Monday, April 30, 2012

Lake Ashi

After our first night in Tokyo we caught a train to Hakone. It reminded me of the gorges at home. We stayed in a Ryokan that was nestled in the valley up in the hills. Our room looked out onto a private hot tub made of smooth stone that sat looking up the river.

Using our handy JR Pass we caught a bus up the hill and around to Lake Ashi. Here you get a view of the peak of Mt Fuji and can explore the lakeside. On the way around the lake is an old checkpoint 'Hakone Sekisho'.

It was settled in 1619 and was one of the biggest and most important of 53 checkpoints throughout Japan. Its main purpose was to control arms entering Edo and stop women attempting to escape Edo. Its a cheap entry fee and an easy walk from the bus stop. What was handy was that the bus announced the stop was for the pirate ship so we knew where to get off.

The path around the lake contiunes from the checkpoint thorugh some nice foresty land (its a bit hilly in parts but an easy walk if you dont mind stairs)

Heres the path walled in by Bamboo:

Told you there were stairs:

Wandering around the river will get you to this manicured garden with great views of the lake and on a good day you can see Mt Fuji.

After the garden and the museum house thing up there you head down to the road.

Here you can walk through the Cedar Avenue. We walked lake side then crossed into the Cedar walkway.

Eventually we got to the Hakone shrine that can be seen from the other side of the lake.

It was very quiet when we visited  but there were still plenty of prayers tied up:

You can head down a couple of flight of stairs to the water and a Red torri in the water:

From the other side of the lake near the bus station you can catch a ride on a replica pirate ship:

The wind was biting cold but the views were worth freezing my hands and ears:

Mt Fuji:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fushimi Inari, Golden Pavilion and Arashiyama

On our 8th day in Japan, we made our pilgrimage to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

It was a hard slog up allll those stairs but the view at the top was worth it. Walking through the forest reminded me a bit of the New Zealand bush. The vermillion Torii make it a magical adventure up the slopes of the mountain, behind the shrine.

I particularily the fox statues. The kitsune (fox) is said to be the messenger of Inari Kami (god).

I found myself enjoying the red gates and great views of the city despite the hordes of tourists and stacks of stairs. After meeting Inari we went back to Kyoto station for lunch. I got Mcdonalds and Rach got a bento box from the supaa (convenience store) up the road from our hotel Citadines on Gojo Street.

After a rest we then made our way back to the bus stop where we met our cooking teacher,Taro.

The Golden Pavilion was an amazing building on the edge of a large pond. The top two levels are gilded in gold and the surrounding gardens have a mossy floor with meticulously manicured gardens.

After paying about $5 each and a walk around the pavilion we wandered down the road, a little, to Ryoanji where a famous rock garden is situated. Its 500 years old... lucky its a garden of rocks or it would have died.

The surrounding gardens are the best we have seen yet! Pretty Sakura and an even bigger pond (Im sure there is no competition between Shrines though /wink /wink)

A unique wash basin of stone. "Tsukubai":

As we had to catch the train from Arishiyama back to the hotel, Rachel had an amazing idea! To head back to the Bamboo forest.... a stroke of genius. At 5pm there were only a handful of people about so we were able to enjoy the light rain in the bamboo and the peaceful serenity of ancient Japan. I also got a few great photos of the upper forest without any tourists spoiling the outlook.

After the bamboo forest success we headed past the station to get a few shots of the Moon Crossing bridge and the cherry blossoms in the hills around Iwatayama.

Now it was time to head home and rest our weary feet. We trekked back through surburbia to the JRstation and made our way through the rain back to our Hotel. The city at night is actually quite pretty in the rain.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wandering the alleys of Gion

After a day of climbing up castles and crossing moats a midst hordes of tourists, what better way to see the day out than by going Geisha hunting. All my research (google) pointed to the Gion district of Kyoto for prime Geisha and Maiko spotting.

We decided to head up to Gion about 6, since most reports say you can see Geisha out and about from 6:30.  It was about a half hour walk from our hotel, Citadines on Gojo Street.

On our way to Gion we decided to check out Pontocho lane from Trey Ratcliffs photo.


A small side alley off Pontocho:

Pontocho is pretty much all dining (and quite expensive) The restaurants have great views over the river and with the Sakura blooming the view was even more magical.

The lane was very busy, so I didn't get many chances for amazing shots like Treys... I was happy just to have walked in the footsteps of so many others down such a culturally rich lane.

After exploring the alley we crossed the bridge to Gion.

