Turn and face the strange

Morning mist at Jyväsjärvi in Finland
A misty and foggy morning at Lake Jyväsjärvi, Finland

First things first: the giveaway has ended and I have picked two winners who will receive the prints. It was great to see so many people participating!

If you are following me on Instagram, you might already have read about a recent change in my life. I wanted to blog about it earlier, but things have been rather busy for me during the past four months. Anyway, to cut a long story short, in mid-May I found myself in a situation where it seemed better to leave my job and start my own business. I had thought about it for a while, so it wasn’t a hasty decision, but when the time to decide actually came, it felt like I was jumping out of a moving train to catch another one.

Now, four months later I know I made the right decision, and although I’m very happy about how things have turned out, I’ve also been busier than ever before. Unfortunately this has also meant that I haven’t picked up a camera as often as I used to since what I do now is not photography-related.

I took the image above was taken on a foggy morning almost a year ago while riding my bike to work. Just a few minutes after I took this, the fog became so thick that it was difficult to see the other shore or even a few meters ahead. I didn’t have a DSLR with me so I just used my phone to take the photo and edited it in Lightroom afterwards.

I’m thinking of writing another update when I’ve spent a full six months as a freelancer. Is there anything in particular that you’d like to read about? Meanwhile, I’ll try to update this blog more often from now on!

Nijō Castle

Nijo Castle's Moat

Although the title of this post says Nijō Castle, the image above is actually of the castle’s outer wall and moat. Unfortunately we were in a kind of hurry between too places when we visited the castle, so I didn’t take a lot of photos there. The Nijō Castle was It was built as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns and it was completed in 1626 during the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu. Many of the palace’s buildings have been destroyed in fires during the past centuries, but there are still a few magnificent ones left, such as the Ninomaru palace. It houses beautiful artwork and is known for its “Nightingale floors”. They are designed to make a chirping sound when walked upon to ensure that no one could sneak through the corridors undetected. There are also three beautiful gardens in the palace area – the oldest of them originating from the Edo period (1603-1868). Like many of the temple’s and castles in Kyoto, Nijō Castle is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you’re wondering what a nightingale floor sounds like, listen to the clip below – it’s a really peculiar sound (sorry for the background noise).

 

Kiyomizudera and Kyoto skyline

Kiyomizudera and Kyoto skyline

If the view of Kyoto I posted earlier is a classic view from Kiyomizudera, this one is downright iconic. You can see the Kiyomizudera temple and its three-story pagoda from this angle from the viewing platform right next to the Oku-no-in hall. With this image I wanted to go the traditional route without subtle post-processing and make the image look as glorious as the view was. That’s one thing I love about digital photography – with just a bit of retouching I was able to bring back the lush green of the foliage and dig out the clouds and the mountains from the original raw photo where the sky looked like it was covered in white haze. Which, of course was not, what the scene looked like when I was there – or how I want to remember it.

A classic view of Kyoto

A view of Kyoto

This image was taken at the Kiyomizudera temple on a path that leads from the Oku-no-in hall down to the Otowa waterfalls. It’s one of the views of Kyoto that most visitors probably photograph (just do a search for “Kiyomizudera” and “Kyoto cityscape”), so I wanted to try to make my version a bit more personal.

The image was taken at noon and the light was a bit hard, so I softened in by applying one of DxO’s classic film presets on it. I then added a couple of paper textures on the sky in Photoshop and a third texture with a warm tone on the foliage to soften it a bit more. I don’t remember an image of this view with similar treatment or tones before, so I’m quite happy with the result. I might even end up printing this for my study.

Kiyomizudera

I took a longer-than-expected break from the blog and social media in general, but I’m back and have loads of new images to upload. I’ll start with a bunch of photos from the famous Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto, but before we get to the images, I have some housekeeping to do: the print contest is over and the winner has been notified. I’m already planning the next giveaway, so stay tuned!

I don’t do massive image posts like this often, but I though the Kiyomizudera temple requires one – and even with this amount of images I think I only managed to show a fraction of the temple area, so there’s definitely another Kiyomizudera post coming up later.

Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple) is an independent Buddhist temple established in 798 and one of Japan’s many UNESCO world heritage sights. The current buildings, however, only date back to 1633. This is when Tokugawa Iemitsu ordered restoration of the Temple. The original buildings had been destroyed long before in fires – many of which were started by monks from rivaling temples who were trying to manually enlighten their brothers.

The West Gate of Kiyomizudera

An interesting point in the architecture of the temple is that not a single nail has been used in building it. I’m sure though that the builders have hammered down one nail somewhere in the building just for the hell of it.

Unlike most other Buddhist temples, Kiyomizudera incorporates shinto shrines. Probably the most well known of them is a shrine is called Jishu shrine, which is dedicated to a god of love and good matches. Near the shrine there are two stones called “love stones”. They are located a few meters apart and people believe that if you can walk from one stone to another with your eyes closed, you’ll be lucky in love. Based on my personal experience it doesn’t work.

I don’t know how often these old buildings are cleaned, but we happened to see one called Tamura Hall being brushed by two workers.

Workers cleaning the Tamura Hall

Workers cleaning the Tamura Hall

Here’s a video of the inhuman way old buildings are treated in Japan:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQDJhASsmME

People washing their hands in a dragon fountain

One of the attractions of Kiyomizudera is a stage built on 13-meter-tall scaffolding, which offers a magnificent view to Kyoto. The view is not, however, the only thing that attracts people to the stage. It seems that during the Edo period the veranda also attracted jumpers, who believed that if they survived the fall they would gain luck for the following year. According to Wikipedia, 234 people plunged off the stage between 1694 and 1864 and the survival rate was 85,4 percent. Fortunately no one jumped while we were there!

