Been busy preparing a review of the Olympus 12-40mm lens, to appear on my other site shortly. One of the cool features of this lens is its ability to focus very close to the subject; making it almost a macro. Like this:
I had a mini-bus booked at 1245 to take me to the airport. I knew they were picking up at various locations across the city, so assumed the pick-up time was approximate. It wasn’t, at exactly 1245 the bus appeared outside the door; how do they do it?
Trouble free return flight with JAL (and yes, they did have a vegetarian meal for me) and she who must be obeyed was waiting for me at the airport. And it is my wife I need to thank most of all for this trip. Firstly for suggesting that I should go, and secondly for ensuring I was adequately prepared with items that I considered frivolous but which turned out to be essential (long underwear, an extra wooly jacket and lip balm come to mind).
Secondly, thanks to Ian, Sybilla and Juno at Juno’s B&B for providing a home away from home, with a cosy room, endless supplies of tea and stimulating conversations.
Next up is neighbour Nik for recommending Hitching Rides with Buddha as a travelling companion. It’s an affectionate and frequently hilarious look at Japan, and it passed the time on many a bus ride; although others on the bus must have wondered while I was giggling so much.
Mention must also be made of the City Maps and Walks app for the iPhone. I had my roaming turned off so could not use Google maps; but this application had a downloaded map of Kyoto and I could see where I was at any time. Plus, I could select somewhere I wanted to visit and it would show me the direction and distance; invaluable when you get lost, and I was lost frequently.
Must give respect to my camera gear. The E-M1 was a joy to use; although the intermittent exposure compensation dial was a pain (now fixed). Star of the show was the 12-40mm lens. On my last trip I was constantly changing lenses. This time, the 12-40mm rarely left the camera. I brought the 7-14mm and decided to leave it in my room the first day to see if I missed it. I didn’t, and it spent the week in my suitcase and there were only two occasions that might have used it. The Panasonic 25mm F1.4 came out for some low-light shots and the 75mm was used on occasions; but 90%+ of my shots were taken with the 12-40mm; the ideal travel lens.
Finally, thanks to Kyoto and her people; unfailingly helpful and polite. I probably won’t be back having satiated myself on your sights; but thanks for having me. Sayonara.
For the truly insane. links to all the Kyoto related posts can be found here.
After five days of hitting the sights of Kyoto, I woke up on my final day and realised I had succeeded in going where I had wanted to go; with a few extra sites thrown in for good measure. But I still had a day left and I wasn’t going to waste it sitting around in my warm room browsing the internet (although the idea was tempting). Instead, I applied my usual layers of clothing and headed out to Nishiki market.
If you can eat it, and there are a very wide range of things you can eat in Japan; then you can find it at this market. It also provides drinks, sake to be precise; which is why I was there:
Of course I also had to snap a few snaps:
Picked up some snacks to bring home (not tofu doughnuts), and then made a trip to Isetan to obtain some vital cosmetics for my wife.
Crucial shopping completed, there were still some hours of daylight remaining and so I took another wander down the philosopher’s path and then headed back towards my accommodation with the intention of visiting Shinnyo-do temple. The light failed before I reached there, but I did stumble upon a pagoda:
In the garden there was a Japanese girl with a Hasselblad, trying to take a close-up photo of some leaves which were swaying in the wind:
I don’t know if she succeeded, but she will have gone home with a handful of carefully crafted photos; whereas I went home with gigabytes of stuff of varying quality and would then spend a week sifting through them in order to select some to display. I wasn’t sure which of us had the right idea, but it seemed appropriate that my shot of her should be the last photograph of the trip.
Went for an excellent final dinner at Goya (seaweed tempura!), washed down with plenty of hot sake. Slept very well.
It’s day five (I think, the days are blurring) and it’s a trip on the train to Arishiyama. This one of the places we visited on our last trip and remarked “I bet this will look much nicer in Autumn”. And it did:
Although there were many more people also enjoying the view this time:
I took a walk around the gardens:
The Autumn colours in Japan start in the north and head south over a couple of months. Each location only sports Autumn colours for a 2-3 weeks and the trick is to catch the right time. This year, my visit started a little early, but the colours seemed to be really coming to life at this point in my trip and I got a bit carried away just snapping shots of trees. In my defense, the colours are amazing (especially if you live in Thailand where most trees refuse to be any colour other than green), and the branches contribute to the pattern. In the back of my mind I had a plan that I would gather a collection of these shots, process them in an arty-farty way (e.g. like this) And combine them into a poster to hang on the wall. This will never happen; but the least I can do is stick some of them on here (and be warned, there are more to come):
The exit took me to the bamboo grove which had failed to impress on our last visit. However, a sunny day and some wind rustling the bamboo made all the difference and I was prepared to be entranced:
On our last visit, the bamboo grove had marked the end of our visit; but this time I continued on past the end of the bamboo path and entered the garden of the Japanese actor Oh-kohchi Denjiro, who died in 1962; but his villa and gardens have been maintained:
My final stop of the day was Nison-in temple:
You may have noticed that many of my shots show the tops of buildings and structures, rather than the complete unit. Some form of artistic style perhaps? Nope, some form of crowd control:
I did stand at that spot for a full ten minutes waiting for a clear shot; but I would have been more likely to have captured a snap of a passing snow leopard.
