Kyoto was the capital city of Japan from 794-1869. It is a place where ancient traditions meet modern technology. Famous for it's vast arrays of Buddhist Temples, Shinto Shrines, Palaces, Traditional Houses, Kimonos, Arts, Crafts, Tofu, Green Tea, and Geisha. It also has some amazing modern buildings. A number of High Technology companies have their Headquarters in Kyoto such as Omron, Rohm Semiconductor, Kyocera, Murata Manufacturing, and Nintendo.
My aim is to provide you with images and information to help you make the most out of your visit to Kyoto.
I have lived in Kyoto prefecture since 2008. Prior to my move here I visited Kyoto as tourist in 1998, 2005, 2006 & 2007. While the majority of the photos I'm planning to post will come from 2008 onwards, occasionally I'll post some older photos.
Please note the Kyoto watermark will NOT appear on any Prints, Digital Stock or Gifts purchased. You are welcome to link to these images on your own BLOGS as long as they appear in the form they are displayed on this site with the watermark clearly shown to acknowledge where it comes from. If you wish to alter these images or display them without watermarks on your websites you MUST purchase digital stock.
Ume at Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine
As I noted in the blog at the beginning of this month, Tenmangu Shrines are great places to find plum blossoms (Japanese "Ume"). I can't think of too many other places in Kyoto which have such good collections of plum trees other than the various Tenmangu Shrines. This shot is from Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine in Nagaokakyo city in Kyoto prefecture. This plum tree is one of two right in front of the main worship hall. There are a number of plum trees in various locations around the grounds of the shrine and it's park. Additionally to the side of the shrine grounds there is a plum grove with about 30 plum trees of various varieties.
While the best Ume garden is at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in the Kamigyo ward of Kyoto city, this one at Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine is pretty good and a lot less crowded during Ume blossom season. Additionally unlike the more famous place, Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine doesn't charge any fee to view the plum grove. It's worth making the trip out to Nagaokakyo to see these, and you may even meet one or two of the friendly and helpful local photographers, rather than just heaps of tourist as you'll meet at Kitano Tenmangu.
Access to Nagaoka Tenmangu is via the Hankyu line, it's a 13 minute trip on a Hankyu Limited Express (departing every 10 minutes) from Hankyu Kawaramachi station in downtown Kyoto to Nagaokatenjin Station. It's a five minute walk due west from the station to the Shrine (either via Azalea Dori or Tenjin Dori). If you are staying near the JR Kyoto station catch a local JR train to Nagaokakyo (it takes 15mins) and then get a bus or a taxi to the shrine from the west exit of the station.
This photo was taken with a Nikon F80 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens on Fujicolor PRO400 film.
I've made mention of Kyoto's mountains before and today I thought I'd feature Kyoto's highest one, but it's often over looked compared with some of the other mountains. If you are anywhere near Hankyu's Kyoto line in the outer suburbs of Kyoto, on a clear day you probably catch glimpses of Mount Atago (Japanese "Atagoyama") through the buildings. The best place to view it is from Nakanoshima Koen (Nakanoshima Park) in Arashiyama or from a high vantage point elsewhere (like this photo).
Of all of the mountains that surround Kyoto city and it's suburbs, Atago being the highest and located on the western side of the city seems to be the most likely to get a coating of snow. Yet because there is not much in the way of touristy things on it, it's not as famous as the second highest mountain Hieizan which has lots of beautiful temple buildings on it.
Another thing about Atago is that it takes a bit of effort to climb it. Unlike Hiezan there are no roads or cable cars to the top. Even the base of mount Atago is in a bit out of the way place. There is a good hiking trail with stone stairs in places, but it's about a 5 hour return hike to climb it from the nearest bus stop.
Ever since I took this photo in 2009, I'd been wanting to climb it. I heard the best time to climb it is during the Golden Week Holidays (April 29 - May 5). However, it seems I've gotten sick almost every Golden Week, it wasn't until the Golden Week of 2013 that I finally climbed Mount Atago.
I'd say any fine day from mid April to late May would be a good day to climb it. Late September or October might be good as long as you avoid typhoons and check to make sure there are no mud slide warnings in place. The first snows on the mountain often come at the beginning of November. I have friend who climbed it during winter, in parts of it he had to walk through about 20cm of snow cover, if your experienced at that kind of thing and know how to pack and dress for cold weather mountaineering you'll probably be ok. If you take plenty of water with you it's doable during the dry half of summer (from mid July to end of August). I wouldn't recommend climbing it in the summer rainy season (from June to mid July) or any other rainy day.
Make sure you leave early enough to return before dark as there is not much in the way of lighting on the path. There is a special night ascent (from 9pm) on the 31st of July when they light the path up with flaming torches.
Buses No. 62 and No. 72 depart for the base of the Atago trail from Hankyu Arishiyama station with stops near Randen Arashiyama station, JR Saga-Arashiyama station and a few other places along the way. They don't run so frequently though, maybe once an hour. Bus No. 72 actually runs all the way to and from JR Kyoto Station, which is cheaper than a train bus combo if you're coming from the downtown, but do you really want to spend over 2hrs on a cramped city bus stuck in traffic before and/or after hiking a mountain?
This photo was taken with a Nikon D80 and it's kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-135 f/3.5-5.6G lens from a high vantage point in Nagaokakyo city. In iPhoto I increased the contrast, definition, and sharpness. I also decreased the saturation and the highlight levels. The original out of the camera jpeg.
A Rock at Ryoan-ji
The rock garden at Ryoan-ji (a Zen Buddhist Temple) contains an arrangement of 15 rocks in a rectangular gravel garden bed. It is designed in a way, so that no matter which way you view the garden bed always at least one rock is hidden from your view. The designer and the meaning of the layout of the rocks have been forgotten in history. However it is probably Japan's best Zen garden, so it's worth placing on you must see list when you visit Kyoto.
Unfortunately due to it's fame, it is frequently crowded with droves of noisy school children on excursions (led by tour guides and/or teachers with loudhailers). I've read elsewhere to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds. I can't vouch for this myself in the case of Ryoan-ji, but it is true of other famous temples I've had the chance to visit early in the morning. Ryoan-ji opens at 8:30am.
Ryoan-ji is not far from Kinkaku-ji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion), about a 20min (1.6km) walk, or a short bus or taxi ride. So if your only in Kyoto for a short while, it's probably worth seeing them both together. Even nearer to Ryoan-ji is Ninna-ji a temple which is worth seeing if you're into Ikebana (Japanese Flower Arrangement).
The Keifuku Kitano line has a station called Ryoanji which is about a 7min walk from the temple. We got a bit lost on the way to the temple from the station, as the the signs weren't so clear, even for the two native Japanese speakers I was with!
This photo was taken with a Nikon D50 camera and the kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55f/3.5-5.6G lens. This photo is the jpeg straight from the camera, it has not been post processed.
Tsukudani is made from small pieces of food that have been preserved by cooking in the soy sauce and mirin (a kind of sweet sake). The types of food used can be bits of fish, small prawns, seaweed or other kinds of meat. Tsukudani is served as topping for rice. This is one kind of souvenir gift (known in Japanese as "O-mi-ya-ge") that Japanese people might buy for their family, coworkers and friends if they visit Arashiyama.
I took this photo of the lady closing up the Tsukudani shop for the day, late in the day on a visit to Arashiyama on a cold February afternoon in 2012. I recall after I finished shooting that afternoon I met up with my wife and some of our friends who'd been shopping and sightseeing in Arashiyama and we headed to a famous Udon restaurant for dinner. I remember eating Yuba Udon, which is a must eat in Arashiyama, especially if your a Tofu lover (Yuba is a flat kind Tofu which is made locally in Arashiyama).
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 85f/1.8D lens. This image is exactly how it came out of the camera, no post processing has been done on it.
It's Amazing what a bit of Snow Can Do
As I've noted before it's not often that we get an accumulation of snow in the lower lying parts of Kyoto city and surrounding suburbs. When we do get an accumulation it seems to quiet down the place and if the snow comes just before sunrise the results can be very beautiful. This is a photo of a wall of a traditional Kyoto suburban house. The sculptured plants along the wall are azaleas.
This photo was taken back in the winter of 2010-2011 which was the coldest and longest winter we had here. In the next few days there is some cold weather and snow forecasted, so hopefully we might get an accumulation again. If I get a good shot I'll post it up to this blog.
This photo was captured with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens. This photo is as it came out of the camera, no post processing has been done on this image.
February's Flower is the Plum Blossom
Known as Ume in Japanese, plum blossoms colours range from whites like these ones to a very deep red. Related to the more famous (in Japan) Sakura (Cherry Blossom), plums are the first of the flowering stone fruit to bloom. The order is Plums, Peaches, Apricots and finally Cherries. Depending on the kind of winter we are having in Kyoto, these flowers can start to bloom between mid to late February.
