Sunrise Country – DAY NINE

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We said “goodbye” to our beloved Kyoto and a warm “welcome” to Tokyo. Traveling by shinkansen is always a pleasant, fast and comfortable ride.

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Hotel MyStays in Nippori, located at 5-43-7 Higashi Nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo 116-0014 Japan was a warm welcoming place for us. Situated at just a few minutes from the Nippori Train Station, it was our second Japanese home. The rooms were nice, inviting us for a quick and comfortable nap, after carrying our heavy luggage from Horikawa Dori in Kyoto to our rooms in MyStays Nippori. But we had to get out, have a good meal, explore our surroundings and follow our plan for the day.

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Tokyo felt like spring, comparing with Kyoto which felt like summer, in May. It was still a lovely sunny day, but it felt you needed to put something over the T-shirt. The Nippori air was calm and cool.

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We have found a good restaurant just between our hotel and Nippori Station and we had our nice “battery recharging” meal and the traditional Asahi beer, just perfect to get the energy to explore our first destination for the day: Shibuya 渋谷.

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We took the train from Nippori Station right to Shibuya Station. The metro and train map of Tokyo might be overwhelming, at the beginning. My mom thought that traveling to Japan without a guide will surely get us lost. But, you know? The super well-organized transport system is so logical and easy to figure out, that travelling all by ourselves was simply great and “error-free”. Always carrying a map is very useful, too.

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As soon as we went our from the station, Shibuya was welcoming us with its typical colorful and crowded landscape.

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I was traveling with my 2 Fujifilm mirrorless cameras, the small and compact X100S with a 23mm F2.0 lens and my X-T1 with the pro-grade standard zoom, XF 16-55mm F2.8. No OIS on any of my lenses. And I do like to photograph during the evening and the night, but if you follow my tips about night travel photography, you will be just fine.

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The first thing to do was meeting my fellow photographer friend from Shibuya. On his very busy schedule (as a full-time professional photographer), he was able to meet us between 2 business trips, on our first Tokyo day, in one of the most famous and busiest meeting place on earth:

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Here! I guess the photo needs no more explanations. This famous Hachiko ハチ公 statue is located just in front of Shibuya metro station and so close to the memorable Shibuya Crossing – they say this intersection is the most crowded in the whole world.

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We stopped at the red light and tried to immerse ourselves within this feeling of universality; watching a sea of people, each one with its unique feelings – quite a powerful mental experience.

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After we have met, we decided to walk the streets and talk, find a nice place to stay, have a drink and chat a little more.

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Meeting him was a real pleasure and I know it was a great opportunity to hear some of his teachings (encouraging, tips and tricks – the things photographers talk when they meet) – always learning, right?

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During our walk, we have visited a few stores in Shibuya. This area is very popular for shopping and entertainment, dining and night clubs that receive a lot of customers on a daily basis. It is also a great place to meet artists. The vinyl record store was impressive!

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Finally, we have arrived at the place he wanted us to invite to, an old and charming venue called B.Y.G bar (Beautiful Young Generation) in Shibuya. The atmosphere was cosy, intimate, the bar wasn’t too much filled with customers. It was like traveling back in time and space, with an European flavor of the 70s. Thank you, my friend for the good choice of site for the evening. We will come back there.

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Time flies when you’re having fun. While talking about photography and other stuff, I guess it just opened his curiosity towards Fujifilm mirrorless cameras. What a great night it was, but afterwards it was also time to say goodbye.

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On our way back to Shibuya Station and its faithful Hachiko eternal guardian, we enjoyed the cool and vibrant evening. This place is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Tokyo and we just saw it on our first day, since arriving from Kyoto.

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Navigating through the ocean of people, we headed our way to the station with a little fatigue, but with a feeling of accomplishment.

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Waiting for the train to come, we were contented with the resolutions of the day. It was time to go to our new home and get that well-deserved rest.

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Nippori surroundings had a different flavor during the night, with all the lights turned on. Our Tokyo day turned out to be exactly like we have planned it.

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Some other great attractions were waiting for us for the day to come. I wish we had more time to discover Tokyo, at least as much time as we had in Kyoto, but it isn’t easy to plan a 2 week trip to Japan and have enough time to see everything you would love to see. I felt asleep dreaming about Ginza and the Electric Town.

 

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2017 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

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Sunrise Country – DAY EIGHT

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Hello again on a new chapter of my personal Japanese saga as a travel photographer. This day was Osaka day. It was planned for some time, only that there are always differences between what you plan at home and what you can really achieve, on the road. In a sense that you often visit and do less than what you had on your initial “to do/to see” list.

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From Kyoto to Osaka, by train, we had a pleasant one hour ride with our JP Passes. It actually took us longer to get from home to the train in Kyoto Station.

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Arrived in Osaka, our first destination was Osaka Castle, or 大阪城, Ōsakajō.

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Built in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but destroyed a few times afterwards, the Osaka Castle was reconstructed and in 1931 it got its final shape, with some important repairs in 1997.