There were plenty more potential targets in the area, but my legs had had enough and my stomach needed a refill, so I headed homewards. Slept very well.
Which is an unnecessarily vulgar way of saying that I went windsurfing today.
It has been many many months since I last indulged and to be honest I was feeling a little nervous, for reasons I could not really pin down. Anyway, it all went very well and I lasted an hour; mainly because the wind was at medium strength and so I was not over-exerting my very unfit body. Came home, sat on the sofa. Slept very well.
Whizzing along on the Gulf of Thailand in a stiff breeze, connected to something under your control, is a life-affirming experience and I am always grateful that I find myself here and that my body can still cope (just). I recommend it, and you would be most welcome to borrow my wetsuit if you wanted to have a go….
Down from the hills of Ohara and I decide to end the day visiting the two Honganji temples which are situated just north of Kyoto station.
My first stop was Higashi Honganji where one of the halls was undergoing substantial renovation. Renovate a temple in Thailand and you throw up some wooden scaffolding; but in Japan such efforts dictate the enveloping of the building inside a massive warehouse:
With all the renovation work underway, there was not a lot to see, but I followed a walkway until I found a sign that indicated an exit, if I wished to use it:
I did, and then I carried on down the road to Nishi Honganji where nothing was being renovated:
In the main square, there was a man sketching a tree:
The man turned out to be Brian Williams, an artist living in Japan who has pioneered the concept of parabolic paintings. He might be a famous artist, but he has a bladder like the rest of us and he asked me to watch his gear while he went to “see a man about a horse”. I observed that we Brits go and “see a man about a dog”, but the Americans always have to do something larger.
A quick meal, and then as evening set in it was off to check out one of the temples that offered illuminations in the evening. Some lanterns and ladies en route:
My destination was Kodaiji temple; and I almost walked away when I arrived; the queue outside snaked for kilometres (an exaggeration). But it moved swiftly enough and I was soon inside. The reflections in the lake were particularly impressive, impossible to capture in a photo so you will just have to trust me.
There was also a light show in the garden area. The E-M1′s stabilisation worked well here, this was handheld at 1/8th second:
Then a walk through the gardens and exiting through a bamboo forest, suitably lit:
Dinner was a local specialty, boiled tofu, the secret of which lies in the dipping sauce in my limited experience. Washed down by the usual hot sake and was ready for my futon. Slept very well.
Ordered shortly after the final episode aired, my boxed set of Breaking Bad arrived today. Actually, it is more of an oil drummed set than a box set, with more Blu-Ray disks than I can count stuffed inside a plastic oil drum (if you know Breaking Bad, you will know the significance), together with an assortment of unnecessary mementos, including a Los Pollos Hermanos apron. More importantly, hidden away on the disks are 55 hours of extras, and I love extras. Seeing how something is crafted is almost as pleasurable as watching the result of the craft.
I shamelessly ripped off every episode of Breaking Bad; so I take some pleasure in giving something back to those who made it by purchasing this collection. And now I can watch it through again, but this time I can fully appreciate Michael Slovis’s stunning cinematography via Blu Ray. Hoping to persuade she who must be obeyed to come along for the ride too, she is currently a Breaking Bad virgin; not a good thing at all.
Next up in today’s news is the not very important fact that Steve Huff has chosen the Olympus E-M1 as the camera of the year. Mr. Huff is an acquired taste, with a wild enthusiasm for almost everything photographic which does not translate into measured reviews, but I quite enjoy reading him. But good to see that he agrees with Pattaya Days’ choice for camera of the year.
Last, and almost certainly least, we have the announcement from Canon that they have released an update to their only offering in the mirrorless camera segment, the quite appalling EOS-M. The new model is called, wait for it, the EOS-M2 and offers an increase in autofocus speed from “glacial” to “watching paint dry”. No change to the extensive range of lenses designed for the camera (three) and the camera is expected to be so successful that they are not even going to try selling it in Europe or America. Can’t wait for it to be available in Thailand so I can go and point at it in a shop window and snigger disdainfully.
