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

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Sunrise Country – DAY ONE

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We just woke up in our tiny room on Horikawa-Dori in Kamigyo Ward after a well-deserved sleep. Our first full day in Japan was about to begin. What are we waiting for?

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The best way to visit a new city is to explore the surroundings by foot, as much as possible. It’s what we did in our first day. A map plus some GPS apps on our smartphones, like Triposo or Maps ME can give you all the freedom you need, without the fear of getting lost. Japan is very well-organized, with plenty of signs and indicators using the Latin alphabet – at least in the big cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and many others.

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After a coffee and some very strong green tea in a small family coffee-shop with just 4 or 5 tables, the city was ours to explore. The sun was already up and just before noon, the day was really hot for the end of April. Knowing the Imperial Palace was very close to our location, we decided to get there, by foot, using our sense of orientation and sometimes a map. In our neighborhood, the small, but beautiful Seimei Shrine was waiting for us – this was our first flavor of Japanese shrines and temples.

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Thanks to our digital maps, we took some shortcuts to the Imperial Palace and enjoyed the beautiful and quiet small streets of Kyoto. I tell you, this thing, walking down those narrow streets, was one of my favorite activities we’ve had there. It fills you with peace, you can talk to your friends, or just keep it quiet and let your thoughts align themselves along the serene atmosphere.

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Indeed the Imperial Palace was near. Open to public to visit and preserved since 1877, this is one of the places you need to see when traveling in Kyoto. Everything is so majestuous, with a typical Japanese rigour and every element seemed to be so natural, without striking the eye.

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We entered the surrounding park (Kyoto-Gyoen) and we thought it would be great to visit the inner gardens and the palace (Sento Imperial Palace Gardens) while having a guided tour in English. We booked a free tour with English-speaking guide for the next day, because it was too late for us when we arrived and enjoyed the tranquility of the Kyoto-Gyoen.

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Let’s explore some more. We had no schedules, no timetables, it was a free walk for the first day. We left the Imperial Palace location and headed to one of the greatest temples in Kyoto – Ginkaku-Ji. The streets were visually busy, but quiet. The majority of cars are petrol fueled (diesel only on trucks) and most of them are hybrids, so the noise-level in such a big city like Kyoto was incredibly low. Some of this people’s calmness can be seen while driving their cars : patiently, no horn usage, almost no stress in the traffic whatsoever.

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Riding a bike is what you see as a very important, quick and free mean of transportation. No matter the age and social status, wearing jeans or a business suit, a lot of people commute by bike.

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On our way, we found the Shiramine Shrine, a place dedicated to Seidai Myojin – the god of sports. One moment you are on the streets of Kyoto and a second later, you enter a place of peace, silence, rich in history and tradition. There are plenty of such opportunities, just perfect to offer your soul and body a moment of rest.

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Afterwards we got back on our route to Ginkaku-Ji, while enjoying the calmness and the specific atmosphere of Kyoto. Even if you don’t visit a shrine, museum or temple, just walking those streets gives you a feeling of awe.

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Just before the Ginkaku-Ji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion) we found a beautiful place named “Philosopher’s Walk” (Tetsugaku-no-michi) and we took advantage of it by having a good break, resting our tired feet and admire the scene.

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The temple was very near, on an ascending path, full of small shops where you can buy local food and souvenirs. The place was crowded and we knew we were very close to our second most important objective of the day.

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Of course by the time we got to the entrance, it was 5 pm – closing time. As I’ve told you before, this was a free-schedule day and we had no reasons to hurry. This is my ideal kind of journey. No travel agency, no guide, no imposed program. You get to visit the most important tourist attractions, but it’s all in a rush and you miss valuable and charming details.

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Most of the time your touristic interests are different from what the agency has prepared for you. At least for a travel photographer, stepping away from the typical tourist paths and diving into the side streets, into the unknown – it is essential.

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It was a good time to admire the surroundings and visit the small shops on our way down, back to the Philosopher’s Walk.

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We decided it was the right time to change the direction, leave the Imadegawa-Dori boulevard and try a different perspective on Shirakawa-Dori. The evening was close, but still summer-like.

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It’s good to just wander the streets. Not waiting for something specific, just absorb the atmosphere through its fine details : the streets (with their plane asphalt and cleanness – very impressed!), the buildings, old or new, the trees and green spaces guarding the road, the people with their calm faces, not showing many emotions, perhaps a smile.

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Very soon we got away from the main street and “lost” ourselves in a district with very small streets and houses. The golden light of the sun and the coolness of the evening were painting the neighborhood with a warm touch.

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We finally found a Family Mart convenience store and had a cold Asahi beer and a well-deserved break.

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Suddenly the night came and we hit the road once again. It was the time to head home and our GPS apps showed some 6,4 km to go (a value we’ll meet again in the days to come, which became like a universal constant each time we were checking the remaining distance to our home – a cosmic coincidence, or some GPS error). We felt the fatigue after a whole day of walking, but that feeling of total relaxation was indeed unique.

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Heading home, we stopped one more time at “our” Family Mart store (I’ve told you, in Japan, Family Mart is your friend) and grabbed what was needed for breakfast and some beer & snacks for our daily Late Night Briefing. It was absolutely necessary that we review, in Gabriel’s room (The Meeting Room) our first complete day in the Sunrise Country.

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It was a full day with many walked kilometers and many interesting things. My first deep contact with the street life. And it feels very much alive in my mind, now and forever, because I’ve tried to focus on the present moments and deeply breath-in every second or reality we’ve spent there.

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Day One was over. We just couldn’t wait for the next one, when actually visiting the Imperial Palace (with a scheduled tour at noon) and Ginkaku-Ji (open until 5 pm) were our real priorities for Day Two. We just started to plan ahead our objectives and itineraries.

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

My “kind of review” for Fujifilm X100S

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I have this Fuji X100S – the camera I used for the very first time when putting my first step on the Sunrise Country. I love it, it’s compact and it delivers great image quality. It felt the perfect companion when exploring the streets of Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. And every time I use it, beautiful memories from the Sunrise Country keep coming back to me. So I thought it might be cool to share with you my impressions, as a travel photographer, about this little marvel of technology and elegance. Here it is, the review :

Just A Few Warm Impressions On Fujifilm X100S

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Enjoy it!

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