This photo was taken in the grounds of Nagaoka Tenman-gu Shrine in Nagaokakyo city, Kyoto prefecture. Tenman-gu shrines are dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane who after his death was deified as Tenman-Tenjin (the god of learning). Sugawara's favourite flower was the plum blossom, so Tenman-gu shrines normally feature plum blossoms in amongst the shrine buildings and/or in adjacent groves. One of the most famous plum gardens in Kyoto is at Kitano Tenman-gu, in the Kamigyo ward of Kyoto city.
Sorry I haven't blogged as often as I was doing before. Things are a little busy than I expected them to be for this time of the year, so I haven't had the chance to post as many blogs as I planned.
Also I didn't get the chance to make a limited addition promotional print to hand out in Kyoto during January as I did for both November and December. I'm not sure I'll have time to do one this month either. I really want to try to do them for March and April as we get into nicer weather and there's more tourists about.
This photo was taken way back in my first February (2009) after moving to Kyoto with a Nikon D80 and an an AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED lens. This photo was cropped in iPhoto. The bird in the photo is a Meijiro (Japanese White Eye).
Traditional Kyoto Building with a bit of Pine
Now for something at little abstract to get the ball rolling on this BLOG once again. I've been a little busy for the past week, since the last BLOG. This is a traditional building in a very beautiful street of Kyoto known as Shirakawa-Minami-Dori, which Chris Rowthorn (a long term Kyoto resident who writes for the Lonely Planet) dubbed "Asia's most beautiful street". It's definitely a place to check out on your visit to Kyoto. I've one or two more posts for from Shirakawa-Minami-dori planned for another time.
The reason I've posted this shot which includes a bit of pine tree is that some people consider pine the plant of January in Japan since it is evergreen. This photo was actually taken in January 2012. So if you're in Kyoto in January and it seems all the trees are bare, look for pine trees to include in your photos.
Shirakawa-Minami-Dori is located between the Keihan Gion-Shijo Station and the Keihan Sanjo Station (nearer to the Gion-Shijo Station). If you're using the subway get off on the Tozai Line's Sanjo-keihan stop. It's also not too far from Hankyu Kawaramachi Station if you're using the Hankyu Kyoto line.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 85f/1.8D lens. This image is exactly how it came out of the camera, no post processing has been done on it.
Winter Sunset from Kiyomizu-dera
Kiyomizu-dera (Kiyomizu temple) is one of the most famous spots in Kyoto and it's also one of my favourite places to view the sunset, especially during the winter months. If your in Kyoto in the winter, watching the sunset behind Kyoto city from Kiyomizu-dera is a great way to finish off a day of sightseeing. Maybe after that you could have dinner at one of the near by restaurants or take a wander back to Gion through traditional neighbourhoods in the early evening. Just make sure your wear some warm clothing as temperatures in winter can be around 3C or cooler in the evening.
This photo was taken on the same day as the photo of main temple building of Kiyomizu-dera which I posted at the end of December (eight entries ago). I took my friend Mick (who once worked with me in Australia) there, he was staying in Kyoto for a few days as he travelled around parts of Japan. I always love showing Kyoto to others and that's why I'm doing this BLOG.
The view in this sunset photo is nearly the same as the view in the sunrise photo I took about 13months prior to this photo.
This this photo was captured in with a Nikon D700 and an AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED lens. In iPhoto I cropped off a bit of the sky, increased the definition and sharpness, brightened the shadow areas and warmed white balance.
Traditional Shops at Night
Today’s photo was not taken during winter, if you look carefully at the clothing the people in the shot were wearing you’ll notice it’s not winter clothing. The reason I’m posting it up today, is a couple of weeks ago we had some friends from overseas staying with us and I was showing them some photos of a particular part of Kyoto as they were planning their activities, and one of them liked this shot. Also apart from the clothing the people are wearing in this shot, it pretty much looks the same during winter.
These shops are in a more traditional part of Kyoto known as Gion. Actually this shot was taken from just outside the gate of Yasaka-jinja in Gion. Not every building in Gion is traditional looking, but there are a number of spots in Gion where you can experience a bit of the old Kyoto. If you’re coming to Kyoto make sure you include a walk around Gion, by day or night on your itinerary.
If you’re going to be in or near Kyoto from March 14th to 23rd this year, make sure you don’t miss the Higashiyama Hanatouro (which includes some parts of Gion) when the traditional buildings are lit up beautifully at night and special lanterns line the streets. As I did with the sister event the Arashiyama Hanatouro in December, I’m planning to feature a few shots from past and hopefully this years Higashiyama Hanatouros.
The nearest train stations to Gion include: Higashiyama and Sanjo Keihan on the Kyoto Municipal Subway Tozai line; Gion-Shijo and Sanjo on the Keihan Main line; and Kawaramachi on the Hankyu Kyoto Line.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 and an AF Nikkor 85f/1.8D lens handheld.
Snow Coated Garden
While the winters in Kyoto can seem long and cold (especially for me, since I come from Perth, Australia), snow accumulation events are rare in Kyoto city and the surrounding suburbs. Generally the winter temperatures range between about 0-8C in Kyoto city, meaning when it does snow it usually melts as soon as it touches something. The winter of 2010-2011 was a very cold winter indeed and it was on one January morning that I awoke and looked out of my window to find the streets covered in a thin coating of snow. So, I quickly put some warm clothes on and grabbed the camera and went outside to photo it.
I headed for the higher ground, knowing that there would probably be more snow accumulated there. On the way back from photoing some of those places, I walked past a small Buddhist temple known as Nyoen-ji and took this shot through the gate of the snow covered garden within. This temple is located near the new Hankyu Nishiyama-Tennozan in Nagaokakyo city train station, although at the time, that station didn't exist. The temple doesn't seem to be open to the public, but I've taken photos through the gate on various occasions. The only other thing I know about this temple is that it sometimes displays advertisements for events at Youkoku-ji (which is about 1km away from this temple) on the gate, so perhaps it is connected to that temple in some way.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens. In iPhoto I brightened the shadow areas and darkened the highlights.
Golden Carpet at Nishi-Hongwan-ji
I was in Kyoto on New Year's Day to send off a parcel, since the main Kyoto Post Office was probably the only one open in the whole prefecture on that day. After posting the parcel, I took a walk around the streets nearby and dropped into Nishi-Hongwan-ji (it's probably more correctly Romanised "Nishi-Hongan-ji", but the English pamphlets at the temple Romanise it "Nishi-Hongwan-ji", very few people/organisations in Japan use the "official" Romanisation method except for railways and government departments). Unfortunately at that time of day the sun wasn't in the correct position for a good shot of the temple buildings, but as a consolation I found this patch of ginkgo (Japanese "ichou") leaves on the ground.
As I noted earlier on in this blog, the autumn colour of 2013 lasted well into December, but I was surprised to find these on New Year's Day. The low winter sunlight also helped to enhance their colours.
Nishi-Hongwan-ji is the head temple of a Buddhist group known as Jodo Shinshu (The True Essence of Pure Land Buddhist Teaching). This sect of Buddhism is one of the most popular in Japan, but other Japanese Buddhist sects such as Zen and Nichiren are more well known overseas. Actually there are some surprising similarities in beliefs between Jodo Shinshu and Christianity, especially with Reformed Christianity. I may post more about this to one of my other galleries or websites later, once I've done further research on the matter.
Nishi-Hongwan-ji is on Horikawa-dori about 10 minutes walk to the North West from Kyoto Station. The current temple buildings are over 400 years old and are part of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" UNESCO World Heritage listing. Unlike most famous temples in Kyoto, entry is to Nishi-Hongwan-ji is free.
This photo was taken with a Nikon P7100 camera. In iPhoto I cropped this to 3:2 ratio and adjusted the highlights down, and warmed the colour temperature.
An Evening in Ponto-cho
Even if you only have a short time in Kyoto you should try to visit Ponto-cho (especially in the evening). Ponto-cho is a narrow alleyway running parallel with the Kamo River (Kamogawa) from Shijo Dori in the South and almost to Sanjo Dori in the North. Ponto-cho is one of the five districts in Kyoto where Geisha Houses can be found. This alleyway contains a mix of expensive restaurants, tea houses, geisha houses, bars and clubs. During the evenings you can see many colourful traditional lanterns and more modern signs lighting the alleyway.
If you're someone who doesn't mind to spend a bit on a meal while traveling then perhaps you could even have a meal there. If you're a budget conscious traveller, then try Kiya-machi which is the next street parallel with Ponto-cho to the west for cheap eats. It doesn't cost anything to wander down the alleyway and experience a bit of Kyoto's past juxtaposed with the present. You may even spot a Geisha, although there are better Geisha spotting places in Kyoto (like Tatsumi Shrine, Yasaka Shrine or Hanamikoji Dori).