My original, incomplete Kyoto planning completely ignored locations outside the city, on the grounds I would not be able to reach them with any degree of ease. But Ian, the owner of my B&B, convinced me otherwise; which is why I found myself on a bus to the Ohara region shortly after 0800. The journey would take about forty five minutes and I looked forward to settling down with my book on my Kindle app on my phone. But I reckoned without the enthusiasm of the citizens of my host country who also fancied an outing, so I found myself stuffed in a bus and standing for the duration of the trip. Not so bad as it sounds, because the Japanese have a knack of not invading your personal space, however crowded things become (or maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t shaved for three days and was therefore looking even more scruffy than usual, and I was – and remain – a Caucasian).
Disgorged into the very cool morning air and we started the climb to Sanzen-in temple, the main attraction. On the way there were outlets offering sustenance and souvenirs:
There was a man selling very large roasted chestnuts and I bought a packet with a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy, because I bloody love hot roasted chestnuts; and sadness because I knew how much she who must be obeyed loved them too, and I wished she was there to share them. The next emotion was frustration when I could not find a suitable receptacle to dump the bag of discarded shells. My pocket became an increasingly sticky disaster zone throughout the day as rubbish bins failed to materialise, and it was not until I was nearly back at my room that a container suitable for my waste was discovered. The Japanese must walk around with pockets full of crap, only to clear them out when they return home.
Anyway, beard full of chestnut pieces and pockets full of bits, I arrived at Shanzen-in and joined the crowds. You enter a network of buildings (very pretty inside but no photos please) and then head out into the gardens which are extensive. Of course I took a few shots:
Next stop was Shorin-in temple which everyone else seemed to ignore.
Then, some other places. I have their names but I am not sure what was shot where; but I do know there were a lot of water spouts involved. But hey, we all love water spouts….
I finished my trip to Ohara with a cup of green tea and an extremely tasty snack, sat on a mat in a temple looking out over a garden and pondering what a lucky man I was.
Finally, back down the hill and onto the bus into the city to find something to look at for the remainder of the day.
Another day, another bunch of old buildings in Kyoto. The main target for the day was Tokufuji, renowned for its Autumn foliage. To get there I took a bus to the centre, and then a train to a nearby station.
She who must be obeyed and I had taken trains to nearby stations during our previous visit to Kyoto, only to become hopelessly lost trying to find the attraction which was apparently in the vicinity, but wasn’t after we had gone round in circles for an hour or so. No such problem during this visit, with a constant stream of visitors going to and from the main sites.
So the train was full of happy Japanese, and me (I was happy, but not Japanese). We all disembarked at the helpfully named Tofukuji station, to be met by men with yellow jackets and yellow signboards which they were waving in both directions down the station. I cleverly chose the exit with the fewest number of people, and I was feeling pretty pleased with my decision as I quickly inserted my ticket into the machine whilst reading a sign which ended with a warning in English: “No Exit”. Shit.
What I could do from here is buy another ticket to go somewhere else. But then another option presented itself in the rather attractive shape of railway employee who gave me a pitying smile and a small piece of card which would allow me to depart from whence I came. I gave her the obligatory bow or three and hurried out the main exit to join up with my fellow passengers on the walk to Tofukuji.
I took a photograph of the leaflet you receive at the entrance, so I could remember where the hell I had been when I looked back through my photo stream, and the walkway through the leaves looked lovely:
I looked forward to grabbing a similar shot. Yeah, right:
The walkway was crammed with people taking photos of the valley of trees, and indeed they were spectacular:
In the background you could see another walkway; and once you had jostled your way round to that you could take a photo of the walkway you have been crammed inside only recently:
In spite of the crowds, it was a beautiful place and I enjoyed drinking in the sight for a while before heading out around a pathway which offered a more relaxed view of the gardens….
…..with the occasional choke point:
Fortunately, there is a much more to Tofukuji than the gardens, but most people seemed unwillingly to look at anything that didn’t have leaves attached. This meant that there were no crowds enjoying the substantial buildings dotted around the site.
There are also some gardens:
In an attempt to reduce my extensive travelling of the previous couple of days, I decided that this day would only feature two locations and, after a snack and a tea (temple complexes have many locations that will sell you a snack and a cup of tea), I was off across town to Daitokuji which featured three uninteresting main buildings. but more than twenty sub-temples. Some were closed, but many were happy to take my money, and I spent the afternoon exploring the complex.
My main memories of the afternoon were of being rather cold and tired, and I eventually retraced my route to the main station where I downed vast quantities of sushi accompanied by draft beer. Suitably fortified, I returned to base, turned up the heating in my room to “equatorial” and slumped with iPad and internet for a while. Slept very well.