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.
On a Morning's Walk
During my first year living in Kyoto, I'd often take a morning's walk in the park at Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine in Nagaokakyo city, Kyoto Prefecture. Through the course of the year I would see different things in flower there. One of the things that this park is most famous for, are the red Kirishima Azaleas which flower there just before the regular Azaleas do, which is usually around the last week of April.
Across the centre of the pond at the park, there's a walkway with some huge bushes of Kirishima Azaleas on it. Actually I think the bushes on the walkway are registered with the national government as a important cultural assets or something like that. Anyway while it's in bloom people flock from miles around, even loads of tour buses come to see it. However, most people come during the middle of the day, so if you go early in the morning, you can enjoy it without the crowds.
Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine is about a 5 minute walk west of Nagaoka Tenjin Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. If you're one who insist on always using JR trains, then the nearest JR Station is Nagaokakyo, but from there you'll need to catch a bus or a taxi.
While you're at the shrine, check out the Turkish Cafe (website in Japanese) and Turkish Goods Shop (website in Japanese) that are in the grounds. Tell them that James sent you.
This photo was captured with a Nikon D80 camera and it's kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-135 f/3.5-5.6G lens. This is the jpeg straight from the camera, no post processing has been done on this image.
Shidarezakura at Reihibyou Shrine
Weeping Cherry (Japanese "Shidarezakura") seem to stay in bloom for a while longer after the Somei-Yoshino Sakura (the most common kind) have lost their flowers. It was during such a time on my 2nd visit to Kyoto, long before moving here, that I came across this tree at Reihibyou Shrine which is near Tenryu-ji (a famous Zen Buddhist Temple) in Arashiyama, Kyoto.
Reihibyou Shrine is just to the right of Tenryu-ji if your heading from the Arashiyama town centre. The nearest train station is the Keifuku Railway's Arashiyama station, but it's only about 10-15 minute walk from either the Hankyu Railway's Arashiyama station or JR's Saga-Arashiyama station.
Entry to Reihibyou Shrine is free, but entry to the world heritage listed Tenryu-ji isn't. It definitely worth seeing Tenryu-ji if you're in the area, unless it's autumn colour season and your time is limited, then I'd recommend you head straight for Jojakko-ji.
This photo was taken with a Sanyo VPC-AZ1. This is the straight from the camera jpeg file, no post processing has been done on this image.
Sewari Park Sakura Tunnel
Although Sakura season is over for another year, I'd like to share with you all this shot from one of the best Sakura viewing spots in Kyoto, if not all of Kansai. It was taken last year (2013) at the Sewari Park Sakura Tunnel which is on a narrow stretch of land between two rivers (the Kizugawa and Ujigawa) in Yawata city, Kyoto Prefecture. These rivers join up with the Katsuragawa in the same area to form the mighty Yodogawa which flows all the way down to Osaka.
The Sakura tunnel is about 1.5km long, here's a shot from the inside of the tunnel. On each side of the tunnel there is plenty of green grass to sit on for a picnic. While the Sakura are in bloom it can get pretty crowded, especially around midday. There are also a number of temporary shops where you can try all kinds of food or buy some handcrafts. There are even some buskers performing there at certain times of the day.
The easiest way to get to Sewari Park is via Keihan Railway's Yawatashi station. The park is only about a 5 minute walk from the station. However if you're staying nearby why not cycle there via one of the cycle ways along the rivers. There's plenty of space to park bicycles and it's free to do so. Car parking on the other hand costs 1000yen for the day, and the traffic is pretty heavy in the area during the Sakura season, so I wouldn't recommend driving there.
While you're in the area consider checking out the nearby Otokoyama (Mount Otoko) where you can get a good view of the tunnel and see the ancient Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu (a Shinto shrine). This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 and an AF Nikkor 50f/1.8D with a circular polarising filter. No post processing has been done on this image.
Sakura Light Up
When the Sakura are in bloom, many temples, shrines and even some castles have special light ups. This photo is from one that I went to on the first Sakura season after my move to Kyoto. This light up was at Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine, in Nagaokakyo city, in Kyoto Prefecture. It's not too far from downtown Kyoto city (15mins by regular train). While not as famous as some of the light ups in Kyoto city, there were still plenty of people in attendance.
