Shirakawa Canal

Shirakawa canal seen from Sanjo Dôri Street

See this photo on Flickr

On our second day in Kyoto (and the fifth morning in Japan) the rain finally stopped and we were greeted by a beautiful morning. Because we’d crashed out early the night before, we woke up at about 6 a.m. After breakfast we quickly packed our stuff and took our backpacks to the next hostel called Kinsuikan, which was only a few blocks away. From there we headed to the nearest subway station. Our plan for the day was to see a few of the UNESCO word heritage sites in Kyoto, so we figured that we were probably going to ride both the buses and the subway, so we picked the one day pass that costs 1200 yen and allows unlimited travel on both. There are also other kinds of bus and subway passes available, but this one seemed to best fit our needs. I’m not sure if we actually saved any money with the pass, but it did make traveling easier because we could just get on a bus and show the card to the driver on our way out.

We then decided that our first stop would be the Heian Shrine, because it was just a few stops to the east from the subway station we were at . We got off at Higashiyama station, from where there was only a few minutes walk to the shrine. The canal in the above photo is Shirakawa Canal, which begins from the Kamogawa River and joins the river again about four kilometers North. We walked past the canal on Sanjô Dôri Street and ended up following the canal all the way to the Heian Shrine. Although this part of the canal is not the most impressive, I couldn’t help but take a photo of it. Even with the antennas and satellite dishes on the roofs, the scene takes you back in time.

See the location of this image on the map below. The street view image is from the other side of Sanjo Dori Street, but you can see the canal and the buildings across it.

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):

New year, new tricks

A Bullet Train to Kyoto at Tokyo Station

We’re already well into 2015 and I’m ashamed to notice that I’ve let this blog and my other social media endeavors wither as I’ve become busy with all kinds of work and photography-related things. That is about to change, however. As an unofficial new year’s resolution I’ve decided to post more images this year and also resuscitate my Tumblr and Facebook accounts.

I’ve had big plans for this website and my photography for a long time, but never really got around to implementing any of them. So this might as well be the year to do that. As a first thing, I’ve added links to the sidebar to my images that are available for licensing on Getty Images and Alamy.

If you’re on Instagram, you can go to my account to see some travel photos that don’t end up in this blog. That’s also the place where I’m currently the most active and where I post new photos first, so if you want to see what I’m up to, follow me there. Even you don’t have an Instagram account, you can go to the Instagram page on this website to see the latest images.

The photo above is from the shinkansen (bullet train) platform at Tokyo station. I took this a few years ago when I was traveling around Japan. We were heading to Kyoto but had to wait for the staff to clean the train before we were allowed to board the train.

Nikka’s Miyagikyo Distillery

Nikka distilleries were established by a man called Masataka Taketsuru, who established the company’s first distillery in Yoichi in Hokkaido in 1934. The Miyagikyo distillery in Sendai was established in 1969. Interestingly, before launching his own company, Taketsuru helped to establish Japan’s first distillery for the company that would become Suntory. There’s a short history on Nikka’s website if you want to read more.

The factory area was huge and we had to walk quite a while after the first gate until we arrived to the tourist area. The first stop was the distillery’s souvenir shop. I thought it resembled a retirement home, except that it was much more fun. The shop and its surroundings were crowded by old men and women, and judging by the way many of the old boys wobbled around, they had already had a taste of the local produce. Although there were a few visitors who weren’t quite that old, we were without a doubt the youngest people there.

The next tour was just about to start when we got to the information counter so we signed up and joined our group. The tour lasted about 30 minutes. It started with a presentation about the history of the distillery and then our guide took us around the distillery and explained the process of making whiskey.

The road to Nikka Whisky Distillery

A Tour Group at Nikka Distillery in Sendai

Spirit Still at Nikka Miyagikyo distillery

Nikka's Miyagikyo Distillery in Sendai

After the tour we finally got to the good part – tasting Nikka’s products. During the tasting two Japanese men from our group, an older gentleman and a guy in his 40s, suddenly started a conversation with us. The younger man declared that he loves alcohol – and he probably did, because he told us that was going to visit a sake brewery the next day. After finishing our drinks we went back to the shop to buy something for the folks back home. In the shop, we were pleasantly surprised to see a bottle of 21 year-old Taketsuru waiting for us at the entrance! In 2009, the Whisky Magazine ranked the 21 old Taketsuru the best blended malt whiskey in the world, and it is manufactured right there at Miyagikyô distillery. it wasn’t a cheap bottle, but being one of the finest whiskey’s I’ve ever tasted, it was worth the price. And actually, compared to the price in Europe, it was quite a bargain.