Tourists inside the Kiyomizudera temple

Tourists at Kiyomizudera's veranda

IMG_1926_1600_quality 60_for blog

A view of Kyoto from the Main Hall of Kiyomizudera

Inside Kiyomizudera temple

Tourists in Kiyomizudera temple

The full name of Kiyomizudera temple is Otowasan Kiyomizudera (The pure water temple of Mount Otowa). The temple gained its name from the Otowa waterfall that runs down from a mountain near the temple. The water from the waterfall has been divided into three streams and it is believed that by drinking from these streams you can gain wisdom, longevity, or luck in matchmaking. It’s also believed that if you’re greedy and drink from all three streams, you invite bad luck.

Otowa waterfall

Autumn at Okazaki Canal

Okazaki Canal

This view of Okazaki Canal was shot at the same spot than the one I posted previously, but to the opposite direction. The A view east along Okazaki Canal on Explodingfish.net shows the view East towards the city while this one shows autumn at Okazaki Canal and a view west towards the Higashiyama mountain range. Because it was early autumn, the trees on the mountains are still green and only a few of the cherry trees along the canal have started changing color.

See this photo on Flickr

Heian shrine’s torii gate

Heian Shrine's torii gate

We started our shrine tour from the Heian Shrine. The whole shrine area is quite impressive in its size, but one of the most notable features of the shrine is the huge torii gate on Jingu Michi road. The gate is built in 1929 and, according to statistics from 2006, at 24.2 meters it is the seventh tallest torii in Japan. It certainly dwarfs people walking underneath it. Although it was Saturday morning (or maybe because of it), the shrine and the area around it weren’t too crowded.

See this photo on Flickr

Kyoto

Kyoto cityscape on a rainy day

The morning after we returned from Sendai we left Tokyo again, this time for Kyoto. We managed to got up early enough to be on our way to Shinjuku and Tokyo Station at 8 a.m. We’d already developed a routine for the mornings, which made getting on the way faster. This time we bought the Shinkansen tickets from Shinjuku on our way to Tokyo, so all we had to do at Tokyo station was to find the right platform. Our train left at 10:30 we started our journey to Kyoto. The train was quite crowded, but we managed to find seats and less that three hours later we were standing at Kyoto station, wondering where we would spend the night.

After an unsuccessful attempt to get a woman in the tourism info to help us and calling a few hostels with no success we found our way to the service desk of the International Tourism Center of Japan (it used to be located in the ninth floor of the station, but has since been closed). A helpful woman working there organized us fairly cheap hotel rooms for the three nights we were planning. The only catch was that we had to switch to another hotel after the first night. Still, it was better than staying outside, especially since it was the typhoon season and it had rained like crazy the entire day.

We stayed the first night in a hotel called Alpha Kyoto on Sanjo Dôri. I was thinking of writing a short review of it, but found out some time ago that it has been shut down, so I guess there’s no point. It was a fairly nice place and we actually ended up staying there twice. Although we had thought that it would better not to reserve hotels in advance because we had a lot of people to meet in Japan and needed to keep our schedule flexible, at hindsight it was a stupid thing to do and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy their holiday. The only positive thing was that the weather was so bad that we wouldn’t probably have done much sightseeing on the first day anyway.

Anyway, here’s a few photos from our room. The opening image of this post is a view from the room across Aneyakoji dôri.

A room in Hotel Alpha Kyoto

A room in Hotel Alpha Kyoto

A room in Hotel Alpha Kyoto

You can see the hotel on Google Street View below (the building with 7 Eleven):

30.9.2009 – Sendai at night

After resting for a while, we decided to hit the town. We had planned to find a restaurant that serves a local specialty, cow tongue, but decided that cows need their tongues more than we do. Instead, we walked around in department stores, of which there are plenty around the train station, bought a sushi set, some rice balls, beer and a couple of cans of chuuhai from a convenience store. The good thing about being in a foreign culture is that you don’t have to go after the weirdest thing to be surprised – if you’re in Japan for the first time, you can find plenty of interesting things to taste in a convenience store. We then found a small park near the East exit of the train station and had dinner there while watching people walk by. We didn’t spend too much time downtown, but we took a short walk around the city and took some photos before heading back to the hostel.

Sendai Station East Exit

See this photo on Flickr

See this photo on Flickr

Sendai Station West Exit

See this photo on Flickr

Taxis at Sendai Station

See this photo on Flickr

Ekimae dôri street passing by the station

See this photo on Flickr

On our way back to the hostel we stopped at another convenience store and got some late night snacks and a few drinks. Back at the hostel we had a quick shower and assembled to one of our rooms to check the photos from the day and to plan the next day. Even though the hostel was generally nice, there’s one more thing worth mentioning about Japanese hostels: the walls are often paper-thin. That particular night there was a group of three guys staying in the hostel and one of them was snoring really loudly. It’s not extraordinary that you can hear sounds from the neighboring rooms, but this guy was a couple of rooms away from us. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for his two friends.

For those of you who are interested in numbers, we traveled about 450 kilometers on our first day on the road (or tracks). I’ll try to keep track of the distances and the cost of tickets for those who want to know how far you have to go with the Japan Rail Pass until it pays itself back.

Here’s a short video of the first day. Sorry for the terrible image quality, the video wasn’t shot with a state-of-the-art equipment. The song is by a Japanese band called STAn.

Apartment buildings lit by the setting sun

Kuokkala

Sunset reflecting on windows of apartment buildings in Kuokkala and apartment buildings reflecting on Lake Jyväsjärvi. This photo was taken on Kuokkala bridge from where there’s a nice view to both the city and the lake. This in an older image that I’ve previously published on the old incarnation of this website, but I recently reprocessed it and decided to post it again.

See this photo on Flickr

License this photo on Getty Images