As you may have guess I have a particular fondness for this spot, as its expansive gardens always seem to have something in flower at almost any time of the year. The one flower that draws the biggest crowds to Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine is the Kirishima Azalea which blooms towards the end of April. There is a rather large hedge of this flower at this Shrine which is a national treasure. I'm planning to write a blog about it later this month.
Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine is about a 5 minute walk west of Nagaoka Tenjin Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. If you're one who insist on always using JR trains, then the nearest JR Station is Nagaokakyo, but from there you'll need to catch a bus or a taxi.
While you're at the shrine, check out the Turkish Cafe (website in Japanese) and Turkish Goods Shop (website in Japanese) that are in the grounds. Tell them that James sent you.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D80 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens mounted on a tripod. This photo has been post processed in iPhoto. The shadows were brightened, the highlights darkened and the definition increased. It was also cropped.
Shirakawa-minami Dori is regarded by many as Kyoto's prettiest street. I think it's best during the Sakura blossoming time, especially when the flowers are lit up in the evening. However it's a great place to visit anytime of the year, although before 11am it's pretty quiet and many of the shops are shuttered up.
It's also a place where you may spot a genuine Geisha (rather than just a tourist paying to dress up as one). They'll either be visiting the Shrine (known as "Tatsumi-jinja") at the eastern end of the street or on their way to entertain clients at one of the expensive establishments along the street. Either way you'll need to be fast on the shutter button to catch a photo of them, as the real ones don't stop to pose for tourists.
Other than Geisha, it's also a popular spot for wedding photos, so you may be able to see a Japanese couple dressed in traditional Shinto wedding attire, especially on weekends. I've also met people there who dress up in Kimono as a hobby, congregating there just to look the part. Make sure you visit Shirakawa-minami Dori during your stay in Kyoto, it's an unforgettable experience.
Most of the restaurants along Shirakawa-minami Dori are pretty expensive, but worth considering if you want the authentic Kyoto high class dining experience. For those on a tight budget there is at least one cafe on the street with reasonable prices or just bring a bento and sit down under the big red umbrellas at the western end of the street.
Shirakawa-minami Dori is in Gion. The western end of the street is near the Kamo River (Kamogawa) between Gion Shijo and Sanjo stations on the Keihan line. It's also not far from Kawaramachi station on the Hankyu line or the Sanjo Keihan station on the Subway Tozai line.
This photo was captured with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 50f/1.8D lens. This is the jpeg straight from the camera, no post processing has been done on this image.
April's Flower is the Sakura
The Sakura was a "no brainer" as the choice for April's flower, since most people associate the Sakura especially the Somei-Yoshino variety with Japan. In Kyoto early April is the best time to see them, actually this year they peaked around April 1st. The peak of the bloom is called "Mankai" in Japanese.
This photo was taken at Nanzen-ji (a Zen Buddhist Temple on the Eastern side of Higashiyama) during the spring of 2010. Lonely Planet's Kyoto Guide (3rd Edition) says about Nanzen-ji "In a city of temples, this stands out as a beauty". For me it's definitely a place worth visiting any time of the year, Nanzen-ji doesn't ever seem to be as crowded as the places on the Western side of Higashiyama.
If you're in Kyoto at the moment get out and shoot those Sakura while they're still in bloom. It won't be long until the leaves come out and the Sakura all fall away for another year. I'm planning a few more Sakura photos for the next few post to this blog.
Nanzen-ji is about a 10min walk from Keage station on the Kyoto Subway's Tozai Line. There are a number of good traditional restaurants in the area. While you're in the neighbourhood of Nanzen-ji check out the red brick aqueduct, it makes a good backdrop for portrait shots.
This photo was captured with a Nikon D80 camera and it's kit AF-S DX Nikkor 18-135 f/3.5-5.6G lens. This is the jpeg straight from the camera, no post processing has been done on this image.