After the shopping spree, we headed back to the station with our new family member and it just happened that the train back to Sendai arrived to the station as we entered the platform. We had thought of visiting Matsushima and the famous islands in the area, so we took a train from Sendai station to Hon-Shiogama, but it turned out that we had missed the last boat ride. Since we’d traveled all the way to Hon-Shiogama, we had dinner there and then headed back to Sendai. Matsushima would’ve probably been beautiful, but after spending such a wonderful day with whiskey, missing Matsushima didn’t feel that bad. After a light dinner we returned to Sendai once more and took the bullet train back to Tokyo.

And if anyone’s counting, with the fourth day over, we’ve traveled 885,5 kilometers by train.

Fishing by the lake

Fishing by the lake

In July, I visited my home town in Eastern Finland. These visits usually include swimming in the lake and going to sauna. After we’d done swimming, I took a few sunset shots on the shore and my father spent a while casting his fishing rod. For some reason, I haven’t got that many photographs of my parents, so I took the opportunity to snap a few shots of him in the beautiful evening light.

See this image on Flickr

License this photo on Getty Images

29.9.2009 – Day 2, part 1: Are we in Tokyo?

We landed at Narita airport at 6:50 am. It was raining, just as we thought when we left Finland, but despite the rain the weather was really warm. As we got out of the plane, we were greeted by the warm air that felt pleasent after the long flight. I still remember how strange that warm rush of air felt the first time I landed in Japan, and it has made me feel like home ever since. The nostalgia didn’t last long though, because within 5 minutes I was sweating like a pig, and I was only carrying my hand luggage at the time. We hurried to the passport inspection and got into the queue. While we were waiting for our turn, the lady from the back seat asked someone (maybe herself) the important question: “Are we in Tokyo?”

I had imagined that getting our fingerprints and taking our photos would take a while but it happened really fast. However, the clerk thought it odd that I didn’t know the address of the place where we were supposed to stay in Tokyo and held me at the inspection counter. Luckily he finally let me go when I gave him my friend’s phone number and told him that my friend will be waiting for us at the airport. As expected, the others got through without being asked anything. I should’ve known better, ofcourse, and keep all the necessary addresses and phone numbers at hand.

After we got our luggage and passed the customs, we picked up our rental cell phones from the Softbank counter at the arrival lobby and trodded to the nearest bench to rest. It was so warm and humid that even walking around the airport for a while with our luggage seemed like a huge effort. After setting our gear to the benches, we bought some beverages – water Kirin Ichiban beer C.C. Lemon soda. C.C. lemon must be one of the best sodas ever! If you don’t believe me, watch this commercial:

[youtubehq]18c3tyIkWmM[/youtubehq]

While we were figuring out what to do next, we gave my friend a call to check if he’s homeso we could drop off our luggage. It turned out that there had been a misunderstanding and he wasn’t even expecting us. Instead, he thought we’d head straight to Sendai from the airport and told us he wouldn’t be home until the evening. We thought that the best thing we could do was to go to Tokyo station, leave our luggage to a coin locker and kill time until 2 pm, when we were supposed to meet another friend of mine. We quickly exchanged our pre-purchased vouchers for the Japan Rail Passes at a JR ticket counter and reserved seats on the Narita Express train that would take us to Tokyo. It took an hour to get from Narita to Tokyo. I was excited to look at the scenery and tried to locate familiar places.

Apartment buildings on a train line from Narita to Tokyo
See this photo on Flickr

We arrived at Tokyo at about 10:15 and located the lockers – which weren’t much use to us because my suitcase was too large to fit in even the biggest one! Now this was an unpleasent turn of events. The idea of dragging the suitcase with me in Tokyo or even around the crowded Tokyo station didn’t seem amusing at all…