Himeji Castle is located in the heart of the Kansai region. I first visited Himeji back in 1997 and it was a cold and wet day. Later visits were always sunny and warm, which is the best way to see the castle, since it’s almost pure white and a deep blue sky in the background makes for great contrast. Our trip there yesterday yielded both results: it was rainy on our approach and sunny as we exited. It was so rainy on the walk from Himeji Eki (eki means station), I had to stop in a Family Mart and pick up three umbrellas. I opted for the clear ones, so we could hold them directly over our heads and shoulders and still see what was in front of us. As soon as we got to the castle grounds the rain stopped and those umbrellas became mini greenhouses, quickly heating up the air around our faces. It was still quite cloudy, and very humid, so the white castle got a bit lost in the sky behind it. Nonetheless we marched on, taking pictures all the way (because who knows when we’ll be back?). Once we got to the main entrance, it was full-on jungle hot so I hid the umbrellas on top of a bank of coin lockers — too high for all the locals to see — and we went in. Now here I must confess: I’d never seen most of the interior of the castle before. There are multiple places where visitors must remove their shoes and I’d always been wearing sandals; they wouldn’t let me in barefoot. I wore sandals yesterday, too, but I also brought along a pair of socks in my pocket, just so I could finally see the inside! What did I see as soon as I was inside? A bunch of dudes walking around barefoot…
So anyway, seeing the inside of the castle was amazing. I hadn’t realized how many steps there were! The stairs were almost vertical, and there were easily a dozen sets to climb, with each level getting smaller and smaller until we reached the top. By the time we got to the top floor, some two hundred feet above the courtyard, it was blazing hot and the view was stupendous. The sun had appeared and the whole castle popped out of the blue sky. Exiting, I had to re-shoot all the pictures I’d taken on the way in, since the backdrop was now much better. Here are a few photos. The first one was shot with my iPhone; I believe that’s the last photo I’ll ever take with that phone so I’m glad I emailed it to people and had a copy saved in my Sent Mail folder.
We are in the land of enchantment. After the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, which is a big part of why I love that city, it’s nice to be here in the laid back city of Kyoto. Also, for the first time since arriving in Japan, we saw blue sky yesterday! The Shinkansen was late leaving Tokyo Station due to heavy rain but when we passed through all the mountain tunnels and got near Kyoto, the sun was out. Stepping out of the train, the heat hit us like a wet blanket. It took some time to find the cab stand, and the cab driver almost couldn’t find the apartment, but he got us close enough that the photos of the building, provided by Airbnb, were enough to help us find it. The apartment is a five story walk up and we are in room 402. The view from the balcony is nice.
We’re staying in the Gion District, which is chock full of small wooden houses and narrow, lamp lit streets. Walking around last night, with a warm breeze in our faces, was awesome. The river that runs through the city (the Kamogawa?) is fronted on one side by block after block of restaurants, all of which have outdoor decks above the river. We spotted one that looked like it had an empty table and were soon seated outside where we eagerly awaited our first meal in Kyoto…Italian food. That one’s for you, dad!
Later in the afternoon, same day (Sunday, September 25th). After watching the Oregon game, live, this morning on the iPad and seeing the Ducks officially end their season after only four games, it was time to hit the trail. I wanted us to see Kiyomizu Temple, Kodaiji Temple, Yasaka Shrine and the Nanzenji Temple today; all of which are within walking distance of our apartment. It was super hot this morning, with the sun shining in the east and thunderheads building in the west, so I’m really glad I had plenty of Pocari Sweat (i.e., Japanese Gatorade). The walk to the first temple, Kiyomizu, took about 20 minutes, the last half of which was up a steep hill. I remember walking around with my dad in Kyoto, back in 1999, and we got lost in the hills. Those were the pre-Google days and we had fun being lost anyway, so it was cool. Today, since our apartment is so close to everything, it was pretty easy. The narrow little street leading up to Kiyomizu was aswarm with women and girls in full kimono; even some of the guys had them on. They were so ubiquitous, they occupied a lot of space on my camera’s memory cards. Here are a few photos.