The Gate of Chion-in
The Higashiyama Hanatouro is over for another year. The next Hanatouro will be the Arashiyama Hanatouro in December, the exact dates for that event have not been published yet. Here's a photo taken at this years Higashiyama Hanatouro just over a week ago. It is the gate of Chion-in (A Buddhist Temple). I didn't go in, because I had already spent over an hour at Sho-ren-in and then some more time taking photos of things in between, so I guess getting a photo of the inside of the Hanatouro lights will have to wait until next year.
Chion-in is about a 10-15 minute walk from the Higashiyama Station on the Kyoto Subway's Tozai line. I went there in the day once and it's a very nice place to see by day. It's a pretty sprawling temple complex with a long stairway to climb at the beginning. It belongs to the popular (in Japan, but not so well know outside of Japan) Jodo-Shu sect of Buddhism.
This photo was taken with a Nikon Coolpix P7100 on a small tripod. I shot this photo in RAW. Using the multispot colour balance tool in DxO gave me better white balance than what I could get from the raw converter used in iPhoto & Photos applications. I 'm still fairly new to DxO, so perhaps I'll come back to this photo once again later. In addition to the multispot colour balance in DxO I also made the following adjustments: the clear view filter was applied; the default DxO camera corrections were applied which removed some pincushion distortion amongst other things; and Micro contrast was increased.
By the way the light towards the top right is coming from a nearly full moon.
Man Riding on a Fish
Here's another scene from the Higashiyama Hanatouro, it is one of the five Awata Great Lanterns. According to the Higashiyama Hanatouro flyer, these lanterns are each about four metres high and are from Awata-jinja (a Shinto Shrine). The five lanterns are on display in Maruyama Park during the Higashiyama Hanatouro.
If you haven't seen it already tomorrow night is the last night for this year's Higashiyama Hanatouro. The lights come on from 6:00pm until 9:30pm. If you're staying in or near Kyoto and you're free tomorrow night check it out. The weather is forecast to be fine, with the temperature staying above 10C until 9:30pm, so cool, but not too cold.
The nearest train station to the Hanatouro course is Higashiyama station on the Kyoto Subway's Tozai line, this station is only a couple minutes walk from the northern end of the Hanatouro course. You can also walk to Yasaka-jinja or Maruyama Park from Hankyu's Kawaramachi Station or Keihan's Gion-Shijo Station and start your Hanatouro from there. Another option (although it's a bit of a walk) is to catch the Keihan line to Kiyomizu-Gojo and walk up to start your hanatouro course at Chawan-zaka and from there proceed to Kiyomizu-dera, then head towards Yasaka-jinja. The Southern half of the course between Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka-jinja has more to see.
This photo was taken during last years Higashiyama Hanatouro. It was taken with a Nikon Coolpix P7100 mounted on a small tripod. Compared to the original image from the camera the contrast has been increased, more definition added and the colour temperature warmed up a little.
Shidare Zakura on Sannen-Zaka
A big hello to anyone coming here today for the first time, who received one of my photo cards from me on the bridge over the Kamogawa (Kamo river) on Sanjo-dori in Kyoto today. I hope you're having a great time visiting Kyoto, the weather was fantastic today wasn't it? By the way, I've now handed out all of my March edition photo cards, I'm planning to do one in April. At the moment the Kawazu Zakura (a type of Cherry Blossom) are in bloom in Kyoto, they bloom about 2-3 weeks before the Somei Yoshino Sakura (the most common type of Cherry Blossoms in Japan).
Today I'm featuring another type of Cherry Blossom which is the Shidare Zakura (Weeping Cherry Blossom), these start to bloom as the Somei Yoshino Sakura come to their peak, at times I've photographed them together. They remain in bloom for a little while longer, after the Somei Yoshino Sakura's blooms are over. This photo was taken during the Higashiyama Hanatouro of 2010. That year spring arrived a little earlier than usual and this particular Shidare Zakura on Sannen-Zaka (a narrow street with many traditional shop buildings near Kiyomizu-dera) was in bloom during the last few days of the Higashiyama Hanatouro, I've not seen it in bloom during the Higashiyama Hanatouro since then.
