successful trip to Japan. It is not difficult to join in and I can assure you that it gives a great feeling of satisfaction. Typically there are no thresholds other than our own hesitation and insecurity and I haven’t seen the tourist guide yet that explains any of this, they’re always just going on about who build this and when, but leave out so much practical information. We had a great experience at Zenkō-ji temple in Nagano and lots of other places but with so many foreign tourists and visitors at these places, I’m always the only foreigner joining in, and I’m telling you, you guys are missing out! 😀

nomaku sanmanda bazaradan senda makaroshada sowataya un tarata kanman Homage to the all-pervading Vajras! O Violent One of great wrath! Destroy! un tarata kan man
nomaku sanmanda bazaradan senda makaroshada sowataya un tarata kanman
Homage to the all-pervading Vajras! O Violent One of great wrath! Destroy! un tarata kan man

Make sure to pick up one of the business card sized note that contains the mantra to the Fudo Myo-o deity that is chanted during the Goma ritual, see above for the text in Roman characters and translation.

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The Family of Man

Over a week ago we visited Clervaux Castle to see the Edward Steichen collection of The Family of Man, 503 photos by 273 photographers from 68 countries consisting of 37 themes. Steichen brought the collection together for the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) first in 1955 and it has travelled the world and been exposed in over 150 museums before the final integral version was installed in Clervaux Castle in the North of Luxembourg.
Photos by artists such as Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Robert Doisneau, W. Eugene Smith, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank and Ansel Adams and many more. I loved it! The day we visited it was relatively quiet and photography is allowed as long as you don’t use a flash. Duh!

The last photo in the collection is A Walk To The Paradise Garden by W. Eugene Smith, to close on an optimistic note, I guess. I’m a big fan of the photos of W. Eugene Smith, if you do not know his work make sure to check him out today, but although this photo is well executed it also contains little truth to me and the photos of W. Eugene Smith are usually bursting with truth. I’m sure most people would disagree, but I would not have ended the Family of Man exhibition with this photo…

Shot on Kodak TRI-X film at EI 800, developed in HC-110 dilution B for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds
Shot on Kodak TRI-X film at EI 800, developed in HC-110 dilution B for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds
Shot on Kodak TRI-X film at EI 800, developed in HC-110 dilution B for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds
Shot on Kodak TRI-X film at EI 800, developed in HC-110 dilution B for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds
Shot on Kodak TRI-X film at EI 800, developed in HC-110 dilution B for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds
Shot on Kodak TRI-X film at EI 800, developed in HC-110 dilution B for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds
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Japan Trip Winter 2015 / 2016

A video compilation I made of the videos that my wife and I recorded during our trip to Japan last December/January. We need to get a camera with shake-reduction, but somehow the shakiest parts are the most fun to watch 🙂

We had some great time and I’m glad that we spent a lot of our time in new areas for us like Nagano and Hokkaido, those areas were so rewarding! I’m getting pretty bored with the touristy areas of Tokyo like Shibuya, Ginza or Shinjuku and the crowds at Ikebukuro were overwhelming, but Ueno, the busiest area by far, always stays fresh for me as you can tell from the video. 🙂

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Michael Kenna & the copse

If you are a fan of the work of Michael Kenna, like I am, you recognize the scene in the photo below from his photo books or from the very inspiring video that he put up on his website. If you haven’t watched it yet, take a few minutes and watch it now and you’ll love it. This photo is taken around Biei in Hokkaido and this is an amazing area, especially in the snow, and a very popular area for photographers these days.

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.

For me the most remarkable thing in the video is that Michael and his assistant enter the field and plough through the snow to find the right spot to take the photo. When I visited in January, the fields at several of the famous locations around Biei were roped off and large signs in Japanese, Chinese and English every 20 meters indicated that it was forbidden to enter the fields, including the area around this copse. But as you can see in my photo, people do enter the field nevertheless; damaging the seedlings, spoiling the shots with their tracks for us who decide the follow the rules and triggering investigations by the forestry ministry. We ran into a car of the ministry and a guy was taking eyewitness reports about the people who had entered the field that morning.
I’m not saying that Michael Kenna behaved incorrectly, it is clear from the video that the field was not roped off and no signs were visible at the time. But I’m saying that if it is roped off and if signs are indicating that it would hurt crops to enter the field, people should follow the rules. You might have your shots, but what if the farmer is fed up with the constant damage and decides to level the copse and end this great location for everybody forever? You probably don’t care about that, as I said, you have your shots… 🙁
Normally I never hesitate to shoot first and ask questions later, but the reason for the ban was explained and I would hate to leave tracks that would impact all the other photographers that would come after me as is obvious from my photo. Thanks for nothing!

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Hokkaido in winter

Hokkaido in winter is a photographers’ paradise, and it is packed with photographers. We’re in Biei and we see cars and taxis coming and going around the famous trees in the area and we keep meeting the same people at the different locations. It is all understandable, the scenery vaguely reminds me of Luxembourg and the gentle slopes are very different from the steep mountains that make up most of Japan. The snow transforms all and a row of trees or a small copse becomes an object of beauty.

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However, as everybody appears to be taking the same pictures, it is time to use the fact that we’re here for a few days and explore. I wanted to make my way to the coast as well, but the weather is frankly horrendous over there and I’m not really temped to end up getting stuck in a snow drift or caught out on a road with black ice even though the Nissan we rented is a 4WD. Best to see if we can find some areas around Biei that are not packed with too many photographers.

Additional: We found some great locations on the way to Furano, very nice!

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Copying sutra at Taiyo-ji temple

As part of a temple stay (shukubo) at Taiyo-ji temple, you get the chance to copy sutra. No calligraphy experience or knowledge of kanji is required (I know, I’m really bad at calligraphy and being left-handed doesn’t help either as all the stroke directions of a kanji are defined by right-handed people — I push the brush where they would pull it and v.v.) 🙂 The habit of hand copying sutra is considered a merit and is a devotional practice.
The monk speaks English and Taiyo-ji temple is very accommodating for tourists from everywhere wanting to get the shukubo experience.

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Zazen at Taiyo-ji temple

We visited Taiyo-ji temple in Chichibu for our second temple stay (shukubo) there a few days ago and my wife took this video of me doing zazen in the very beautiful zazen hall of the temple. The unique experience of this remote, mountain top temple makes me feel one with nature and at peace.
The monk speaks English and Taiyo-ji temple is very accommodating for tourists from everywhere wanting to get the shukubo experience.

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Daiba Park, Tokyo

For a unique view of the Tokyo skyline and the Rainbow Bridge, make your way to Daiba Koen, preferably after dark for some great night photography. And if you visit on a Saturday, wait for the fireworks at 7PM. The location as pointed out on the map below is pretty popular, as you can imagine, and I met several other photographers, we’re a great and friendly bunch no matter where we’re from. 🙂

Fujichrome Provia 100F
The Rainbow Bridge on Fujichrome Provia 100F
Easy access from central Tokyo via the JR Saikyo/Rinkai Line in the direction of Shin-Kiba, alight at the JR Tokyo Teleport station.

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