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At its epoch, it was the biggest castle built in Japan, surrounded by heavily fortified walls and water channels. Now its is considered the no. 1 tourist attraction in Osaka – for us, it really was.

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There are many alleys in the vast surrounding gardens. We walked quite a bit until we finally arrived at the castle. The number of tourists is impressive, but we blended in and got in the line for the access tickets.

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Right after we bought our tickets, a live show was about to begin and a lot of people were magnetized by the beautiful live performance on stage. We watched in admiration, but after a while we decided to enter the castle, taking advantage of the relatively non cramped access stairs.

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The castle is a museum and the rebuilding process used concrete and elevators, but they kept the original interior and exterior design. Inside it is very crowded on its narrow stairs and you must climb several floors until you get to the beautiful panoramas over the Osaka City. It is very much worth it.

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Osaka is a very large and modern city. It is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan with up to 19 million inhabitants. The view from the highest accessible point at the castle is simply splendid.

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After our visit at the Osaka Castle, we went to the train station to go to our second area on interest: the Tempozan Ferris Wheel, together with the Kaiyukan Aquarium.

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Those two huge point of interests for tourists are situated close to each other, in the Osaka Bay Area.

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This location is also called Tempozan Harbor Village and includes many other interesting things to see and experiment. First, we wanted to try the ferris wheel and get the best panoramic view over Osaka City.

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The waiting line was immense and it cost us a lot of time, but from a maximum height of more than 112 meters, the view over the Osaka Bay and the city with its skyscrapers is simply astonishing.

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This beautiful “photographic show” was just as promised. From above here, we clearly saw the Osaka Aquarium, our next destination.

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Kaiyukan – the Osaka Aquarium 海遊館 is situated next to the ferris wheel and its biggest tank can hold about 5.400 tons of water, where you can see different species of marine life, including sharks.

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The ticket is about 2.300 yen and it is also crowded, being one of the top 5 biggest tourist attractions in Osaka.

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There are many corridors plunged in the darkness, so you need to use your lenses at their widest aperture value and not being afraid of bumping up the ISO. It is a very beautiful visual experience for both kids and adults. By the time we have finished our visit at the aquarium, the night was about to fall.

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One last look behind, to the ferris wheel and the darkness was enveloping us, on our way, by foot, to the train station.

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It was a full and busy day, but I already felt the regret, by the end of our Osaka journey, that this marvelous city has so much to offer and we have seen so little of what it could offer. We went to the train station with that inner promise we would come back and experience more.

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On our way back home, we felt the fatigue of those walked and climbed kilometers, but we were pleased to visit a new place, a new city, as our first trip together away from Kyoto. Arriving at home, one of the most sorrowful things had to be done: packing. It was the last night in our beloved Kyoto 京都, former capital of Japan and former residence of the emperor until 1868. Good night, Kyoto – by far the most loved, appreciated and walked city in our whole Japanese experience! The next day, Tokyo was waiting for us.

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All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2017 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY SEVEN

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Welcome back to my travel journal. The Day Number Seven was in fact a “day off”. And also the day when I turned 40. This was one of my strongest desires: to spend my 40-year-old birthday in Japan, not alone, but with my wife and best friends. It turned out this wish became reality and I was really happy about that.

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What does it mean a “day off” when you are on vacation anyway? 🙂 It means no precise destinations, no time schedule to follow, no rush, only the Zen attitude and the ability to observe and be happy with everything, enjoy every step in no predetermined direction. And this is exactly what we did.

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In fact, a free day like that one was ideal for walking, discovering new streets, places, great for street photography (even though it felt like I’ve taken a day off from photography, too), well suited for occasional shopping and perfect for enjoying traditional Japanese food. And enjoying each other’s company, as well.

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We started as usual, by foot, from home, heading to the center, looking for a place to have a coffee, maybe shopping, without searching for any items in particular.

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Even though it is Kyoto we are talking about, I had a feeling of tranquility – a paradox that I have enjoyed discovering : a crowded city in a distinct quietude.

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Of course this could be a very subjective perception of a man on vacation, in his day off, without the urge to run and solve problems. But the people are calm, they preserve the calmness of their environment, which could be the street, the metro, train or bus. Even here, on this crowded Shijo Dori, which leads you towards Gion, across the Kamo River.

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After the Shijo Dori walk and after visiting its shops, our steps led us to Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades, a place we already knew, famous for its small boutiques, full of souvenirs, clothing, shoes, accessories, small restaurants, cosmetics, tea products, sweets and so on.

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After that, we arrived in the vicinity of Kyoto Station. Here, there is a superstore dedicated to all fans of electronics: audio, photo, video related products, anything you want, could be found here at Yodobashi Camera. As a travel photographer, I was looking for a neutral density filter for my Fujifilm camera.

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I have found and bought my filter and while I was there, I was testing a fantastic zoom lens for Fujifilm cameras. If you love those kind of things, it is a tragedy when the time comes to leave the store. There is so much to discover in a place like Yodobashi Camera – you need to dedicate one day to explore every department.