Access to Ponto-cho is pretty easy, it's just to the west of the bridge over the Kamo River on Shijo Dori on the north side of the road. The bridge is very close to the Hankyu Kawamachi and the Keihan Gion Shijo train stations.
This photo was taken with a Nikon F80 camera and an AF Nikkor 50f/1.8D lens on Fujicolor PRO400 film (my favourite nighttime film). Compared to the original scan I got back from the development shop, this version is cropped to 5:7 ratio. I've also adjusted the highlights down and the shadows up a bit.
January's Flower isn't really a Flower
It's an ornamental cabbage! Which is a leaf. Although they do sprout small flowers later on in the year. Actually I was racking my brains thinking of what's in flower in Kyoto in January. Well... actually, November's flower the Chrysanthemum is still blooming in some sunny places and December's flower the Camellia hasn't finished blooming yet. However, I couldn't use those ones again. Ornamental cabbages look a bit like flowers and they are used in New Year's flower arrangements, so I thought it's a good candidate for the flower of the month and also to start the year off.
Typical New Year's flower arrangements consist of ornamental cabbages, pine, red berries and sometimes include bits of bamboo. Here's another example. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish I all of my viewers a Happy New Year. I hope 2014 is a good one for you. Please keep checking back regularly, as there are quite a few post planned for January already.
This photo was taken of an arrangement in the Shinkyogoku Arcade in downtown Kyoto using a Nikon P7100 camera. In iPhoto I cropped it a little and bumped up the exposure a bit.
One of Japan's Top Three Views
The Sandbar of Amanohashidate in Northern Kyoto prefecture is considered one of Japan's top three scenes. It is a narrow stretch of pine covered sand that almost spans Miyazu Bay. It's best viewed from a lookout on a hillside near the Amanohashidate train station. Apart from climbing, you can also access the hillside lookout via cable car or chair lift. Aside from the view the area around the station also has a few good onsens (hot spring baths) and places where you can feast on the local crab which is very delicious.
Although in Kyoto prefecture, Amanohashidate is quite far from Kyoto city. There are four limited express "Hashidate" trains from Kyoto station to Amanohashidate daily, taking about 2hrs for the trip. The oneway fare without a seat reservation is 3770yen. If you are traveling on a Japan Rail Pass, not all of the trip to Amanohashidate is covered by the rail pass as some of it is on a private railway (even though the train is a JR train), so you'll have to pay for the bit not on the JR lines (I think this is 1380yen). There are some good deals in the winter called "kani kani kippu" ("kani" means "crab", "kippu" means "ticket"). These tickets include return train travel from Kyoto including seating reservations, a sumptuous (mostly crab based) lunch at a local restaurant and a bath at an onsen from around 7000yen.
This photo was taken with a Casio EX-Z850 camera from the lookout.
BTW the other two top three views are The Floating Torii (Shinto shrine gate) off Miyajima (an island) in Hiroshima Prefecture and the Pine-clad islands of Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture.
Kiyomizu-dera on a Winter's Afternoon
If you only have time to see one temple in Kyoto, then Kiyomizu-dera is probably your best choice. This world heritage listed temple is not only good to see for it's amazing architecture, but also for the views of Kyoto city that can be seen from there. Given it's the most famous temple in Kyoto, there's usually a lot of people there. However the temple does open from 6am and not many people go at that time of day. If you're not an early bird winter is a good time to visit, as long as you avoid holiday periods like New Year.
Another advantage of winter is that the trees around the main building of the temple have lost their leaves, this allows a better view of it's most unique architecture feature: the numerous vertical and horizontal wooden beams that attach the temple building to the side of a mountain.
This photo was taken 3 years ago, while I was showing some sites of Kyoto to a friend who was visiting from Australia. It was late on a Sunday afternoon, so it was a little more crowded than week days. We enjoyed seeing the various buildings of the temple in golden sunshine and catching the view of the sun setting over city from the vantage point of the temple.
This photo was captured with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens. In iPhoto I darkened the highlights and brighten the shadow areas slightly. This temple is quite challenging to photograph because of it's dark colour against the bright background.
Merry Christmas from James in Kyoto
I'd like to wish all of my family, friends, fellow smugmug users, twitter followers and other visitors a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. While this BLOG is fairly new, I hope that the content here has been ascetically pleasing and informative for you, so far. So whether you live in Kyoto, visiting or planning to visit Kyoto sometime or you just like the photos, I hope to keep giving you beautiful photos and useful information about Kyoto. Please keep checking back regularly.
If you'd like to support this site, the easiest thing you can do for me is to click the thumbs up button on the photos you like. If you want to do a bit more for me, you can tweet them, share them on Facebook or Google+ (click on the square with an arrow coming out of it "Share" icon). If you’re a fellow smugmug user and you like something please leave a comment and rating. To anyone, if you really like this gallery, please consider buying prints, gifts or digital stock of the photos.
One more way some of you might be able to help is using the following link if you want to join smugmug. It will give both you and I a discount. I’ve tried a number of photo sharing sites, but smugmug is the best. I highly recommend it to you if you’re looking for a reliable, easy and advertisement free way to share your photos.
The photo I'm sharing today, was taken at the Christmas lights which are in the open space between the JR Nagaokakyo Station, the Bambio Civic Centre and the Heiwado Supermarket. Unlike most other Christmas lights in Japan, these ones stay up until a few days into the New Year. In most places in Japan the Christmas decorations disappear on Christmas day!
Nagaokakyo is 4th stop from Kyoto on a local train on the line which goes from Kyoto to Osaka (and beyond). Exit the through the West exit of the station and you'll see the lights.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens. The only modification I've done to this image is to mirror it with the Gimp (before the ball was on the right the picture).
Christmas in Downtown Kyoto
The Christmas decorations in downtown Kyoto seemed to be a bit more low key this year. I’m not sure why that was. However everywhere I walked around in the downtown, I could hear “All I want for Christmas is you” playing from the shops.
Some people may wonder what happens for Christmas in Japan? Well chicken (of all kinds from Teriyaki to KFC) seems to be the thing to eat. I’ve never seen any turkey for sale. The Christmas cakes in Japan are sponge and cream, not the rich fruit cakes that I’m used to. Christmas is not a public holiday in Japan, but the shops certainly let you know it’s coming. It seems to be more of a romantic day for couples, than a family day. However in Japan the big family gatherings take place at New Years (January 1st) and the next few days after.
This photo was taken outside a tempura shop on Kawaramachi Dori in downtown Kyoto. In the photo some of the Christmas lights along the street can be seen. This spot is not far from the Hankyu Kawaramachi Station.
This photo was captured with a D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 24f/2.8D lens. In iPhoto I increased the brightness of the shadow areas slightly.
The Arashiyama Hanatouro is now over for another year. However it’s sister event the Higashiyama Hanatouro will be held in March (from 14th to the 23rd). So if your planning to be in or around Kyoto at that time, please make sure you check out that event.
For the last photo of this little miniseries devoted to the Arashiyama Hanatouro, I’ve decided to share one from my first Arashiyama Hanatouro. These lanterns displayed at the Hankyu Arashiyama train station where made by local primary school children. Each one is is unique and every year there are new displays of lanterns made by primary school children at this spot.
As I mentioned before both Hanatouros not only feature professional lighting displays, but also plenty of things made by or performed by members of the local community. Attending these or one of the various Matsuri (festivals) held throughout the year are good ways experience a bit of the community spirit of people of Kyoto.
This photo was taken with a Nikon F80 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens on Fujicolor PRO400 film (my favourite nighttime film).
Ancient Meets Modern at the Arashiyama Hanatouro
A big “Hello” to anyone visiting here for the first time after receiving one of my promotional photo prints outside the Kyoto Tower. I’ve finished handing out the batch with the Togetsukyo at the Top and the Bamboo background, the next batch will be a new design. Each promotional photo print is only printed in very limited numbers, so maybe one day when I’m famous, they’ll be worth something ;)
Today I’m sharing a photo I took on the first night of this year’s Arashiyama Hanatouro at Horin-ji (a Buddhist Temple). This is one temple which is lit up of for the Hanatouro, yet is free of charge to enter. Most other temples are charging a 500yen entry fee during Hanatouro.
There were a number of buildings in the temple lit up via digital projectors, however unlike other digital projector light ups I’ve seen, the patterns changed slowly and tranquilly (very fitting with the temple location). The temple gate and stairway were also lit up with flood lights and lanterns.