This was taken on the bridge on our way to Gion: On the left of the river are the restaurants on Pontocho lane that overlook the river. Pontocho runs parallel with the river.


We were slowly meandering down Hanami-koji street off the main street in Gion when this Maiko flitted out in front of Rachel and I.

I snapped a quick shot from the hip but she was going so fast it was a blur. Like a crazed paparazzi, I fiddled with my settings while running after her. Man she could move fast in those Geta.

I managed to get the shot below. I think my running up behind her caused her some concern. As I caught up to her she turned to look and as she turned I shot her profile. Luckily I managed to get part of the street that wasn't crawling with tourists although you can see how busy this side street is with onlookers and passers by.

This made our night, not only had we found Pontocho we also got to see a piece of living history in this Maiko (a Geisha apprentice)

Satisfied with our efforts we walked back to our Hotel to rest up for our next adventure.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Monkeys in Arashiyama and the Sagano Bamboo Forest

Today we trekked our way to Arashiyama to check out the monkeys that live there at the Iwatayama Monkey park. They are wild but tolerate us humans. They are pretty happy to let you roam around and pose with them... as long as you dont look them in the eye. Seriously you dont want to look them in the eye... they get angry.

Once in Arashiyama, you cross the Togetsukyo (moon crossing) bridge over the Oi River and after a climb (about 140 metres) up into the hills you get to a hut with mesh on the outside. While you are in this cage you can feed the monkeys without fear of getting mauled for the food.

It was maybe a half hour journey from our hotel in Kyoto and it only cost about NZ$5.00 each!!!

Once we had run out of food we left the Monkey feeding hut and popped outside to take in the misty view of the city surrounded by majestic hills below.

It was raining lightly so we pretty much had the place to ourselves... and the monkeys. The view of the city was great but what was even better was the hills around us. The mists rose up out of the forests, these forests have a sprinkling of Cherry Blossom trees, Sakura. They add a dash of magic to the scene like fairy dust sprinkled over the hills. The monkeys like them too... they like to eat the blossoms.

After the monkey business we headed back down the hill and navigated around the tourists to go to a more out of the way restaurant that we had spotted on our way from the train station (this was a lot cheaper and much quieter)

I had a great pork tonkatsu donburi that was sugoi! Rachel munched on a croquette set that looked tasty.

Now with full stomachs we put our weary legs to the test and wandered back to a Zen shrine we had seen on the way to the monkeys. We were looking for the bamboo forest but this shrine didnt seem to be the right way. The lady at the shrine shop showed us where to go. (Rachel thankfully understood the directions thanks to her awesome Japanese)

Further down the road (turning left out of the shrine) we found the entrance to the bamboo forest.

It wasnt huge and only took about 15 minutes to wander around a bit. There were so many people I couldnt replicate Trey Ratcliffs stunning photo but I got a few. Here is a shot of the tall bamboo trees:

We went back to Arishiyama a couple of days later after we had been to the Golden Pavillion. It was about 5 pm so there were a lot less people around. Here are a few more shots:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Path through the stone forest

Today we arrived in Kyoto early. We dropped our bags off at our hotel (Citadines, which is awesome!!) and hiked on up to Kiyomizu-Dera. Its a famous shrine in Kyoto

On our way back into town from the shrine we passed through a massive graveyard. The path winded its way through the elaborate memorial stones like a trail through a stone forest.

This bent over old woman passed us and gave me a funny look as I read out Asahi from a vending machine.

Now back at the hotel I've saved the days images and uploaded them for safe storage. This was one of a couple of hundred of shots from today. The rest I want to edit more but only have a little netbook.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Murrays Bay Wharf HDR

Here is yet another shot of Murrays Bay. I wanted to capture the wharf more rather than getting Rangitoto Island in the frame as well.

Just as the sun crested the horizon I took 3 brackets to get this HDR:

I added the gull above the wharf from another bracket that was just before this set.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunrise - Aprils Fools day

We got woken up by our cute lil kitten, Chesh, at 5:30 this morning. I decided to get up and get some shots of the sun rising over Rangitoto from Murray's Bay beach.

Thanks to Daylight Saving it didn't feel like it was horribly early.

Here's an HDR (from a single RAW) I might do a few more of these. I found some similar shots with less lense flare.

Before the sun came up some fishermen setup on the wharf. The gulls started hanging about too:

I put together about 100 shots from the morning into my first attempt at a timelapse:

The music is 'Mas Fuerte que el Sol' by The Vogado Projects.