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Kyoto Station is an impressive place to visit. It feels like a heart of public transportation, a place to start a journey, do shopping, eat international, or traditional meals and also a place to meet people. An immense space, so well-organized. People flow through its wide corridors and open spaces like colorful rivers – it is a great place to photograph, too.

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Close to Kyoto Station was Aeon Mall, our next destination. A place we have visited before, so it was quite easy to get there, even by taking the small backside streets.

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Shopping, souvenirs for some dear ones at home, this is a great place to be and to buy whatever you might need. The diversity of products is simply spectacular.

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By the time we have finished our adventure at Aeon Mall, it was already night. Our path for going home was by going back to Kyoto Station and wait for the bus to get us to Imadegawa Dori.

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Our final target was to find a large table in a very small restaurant, located really close to our home, where we had a traditional Japanese diner for my birthday, with ramen, tempura and ice-cream for dessert, in a very cozy atmosphere. And it was a great evening, with great food in a funny, relaxing ambience. Such a great way to finalize a very peaceful day. We went home, tired, but happy, sharing travel impressions from the closing day, thinking and discussing about our next destination for the day to come, as our first time to leave Kyoto. Where to? Osaka!

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All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2016 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY SIX

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Hello again and welcome back to our Japanese journey! The sixth day was about to be a typical hot day, as springs seem to be quite warm and sunny in Kyoto. We started our journey for the day, walking the small streets that lead to Horikawa Dori, on our way to Nijo Castle. On the map, Nijo Castle was quite close from our place and we decided it was about time to see it.

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On our way, we have found an open supermarket. The diversity of sushi, sashimi, maki, nigiri and temaki was simply astonishing. Different types of sake, too. We bought some small things to have on the route ahead, but our thoughts remained glued to the fresh fish products, just prepared in that very morning.

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It was a nice stop to refresh ourselves in the cool air inside the shop and refill our backpacks for the long day ahead of us. Not too far from this supermarket, we finally found the entrance to Nijo Castle.

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Nijo Castle, or Nijojo (二条城, Nijōjō) was built at the very beginning of the Edo Era, for the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Later it became a residence for the Imperial family. It is one of the most important landmarks you need to visit in Kyoto.

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In 1994, UNESCO designated Nijojo as a World Heritage Site. The feudal architecture is wonderfully preserved. The castle itself includes 3 areas : The Nonmaru Palace, The Ninomaru Palace and the gardens that surrounds the buildings, along with 2 concentric rings of fortifications, to guard the Shogun’s residence.

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This place holds, for so much time, a powerful print of Japan history. The construction was finished in 1626 and since then, it stands as an example of engineering, marvelous in its simplicity and efficiency, although its complex elements reside in the beautiful artistry, used to decorate the entrances and the buildings.

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After leaving the Nijojo, our way drove us to the JR Nijo Station. We needed a train ride, to get us to one of the most amazing places in Kyoto (and Japan and the whole world). From Nijo Station, to Kyoto Station and then, also by train, (thanks to our 2 week JR Passes) straight to the Inari Station.

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After a pleasant walk on a narrow, but very crowded streets, passing right in front of the train station, along the small Omiyage shops and little restaurants, we have finally found the right way to go.

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We came here to see an important Shinto shrine, in southern Kyoto, named Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社). It is the essential shrine, among thousand other shrines, established in 711 in honor of the Shinto God of Rice.

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Rice means food, it means the very basic support of life, but it also means sake and Inari is the protector of this fundamental aspect of life.

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Grains, rice, sake are symbols of wealth. Visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha to pay your respect to the God of rice, seems like the right thing to do for many people. And we have seen a lot of people, Japanese people and also tourists from around the world.

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The shrine Fushimi Inari Taisha is also acclaimed for its thousands of gates, named Torii, which are well over 10.000. They wind over the hills behind the shrine and its entrance, into the forests of the sacred Mount Inari.

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Those trails go in a zigzag pattern. Sometimes you feel like you walk up this mountain, trapped in a maze. Although it didn’t feel like a maze of confinement, but more like a path to meditation. To self revealment. It was a place of revelations.

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Well, when you get a moment of silence and loneliness, away from so many groups of visitors, you can touch that inner silence, blending with the outer silence.

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It is magic. It feels like this is the place to be, to think. A place where you must return, as soon as possible and as many times as you can. Fushimi Inari Taisha have imprinted in me a strong emotional message, that I have tried to talk about here, in a previous article.

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We have explored those paths for quite some time, until the evening made its presence. I didn’t want to leave, there were still many other paths left unexplored. We made a promise to ourselves that we should return. Explore more, feel more of it.

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We have noticed many statues around the shrine. The kitsune foxes are Inari’s messengers. Some of them had a key in their mouth, the key for the rice granary.

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I was time to go. It felt like there were less tourists, than when we came. For a travel photographer, less tourists or no tourists, in such important venues is a real treat. I had my Fujifilm X+1 and my pro-grade zoom lens XF 16-55mm F2.8 WR all the time. The results in low light were quite good.