Horin-ji is conveniently located near the Hankyu Arashiyama station. It’s the best railway to use if you’re coming from Kyoto’s Southwestern Suburbs, Osaka or Kobe. You can also change to the Hankyu Line at Shijo-Karasuma from the Karasuma Subway line of the Kyoto Subway. Additionally are a couple of Hankyu stops in downtown Kyoto if you’re coming from there.
Today’s photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens on a tripod. I shot this photo in RAW and was able to recover the highlights in iPhoto. Note I usually only shot at base iso (iso 200 on D700) when using a tripod, but these lights were so low I needed to use iso 800 to get the camera to expose automatically. I guess I could of used bulb and counted off 2mins, if I wanted to expose it at base iso. I’ve done that kind of thing before, but then the light patterns may have change too much in that amount of time to get a good shot. In addition to highlight recovery I also used iPhoto to straighten the image, and adjust the white balance.
Note there are now only two nights of the Arashiyama Hanatouro left, tomorrow night (Sunday 22nd) and Monday night (23rd). If you’re staying in or near Kyoto at the moment make sure you don’t miss this event.
In the Yellow Zone
Today I present another of my favourite shots from past Arashiyama Hanatouro’s. This shot was taken at my first Arashiyama Hanatouro on the same evening as my “Entering the Green Zone” photo. This yellow zone area is towards Okochi-sanso and is an area that often features in promotional material related to the Arashiyama Hanatouro.
Actually, this area also has featured in shots taken during the day time, by various famous photographers. Just do a Google image search on “Arashiyama Bamboo Forest”. However, I think it looks it’s best during Hanatouro, hopefully my BLOG can help in some way to get more people to come and photo it during this event. I’m still planning to shoot this area again during Hanatouro, because even though it’s one of my favourite shots, so far, I’m always pushing myself to improve on things.
This photo was taken with a Nikon F80 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens on Fujicolor PRO400 film (my favourite nighttime film). I’ve made some edits to the first version of this photo which I published: I brightened the shadow areas, warmed it slightly, and enhanced the micro contrast levels a bit.
Finally a reminder that Arashiyama Hanatouro is on at the moment, every evening from 5:00pm-8:30pm. The last night will be Monday the 23rd of December.
Lanterns in Nakanoshima Park
A big “Hello” to those who are coming here today for the first time after receiving one of my promotional prints outside the Kyoto Tower today. It seems that the number of tourist visiting Kyoto has dropped off considerably since November. Just because most of the maples have gone, there’s still plenty to see and do in Kyoto. The weather this year is slightly warmer than usual, so we probably won’t get any snow in the next week or so. The weather forecast is showing a few fine days to come later in the week, so plenty of opportunity to enjoy the sites of Kyoto without the crowds.
The Arashiyama Hanatouro is on at this moment. Every night from 5pm in the Arashiyama-Sagano area in Kyoto city, until Monday the 23rd of December. Today I wanted to share one of the photos I’ve captured so far at this years event. Actually I’ve been twice this year so far, and I may go again towards the end of the event. However, this year rather than trying to see lots of it in one hit, I’ve just gone and captured a few shots I wanted and then gone home.
These lanterns I think are made by university students, there are also displays made by school children. That’s the thing about the Hanatouros, that they’re not just a professional light show, but there’s also a lot of community involvement.
It was a very wet and windy evening and there’s a bit of motion blur on the closest lantern due to the wind. Although the good thing about rainy days in Kyoto during winter, is that they are warmer, unlike the city where I was born and raised. Just wear rain and wind proof clothing and you’ll be quite comfortable. Maybe invest in a rain cover for your camera. There are a couple of camera shops near the Kyoto station that sell these.
This photo was captured with a D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 24f/2.8D lens, mounted on a tripod. In iPhoto, I applied the following adjustments, I warmed the image slightly and I increased the brightness of the shadow areas.
Entering the Green Zone
A big “Hi” to anyone visiting for the first time today because they received one of my photo prints outside of the Kyoto Tower today. Today was the first day which I handed out a new edition of my print featuring the photo from yesterday’s post to this BLOG. Please check back regularly for more photos and site seeing information.
With the Arashiyama Hanatouro starting this Saturday evening (December 14th) at 5pm. I’m continuing to feature some of my favourite shots from past Arashiyama Hanatouros in this BLOG. For more details on this event scroll down the page to the entry prior to this one.
One of the features of the Arashiyama Hanatouro is the lit up bamboo forest near Tenryu-ji (a famous Zen Buddhist Temple in Arashiyama). Different parts of it are lit up in different colours, and there a couple of sections that are truly amazing. The first section which takes the breath away of the crowds of site seers, is what I call “green zone”. This section is near Nonomiya-jinja (a small, but very famous Shinto Shrine because it’s featured in “The Tale of Genji”).
Today’s photo was taken way back in 2009 on my very first visit to an Arashiyama Hanatouro. Even though I was actually here (living in Kyoto) for the 2008 Arashiyama Hanatouro time, I didn’t know about it. I even went to Arashiyama during the daytime of that Hanatouro time and didn’t find out!!! It also seems that many foreigners living in the Kansai area don’t know about this event. I only found out about the Arashiyama Hanatouro through a conversation with a shop assistant in Kyoto just before the 2009 event. Hopefully my various websites and tweets are helping spread the word.
This photo was taken with a Nikon F80 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens on Fujicolor PRO400 film (my favourite nighttime film). Unfortunately I didn’t record the f-stop and shutter speed in my notebook (now-a-days I record this in my notebook when shooting film). The camera was mounted on a tripod. This photo is how I got it back on the disk when I put the film in for processing and scanning. Since the original film is a negative it’s impossible for me to know what kind of tweaks the person scanning the negative has done.
Togetsukyo during the Arashiyama Hanatouro
With the Arashiyama Hanatouro starting this Saturday night (December 14th), I've decided to feature some shots from past Arashiyama Hanatouros to give you an idea of what to expect. If you're in Kyoto from the 14th to the 23rd of December make sure you don't miss this event. Actually it will require more than one night to see it all. If your schedule is flexible avoid Saturdays, Sundays and the 23rd (a public holiday) nights as these will be the most crowded.
The Arashiyama Hanatouro starts at 5pm each night and finishes at 8:30pm. There is about 5km of lit up roads and paths with special light ups of features along the way. These special light ups include the Togetsuko ("Moon Crossing Bridge"), a mountainside, a bamboo forest, the Nakano Shima Park, Nonimiya Shrine and displays at the Hankyu and JR train stations. All of the aforementioned sites are free to view. Additionally, various other sites (mostly temples) have special light ups, but require an entry fee. Further information about what temples and other sites have light ups can be found by clicking on this link.
All of three regular train stations in Arashiyama that is the Hankyu Ashiyama, Keifuku (aka "Randen") Arashiyama and JR Saga-Arashiyama are on the Hanatouro course. Hankyu is the most convenient (and cheapest) if you are coming from Osaka, Kobe or the South West suburbs of Kyoto. The Keifuku railway is convenient if you are coming from the downtown. The Keifuku also has a subway connection which makes it good not only from subway locations, but also if your using the Keihan or Kintetsu Railways to get from the South of Kyoto or Nara and even from Outsu in Shiga. The JR line is useful if you are travelling on a Japan Railway Pass or you are coming from the Kyoto station area or transferring from the Shinkansen (aka "Super Express" or "Bullet Train"). The JR line is also the only rail option from North Kyoto Prefecture. I don't recommend going to Arashiyama by bus or private transport at anytime, even more so during Hanatouro. The roads in and around Arashiyama are way too narrow and heavily congested.
Arashiyama is one of the coldest places in Kyoto city and it's name means stormy mountain. On some nights that I've been there the temperature has fallen to 0C by lights out at 8:30pm, plus as the name implies, it can get windy and rainy, so be prepared. Wear layered fast drying clothing and have a backpack you can put them in, especially if your carrying a dSLR, a couple of lenses and a tripod, you can start to warm up quickly lugging them around the Hanatouro course!
Today's photo was taken early in the evening which is the best time to get a bit of blue in the sky (otherwise you won't make out the tops of the mountains against a black sky). For this photo I used a Nikon D700 and an AF Nikkor 50f/1.8D lens with a split ND filter (2 stops) on a sturdy tripod. I aligned the dark part of the split ND filter to cover the bridge which is way brighter than the mountains. I got there early before sunset to set up, as it is difficult make out the dark areas to align the split ND after sunset. In iPhoto I applied the following edits: enhancing the micro contrast level and brightening the shadow areas slightly.
Kyoto's Mountain Views
Kyoto (well at least most of its metropolis) is surrounded by mountains. There are various mountains you can go up and get some amazing views of the city. Some of the mountains have cable cars or even roads that will take you all the way (or near) to the top, others require more effort to climb.
Probably the most popular mountain (and the closest to the downtown) is Higashiyama (East Mountain), there are a number of temples set upon this mountain, some of which offer great views of the city. Last month I posted this view from Kiyomizu Temple on Higashiyama.
