Sunrise Country – DAY TWELVE

Hello again. We have planned this day as a small and quick break from the frenetic, urban atmosphere of the endless Tokyo; at least the most part of it. We wanted to see with our own eyes, one of the most relevant symbols of Japan: Mount Fuji.

It is the highest mountain in Japan, with its 3776 meters height, situated about 100 km south-west from Tokyo, where in can be seen from, if the weather is clear enough. It is an active volcano, which erupted last time in 1707.

From Tokyo, we took the train JR Tokaido Shinkansen “Kodama” for a journey that lasted a bit more than one hour, until we arrived at Shin-Fuji Station. More information on this tourist site, here:

https://tic.jnto.go.jp/detail.php?id=1177

From here, we changed the train with a smaller and slower densha train from the Fuji Kyuko Line, getting us straight to Kawaguchiko Station.

The 富士五湖, Fujigoko region (which includes five beautiful lakes) is located on the northern side of Mount Fuji.  It is a gorgeous natural environment, well suited for hiking, camping, fishing, or even skiing during winter. The names of the five lakes are Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Shojiko, Yamanakako and Motosuko.

From the station, by foot, we explored the beautiful and quiet surroundings, making our way towards the lake.

From Kawaguchiko Lake, you can get one of the best views of Mount Fuji, if you have a clear day with the chance for cloudless skies.

Your visibility seems to be better during the colder seasons, also during the early morning and late evening hours. The middle of the day and summer time usually block the majestuous view of Mt. Fuji.

We were there on a warm season during the middle of the day, but the alternative was not to be there at all. For us, it was wonderful, as we had no other choice of picking the ideal moment for sightseeing.

The Kachi Kachi Ropeway will lead you to an observation point near the summit of Mount Tenjo. From this vantage point above, you can get beautiful panorama sights, which include both the lake and Mount Fuji. We did not have the time to go; our choice was to walk around the Kawaguchiko Lake as much as possible.

We enjoyed this perfect day without rain; the fact that clouds partially covered Mount Fuji, also partially sheltered us from the heat of the day, so it was almost perfect for the long walks around the Kawaguchiko Lake.

When the walk started to be a bit long, we crossed the lake on a bridge and then, we had more time to explore the quite surroundings of the locality.

Before heading to the train station, we had a picnic on the border of the lake, taking one last look at the magnificent Fuji-san.

Seeing all these serene, beautiful places is really rewarding, but talking about them is quite challenging. How can one describe the pleasant feelings and the joy of discovery when you travel to Japan, and more specific, when you are close to Mount Fuji?

Fortunately, this is a travel photography blog and the images could describe a lot more than a well-polished text.

It was already dark when we got back to Tokyo. We headed one more time to Shibuya (including a visit to a bike store). Shibuya is always the same and different each day, in the same time. We have enjoyed one more time this special and unique place, before going home (to the hotel) for our good night rest, because the next day was also the last full day of our journey in Japan.

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2020 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

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

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 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 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

 

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

Sunrise Country – DAY TWO

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Hello again! This was the second full day in the Sunrise Country. Very eager to visit what we tried to see in the previous day, but it was closed at Ginkaku-Ji Temple and for the Imperial Palace it seemed a better deal to be visited with an English-speaking tour guide.

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Thanks to our maps and willingness to explore the city, we left home from Horikawa Dori and made our way on little, narrow streets right to the Imperial Palace – 京都御所. It’s always a joy to walk down those quiet streets – you get the chance to take a glimpse of the settled down life of Kyoto people. Small houses, small cars, small parking spots (sometimes bigger). The flowers, plants and trees they have add a drop of beauty to their garden.

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For a tourist or photographer, these corners are pure joy. According to Travel & Leisure Magazine, Kyoto was named the best city in the world for 2015. That is something!

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We have reached the Kyoto Gyoen quite easily from our home. We had our tour of the Sento Imperial Palace Gardens scheduled for 12:30 PM and we joined a pretty large group of tourists. A very hot day with the sun shinning at its maximum.

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The English tour guide was speaking not so loud so we heard only fragments of her story. Most of the times I prefered to stay away from the group, and to absorb in silence the atmosphere and contemplate the beauty of the architecture.

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The gardens are beautiful. That typical Japanese care makes you admire amazing gardens that have a very genuine natural random look (but in fact it requires a lot of work).

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All buildings are mostly made from natural materials and keep the “natural” and traditional look. Do you think there are some differences between the Imperial Palace in Kyoto and Versailles, regarding the size, number of chambers, statues, used materials?