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We have left a little Torii on a wall full of similar wooden Torii, as a reminder of a magnificent day we had together in such an extraordinary place. Then we left, heading our way to the Inari Station, back on the route we came, by train.

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From Inari Station, we didn’t travel for too long, until we have arrived at Kyoto Station. This is an impressive place. The impression of vastness is only surpassed by the real dimensions of this station : it is much bigger than you see it.

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Outside, we were immersed in the cool and fresh air of the night and a beautiful show of light and water with classic music in the background, caught our attention. And every time I was at Kyoto Station, I simply loved the image of the Kyoto Tower, mirrored in the immense glass wall of the station building.

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Then, the final stage of our journey for the day : waiting, in line, for the bus to get us home, on Horikawa Dori. It was, as usual, a long day, but filled with beautiful things that we saw and felt.

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Just before getting home, we had our usual “Briefing Room” moment. We were a little dry after such a long journey and the beers were really tasty : Asahi Super Dry, Kirin and Sapporo. Family Mart, in times of need, is a trustworthy friend. The next day would have no important venues to visit. We just set that day as a free day, to celebrate in a relaxed mood, my 40th anniversary.

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2016 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY FIVE

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The fifth day on my travel journal was a day of relaxation (not that we had to work hard on those other days, but it was a day without a travel plan). A great day for trying special food, walking without any hurry and shopping. Sounds like fun! It was a day when our team got separated for the fist time : two of us had some business to attend to in Nagoya, the rest of us remained in Kyoto. And we were here for a treat!

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As usual, we started our day on Horikawa Dori, admiring the small shops in the vicinity. Fabric boutiques, selling all sorts of traditional textiles, scarves, in different colors and imprints, quite expensive.

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Our main destination was to get to Gion, across the Kamo River and explore the famous street on Pontocho Area, filled with restaurants. It was the right time for a special, traditional lunch in one of the most beautiful places in Kyoto.

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We have finally found a nice place to eat and admire the view.

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The food was excellent and fresh and it might have been the most expensive meal we had until then. But the whole experience was worth it.

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We thought about our friends in Nagoya and what a truly delicious and wonderful thing they have missed (without knowing that they, too, had some traditional cuisine surprises in Nagoya, as well).

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So we left the restaurant in contentment and enjoyed our walk on this narrow street, ready for the second part of the day – the shopping experience.

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We headed downtown, where the malls are located and we started to blend with the streams of people, flowing along the streets of central Kyoto. The malls, situated on Shijo Dori and Kawaramachi Dori didn’t took us so many time as we anticipated, though.

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The sportswear zone was our main interest and we have found a big Sports Hall in Takamiyacho area, named Sports Mitsuhashi.

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That was a place where we spent quite a while. Asics and Mizuno are the names that captivated us the most.

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Afterwards we had a good long walk in downtown area, visiting some of the small shrines we found in our way. The evening was about to fall and we had to prepare our final stage in our shopping chapter in Kyoto.

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As a travel photographer, on such a relaxing day with no reason to run anywhere, I thought it would be great to travel even lighter than I already normally do (since I have switched my DSLR with a Mirrorless system – more on that here, on my Blog), so I have left my main Fujifilm camera at home and took the small and light, yet powerful Fuji X100S, which I have used to capture my memories through the whole day.

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The last part of our shopping time was in the Teramachi and Shin Kyogoku Shopping Arcades. It is all about two covered streets, designed only for pedestrians, filled with small shops, boutiques and restaurants that sell any king of goods and especially souvenirs – our last point of interest for the day.

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Interested in buying something or not, the whole participation in meandering through the shopping arcades is a very eye-catching one.

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There are places where you could sit and gather your strengths, get social, talk on the phone or just wait and look at the people.

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We stayed here for maybe two hours, looking for the perfect souvenir shop with the best prices. We found more than one – there are many boutiques with a huge variety of amazing products and the prices were really attractive.

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The night was already there, but we made sure we have checked almost all possibilities.

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And when we finally had found what we were looking for, we decided it was time to head home.

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After we got out of the bus, a few meters away from the bus station, we found a very small and nice restaurant. We were hungry and the atmosphere inside was inviting us, along with a good and powerful flavor of a delicious ramen. The menus in English were quite funny – everything looked friendly and cozy.

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The place was really small, the music was good, the food was delicious. And so close to our home – I decided this was a good venue where I could invite all my crew for my birthday, which was coming two days later.

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We left the restaurant and walked just a few minutes our way home, where our arrival was synchronized with the arrival of the other two “Cousins”, coming a long way from Nagoya. We finished the day with a small briefing (what did we see, do, eat and buy versus what did they see, do, eat and buy). A very close Family Mart store provided the “logistic support” for our late night meeting, discussing and planing the adventures for the next day. Magic!