If you're spending more than a couple of days in the city why not try going up some of the other mountains for spectacular views. Mount Hiei is Kyoto's highest it has cable cars and bus services that will take you all the way to the top. For the more adventurous Mount Atago which is almost as high as Mount Hiei, requires about a 2 hour climb on foot to get to the top.
Today's photo is from Yoshimine-dera (Buddhist Temple) built on the slopes of Nishiyama (West Mountain) is a bit further away from the centre of Kyoto and offers views of the whole Kyoto Metropolis. There's a bus that almost gets you to this temple, but you still need to climb a few stairs. See the recent entry on "Natural Light Up" for more details.
Today's photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens with a circular polarising filter. This photo is straight from the camera, it has not been post processed.
A Doorway to a Small Garden
This year there's still plenty of autumn colour around, even now on the 5th of December. Since the autumn colour is still out, I've decided to post another autumn colour photo for today. This photo was taken exactly 2 years ago on the 5th of December 2011, which was also a year that we had plenty of autumn colour at the beginning of December.
Today's photo was taken at the entrance to a garden of a small sub temple of Tofuku-ji known as Taikoan. Taikoan is located on a separate property to Tofuku-ji, it's nearer to the Tofukuji Train Station.
The story of this photo: I took some photos at Taikoan on my way to Tofuku-ji, but that time the light was rather dull. After visiting Tofuku-ji, the weather had fined up, so on my way back to the station I noticed that the sunlight was lighting up the garden in Taikoan, so I took some more photos there including this one.
The easiest access to Tofuku-ji and Taikoan is via the Tofukuji Station. This station is actually two train stations next to each other one serving the JR Nara Line (good if your coming from the Kyoto Station Area, Southern Kyoto Prefecture or Nara) and the other serving the Keihan Main Line (good if your coming from the downtown Kyoto area, Gion, Fushimi or Osaka).
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2 lens. I've applied some post processing in iPhoto to brighten up the shadow areas slightly and improve the micro-contrast. Here's a link to the original to compare.
Natural Light Up
As I mentioned yesterday the autumn colour is continuing into December this year with the warmer than usual weather. I took this photo yesterday at a Buddhist Temple called Yoshimine-dera. The combination of the low December Sun and the mountain location created a natural kind of light up of the autumn leaves.
Yoshimine-dera is in the Western outskirts of Kyoto city. Set upon Nishiyama (West Mountain) the temple grounds are terraced up the mountain's slopes and provide good views of Kyoto city. The temple has been in existence for almost 1000 years, but most of the present buildings date from around the 1700s. It is definitely a nice place to stroll around and good exercise too. It was also relatively quiet yesterday, compared to more central places during the colour change season.
Although Yoshimine-dera is in Nishikyo-ku (the western ward of Kyoto city) access to it is via Muko city (a small city adjoining the west of Kyoto city). There is an hourly bus #66 that departs hourly from 8:35 to 14:35 (until 15:35 on weekends) from the JR Mukomachi station, stopping about 5 minutes later at the Hankyu Higashimuko station (convenient if you're staying in downtown Kyoto). The bus takes about 30 minutes to reach the stop near the temple (the last stop). Return buses depart hourly from 9:24 to 15:24 (16:24 on weekends). The bus fare is 340yen one way from/to both train stations.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens with a circular polarising filter. The shadow areas were brightened a little in iPhoto.
December's Flower is Camellia
These flowers bloom from December through to February, depending on their subspecies. However they are at their peak around the last week of December. So I've decided on the Camellia as December's flower.
This year there is still a lot of autumn colour remaining and with the predicted weather for the next week, it should still be around for a while, depending on the location. So I may post some more autumn colour photos if I get some more good shots of it the next few days. I'll also try just as I did for November to get more shots of the month's flower.
If you are coming to Kyoto in December, the big event not to miss is the Arashiyama Hanatouro, which this year is running from December 14 to December 23. During this event various temples, shrines, the Togetsukyo bridge, a mountainside, and a bamboo forest are lit up with coloured lighting in the Arashiyama area. There are also special lanterns lining the streets, lit up flower arrangements in various locations, and lit up art work in a park. The lights come on each night at 5pm. Weekend nights are the most crowded, but weeknights are not so bad, but every year it seems to attract more people. I'm planning to post up some photos from previous Arashiyama Hanatouros in the lead up to the event, and hopefully I'll get some good shots this year. I want to photograph a few places I haven't photographed during the past years Arashiyama Hanatouros.
Today's photo was taken in Nagaokakyo City, Kyoto Prefecture, on Suntory Dori (near the Den Yakiniku restaurant). This camellia was on a hedge outside a traditional Japanese house. It's pretty common to see camellias used for hedging in the more suburban or rural parts of Kyoto Prefecture.
This area is accessible by the Hankyu Bus No. 48 from JR Nagaokakyo Station(sorry I can't recall the stop's name). On the 21st of December a new train station on the Hankyu Kyoto line called "Nishiyama-Tennozan" will open, which is located right near where I took this photo.
For this photo I used a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2 lens. The only editing I did on this image was to crop it a bit.
Autumn Colours at the Togetsukyo
A big hello to the people I met outside the Kyoto Tower today. Thank you for visiting, please check back regularly for more Kyoto travel tips and photos.
The Togetsukyo (meaning "Moon Crossing Bridge) is a famous bridge in the Arashiyama area of Kyoto city. The Arashiyama area is a pretty well preserved traditional area near the mountains in Kyoto. There are some modern buildings there, but no big chains like McDonald's or Starbucks are allowed there. The further you get away from the train stations (especially the North Western part) the more traditional and rural it gets. There are a number of famous Buddhist temples, Shinto Shrines, a Samurai actor's mountain villa, and many shops selling traditional food and handicrafts to explore.
During certain times like the Autumn colour change season (Koyo), in the Spring when the Sakura (Cherry Trees) are blossoming, and during the Arashiyama Hanatouro (a special light up of the bamboo forrest, Shrines and Temples in December) there can be huge crowds at Arashiyama. Other times of the year, especially in winter the place can be pretty quiet. I find that if I go there early in the morning before the shops open at 10am, I avoid the crowds at most times of the year.
There are three train stations in Arashiyama serving three different rail companies. There's the Hankyu Arashiyama Station about 500m to the South East of the Togetsukyo. There's the Keifuku (aka Randen) Arashiyama Station which is 250m to the North of the Togetsukyo. Then there's the JR Saga-Arashiyama Station about 900m to the North East of the Togetsukyo.
This photo was taken during the Koyo in 2010, the tree on the right this year still isn't as yellow (we've had a warmer autumn). This type of shot can only be made early in the morning on a fine day, later in the morning the tree and the mountains will not be in the sunlight. For this photo I used a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 50f/1.8D lens with a circular polarising filter. This photo is exactly how it came out of the camera, no post processing has been done to it.
Autumn View of Gion Tower
While I was at Kodai-ji (see the previous photo in this gallery) on Wednesday, I came to a spot where there was a good view of the Gion Tower which is part of Daiunin (a Buddhist Temple) and it's right near Yasaka-jinja (Yasaka Shrine). A few other times I've photographed this tower from below, especially when it's lit up for the Higashiyama Hanatouro.
Kodai-ji, the Gion Tower and Daiunin are all in the Higashiyama area. During the Higashiyama Hanatouro in March the these places are lit up as part of the Festival. These two places are located in a very interesting neighbourhood of Kyoto, so take sometime to explore the area when your in Kyoto.
For this photo I changed lenses on the Nikon D700 to the AF Nikkor 85f/1.8D. I also used a circular polariser. This image is exactly how it came out of the camera, I have not edited in any way.
Maple Colour at Kodai-ji
A big hi to all of the people I met in the Gion & Kawaramachi areas today. Thank you for visiting this site. Please check back regularly for more photos and Kyoto travel information.
Kodai-ji is a Buddhist Temple located in Higashiyama not far from Yasaka-jinja (Yasaka Shrine). Some of the buildings in Kodai-ji (including the one in this photo) date back to the 17th century. It has extensive gardens which look especially beautiful when the Japanese Maples (Momiji) change colour.
As Kodai-ji is set on a hill it also offers a good view towards the Gion Tower and surrounds. According to the Lonely Planet Kyoto guide, Kodai-ji is only 5 minutes walk from the Higashiyama-yasui bus stop (Bus 206). If you been reading this site for a while, you'll know I dislike catching buses in Kyoto city (too crowded and slow). I walked all the way up to Kodai-ji from Kawaramachi Station then back again, the exercise was good and got me warm on the cool autumn morning.
