An ancient tree at the Shōren-in temple

An old tree at the Shoren-in temple

Jingu Michi road is abundant with buddhist temples and shinto shrines that offer a lot to see. One of the things that drew my attention were these old ancient trees at the Shōren-in temple’s website, a buddhist temple of the Tendai sect. This time we decided to admire the Camphor trees from the street instead of visiting the temple, but it is on my list of places to visit in the future. The entrance costs 500 yen for adults.

The processing of this image was quite simple. After some basic edits in Lightroom, I switched over to Photoshop where I removed power lines and other small but distracting objects. Then I opened the image in OnOne Perfect Effects, where I applied a paper texture selectively on the image to emphasize the warm tone and to add some vignetting to it. As you can see from Google street view below, the tree is as magnificent, if not even more spectacular, as it looks in the photo.

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Jingu Michi

Jingu Michi

Jingu Michi is a road stretching from the Heian Shrine to Maruyama Park near Chion-in temple on Wikipedia temple. Our planned route was to walk along Jingu Michi to the park, then continue along Nene no michi at Japanvisitor.com, a famous flagstone road to ninenzaka and sannenzaka and finally to the Kiyomizudera temple on Wikipedia.

The photo is taken about 800 meters from the Heian Shrine close to the Shōren-in temple that is known for its ancient camphor trees, some of which reach over the road. I processed the image with warm tones that have an old-fashioned feeling to emphasize the historical atmosphere and the warm sunny weather.

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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.

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Heian Shrine’s torii gate

Heian Shrine's Torii Gate

Here’s one more shot of Heian Shrine’s torii gate. I took this on the way to our next stop and tried to capture the gate from below to emphasize its size. I’m not sure if this image really conveys its enormity, but I do like the contrast between the red gate and the blue sky. Using a wider lens would’ve probably given a better result, but I didn’t want to include too much of the trees to the image.

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Omikuji at the Heian Shrine

Omikuji at the Heian Shrine

Omikuji are fortunes written on strips of paper that visitors can buy at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. People can make a small donation and select a random fortune from a box. The omikuji contains a general fortune which varies between great luck and great curse. The fortune paper also includes fortunes regarding different aspects of life, such as business, travel, studies, romance and marriage. If the fortune is bad, it is customary to tie the paper to a tree in a shrine. The reason for this is that the bad luck will stay at the shrine instead of following the person. It’s a similar custom to writing a prayer on an ema with the exception that with ema people can specify what they wish from the future.

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Prayer plaques at the Heian shrine (and a giveaway!)

Prayer plaques at the Heian Shrine
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First things first: I’m currently running a giveaway on Google+ and Instagram! A Japanese friend of mine sent me a few copies of his band’s new album “Adaptation”, so I decided to give them to someone who might like the music. Participating is simple and doesn’t require you to follow anyone if you don’t want to. The giveaway ends next Sunday, so if you’d like to get the album, go to Google+ or Instagram right now! The album is also available for listening on Spotify.

Here’s a music video for the song Ruri by Panic Soup:

The image above is one of the places at the Heian Shrine where people can hang small wooden blocks called “ema”. People can buy these wooden plaques from shinto shrines, and write their wishes on the plaque and leave it to the shrine in the hope that the gods will grant their wish. In the one in the image, a person wishes her mother good health.

Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine's main gate

There’s a short walk from the giant torii gate to the actual shrine. You enter the shrine through the main gate, called Ôtenmon, pictured above. The Heian shrine is a shinto shrine built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of Kyoto, and it was modeled after the old Kyoto Imperial Palace. In reality, many of the buildings have been rebuilt in the late 1970s after a fire ravaged the shrine, but that doesn’t make the shrine any less majestic.

In addition to the great torii gate which, being 24,2 meters tall, is one of the tallest in Japan, the Heian shrine is also known for its gardens. Having a tight schedule we decided to see them another time, but at hindsight we definitely should’ve visited the gardens as well. The entrance to the gardens costs 600 yen, but the entrance to the shrine itself is free and there’s plenty to see there too if you just want to admire the buildings. Even though I have been to the Heian shrine a couple of times, the size of it still blows my mind. I hope the following photos give you some idea of the size of the area.

Saturday walk at the Heian Shrine
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The building on the corner in the photo above is called Sôryûrô (Blue dragon tower) and on the other side of the yard there is another one called Byakkorô (White tiger tower). The photo below shows a close-up of the Sôryûrô.

Heian Shrine
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The Ôtenmon gate at the Heian Shrine
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Sakunami

We finally arrived in Sakunami a little past noon. Although the distance between Ayashi and Sakunami is only about 13 kilometers, it still took about 20 minutes to get there. When we stopped at Ayashi, I thought it was a quiet little station, but compared to Sakunami it was actually quite busy. Sakunami station was mostly surrounded by fields and forest, and there were hardly any passengers, although there was a taxi waiting for customers in front of the station. It seems that there is a hot spring resort with quite a few hotels and spas in Sakunami, but not having done our homework we had no idea of what the area had to offer.