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2016 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY FOUR

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This was a perfect day! A great complement to the previous day, when we have seen a part of the history-enriched Gion and the prodigious Kiyomizu-Dera temple. Well, the following day was about to be even better – perfect.

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We started by foot from our base-camp on Horikawa Dori and took a bus to our first destination of the day. And what a destination : The Golden Pavilion, known as Kinkaku-Ji.

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The Kinkaku-Ji 金閣寺 is located in the northern side of Kyoto and it was on our initial lists of “sites to be visited at all costs”. It is one of the most important tourist and cultural attractions in whole Japan.

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This was a sunny, warm day, but not so hot as other days we’ve seen in our spring journey. And talking about crowds of tourists… it was crowded. Outside, more buses filled with tourists kept on bringing more groups, so we decided to step up the pace and enter the inner gardens.

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This place was marvelous, a real iconic site enriched with history and beauty. The gardens keep the same usual natural balance, everything seems to be in the right place with the right shape. There is no need to change anything. And after a few steps, there it was :

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This golden pavilion, as its name says, has the 2 top floors covered in gold leaf, with its structure built overlooking a large pond. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history, including twice during a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and once again more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

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Surrounded by gardens, in a go-around style, this is a place where you could stay much longer than anticipated. I’ve seen some photos of this beautiful architectural masterpiece taken during the winter. Contemplating Kinkaku-Ji covered in snow, surrounded by the beautiful scenery, is pure poetry, something I cannot describe in words, not even the words of my mother tongue.

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Indeed, this is an ideal venue for contemplation. Just stay here for a while, and make peace with yourself and your thoughts. Of course, this would be one of my most important locations where I should go back on a different time of the year. The autumn and the winter, too, should bring a perfect background for this marvel.

Going round on the alley in the garden, we have reached the souvenirs shops and finally the exit.

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After a traditional lunch break with excellent fresh food in a very small restaurant (around 700 yen per person) it was the time for our next destination for the day : the lovely Arashiyama area with the unforgettable Bamboo Groves.

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We went to Arashiyama by Keifuku Railway train. The small and beautiful train connects Arashiyama with Omiya Station at the intersection of Shijo Street and Omiya Street in central Kyoto. Keifuku Railways, or Randen also provides access to Kitanohakubaicho Station in northern Kyoto, not far from Kinkaku-Ji, Ryoan-Ji and Ninna-Ji Temples. One transfer of trains is required along the way. Keifuku Arashiyama Station is placed in the center of Arashiyama.

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This was the most glamorous railway station we’ve ever seen in Kyoto with very nice decorations – it wasn’t a classic railway station, more of a museum of art. Getting away from the Kyoto’s center, in such a small train was already creating the feeling of a relaxing journey to the silent beauty of western Kyoto’s outskirts.

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After going out of the station we were enveloped by a unique atmosphere of rural, yet perfectly civilized paradise. Across the Nagatsuji-Dori street, we had a modern and elegant shopping center and this was our first stop, since our arrival in Arashiyama.

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We stayed here for a while, admiring the small boutiques with souvenirs and traditional commodity. I had no idea this was the place where my friends had a plan for my birthday, which was about to come really soon.

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The gift I was about to receive in a few days from this moment, was quite a perfect gift, especially for me, being there in Japan : elegant traditional chopsticks, beautifully hand-crafted with my name and my birthday date engraved on them.

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There were so many models and sizes, it was really a hard choice. From 2 – 3.000 yen up to more than 40.000 yen, a pair of chopsticks, well, there were models, sizes and colors for every taste and whim you could imagine.

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I was waiting for them, quite a while. Staying outside, on a bench, I just felt it was the perfect moment to admire the people, their quiet rhythms, gather my thoughts and dive into the beauty and tranquility of the moment. Carpe diem!

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When the group was ready to leave, we commenced walking north, along the Nagatsuji-Dori, looking for the entrance to the Bamboo Groves. The street was quiet, not so much traffic – the only traffic we have got was from the tourists. We were in no hurry, even though the sun was on its way to set.

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Houses, bars, restaurants, small shops, the street was quite a tourist attraction itself. And just when we were wondering where would we find the entrance to the bamboo forest, there it was.

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I have dreamed about this place, seen so many pictures on the internet and frankly, I hoped it wouldn’t be so flooded with tourists – for my photos. The sunset wasn’t that far, the light was beautiful, until I have realized that we will make our way through a deeper and thicker bamboo forest. This means even less light for photography.

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I was worried about my photos – I think I just expected them to be perfect, with the ideal light and not so many noisy tourists, unaware of getting in front of my camera, just when I was ready to take my shot.

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The photos don’t always represent the accurate reality. It was a little cold and quite dark, so I had to raise my ISO and try to get my shots staying as still as possible. This is one of the times when you would trade your lens for another one with image stabilization, or a super fast lens, with a very wide aperture, like F1.4.  Mine was used at F2.8, its maximum constant aperture with quite good results, the pro-grade Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8.