Today's photo was actually taken today, with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens with a circular polarising filter. I stopped this photo down one stop when I took it to avoid blowing out the highlights. In iPhoto I brightened the shadow areas a bit, increased the contrast, darkened the sky and warmed the image slightly.
Japanese Garden Light Up
Today I decided to post something a little more abstract, than what I usually post to this gallery. This is a photo I took at a light up at Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine in Nagaokakyo city, Kyoto Prefecture, three years ago. However the garden is lit up every year for the Koyo (Autumn Colour Change season), I might go there again this year.
Unlike the more famous shrines and temples in Kyoto city, this one is much less crowded for the Autumn light up. Its cherry blossom light up in April attracts a lot more people, but that's on a much bigger scale than the Autumn light up. Actually even though there are various deciduous trees in colour change all around the grounds of the shrine, the Autumn light up is confined to one small but pretty garden.
The light up starts at about 5pm, if you come earlier there's still plenty of Autumn colour to check out in the rest of the shrine grounds. I recommend the Turkish cafe named "Cafe Mantar" which is in the shrine grounds, it opens till 4pm (closed Fridays), tell the owner James sent you.
If you're looking for something to eat after viewing the lights, there's a San Marco ("Italian") restaurant near the Shrine Grounds, that's pretty good value although it's not cheep eats. These also a Ramen shop near the Shrine Grounds, which is cheap and reasonable. Near the Nagaoka Tenjin Train Station there are plenty of cheep eateries including Dotour, Coco Curry and McDonald's, plus a Ramen Restaurant and an Udon Restaurant. If you want something bit more up market, try Akira (Japanese style Hamburger Steaks) which is a bit further up Tenjin Dori on the other side of the Hankyu train line from the shrine.
Access to Nagaoka Tenmangu is via the Hankyu line, it's 13 minute trip on a Hankyu Limited Express (departing even 10 minutes) from Hankyu Kawaramachi station downtown Kyoto to Nagaokatenjin Station. It's a five minute walk due west from the station to the Shrine (either via Azalea Dori or Tenjin Dori). If you are staying near the JR Kyoto station catch a local JR train to Nagaokakyo (takes 15mins) and then get a bus or a taxi to the shrine from the west exit of the station.
For today's photo I used a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens.
Chrysanthemums at the Kyoto Botanical Gardens
The Kyoto Botanical Gardens have something to see year round, but late November is a very special time indeed. There are various types of Chrysanthemums on display around the gardens, plus many of the deciduous trees are at their best autumn colour.
There were a number of spots to photograph the various kinds of Chrysanthemums on display. In the end this photo was my favourite Chrysanthemum photo of that day, because of the the various colours of the flowers and the background showing some of the conservatory.
What made it an even better day at the gardens, was that it was a special autumn festival free entry day. Normally the entry fee is pretty low anyway only 200yen for adults, plus an additional 200yen if you want to go into the conservatory. This time was my third visit to the gardens, but there's still a lot area there that I haven't covered yet, it's a pretty huge place.
Access to the Kyoto Botanical Garden's is pretty easy, there's an exit from the Kitayama subway station (on the Karasuma Line) right in front of the gates. Definitely a very spacious place to escape the crowds an get some fresh air. I recommend bringing bento to eat for a picnic lunch, as the restaurant in the gardens is over priced. Also there are not too many eating options in the area near the gardens.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens with a circular polarising filter.
The Little Drinks Shop
Along the Hozugawa (Hozu river) in Arashiyama, there's a very traditional looking store selling very modern canned and bottled drinks. It's kind of a summary of Kyoto, because it's a place where ancient and modern blend together. Although some would say the modernity has gone too far in a lot of parts of Kyoto, but I do like the look of this little drink store. But, actually they sell more than just drinks, also some traditional quick to prepare food.
As you may have guessed (if you've read some of my past posts) I also like Arashiyama a lot. It's a place that I keep going back to, cause it's out of town enough for a bit of peace and quiet, and it's big enough to keep me exploring. There are no Starbucks or McDonnald's in Arashiyama either, and I like it that way. However there are plenty of locally owned restaurants, and I'm still far from trying them all after all this time. So there's plenty there to keep me going back.
Access to Arashiyama: There are three railway lines going to Arashiyama the Hankyu Arashiyama Line, the Keifuku Arashiyama Line and the JR Sagano Line. The Hankyu Arashiyama Line is a good choice if your staying in South Western Kyoto Prefecture (like me) or for day tripping from Osaka or Kobe. The Keifuku Arashiyama Line is a very fun, but slow way to get there in it's light rail cars departing from Shijo-Omiya station in downtown Kyoto. If you're staying near Kyoto Station or Transferring from other parts of Japan via the Shinkansen or other long distance trains then the JR Sagano Line is the best option.
The image I'm sharing today was shot on Fujichrome Velvia 50 film with a Nikon F80 and a Nikon AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens.
Koyo at Komyo-ji
Hi to anyone I met today at the intersection near Kyoto Station and Kyoto Tower, thank you for dropping by. For those unfamiliar with the Japanese language "Koyo" is the word for the Autumn colour change season. Koyo happens in Kyoto from about mid November through to mid December depending on general weather patterns, altitude and other factors affecting the trees in various locations.
Today I want to share with you a good Koyo spot that is quite famous in Kansai (the area around Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Wakayama, etc), but not so well known worldwide. Actually it's famous enough in Kansai that it attracts plenty of internal tour buses of Japanese tourist. However, I can't recall seeing any other foreigners there and the only foreigns who I know of going there, either live locally or have friends that live locally. You won't find this temple in the Lonely Planet's Kyoto guide either, but don't let that put you off from going.
What makes this temple a really famous spot in Kansai are the two long tunnels of Japanese Maple trees (Momiji). Here's a photo of one of them. The tunnels seem to be the most crowded spots during Koyo, but the rest of the temple is very interesting. Unlike many of the temples mentioned in the Lonely Planet and other famous travel guides, Komyo-ji for me feels like a real temple and not a tourist spot. So if you want to see what a real functioning Buddhist temple looks like Komyo-ji is a good place to one. If you go during other seasons, it's also pretty quiet.
Komyo-ji is in Nagaokakyo city (only 15mins by train from the centre of Kyoto city), the nearest train station is Nagaoka Tenjin on the Hankyu Line. Another option is Nagaokakyo station on the JR Kyoto Line. From both stations you'll probably want to catch a bus which is not so bad outside of Kyoto city. There are regular buses to Komyo-ji from the West Exit of the JR Nagaokakyo Station or from the stop on Azalea Dori about 50m west of the Hankyu line.
This photo was captured with a Nikon D80 and it's kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-135 f/3.5-5.6G.
Fleeting Light on an Autumn's Morning
Now… I present a new edit of a photo that I took around the same time of the year, 4 years ago. It was not the image that I was seeking that morning, so I almost missed this light because I was focused on getting a shot of something else. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed golden rays of sunshine touching the mountains in the background. I turned around and got 4 quick shots of it before the sun went behind clouds and the light dulled and remained dull for the rest of that day.
On that day I set out to photo Kiyomizu-dera (Kiyomizu temple) in early morning light, believing that would be the best light to capture the main building in. However the light didn't come as I expected, so the shots of the main building didn't turn out how I wanted them and no amount of post processing can fix that.
This photo was very rushed, if I had been seeking this kind of shot my camera settings would have been different and it would have probably come out even better. However because of the special light I was able to play with it in iPhoto and get a final image that gives you a good idea on what the scene was like. Even a rushed photo in good light is much better than a well prepared photo in bad light. Photo editing tools these days can repair a lot of technical mistakes, but they can't create good light out of bad light. Sometimes good light is very fleeting, this light lasted about a minute.
The edits I made to this version include brightening the shadow areas, increasing micro contrast, sharpening, increasing the warmness, and increasing the saturation. A link to the unedited version of this photo.
If you like walking I recommend catching the Keihan Train to Kiyomizu-Gojo station and walking up the hill, rather than catching busses to Kiyomizu-dera. I also recommend going early to Kiyomizu-dera (it opens 6am), you'll avoid the huge crowds that are usually at this most famous temple.
This photo was captured with a Nikon D80 and it's kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-135 f/3.5-5.6G. Tripods are not allowed to be used on the ancient wooden platform from which I took this photo. If I could have used one I could have shot it at base iso and got a much cleaner result. If I had brought the 70-300VR lens that day I could have shot it at a bit lower iso. However because I was mostly there to shoot the main building up close, I mostly wanted to shoot wide, not telephoto. I'm glad though that I didn't opt on taking the Sigma 10-20 that day, or I never would have gotten this shot.