We had to ask the station staff for directions to our destination, Nikka’s distillery, and while they seemed a little amused to find out where we were going, they were very helpful. A station employee actually ran to the nearest bus stop to check the schedule for us. Because we would’ve had to wait for 30 minutes for the next bus, we decided that we might as well walk because it was only two kilometers to the factory.

While I was talking with the station staff, my sister found out the terrifying secret of the Japanese countryside: there are MONSTERS everywhere! There was a butterfly the size of my palm resting on a phone booth next to the station building, and unfortunately this freak of nature wasn’t an exception in the local fauna. The brushes were bustling with all kinds of bugs from huge spiders to different kinds of beetles. While we were walking to the distillery, we also noticed that there were a lot of hornets about 2 inches long flying around and a lot of dead ones on the roadside. (I read later that they are common in the mountainous areas of Japan.) I was also later told that they cause more deaths in Japan than all the other wildlife combined. Strangely, I had never encountered wasps or other bugs of this size before, even though I have been camping in the countryside and the mountains in Southern Japan.

Here’s a few photos from Sakunami Highway that leads to the distillery:

On Sakunami Highway
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Mt. Kamakurayama
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The mountain above is called Kamakurayama. I read later that it is possible to go hiking there from the hot springs, so it’s a shame we missed that opportunity.

Sakunami Highway
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The distillery is just around the corner in the image above. Despite all the bugs it was a pleasant 20-minute walk to the distillery and although we spent a good amount of time goofing around and taking photos of the insects and other stuff, we managed to get there well before the bus. If you want to see the route to the distillery yourself, check the map with the street view below (turn left on the highway and head towards the big mountain):


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Evening flight

Summer evening flight

I’m slowly working through my back catalogue of images and although I’m not finding as many gems as I wanted, there is an occasional image that I like. This was a pretty simple image to finish. I cropped the image to square format to get rid of the needless space on the edges and removed some of the trees at the bottom of the image in Lightroom. Then I moved to Photoshop where I cloned out the logos of the balloon company in Photoshop and finally accentuated the colors of the sunset in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 by adding a violet/pink bi-color filter to the image. I could have done a more careful job on removing the logos, but it’s not too bad.

I was out shooting with a friend one evening because I wanted to test a Sigma 150-500mm lens he had for sale (and which I later bought). It was already quite late in the evening and the sun was setting when we saw this hot air balloon taking off a couple of hundred meters from us. I shot a few frames as it floated by just above the trees. After flying a few hundred meters, it suddenly shrank and fell down to the woods on the other side of the park. I don’t know what happened and we never found out whether the people in the balloon were ok, but I don’t think they were in any danger. It looked like a relatively soft landing.

Finally, if you’re one of the people who started following this website back in 2009 when it was still a travel blog about Japan, you might be happy to hear that I still have quite a few photos from that period that I haven’t uploaded here yet. I’ll start working on those images next and I’m really excited to visit them again! I’ll be posting the travel images in the Travel section under “Japan 2009” and return to this blog after I’ve dealt with those images. If you’ve subscribed to the RSS feed from the front page of the blog, you should receive see those posts as usual in your reader.

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A fireweed flower on a meadow

A fireweed on a meadow

First of all, Happy New Year!

This image of fireweed flowers caused me some grief because I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The original framing left too much space around the flowers and there was nothing in the image to catch your eye. After trying a few different cropping options, the square format solved the composition problem. I then started to experiment with a new texture pack I got a couple of days earlier to see if I could add interest to the image with it. I applied the texture on the entire image and then painted a part of it out to reveal one flower that was in focus. This helped to draw attention to it, tone down the colors and to give the image a more serene look. If you like this one, I have uploaded a few other images from the same shoot on my Instagram account.

I was first going to write a longer recap of last year, but I think it’s better to just get it over with by saying that in terms of photography 2013 was a good year for me. From all the good things that happened last year, I feel that there are two thing worth mentioning. First of all, I redesigned my website completely. It’s not finished yet and I plan to keep improving it this year, but I like the new layout and larger photos better. Secondly, I some of my images are now available for licensing. It’s something I’ve thought about for a while, but last year I finally made it happen. At this point my images can be licensed from Getty Images and Alamy. I’ll keep growing my portfolio on both sites but I’m also planning to add more licensing options on my website when the time allows.

I’m not going to make any promises for 2014, but I would like to make this blog more active and post images to other social media sites more regularly. In case you didn’t know, you can also follow me on Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

If you’d like to see more images than the ones I post on this blog, follow me on at one of these social media sites. I like to keep my feeds more interesting by uploading different images on different sites and most of these images never find their way to this blog. I know some of you might already follow my personal Facebook page, but I have also created a new Facebook page for my photos. It gets updated more frequently than my personal page and contains more images.

Well, that’s it! I wish you all a good year and hope I’ll see you here also in 2014.

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