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Surely the Emperor was a very important person in world’s history. I like the architecture of Versailles – it seems like one of the most important achievements in Earth’s architecture, but what I see at the Imperial Palace from Kyoto (compared to Versailles and other important palaces from England, Germany, France, Austria, Russia, etc) is a different concept.

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Grandeur, built on simplicity. Zen principles built on natural materials – the sizes and shapes I have seen in this architecture call for meditation, moderation, concentration and awareness. Versailles? Hedonism and luxurious gratification. Japanese Imperial Palace? Awareness and contemplation.

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We left the Imperial Palace of Kyoto, home of the emperor until 1868 and headed to the Ginkaku-Ji Temple, one of the most important temples you need to see in a long list of World’s Heritage.

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We just took the same route as the previous day, passing by Demachiyanagi Station, the Kyoto University, once more up to Philosopher’s Path and reached the climbing way to the temple.

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The Silver Pavilion is an amazing place to visit, a complementary item to our deep impression left by the Imperial Palace on our spirit, already filled with the touch of history and tradition.

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Of course, the gardens and the preciseness in traditionalism can be seen in all those beautiful shapes and alignments. Tourists are everywhere, including students from local schools.

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The visitors path starts to climb on the backside hill and you can get a beautiful view over the forest, the inner gardens and the city.

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As much as I wanted to stay more, to find a moment without tourists and maybe wait for a better light for photography, we had to go and find more beautiful places in this vast city you cannot fully “do”, not even in a completely dedicated month of walking and discovery.

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Once more down the alley, with plenty of traditional shops and then back into the Philosopher’s Path, full of energy and fervor to walk into new neighborhoods and find our way to more interesting corners. The small shops were a delight to visit.

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Demachiyanagi Station was a milestone for us in our many days of wandering – it served us also as a departure / returning point when using the subways and trains.

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Fatigue could be something you start to feel after a while, but being on vacation, being where you want to be and in the right company, you can really temper any disturbing perception of physical weariness.

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Kyoto Station was our next waypoint. An essential place on Kyoto’s map, Kyoto Station and the surroundings can offer many opportunities to visit, eat and shop.

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We had a great meal very close to the station and then we all welcomed the shopping time. In Japan, shopping could be fun because you find plenty of things that you don’t find elsewhere in the world, and from 10.000 yen and up, you could get it tax-free, based on your passport.

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Aeon Mall is a great place to eat, shop, have fun and spend the end of a long day. Two big buildings linked with a nice bridge over the street – you can spend many hours in there. And we did.

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What did we need the most? Shoes! Good for many kilometers of every day walking! As many of you might know, Japan is the home of Asics and Mizuno, two of my favorite sports brands. So everyone got a pair of Asics from the “Running” section. A very big wall was full with sport shoes only, designed for different sports : running, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, walking, you name it.

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The day was almost over. Fully equipped with new comfortable shoes, we felt new resources of energy flowing through the system and we were ready to go home on our cushioned, comfortable steps.

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Back again to Kyoto Station, quite near from Aeon Mall – then by foot for a while, in the freshness of the night, following the map, until we decided to find a bus station on our way and wait for the bus to get us home on Horikawa Dori.

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Indeed it was a long day! Perhaps we did not see many tourist attractions on Kyoto’s map, but it’s all about quality and less about quantity. This is what you get from walking all day long – a type of experience I cherish and I am already used to.

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We, as human beings, need to settle down our pace (at least on vacation) and we need to do the things in a more comfortable, relaxed way. Everything! Walking, resting, breathing, speaking, seeing things, eating, our actions through the day – just take your time and try to live the present moment – no hurry. You will do less things, but the things you do, will be better. They will be naturally absorbed by your mind as life experiences, in a deeper approach.

Heading Home

Back home, we had our typical briefing to sort the things we did and see. A snack, a beer, a cookie and a small cake created the frame to end our long day in joy and laughter. Family Mart is your friend, especially at midnight. Tired? Indeed – but after a good night sleep, another day was waiting for us with new places, new streets, new people and new feelings.

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

 

 

Prime Lenses vs Zoom Lenses

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I thought about writing an article on this topic; it is a very important question, especially when traveling. You feel like you need to be prepared, never miss an important moment. What to do? Travel light and feel free to walk all day long and deal with the limitations imposed by your lenses (or the only lens you have – like traveling with Fujifilm X100S – an experience explained in a previous post), or get the whole artillery and carry every lens, hoping you will have the best image quality, delivered by the right lens for the right situation?

I have traveled to the Sunrise Country with both prime and zoom lenses, wanting to be fully prepared for my documentary photographs. Those lenses are simply tools in the process of capturing glimpses of reality. My opinion can be read here.

Enjoy it!

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