Speaking of the Higashiyama Hanatouro it's on at this very moment until Sunday night (March 23rd). If you're here visiting Kyoto or other near by places on holidays at the moment, make sure you see it. If you're a resident of the Kansai area and you have a free evening, please check it out if you haven't already. Make sure you bring some warm clothes, as it the temperatures in Kyoto can drop fast at this time of year, even if it was warm at the start of the Hanatouro for the evening (6:00pm).
The Higashiyama Hanatouro covers most of the Western face of Higashiyama. Good starting points are: Yasaka-jinja in Gion; From a few blocks east of the number 2 exit of Higashiyama Subway station (there are some signs at the station); Outside of Kiyomizu-dera. Some parts of the Hanatouro course can be crowded, but overall since the Higashiyama Hanatouro course covers a lot more area it never seems quite so crowded as the Arashiyama Hanatouro. If you're able to go on a non public holiday week night, it will probably be even less crowded.
As I was saying March 2010 was warmer than usual, and I remember well the evening I took the photo, the temperature stayed at 17C until late. This photo was taken early that evening at the beginning of my walk on the Hanatouro course, I started outside Kiyomizu-dera that time and walked to Yasaka-jinja. I bought dinner from various food vendors who had set up shop in the grounds of Yasaka-jinja. I remember chatting to a number of people from a diverse range of countries while sitting down to eat, great times, great memories. This photo was captured on Fujicolor PRO 400 film using a Nikon F80 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens mounted on a monopod.
Torii at Sho-ren-in
A big hello to people coming here for the first time today after receiving one of my photo cards outside of the Kyoto Tower. I hope you're enjoying your stay in Kyoto and that this site can be of some help in making your time here even better. Letting you know that the Higashiyama Hanatouro is on at the moment, every evening from 6:00pm to 9:00pm, in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto city. The last night is Sunday March 23rd, make sure you don't miss it.
This is my 5th year of going to the Higashiyama Hanatouro (I first went in March 2010), and I still find somethings that surprise me. For some reason over every time I been, I've either started at Kiyomizu-dera and finished at Yasaka-jinja or the other way around. Actually, last year I went to Maruyama Park which is adjacent to the Northern side of Yasaka-jinja, but I had not gone any further North than that. This time, I started at Higashiyama station which is on the subway Tozai line, and near the most northern end of the Hanatouro course and walked south to Yasaka-jinja.
It was my intention to visit Chion-in, but before I got there Sho-ren-in got my attention, because I found that the tree that I took a photo of in 2007, was just outside of it. I spent more than an hour taking photos at Sho-ren-in, there was so much to see. It was there that I found this Torii (Shinto Shrine gate) in a lit up bamboo forest. There are two interesting things about this: Sho-ren-in is a Buddhist Temple, but there is a Shinto Shrine in part of it; also a lit up Bamboo forest is something I associate with the Arashiyama Hanatouro (which happens in a different part of Kyoto in December), rather than with the Higashiyama Hanatouro.
The entry fee to Sho-ren-in, is 800yen. At first this was a bit of a shock, because I only budgeted in paying a total of 1000yen for entry fees that evening. However, after I left there, I thought it was money well spent, it's a huge and truly beautiful place with many diverse lit up scenes. With only 200yen left in my entry fee budget and not so much time remaining until 9:00pm, I decided just to photo things I could see on the streets of Northern Higashiyama for the rest of the evening.
Sho-ren-in is about a 5min walk from Higashiyama Subway Station on the Kyoto Subway's Tozai line. It probably is very pretty by day too, but I haven't yet been inside the grounds during the day.
This photo was taken with a Nikon Coolpix P7100 camera on a small tripod I this photo was captured in RAW (.NRW) format and converted to JPEG in iPhoto with adjustments to bring out more details in the shadows and improve the sharpness.