So those are a handful of the way-too-many photos I took of women in kimono. Here are a few photos of the various temple. Right now I’m looking at the photos Jacob took with his iPhone 6 and his color rendition is way better than what my $4500 Canon (with lens) can produce. Cmon, Canon….
I will also post a few photos I shot with my own iPhone, all panos, a little later.
Here are the photos I took with my iPhone 5S:
Today is Tuesday, September 27. We went to Himeji Castle yesterday, and it was amazing, but then I lost my cell phone in Osaka last night and trying to find it has consumed me ever since so it may be awhile before I post again. On a side note, if anyone travels to Japan, and thinks they can use Verizon there, even if they’ve paid in advance for such service, think again: it totally does not work. More later…
It’s already Friday morning here, in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. We arrived on Wednesday evening, some 12 hours after leaving PDX. The jet lag is still with us and we were wide awake early yesterday morning. Looking at the clock on my iPad, and seeing it was 1:30, I thought it must be 5:30 am here in Tokyo (since my iPad clock has never altered itself before, when changing time zones), and I was stoked to get on the subway and head to the Tsukiji Fish Market. Then I looked at the clock again and realized it had been updated, which meant it was only 1:30 in the morning, Thursday. We went back to bed until five or so, them I got up and checked the hours for Tsukiji. We really wanted to hit the market while we still had jet lag, since the early morning hours, during the fish auctions, are the most fun. What I’d forgotten, however, was that yesterday was a Japanese holiday: it was the solstice! So the market was closed.
Open since the Edo period, the Japanese fish market moved to Tsukiji in 1923 and has been in business ever since. It’s an institution. Whenever I come to Tokyo, I always try and make it to the market my first morning. There’s something fun about having ultra-fresh sushi at 7 am, shoulder to shoulder with a lot of the fish market laborers. On my first visit to Tsukiji, in 1997, there weren’t a lot of tourists there; Google hadn’t been invented yet (had it?). I remember trying to hand money to the sushi chef, after my meal, and how everyone in the tiny restaurant (it could seat 8 people) looked at me as if I’d just sneezed on the fish. The chef kept refusing my money, and waving me away, so I thought he was being polite and buying my meal for me. When I started walking out the front door, a small woman I hadn’t previously seen came running out from behind the counter, yelling at me in Japanese. Then I understood: I was supposed to pay her, since her hands never touched the fish (in the highly misogynistic world of Japan, women were considered unable to ever handle raw fish, as their hands were deemed too warm to keep the fish fresh). That was nearly 20 years ago, which seems impossible. The last time I was at Tsukiji was in 2008, when I took Marla and Jacob to Japan for the first time. Then, the market was full of tourists and all the best hole-in-the-wall sushi joints had lines stretching down the alleys. I’m guessing that will be the case this morning, since the Tsukiji Fish Market is slated to relocate next month, to a remote area of Tokyo called Kotoku, and tourists won’t be as thick, since it won’t be readily accessible by train or bus. Nearly 20% of current fish vendors, and the vast association of other businesses associated with them, are closing their doors for good once the relocation gets underway. So this will be the last time I’ll get to go. Marla and Jacob are up and ready to brave the rain once more. I’m glad the nearest subway station is only a two-minute walk from the Airbnb house I rented here, near Harajuku. Tsukiji is nearly an hour from here, after changing trains twice, but it’s all underground. Then we have a 10-minute walk from Tsukiji Station to the market. More later, and I’ll post some photos from yesterday (all shot with my iPhone, since it was too stormy to carry an umbrella and my camera at the same time).
It’s now just after seven pm and I’m still awake, an hour later than I stayed awake last night. Woohoo! After 11 hours of walking around and riding subways I’m pretty beat but not too tired to go out to a place called Baird’s Taphouse that’s within walking distance. They make their own IPA and I’m curious to see how it tastes. But first, a bit more about our day. We did indeed make it to Tsukiji in time for the fish market and we found a hole-in-the-wall sushi joint that must’ve made it onto the TripAdvisor site.