Autumn at Okochi Sanso
Okochi Sanso is the former villa and gardens of a silent samurai film actor named Denjiro Okochi. It is a very beautiful place to wander around and enjoy the gardens and the autumn colours of the various kinds of maples planted there. Unlike some of the other attractions in Arashiyama, Okochi Sanso seems to be less crowded during Koyo. Maybe due to it's higher entrance fee than other attractions? Although the 1000yen fee also includes Japanese tea and a sweet in the tea gardens and a complimentary postcard, so I don't think it's too expensive.
Today's photo was taken in a small section of the garden which is between the villa and the little Buddhist temple he had built on the grounds. The whole grounds are 2 hectares in size, so it does take a good while to wander through the various gardens and look at the buildings (although the insides of most buildings are off limits). There are good views of Kyoto city and surrounds from various parts of the grounds. There's also a small museum showing some footage of his films.
Okochi Sanso is about 15 minutes walk west of the Keifuku Arashiyama Station. The road to Okochi Sanso takes you through Arashiyama's famous bamboo grove.
Today's photo was captured with a Nikon D700 and Nikkor AF 50f/1.8D lens.
The Saga Chrysanthemum (Japanese "Saga-giku") has brush like petals, it originally grew naturally on an Island in the huge pond at Emperor Saga's villa in Ukyo-ku, Kyoto. Later this villa was converted into a Buddhist temple known as Daikaku-ji. Every year in November many Saga Chrysanthemums are displayed around the temple buildings and also in special booths. There is also a competition which growers compete in to grow the tallest Saga Chrysanthemums.
Today's photo was taken this morning at Daikaku-ji while viewing the Saga Chrysanthemums on display there. I highly recommend seeing it, if you are in Kyoto for the first half of November. I'm planning to post more on this temple later, there are plenty of things to see at Daikaku-ji regardless of the season.
Daikaku-ji is a 17 minute walk northward from the JR Saga-Arashiyama Station. It's a 24 minute walk from the Randen Arashiyama Station and a 34 minute walk from the Hankyu Arashiyama Station. We took the longest walk option because the Hankyu station is faster and cheaper to reach from where we live, It was a very enjoyable walk. There are also buses from the Hankyu Station, but they take almost as long as walking.
Today's photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and a Nikkor AF 35f/2D lens.
The Kyoto Tower Lights Up
I promised when I posted "A View from the Kyoto Tower" that I was planning to get a particular shot of the tower. Well, it took me a little longer than I expected to get the chance to go to Kyoto station at the right time for the shot I wanted. Actually, I was hoping to go about a week before, but a couple of things came up that prevented me from going.
Normally the tower is lit up as in today's photo with standard floodlights, however I think there are certain occasions when it is lit up in different colours. Also the inverted bowl shape section towards the base of the tower sometimes has blue neon lights in it, like this shot. I wonder if they are trying to save power or just doing maintenance at the moment?
The tower is situated just north of the Kyoto Station, if you use the main exit you'll see it as soon as you get out of the station complex. Good places to view the tower from the station include the area at the top of the escalators on the East Side of the station (on your right has you pass through the main ticket gates), where I took today's photo. And from the Sky Walk.
Today's photo was taken with a Nikon Coolpix P7100 on a tripod. It was shot in .NRW (raw format), it was my first time to use raw on the P7100. When I loaded it up on my 5 year old MacBook running Snow Leopard it wouldn't read the .NRW files, even though it reads .NEF (raw format) files from the Nikon D700 just fine. So I used my wife's one year old iMac running Mavericks and the .NRW files worked just fine. I edited the photo in iPhoto 9.5 on my wife's iMac to produce the .JPG for smugmug.
Autumn Light Up
One of the things to do in Kyoto during the Koyo (Autumn Colour Change Season) is to go to an Autumn light up. Many famous and not so famous sites in Kyoto have them. This photo was from an Autumn Light Up at Kiyomizu-dera (Kiyomizu Temple). Kiyomizu-dera is one of the most famous sites in Kyoto actually it was nominated for (but din't make it to) the list of the New 7 Man Made Wonders of the world. So the Autumn Light Up was very crowded there. If you don't like crowds there are plenty of light ups which can be just as pretty at not so famous sites out in the Kyoto suburbs.
Although the weather varies from year to year generally the peak of Koyo in Kyoto city is around the last week of November. I have a feeling it's going to be a little later this year, because the weather has been warmer than usual.
I don't like using buses in the centre of Kyoto, but there aren't any trains that get you close to Kiyomizu-dera, although I've walked from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan line a few times. During the light up there is a regular shuttle bus from outside of the Keihan Kiyomizu-Gojo station. There are also regular scheduled buses from Kyoto Station, but spending an hour (if you're lucky and there's no traffic it should only take 15mins) packed in like sardines on that bus, put me off doing it again. Even if you catch a bus there (normal or shuttle), you still have a fair walk up hill, unless you take an expensive rickshaw ride or have a gofer.
Today's photo is a re-edit of an old favourite of mine. Sometimes I like to go back to older photos and re-edit them with new software I have available. Actually it's only a minor adjustment, but the new version of iPhoto I used did it much better than before. I took this photo on the only time I went to Kiyomizu-dera for The Autumn Light Up in 2010 with a Nikon D700 camera and a Nikkor AF 35f/2.8D lens.
The Nishiki Markets
The Lonely Planet's Kyoto guide lists the Nishiki Markets in its top 5 sites in Kyoto. I would agree with them. The Nishiki Markets are the place to see all the unique Kyoto ingredients (pickles, vegetables, fish and tofu) that are used in Kyoto's cuisine on sale in the one location. It's also a place where you can see something a little more traditional in the way they run their business, that you definitely won't see in modern retail establishments. There's also a couple of places where you can buy ready to eat food.
The market's stretch out along Nishikoji Dori from Teramachi Dori in the East to Takakura Dori in the West. Access to the East End of Nishiki Markets is via Teramachi Dori Arcade about 100m North of Shijo Dori (nearest station Hankyu's Kawaramachi Station). Access to the West End of Nishiki Markets is via Takakura Dori about 100m North of Shijo Dori (nearest stations Hankyu's Karasuma Station or Karasuma Subway's Karasuma Shijo Station).
I've taken people through these markets on a number of occasions, but I've only ever photographed the place with point and shoot cameras. Someday I'm going have to take a DSLR there, since it's a place that I think needs good High ISO to really do it justice. Today's photo was taken with a Casio EX-Z850.
An Autumn Wonderland
Jojakko-ji (Jojakko Temple) is probably the best temple in Arashiyama for autumn leaves, but it also makes it one of the most crowded places during Koyo (colour change season). The gardens are extensive so even with the crowds it is still possible find a little bit of space as many don't stray from the main paths. If you are visiting Kyoto during Koyo then I recommend going to Jojakko-ji on a weekday early in the morning (the temple opens at 9am).
If you go to Jojakko-ji at other times of the year it's remoteness makes it a reasonably quiet temple to visit. There's plenty of interesting buildings to see there. There's also a good view of Kyoto from the higher parts of the temple grounds.
Jojakko-ji is about a 20 minute walk from the nearest train station which is the Keifuku Arashiyama station. If you've got money you might want to try riding a rickshaw to there, but that kind of thing is out of my budget.
Today's photo was taken during my third visit to Jojakko-ji and the only time I've been there during Koyo. For this photo I used a Nikon D700 camera and Nikkor AF 24f/2.8D lens.
In Kyoto it is possible to see people wearing kimono's and other traditional costumes quite easily. Some people have to wear them if they work in traditional restaurants. People who work at shrines have a certain type of costume. Many tourists from Japan and all over the world, like to dress up in traditional Japanese clothing just for the experience of being in Kyoto.
If you really want to see a lot of different kinds of traditional costumes then watch a Matsuri (traditional festival). There are many Matsuri through out the year when people parade in all kinds of traditional costumes often reenacting a historical event. The biggest Matsuri in Kyoto is the Gion Matsuri in July. However there are lots of smaller Matsuri throughout the year in various parts of Kyoto prefecture.
The photo I've posted today comes from the Garasha Matsuri in Nagoakakyo city in the Southwestern part of Kyoto Prefecture. The Matsuri runs for a number of days in the city, culminating with the main parade on the afternoon of the second Sunday of November. The festival is in honour of Hosokawa Garasha, a local Samurai's wife and a Christian who was very kind to people in the area.
The parade leaves at 1pm from the Nagaokakyo city library to Shiryo-ji castle taking Azalea Dori and Saigoku Kadio. Access is via Nagaokakyo Station on the JR line or Nagaoka Tenjin Station on the Hankyu line.
Today's photo is of a lady who was taking part in the Garasha Matsuri in 2011, she was dressed as one of the local maidens from Garasha's time.
For this photo I used a Nikon D700 camera, a Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S VR Zoom lens and a Nikon SB-600 flash.