Pagoda and Blue Light
Here is another one of the scenes that you can see at the Higashiyama Hanatouro, which starts this Friday at 6:00pm. This pagoda is part of the Kiyomizu-dera temple complex, and you don't even need to pay to go inside to see this scene. This photo along with the Gion Tower photo are featured on this month's promotional prints. A big hello to you, if you're here for the first time because you received a promotional print from me outside the Kyoto Tower today. Please check back regularly for new Kyoto information and photos, enjoy your stay here and I hope this site helps you with your sightseeing.
I took this photo on my first Higashiyama Hanatouro back in March of 2010, that year I went twice. I recall the first time it was a rather cool evening, but the second time six days later it was a warm evening for March with the temperature around 17C. The weather in March can be quite mixed. Sometimes it can be cold and snowy, other times the temperature can get up to the high teens and stay there all night, there are also the spring rains storms as well. So be prepared for changes in temperature and for rain as well.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D80 and it's kit AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-135f/3.5-5.6G lens. It was taken on the same evening as The West Gate of Yasaka-jinja photo I published here last year. I made the following post processing changes in iPhoto. I toned down the highlights, I boosted the shadow areas, I increased the definition and cooled the white balance slightly.
A Different Angle on Kinkaku-ji
Here's a photo of Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) from my archives, there are at least two more in my archives that I wish to publish to this BLOG at a later date. I almost went to Kinkaku-ji last Monday, when I went to Ginkaku-ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion). After Ginkaku-ji I caught the bus to Kitano Temangu shrine to check on the "ume" (plum blossoms) there. Kinkaku-ji is not so far away from Kitano Temnagu, so I thought about it, but I decided to go to Arashiyama via the Keifuku light rail instead. Last Monday was my first full day with no classes to teach that I'd had for a good while, so I played tourist and got a few good photos.
This photo was taken back in February of 2010 on a fairly sunny, but cold morning. At the time I was playing tour guide for a couple friends who were staying with us for a week. The good point about going there on a cold morning, was that it wasn't so crowded as it normally is. I recall that day we got talking to the friendly "obasan" (lit. "aunty", a polite way of addressing middle-aged ladies) running the ice cream shop outside Kinkaku-ji. It doesn't matter how cold it is, I still love eating ice cream, especially the "Matcha" (the Local Green Tea) flavoured soft serve in Kyoto.
The quickest way to get to Kinkaku-ji via public transport from downtown Kyoto or Osaka is to catch the 205 bus from outside Hankyu's Saiin Station. You can get the same bus from outside Keifuku's Kitano-Hakubaicho Station, if you're coming from Arashiyama or Ryoan-ji.
I captured this photo with a Casio EX-850 camera. This photo has not been post processed.
Ginkaku-ji (the Temple of the Silver Pavilion) looks similar to Kinkaku-ji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion), however while more than half of Kinkaku-ji is coated in gold, Ginkaku-ji is not coated in silver. There are a few theories as to why it got its name: some say it's due to the silver of the rock garden near the pavilion; others say it was originally planned to be coated in silver, but the budget blew out; or maybe it was just a nick name given to it because it looks so similar to Kinkaku-ji. Whatever the reason, it's certainly a beautiful temple and it's probably a good thing it's not coated in silver, because it would be a pain to deal with the tarnish!
This photo was actually taken today (March 3rd) which happens to be the day of the Doll Festival (Hina Matsuri) in Japan. The only other time I've been to Ginkaku-ji is around a year and a half ago. Unfortunately on the first time there, I was too late in the day for the good light. This time I checked Google Maps' satellite photograph first to figure out what time of day would be good.
Most Kyoto travel guides tell you to catch a bus all the way from Kyoto station to Ginkaku-ji, don't do that unless you want to spend half your time in Kyoto sitting on a cramped bus slowly chugging it's way through Kyoto's traffic! Here's the fast way: catch a train on the Keihan Main Line to Demachiyanagi; take the exit which goes to the north side of Imadegawa Dori (outside of Shojoin temple); catch a bus from there heading east; it's about a 2.4km bus trip from there in a not so busy part of Kyoto. There are a number of other temples and plenty of interesting and inexpensive restaurants within walking distance from Ginkaku-ji. It's also possible from near Ginkaku-ji to get buses which head west along Imadegawa Dori to places like Kitano Temangu Shrine and Kinkaku-ji on a not so congested route.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens with a circular polarising filter. RAW processed with DxO.
