Japan Trip Pictures – Kyoto Hen Part 1

Posted on February 17th, 2008 in Travel by andrija

The Kyoto part of the trip started with arrival at the Kyoto train station. It is a very impressive piece of architecture. Very massive piece, too.

The station is just too big to be captured by one or two pictures. There’s a train station – both Shinkansen and local trains, subway station, big department store as well as an underground mall.

It’s very hard to choose a favourite photo of the station. Still, I think I will choose this one.

In front of the station there’s a hotel (I think) and it has a tower with the observatory. We haven’t gone up though.

Old imperial palace – Nijo-jo or Nijo castle – was one of my highlights of the trip. Incredible. Rightfully a word heritage site. Built 1573-1614. It has the Nightingale floor – the floor squeaks not unlike a bird when you walk over it, no matter how slow, quiet or careful you try to be. This was made so by paranoid shoguns so that no assassins could sneak up on them while they sleep. It’s very cool to experience. You can go in but you must take off your shoes and walk in socks, the experience is well worth it.

As great as the palace itself is, its gardens are positively amazing.

This is the entrance to the Honmaru (inner palace and its garden).

Another photo from the garden.

The fairly new (1965) Seiryu-en garden, of which one part is Japanese style and one part Western style is one of my Japan trip favourites, including some of my favourite photos from this trip. The composition of different materials is amazing.

This is the grainery of the palace.

This is a photo of the outside of the palace – on a day before, when we came just a bit too late for a visit. The subway station entrance is right across the street – this is what you’d see when you exit, from a different angle.

If you only had one day it Kyoto, you are supposed to walk the Philosopher’s Path. It’s a kilometre (or two) long shaded path, next to a shallow canal. In summer it is far more bearable place to be than the rest of the city.

Steven can be seen in appropriate mood here.

We visited only one temple on this path – Ginkakuji temple. It is famous for its Zen rock garden. No, this isn’t just a nice well kept garden. It’s a Zen rock garden.

It’s amazing how well the grounds are kept. But then, the whole experience is supposed to induce Zen state so it’s like saying that an old European church has nice frescoes inside.

There’s a cemetery here, like in Christian churches. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen cemeteries in any other Japanese shrine I’ve been to. Perhaps the most famous shrines don’t typically have cemeteries?

Japan Trip Pictures – Miyajima Hen

Posted on January 29th, 2008 in Travel by andrija

Located half an hour by train and ten minutes by ferry south of Hiroshima, the Miyajima island is considered to be one of “the three most picturesque locations in Japan”. True to its name, the largest number of nice photos on my trip came from there. True, we did have great weather (too hot and humid, yes, but bright and sunny) and good photography conditions (angle of the sun etc.) so photos ended up looking good. Indirectly that is probably one of the reasons the location is considered “picturesque” – if the lighting conditions are good for camera, they are good for your eyes too, making you enjoy a scene more than at another location even if that other location objectively doesn’t look any worse.

The signature attraction is the famous Grand Gate. Here it is pictured at night. At this time the tide is high so the gate is actually in the water. I didn’t have the tripod but luckily there is a long stone fence along the shore which substituted for the tripod and allowed for long expositions.

Contrast this to how the gate looks in the afternoon, at the low tide. Now you can walk all the way from the shore and touch it or go through it if you wish.

Here is a nice perspective regarding the distance and overall layout of the small bay in front of the Itsukushima shrine.

They say the beauty of Miyajima comes from the contrast of colours – vermilion (crimson?) colour they use for religious buildings (shrine, gate, pagodas etc.), blue sea (and may I add sky?) and the green hills. There’s more to that, however. Look at this beautiful blend of colours during low tide – adding yellow of the sand.

Another staple of Miyajima are “sacred” deer. Being sacred, they are allowed to roam everywhere they want and you are not allowed to harm them. They are wild but over centuries they have accustomed to that kind of treatment so not only they are not shy of people but they are actually aggressive because they expect you to feed them. I have not experienced any deer harassment though so I still like them.

Being a tourist spot, obviously you would expect to see a lot of school excursions in this place during mid September.

The island naturally has a mountain – Mount Misen – and while you can climb it using one of several trails, it’s easier to take a cable car (ropeway). Not one, but two cable car rides are required to get to the top. This is the Shishiiwa line.

At the top ropeway station you are “greeted” by another “sacred” animal – monkeys. Yes, these are even more aggressive and will actually steal bags from people expecting to find food in them. You are encouraged to leave all your bags at free lockers at the cable car station. Cameras are safe though – monkeys are smart after all and after trying it once and finding it’s not edible, they don’t try to grab those any more.

Most of the time time though monkeys do their usual monkey business. Perhaps that’s why people keep coming up, to see scenes like these.

The other reason people would come up is to visit – or worship at – the shrines and temples. As usual, at the top of the mountain. And as usual, even though there is a cable car you will still need to walk about a kilometre to get to it. The physical exertion must be a part of the pilgrimage to a shrine since this is the case with majority of them. Here’s looking back to the cable car station from the shrine trail.

Unfortunately the set of shrines on Mount Misen isn’t as picturesque (to me) as the rest of the island. Here is the eternal fire hall – the fire inside has been burning uninterrupted for 1200 years.

One of the interesting shrine details are the scary images on the roof (or should I say shingles?).

Meanwhile at the base of the mountain ropeway in Momijidani park, deer are grazing. It makes for some really nice pictures.  They are also eating grass, not people stuff.

The Itsukushima shrine complex with the gate is the focal point of the Miyajima tours. Above it there is a five-storied pagoda.

As with the gate, when the tide is low you can see the seabed the shrine is sitting on. It’s a fairly pretty shrine and not too small either. But it doesn’t look much out of the norm, other than the way it’s built. This bridge is where you’d exit your tour – but during the low tide you have the option of simply walking on the sand towards the gate and climbing up to the seawall or the beach at one of many places. The shrine of course has an entry fee – but as I just realized, you could walk on the sand from the shore and would almost certainly be able to enter the shrine that way without paying. I guess they didn’t consider the mind of a gaijin.

At night the shrine complex is also “floating” on water. The shrine is closed this late though.

Here is the pagoda in its full glory.

The grand gate is just a magnet for a camera. Here is another dramatic picture.

Given the tourist hotspot status and tourism being the main (only?) source of income for the island, you can imagine there would be a shopping arcade and indeed there is a fairly long one for such a small place. The Omotesando shopping arcade.

It all looks very nice at night. Reminds me of my Adriatic sea summer vacations.

In the previous photo you could see another gate at the seawall entrance. This is how it looks during the day.

For the end, here is another example of the contrast of colours.