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Because of my photographs, most of the times I was left behind, so I always had to run and catch up with my group. The alleys in the forest, the peace and the silence, the ocean of pure green and the fresh oxygen were fascinating. Breathless! You walk those places in a state of continuous admiration. Man and nature, reunited for a common purpose: Beauty. Contemplation. Nature does this by itself, following some secret, sacred laws. Man destroys nature, most of the time, but not here.

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I wished those moments could be locked in time. Surely they will never be lost in time. I will treasure them for the rest of my life, because they were pure beauty and for the modern man, if there is something that we terribly lack in our modern, metropolitan lives, well, it is the contact with the nature.

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We need to get out of our “comfortable” and “plentiful” homes and embrace nature in its beauty. Meditation, contemplation, self-acceptance – we must re-learn those things from the old ways of Japanese people.

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The maze through the Bamboo Groves in Sagano is much bigger and deeper, but we have found a way out and discovered a very peaceful neighborhood, filled with houses and beautiful gardens. One of my favorite things to do, while traveling to Japan – to walk the small streets, away from the maddening tourist crowds, to taste a bit of a peace and silence that surround those places and those people.

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Traditional houses, modern houses, some of them mixing up the new with the old, it was a pleasure to discover those areas. The beautiful gardens added the right amount of exquisite flavor to each house. After leaving the Sagano bamboo forest, we had encountered not a sigle tourist. In fact, the evening was very near so the streets were completely silent and empty. All for just the five of us.

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After a while, we have realized we were really lost. Impossible to follow the same route we took when we came, but that was the beauty of it. Explore! A map in your pocket and a smartphone with a digital map, based on GPS and you are good to go.

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The fact of getting lost, revealed to us some more amazing small streets. Eventually, after consulting our map, we had our clear way to a train station, so we could return, back to the center of Kyoto. A few more streets, passing under a bridge, walking close to an important building named “19th Century Hall SL & Piano Museum”, where an old steam-powered locomotive was exposed in perfect condition and there we were, at Saga Arashiyama Station.

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Quite tired, after such a long day, we decided to take the train to somewhere in the Kyoto’s center. After leaving the station, we begun to do what we did best : explore.

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And we headed our way to the shopping street of Kyoto – the Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades. It was 8:30 PM, already dark and quite late for shopping, where almost every shop was closed. But our last point of interest in our plan was not to go shopping. Very close to this shopping street was the famous Musashi Sushi restaurant and we really had to give it a try.

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This small restaurant, located on Kawaramachi Dori is one of the most pleasant attractions in Kyoto. Really small, really crowded, so we had to wait for a while, on a long bench just close to the door, to get some free seats (we were 5 and we preferred to stay together, so 5 free places in a row – not so easy). Just 140 yen for one small plate and I had not more than 5 or 6 plates with different kinds of fresh, raw fish.

How would I summarize this experience? To be short : Sushi and Sashimi (capitalized) at the highest level in this world! Exquisite!

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After this amazing diner it was time to make our way home. Walking in Kyoto by night is one of the greatest experiences as a traveler : you feel secure, there are no hazardous back alleys, not a single reason of intimidation. The main streets are still full of people, cars and lights. Enough light to easily read a book, in the street and still get great pictures at reasonable low ISO settings (ISO 640 at F2.8 as an example for the picture above).

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Leaving the exuberant Kyoto’s center with its “quiet” & civilized crowds, we arrived at home, after some good miles of walking and, of course, urban exploring. So we were back on the same sweet pattern, that we held so dear : Horikawa Dori, Family Mart, Asahi Super Dry for the take-off, the late night briefing and a most welcome good night sleep!

Such a perfect day! I wished it would last forever. One of the finest days of my life. A perfect day!

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2015 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY THREE

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Good morning, everybody! It’s a new day, ok! The third full day in Japan with new things to discover. The plan for this day, although no plan was quite strict (and that is the key – plan your itinerary for the day, but allow the necessary time for some changes), was to visit Gion and one of the most important temple of Japan, the Kiyomizu-Dera.

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Gion is a district in Kyoto where tourists might have the feeling of traveling back in time, take a glimpse of the historical past and Japanese traditions. The Old Ways, as some of us like to say. But to get there, we crossed our neighborhood surroundings (always a joy to walk those streets and meet nice people). Then we took the subway to a station where we changed the subway with a train – the Keihan Line, which led us to Gion-Shijo Station, our destination for the first part of the day.

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We were in plain center of Kyoto City, the Gion District – and it was crowded with tourists from everywhere. For the first time, since being there, we just discovered what raising the bar in tourism means. And I’ve heard the target for 2016 is somewhere around 18 to 20 million tourists (for the whole country, of course).

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We started to make our own way through the crowds and find the entrance to the old Gion, through Hanamikoji Street – also our way to the temples. Many small shops, selling various items, including food, traditional clothing products and accessories – you can get lost for a day in this area and never feel how time flies.