Yasaka Pagoda during Higashiyama Hanatouro
If you're going to be in Japan anytime between Friday, March 14th until Sunday, March 23rd, make sure you come to Kyoto for the Higashiyama Hanatouro. If you're a resident of the Kansai area and you haven't yet seen a Hanatouro, make sure you check this one out. I've attended every Arashiyama and Higashiyama Hanatouro since the Arashiyama Hanatouro of December 2009. There's plenty of great photo opportunities and things to do.
The Higashiyama Hanatouro starts each night at 6:00pm and goes until 9:30pm. There are 1000s of lanterns along the streets of Higashiyama, special light ups at temples and shrines, various lit up artworks, and various cultural performances including Geisha dances. The weather tends to be a little warmer than the Arashiyama Hanatouro, but still some nights in March can be cold, so be prepared. The Higashiyama Hanatouro is more spread out, so the routes are usually less congested.
The nearest train station to the Hanatouro course is Higashiyama station on the Kyoto Subway's Tozai line. Three times I used the Hankyu Kyoto Line and got off at Kawaramachi and walk up Shijo-dori to nearby to Yasaka-jinja (Yasaka Shrine) to start my way on the course. Twice I've caught the Keihan Main Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo and walked up to outside Kiyomizu temple and started the Hanatouro from there. Actually, any of Kiyomizu-Gojo station, Gion-Shijo station or Sanjo station on the Keihan Main Line are about 5 minutes walk from part of the course.
This photo was taken during the 2011 Hagashiyama Hanatouro. The pagoda is called Yasaka Pagoda, but it's not connected with Yasaka-jinja, it's part of Hokan-ji (a Buddhist Temple). I've also photographed it from a nearby hill on various Hanatouros including this shot. As I did for the Arashiyama Hanatouro, I'm planning to feature my favourite shots from past Higashiyama Hanatouros and hopefully this year's Higashiyama Hanatouro in the days leading up to and during the event. For further information, please check out the official website.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 24f/2.8D lens handheld. This is the jpeg straight from the camera, no post processing has been done on this image.
March's Flower is the Nanohana
As the weather gets warmer more flowers start to bloom, so there were a few candidates for this month's flower including the peach blossom and the magnolia. In the end I opted for the humble Nanohana (also known as "rapeseed" or "canola") because of the yellow fields full of them during March (it's used to replace nutrients in the rice fields before the rice plantings in May). It is also used as a food: My favourite is tempura Nanohana.
If you have a chance to visit some of the more rural parts of Kyoto during March look for fields of these flowers. Perhaps try photographing some Nanohana with traditional buildings in the background. Or maybe you might find some Nanohana in an arrangement at a temple or a shrine. I'll also challenge myself this year to get some better shots of this beautiful flower which heralds the arrival of the warmer spring weather.
This photo was taken in a medium sized rice field on the outskirts of Nagaokakyo city in Kyoto prefecture. It was taken with a Nikon D80 camera and a Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens.
Pink Ume at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
Of the various Tenmangu Shrines that can be found around Kyoto prefecture. Kitano Tenmangu in the Kamigyo ward of Kyoto city is the most famous. Unfortunately this can make it the most crowded too. I recommend going early in the day, if you want to avoid the crowds. The most crowded days of all are the market days on the 25th of each month, while very crowded they do provide a unique atmosphere that you can't experience so often these days. The 25th of February is a special market day, when local Maiko and Geiko (Geisha) visit the shrine. It's one of the few chances you get to see real Geisha (not tourist dressed up as Geisha) in public.
The collection of Ume (plum blossom) trees at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is very extensive, probably the best in Kyoto. There are numerous trees around the grounds. Additionally there is a special garden which cost 600yen to enter, that has a grove of Ume trees. Note there is no entry fee for the shrine itself, only the special garden. This year while some flowers were out on the 26th of February, I didn't bother with going in the special garden, because the bloom wasn't big enough yet. I would say they should peak early next week (say around March 3rd).