Today's photo is the one I used background of the contact cards I handed out at the Content Creators meet up this evening at the Polo Dog Cafe in Kobe. As I was designing the card, I considered a few different photos and showed them to my wife and some of my students, they all choose this photo. I added a photo of me and my details to it and printed them off a the local DPE (develop, print, enlarge) shop.
The story behind this photo: I took it while walking between Heian-jingu (Heian Shrine) and Chion-in (Chion Temple), I noticed an interesting tree and took the photo. That's the thing with photography, you don't have to be at a famous location to find interesting things to photograph. In Kyoto there are interesting things to see everywhere. Actually, wherever you are in the world keep searching for something interesting and new ways to look at things, never allow your vision to become jaded. Everyone sees things differently, you have a vision which is truly unique, learn to express it. Those who can express their vision well are the photographers, videographers, artists, directors, and even business leaders whose work I admire.
For today's photo I used a Nikon D50 camera and a Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens.
November's Flower is Chrysanthemum
I've decided that for the first entry of the month for this Kyoto Photo Blog, that I'll write about a flower that is common to see in Kyoto during the month. Since I moved here I've found that every month here has it's flowers. All year round in the lower lying areas of southern Kyoto you can enjoy different types of flowers. The mountainous areas in the north get snow cover during winter and the flower seasons are different there.
Given the spectacular autumn colours of the Japanese Maples (Momiji) and Ginkgos (Ichou) that are so abundant in Kyoto during November it's easy for the Chrysanthemums to get overlooked. However if you are looking carefully from late October through to the beginning of December various types of Chrysanthemums are in bloom. There are two basic types of Chrysanthemums: the ones with lots of smaller flowers on a bush like the ones in the shot I've posted today; and the solitary large Chrysanthemums (which I call "Jellyfish Chrysanthemums").
During November you can often find the "Jellyfish Chrysanthemums" in pots at the entrances to Buddhist temples and also placed near the alters. Both types of Chrysanthemum can be found as pot plants outside peoples houses (especially beautiful in old neighbourhoods). Some parks also have colourful beds of the smaller Chrysanthemums during November.
Today's photo was taken only a few days ago at a Shrine Called Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine in the city of Nagaokakyo which is in the South Western region of Kyoto Prefecture. This shrine is actually most famous for it's Kirishima Azaleas which bloom at the end of April. It's also a great place to view Ume (plum blossoms) at the end of February, Sakura (cherry blossoms) from the end of March to about the 10th April, and Autumn colour in the last two weeks of November.
Access to Nagaoka Tenmangu is via the Hankyu line, it's a 13 minute trip on a Hankyu Limited Express (departing even 10 minutes) from Hankyu Kawaramachi station in downtown Kyoto to Nagaokatenjin Station. It's a five minute walk due west from the station to the Shrine (either via Azalea Dori or Tenjin Dori). If you are staying near the JR Kyoto station catch a local JR train to Nagaokakyo (takes 15mins) and then get a bus or a taxi to the shrine from the west exit of the station.
For today's photo I used a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens.
A Shrine Designed like a Palace
Heian-jingu (Heian Shrine) was built in 1895 to celebrate 1100 years since Kyoto became the capital of Japan. The shrine's design is based on the first palace that was built in Kyoto (which no longer stands). That palace in turn was design based on Chinese Tang Dynasty palaces, so this Shinto shrine has a rather Chinese look to it unlike most Shinto shrines.
Another thing interesting about this shrine is the giant outer torii (Japanese Shrine gate) which crosses over the main road (Jingu-michi) leading to the Shrine. It's by far the biggest torii in Kyoto city and makes the place easy to find from a distance.
Entry to the main grounds of the shrine is free, but you have to pay if you want to look at the adjoining gardens. It's well worth paying for that, as they are fantastic gardens. Maybe later I'll post a photo or two from the gardens.
Access to Heian-jingu: It is a about a 1.0km walk to the north from Higashiyama Station on the Subway Tozai line. Another option is about a 1.5km walk to the east from Keihan's Jingumarutamachi Station. If you can't walk so far, then you could get a bus northward on Jingu-michi from near Higashiyama station or you could catch a bus eastwards on Maruta-machi Dori from near Jingumarutamachi Station.
Today's photo was taken on my first visit to Heian-jingu in 2007. I've been back once since, but I've been in the area near the Shrine a few times. It's an interesting part of Kyoto which is worth exploring on foot. For this photo I used a Nikon D50 camera and a Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens.
A Japanese Castle that's Different
There are various ways to group Japanese Castles. The first method is between originals and reconstructions. Another method is between mountain/hill top castles, castles that are built on manmade platforms, and finally the low lying ones that sit a the same level as the surrounding territory.
Original castles are rare, I think there are about 17 remaining in Japan, compared to hundreds of reconstructions. Low lying castles are rare too. Nijo-jo is both and original and a low lying castle. Not only that apart from one regular Japanese Castle looking guard turret, it's architecture is completely different to other Japanese castles. The only building I can compare it to is the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Palaces are different to castles because in the past the Emperor was consider a living god and his role more religious than administrative. Castles were usually built as fortresses for local warlord rulers.
Nijo-jo castle was built as the Kyoto residence for the Shogun (the warlord ruler of Japan). Normally the Shogun would reside in Edo (which is now Tokyo), but the Emperor lived in Kyoto during the time of the Shogun. When the Shogun era (known as the Edo period) finished, the Emperor moved to Edo, it was renamed Tokyo and from that time Japan has been a constitutional monarchy. The Shogun was removed and the Emperor set up his palace where the Shogun's castle in Edo once was.
Access to Nijo-jo is pretty easy just catch the subway Tozai line to Nijo-jo Mae.
The image I've used today was taken on my only visit to Nijo-jo, which was when I came to Kyoto as a tourist in 2007. I'm not sure why I haven't been back, but I guess there's so many things to see in Kyoto. I've heard it's a great place to visit during the Cherry Blossom season, I'll have to check it out some year. This photo was captured with a Casio EX-Z850 camera.
A View from the Kyoto Tower
The Kyoto Station can be seen in the foreground, beyond the station is part of southern Kyoto city. I love how the reflections of the street on the station walls creates an optical illusion that the street continues on to the street on the other side of the station. I wonder if it was purposely designed in this way to give the illusion from the tower?
This photo was taken about 1 year before we moved to Japan, when we were visiting Kyoto as tourists. Everything I had been told by people who visited the tower before I did, was that it wasn't so great. However the hotel we stayed in gave us complementary passes to the tower, so we decided to go and take a look. To our surprise the the tower had been renovated just prior to our visit and was much improved. One of my friends who had said bad things about it to me, after I told him of my positive experience, tried it again on his next visit to Kyoto and thought it was much better the second time.
Actually, today I wanted to post a shot of the tower from the ground looking up. However nothing in my library of images of the tower (even though a couple of them have been published in print), seemed to fit with what I'm trying to do with this Kyoto travel photo blog. So I'm planning to go and shoot the image I want in the near future. As soon as I get it, I'll post it up on this blog.
Access to the Kyoto tower is easy, it's just across the road from Kyoto Station on the North side.
The image I used today has also been published in print (and it looks great in print). I still hold all the rights to this image, but anyone can purchase a license (aka digital download) to use it for a print or digital publication. It was captured with a Nikon D50 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens on a tripod (at that time you could use tripods in the tower, I'm not sure if you still can).
There are various kinds of traditional dining options in Kyoto from the simple udon or soba meals for those on a tight budget to expensive Kaiseki restaurants. However the table setting in today's photo comes from a place called Ryoan-ji Yudofu. Technically this place is not classified as a restaurant, it is a dining area of a sub temple building of the Ryoan-ji temple complex. They also didn't have a cash register, I remember my wife's aunty placed the money in an envelope and gave it to one of the ladies working there. As with any place my wife's aunty has taken us in Kyoto it wasn't cheap.
The kind of food they serve is a special Zen Buddhist Vegan cuisine know as Shojin-Ryori. The food is basically boiled tofu and vegetables with various herbs. Everything was exquisitely made, the vegetables were cut into various shapes, with the famous Japanese attention for detail. Not only was the food and table setting beautiful, the whole dining areas decor and the view over the koi carp pond made it a relaxing dining experience. Definitely worth trying once to experience some Japanese culture, but to get the most out of it, it's probably best dining with someone who can speak Japanese well.
We dined at this place after viewing the famous rock garden at Ryoan-ji (temple). I'm planning to post a blog on the rock garden sometime in the near future.
Ryoan-ji is located near Ritsumeikan University and Kinkaku-ji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion). The Keifuku Kitano line has a station called Ryoanji which is about a 7m walk from the temple, we got a bit lost of the way to the temple as the the signs weren't so clear and that was with two native Japanese speakers!
This photo was taken with a Nikon D50 camera and the kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55f/3.5-5.6G lens.