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The main street (Hanamikoji Street) was filled with people, both tourists and local people. I guess the majority of foreign tourists is made by Chinese and other Asian countries people. But if you try a side street, after less than a minute since leaving the main street, you will find it to be quiet and even empty. It’s good to explore the small alleys, when you need to relax and breathe the silence. There are many houses which architecture reminds you the historical continuum.

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Of course, apart the small boutiques, you can find bars, pachinko places, all other tourist-oriented attractions, but for us the most interesting were the tea houses (ochaya) that still keep the historical flavor and places where Geiko and Maiko ladies perform traditional dance shows for the public.

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Lately, the number of geisha ladies (Geiko – the local term) has significantly decreased, but they still preserve the traditional entertainment forms and together with the historical architecture, they make the beauty and charm of Gion.

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Dressed in kimonos and ready for a sightseeing tour of old Gion in a rickshaw, this is a way to spend a lovely afternoon of spring, in Kyoto! We never saw 2 kimonos alike. The diversity of graphic patterns is amazing.

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Many young couples or groups, dressed in those traditional costumes are walking these small alleys along the “typical” tourists and they sure bring and maintain the charm of the local atmosphere.

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Street artists are present, too. This is really a special part of the city, of the world – it’s like an enormous museum, only it’s alive and interacts with you – it is a world of its own.

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We were on our way to Kiyomizu-Dera 清水寺, crossing Gion’s old streets and admiring the view. After a few crossroads, we started to march against the waves of humans. I thought Gion’s streets were very busy that day (and they were – during the Golden Week when so many people and students had some free days from work and school), but coming closer to Kiyomizu Dera’s entrance, “crowded” just got a new meaning for me.

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The place was rich and filled with energy. The architecture, the inner balance of shapes, sizes and colors – the Great Design is simply breathless. Without using nails, the buildings show refined building skills, to the perfection.

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To find a good spot for photography is not so easy, with so many people around you, especially panoramas, or looking for a better angle, then to realize that angle is, too, crowded with visitors. But when you get the chance to get yourself in position, you find the view is very beautiful. The “Pure Water” Buddhist Temple is truly a world heritage marvel, added by UNESCO in the 90’s on their heritage sites list.

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Everything seemed connected with the nature, the whole universe. The architecture is timeless and you only feel that when you are there for yourself. Clearly the people all around are in a state of contemplation, which sends good vibes into the surroundings.

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Many school students were there, wearing their school uniforms, some of them being actually on duty with some interesting homework : questioning tourists, like us, in English (that’s right – a perfect opportunity for them to get in contact with new people and exercise their English skills), about our favorite actors, why are we here and what do we like the most in our journey to Japan.

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The God of Love was worshiped here and many people were around the site until it was almost impossible to walk further.

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The gardens behind the temple are beautiful and they maintain the same mood for meditation and peace. I will surely come back, but at a different time, when it will be less visited by tourists. It is a place of inner search and you need the silence to clear your mind.

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On our way out we contemplated once more, the greatness and the spirit strength of the builders. This is one of the most important sites to visit and we were glad, after so may dreams and planning, we were there to see it with our own eyes.

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We said “farewell” to this marvel of human endeavor and took our leave, starting to walk our way back, through the narrow alleys of Gion. Only this time, it felt we were going along the wave of people, not against it. Evening was about to come.

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We were starving after so many hours of walking and we planned to eat in a small restaurant we have noticed on our way to the temple.

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The place was a family restaurant, not bigger than a room in a house, which can accommodate 4-5 tables. We wanted to taste the real okonomiyaki, served on a hot metal plate built-in our table, right in the center. It was based on a house recipe with at least one secret ingredient in the sauce. After such a long and full day, this diner was like a bliss.

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But the day was far from over. The restaurant was somewhere inside Gion’s street & alley network so we still had a long way to go. But this part of Kyoto, during the evening, is simply stunningly beautiful.Gion By Night13

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Already out in the main boulevard, we kept walking, exploring the small shops, enjoying the local atmosphere. The night was near and the traffic was already diminished. A real pleasure to roam the street in the late evening breeze.

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This is a micro-universe in itself; you need more time to explore and learn its secrets. You need to stay longer, experience different things, taste different foods and desserts.

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The world of Green Tea products is just endless, a cult, I might say. The Matcha is a fine green powder made from green tea, which is the base for so many products, like cakes, chocolate and even ice-cream, or Kit-Kat chocolate-covered wafer biscuit bar. I could call this, the Matcha Philosophy.

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The spring evenings were pleasant and the weather was so perfect. Many people felt this way – we still had to fight the crowds, but it wasn’t just like a fight, it was more like “going with the flow” experience. There were not a single trace of human aggressiveness – you still feel comfortable, even if you’re in the middle of it.

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Ponto-cho, famous for its restaurants and geisha meeting, was an area with so many things to see. This alley (Pontocho Dori) is considered the most beautiful in all the city, with small restaurants, some of them forbidden for foreigners.

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This street alone is worth being discovered in every detail. The night bring a totally different flavor to those places, the people are more relaxed, thinking about diner, about having a drink with friends, or co-workers.