Kitano Tengmangu shrine is only five minutes walk from Kitano-Hakubaicho station on the Keifuku line. Another convenient way to get there is to catch the 205 bus from outside of Saiin Station on the Hankyu Kyoto line. The 205 is a frequent bus that runs up to Kinkaku-ji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion), get off when it tells you "change here for the Keifuku line", one of the few announcements given in English. There is a closer bus stop to the shrine for buses 201 and 50, but I'm not sure if they go past Saiin. I think the 201 goes to Ginkaku-ji (the Temple of the Silver Pavilion), which if you are coming from there or going to there would be a fast way to get between the two places, as it is a northern route that normally doesn't get so congested as other places in Kyoto city.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens with a circular polarising filter. This photo is the jpeg straight from the camera, it has not been post processed.
Torii Tunnel at Fushimi-Inari-taisha
Fushimi-Inari-taisha (Fushimi-Inari shrine) is famous for it's thousands of orange torii (Shinto shrine gates). It is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, although now-a-days this god is also considered the god of industry. Some might come here to seek a blessing for a business venture. You might mistake Inari for being a fox god because of all of the fox statues around the shrine, but these are the messengers of Inari, in Shinto images of gods are not made.
I've chosen a view of the gates taken from the opposite direction than you'll typically see on most webpages about the shrine or in travel guide books. This photo has been taken in the direction of heading out of the shrine, so that you can see the writing on the gates. This writing is the name of the person or organisation who donated the gate and the date of their donation. All of the gates in the shrine have been donated. The cost for donating a gate starts at around 400,000yen (approximately four thousand US dollars) for a smaller gate. In a way it is a kind of advertising.
There are two railway stations very close to the shrine. Inari station on the JR Nara line, is useful if you're coming from the Kyoto Station area, or connecting from the myriad of other JR trains which stop at Kyoto Station. Fushimi Inari station on the Keihan Main Line is useful if you're coming from downtown Kyoto or Osaka.
To see the spot where the gate frequency is at it's highest is only about a 5 minute walk from the stations. However there are over 4km of torii paths around a mountain, with many small shrines along the way. There are restaurants, snack bars and vending machines too. You can spend the whole day there if you wanted to. About halfway up the mountain there is a spot with a good view of Kyoto and a number of chairs, where you could have a picnic.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens. Due to the harsh light contrasts I stopped this photo down by 2/3 of a stop in the camera, in iPhoto I toned down the highlights further and boosted the shadow areas.
So far in this BLOG I've covered a Castle that looks like a Palace (Nijo-jo) and a Shrine that's a replica of an Old Imperial Palace (Heian-jingu). Well, Daikaku-ji is a temple that was an Imperial Palace and then later a villa for retired emperors, before it became a temple. Even now this Buddhist temple still has a connection with the Imperial family as it's chief priest is chosen from the descendants of Prince Gojaku who was a grandson of Emperor Saga. There's also a special gate on the temple which is only used by the Emperor when he makes a visit.
It's interesting that this is a Buddhist temple, when the Japanese Imperial Family is more traditionally connected with the Shinto religion, but in Japan many people follow both religions. Although there have been times in history when there has been a strong separation between the two religions, now-a-days it is a rather blurry line, you can find Shinto shrines inside Buddhist temples for example.
Prominent in this photo is a stone stage which is the remains of the original main hall of the temple. This stage is now used for various performances. In the background on the right side of the photo is the Godai-do Hall which is the new main hall of the temple. In the background on the left is the Yasui-do Hall which was moved here from another location in Kyoto over a hundred years ago.
Daikaku-ji is in the Saga district of Kyoto city's Ukyo ward. The nearest train station is the JR Saga Arashiyama station, which is 17 minutes walk away. If that seems like a too long walk for you, consider taking a taxi from the station. Another possible way of getting there from the centre of Arashiyama is by rickshaw, which you can hire from near the Togetsukyo Bridge.
This photo was taken with a Nikon D700 camera and an AF Nikkor 35f/2D lens. This photo is the jpeg straight from the camera, it has not been post processed.
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.
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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.