There’s nothing like eating sushi in Tsukiji so we got in line and were seated within 30 minutes. Ahead of us in line was a couple from Silicon Valley and they asked if they could buy some yen off me, since they weren’t aware that most businesses in Japan don’t take Visa (and none of the shops in Tsukiji will take it). I made sure to tell them not to try and pay the chef when their meal was over.
The sushi was amazing and it left me wanting more food from the market, like the soup from this stall:
The woman in this photo seemed pretty upset when she looked up and saw the camera pointed at her so we decided to just scoot on down the road and go to Hama Rikyu Gyoen, one of my favorite meccas in Tokyo. Situated along the Sumida River, Hama Rikyu is the perfect oasis in an otherwise bustling area. Walking towards it, a place I’ve been a dozen times, I didn’t recognize the area at all; everything is being revamped for the upcoming Olympic Games. In fact, that’s the reason the fish market has to relocate: a road is being built in its place, a road for the games. There are a handful of brand new, 30 story buildings that have sprung up around the entrance to Hama Rikyu and it took me awhile to get my bearings. It was still raining, but only just, and the whole park was enshrouded in a low mist, awesome. Here are a few photos from Hama Rikyu:
After Hama Rikyu we walked back to the Hibiya Line and took the subway to Ueno, where I exchanged our JR vouchers for JR Passes; I also booked us on the Shinkansen to Kyoto tomorrow at 1:00. Ueno was fairly close to Asakusa, and to Sensoji Temple, so we walked there. Jacob used his phone to get us there the fastest way and it took us on a route I’d never walked before, through lots of quiet, narrow-laned streets. The sun was about to set so we made our way to the temple before it was dark and it was still crammed with people, mostly couples.
And that pretty much covers our day so far🙂
It’s now Saturday morning and we are lounging around the house. Our body clocks seem to have fully adjusted and we’re getting ready to go to Kyoto in a bit. The Baird Brewery Taphouse, where we went last night, was amazing! It felt like I was back in an Oregon microbrewery. Then I looked at the prices ($10 per pint) and realized I was in Japan, plus the fact that I was able to order grilled saba (mackerel). The best part about the place? It’s smoke free! I cannot tell you how many times I went out with Kaz, or with my classmates at ICU, and came home reeking like an ashtray; it would take a few days for my hair to finally smell normal. Now that I think about it, every place we’ve eaten at so far has been smoke free. What a difference.
I forgot to transfer some of my iPhone photos to my iPad (this is being written on the iPad). These are panoramic shots, which is the reason I bought the iPhone in the first place. I will place a caption under each one.
At this Jasper House Farms wedding, I wanted to create a scene using the amazing copse of trees near the ceremony site. The area was fairly shady but the background had a lot of highlights from where the sun was peeking through, so I knew I needed to underexpose the ambient light a bit, then use some off-camera flash to put some light back onto the bride. This setup reflects how our eyes would normally process such a contrasty situation but a camera hasn’t been made (yet) that can do so. I could’ve foregone the use of flash, and just exposed for the bride, but that would have meant a great loss of detail in the scene and since the bride had obviously chosen the venue for its beauty, I wanted to include as much of it as I could! I had the bride’s mother hide behind the large tree on the right, holding two Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites behind an umbrella that was aimed at a 45-degree angle to the bride, opposite the direction of the sun, then I shot from far away with my long lens (Canon 70-200mm EF f/2.8L II, stabilized).
Jasper House Farms is a new arrival on the Lane County wedding venue scene and it’s spectacular! I really like how many shady areas there are for mid-day photos. This image was taken yesterday and I thought I’d post it here, before the bride and groom left for their honeymoon.
At this Bridal Veil Lakes wedding (located an hour east of Portland), it was such a hot day, the groom really wanted to finish his ice cold drink even as I was taking photos! Sometimes these moments can be fun, and this was one of those times.
I love when a bride (or groom!) makes a grand entrance. At this wedding, near the town of Lebanon, Oregon, the bride elected to arrive via horse drawn carriage. Perfect!