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Along the Shirakawa Canal we discovered more interesting bars and restaurants. There were also some night-clubs, but as we already got the idea, some of them were not for foreigners. The street was very well illuminated; it helped a lot for night photography, especially when you have to deal with longer exposure times, using my camera without tripod or image stabilization.

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It was late and Gion Station was our final destination from this amazing part of the city. The train was by far our best choice for transportation. As I might have already said, in a previous story, Japan has the most precise and sophisticated railway transportation network in the world. We were about to get home really soon.

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As always, we ended this super long day with a quick visit to our Family Mart store – a well deserved refill for the evening briefing where the “Cousins” assessed the day, the landmarks, the beautiful places and planned the adventures for the next day.

Photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2015 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

 

Magic At Fushimi Inari

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One of the most important and wanted locations in Japan, more precisely in Kyoto is Fushimi Inari Taisha. This amazing place was on my main list of essential objectives to visit. You can find more details about it on the internet, like here, but I won’t tell you here about its history.

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In fact I am not sure what I can tell you about Fushimi Inari, about my personal experience. Other than it is filled with enthrallment. With mystery.

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If you’re the average tourist, one possible scenario is that you come and visit, take some pictures with your smartphone, make jokes with your buddies, have a drink, laugh some more and leave the place in search for a beer. When I was there, the place was crowded with this kind of vexatious tourists.

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If you’re not the average type of visitor, you want to record this “common” walking through the gates (Senbon Torii) on your mind and soul. You’re not at the Disneyland, not even in a museum of automobiles. You are in a sacred place, inviting you to keep the silence, to find the silence within you, to clear your mind. Meditate!

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Walking along Senbon Torii and the surroundings, I let myself drown into the sea of silence. The inner peace felt easier to be found in such a magical venue.

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It felt like I never wanted or expected those torii to end. They all look the same, but they’re not and each one of them holds a magnetic force that fills your spirit with energies that you miss so much in your average, ordinary life.

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Shielded from the heat and the sunlight, I had my spiritual walk along the gates, trying to turn my eyes to my inner depths. The sacred Mount Inari and its forest have a formidable force, but you need to prepare yourself to feel some of this force.

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The beauty and the oneness of Fushimi Inari send powerful positive messages to your mind and heart. It’s not like any other place on Earth, so why not cherish every moment of your pilgrimage? You need to be able to read and understand those unheard and unspoken messages.

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This is why it is so hard for me to speak about the sources of fascination. As a photographer, you have the chance to travel back in time, by bringing with you, for you and for others around you, great memories recorded on your photographs. You treasure those frozen bits of past reality and have the chance to recreate those moments with their relevant feelings.

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It is said a picture is worth a thousand words. Could be more or less than that, but for me, the pictures from Fushimi Inari bring great help in expressing my feelings. Don’t pay too much attention to what I really wrote about the magic at Fushimi Inari.

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I just wanted to introduce you to a memorable venue, where you need to go and just be. I was there and right now, I wish I could teleport myself to the same place of mystery. They say the mysteries don’t need to be explained, they need to be lived. It is the same with Fushimi Inari Taisha. This is not the right place to ask questions, but to silently live the moment. It was pure magic and this venue just makes you remember, relive and truly come back again.

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This was no typical “travel article”, just an enticement to meditation. I hope my pictures could express a better story. And it is all more suitable when it finishes with a smile.

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2015 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

People of Akiba

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We are all humans and we are so alike, but in the same time so different. And unique! Each one of us grows up in a different region of this world, within a different cultural environment. Some billion unique individuals, living right now, on this blue planet! That’s something to think about!

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I love to travel, a lot. I think this is one of the biggest treasures someone can accomplish, cultivate and cherish in a lifetime. This world is our home and wouldn’t be great to discover our home, see the amazing things this home is built of? There are so many wonderful places left to be visited, that my only regret is why am I not immortal, to get the chance to see them all?!?!Akihabara79

A special place would have no life and no soul without the people around, to animate the atmosphere. Without the people, a place is just a place – for a photographer, it won’t be Street Photography, or Portrait Photography categories, only Landscapes, or Architecture. But breathless.

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Akihabara is one special place – like no other (even though there could be some similar places, like Den Den City, in Osaka, I would like to visit). I am talking about an ocean of souls, some of them in a hurry, some others just spending their time looking for something, or just looking. It gives you a unique feeling of affinity and rapport with all those people.

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There is an inner dualism that captivates me and stimulates my awareness every time I travel and meet / see new people in that new place I’m about to visit :  what do I have in common with all those people and what are the differences between us? A sort of Yin-Yang tension between the resemblances (that create a mutual attraction) and the diversities (that also could call for the inner curiosity and also create attraction).

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It all starts with a smile. A smile is the first and most straightforward way to create a link between people. Going back to Akihabara, I look for the smile on people’s faces. The final question is : When people of Akiba smile at me, are they realizing they create those magnetic universal connections that mesmerize me, every time they appear?

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2015 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com