Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Monkey Alert

June 27th was a ten miler. At least, by the end of the day I felt like I’d walked ten miles. Nijo Castle, in the center of Kyoto, was definitely worth the trip – although I was a bit disappointed on a few counts. So don’t get quite as excited as I did beforehand.

You can’t take photos inside the castle. The “Nightingale Floors,” designed to squeak with each step to alert the Shogun to intruders, don’t squeak much anymore (and sound nothing like a bird). And in the very nice gardens, 80% of the paths were roped off – so views and camera angles were quite limited.

On the upside, it’s very old, has a rich history, and is quite a beautiful work of architectural art. Here’s my attempt an an artistic shot of Nijo Castle sans tourists.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto

And one of the gardens, filled with very traditionally-pruned trees:

Garden at Nijo Castle

I also visited the Manga Museum (no photos allowed), and the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden where the Imperial Palace is located (not open to tourists, but sometimes private tours).

While in the garden, I saw a cluster of Japanese with massive cameras pointed at the canopy of a huge camphor tree. I joined this crowd of 400mm f/4 lenses with my puny 200mm f/5.6, and managed to spot this guy. If I’d known Japanese, I would have asked to try the big Nikon (it was around 400-600mm, not sure). Here’s the sharpest I could do without a tripod, using my 18-200mm VR.

Some kind of Japanese owl, I suppose

Did I mention that I love Japanese Maples? Especially the red-leafed ones!

Red Japanese Maple

I’ll just include one shot from Arashiyama Monkey Park, where some very tame Japanese Monkeys (also known as Snow Monkeys) live. I still have to email the monkey family this portrait. You have no idea how long it took the parents to get their little one to stay still for the camera.

Japanese Monkey Family Portrait

Tomorrow I visit the first city in human history to be nuclear bombed. What is Hiroshima like now, and how do they portray their grisly legacy? I’ll do my best to show you.

Posted 12 years, 3 months ago at 3:03 pm.

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No, DON’T Eat My Shorts!

I toured around Kyoto on June 26th with a new friend from the hostel. It rained the whole day, but I did manage to get a few cool shots of these turtles in the park around Toji temple:

Why are these turtles crowding onto this rock?

This Five-Storied Pagoda is a national treasure. It had a few “bests,” I think including the tallest wooden structure in Japan.

Five-Storied Pagoda at Toji

I love Japanese Maples. The overall family is my favorite kind of tree. I managed to find a bit of contrast despite the rain, and got this nice photo of trees in Maruyama Park, by the Gion district.

Japanese Maple

At the edge of the park I found this beauty parked in a patch of grass. I’m once again impressed by the D90 and Nikon’s VR (Vibration Reduction) system. It was almost dark by the time I got this handheld, no-flash photo. Does anyone know what kind of car this is?

Old car in Japan

I wandered through the Gion district, but didn’t see any Geisha, as it was raining. Neither they nor I had much desire to be out and about. This scene greeted me under one awning:

Don't eat my shorts!

Today I definitely observed a bit of the flavor of Kyoto! Everything from the sublime to the obscene. Tomorrow: I go to a castle in the center of the city, known for its “nightingale floors!?”

Posted 12 years, 3 months ago at 3:23 pm.


Japanese Packaging – Dry Ice, Please

I walked out my hostel door June 25th on a mission to see gardens, visit temples, and take in the atmosphere of Kyoto. My first stop was the Shosei-en gardens, which have a small (500 yen) entry fee. Quite reasonable; so far nothing in Japan was more than 600 yen entry, about $7. The lake at Shosei-en was particularly scenic and peaceful, even on a cloudy & rainy day.

Lake at Shosei-en garden

I tried one of these small plums (one that had fallen on the ground). It was really sour. But they certainly look nice:

Plums at Shosei-en garden

Next I saw the big temples in the middle of Kyoto, each of which is part of a spiritual complex occupying a whole city block. The temple on the east side is the biggest wooden building in the world – my lens wasn’t wide enough to get it all in one shot! Here’s the slightly smaller west temple, Hongwanji, in a 12-photo panorama.

Hongwanji Temple complex panorama

What surprised me most about the day was this cream puff. They cost 126 yen, or about $1.40, so I ordered one. Before I knew it, the puff was packed in a fancy bag and sealed with a metallic foil sticker. The saleswoman then filled another small bag with dry ice chips, placed that in a cardboard box, taped it shut, and put it in the bottom of a third bag, with the cream puff bag on top. They said something about three hours, which I suppose is the time this thing would keep before getting home to the fridge.

I ate it five minutes later.

Green Tea cream puff kept chilled with dry ice

The green tea cream puff was divine, just like everything made with green tea here. In case you want less packaging, try some waving and hand-motions. That worked the next time I bought a slice of cake, and I got away with two less bags. Long live the environment!

There’s almost no end to what I saw today. Here are the vermillion gates of the Inari shrine. I thought it was going to be just one row of these gates. Actually it’s about 4 kilometers of them, with shrines every few hundred meters. Local businesses donate money for the gates; I suppose it brings good fortune.

Orange gates at the Inari shrine in Kyoto

Here’s one of the hand-washing pools at Inari. Drooling Dragon!

Hand-washing pool at the Inari shrine complex near Kyoto

I’ll have to do more articles about this day after my return to Germany. The raw chicken on rice (with an uncooked egg yolk on top) is something that many Japanese I spoke to hadn’t even seen! Anyone ever eaten raw chicken?

Posted 12 years, 3 months ago at 3:43 pm.

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Shibuya’s Top 5

We headed out of the hostel on June 20th with a downtown park in mind: Yoyogi Park. At the beautiful temple, a Japanese wedding was processing between buildings. 587 tourists had their cameras out and ready. So did I, for the first of today’s Top 5 cool photos around Shibuya (in the order they were taken). Best wishes to this happy couple!

Traditional wedding in Yoyogi Park

Next up: Greasers! Apparently there’s a big craze to dress up like Elvis (or the Pink Ladies) and dance in this square near Yoyogi and Shibuya. At least on Sundays, there are several “gangs” of Greasers there.

Japanese Greaser complete with comb

Number three is going to be a double-dip, because I caught the same tourist posing with both of these strangely-dressed people, several blocks apart!

Tourist number one photo Angelic Pretty

For “Tourist shot number two” check out the guy’s outfit: Cap. Headphones. Ski goggles. Hello Kitty purse. Belt pouches. Short shorts. Red fishnet stockings. Pink socks. SHIN GUARDS. Yellow sneakers. He must have multiple personality disorder, and each of them picked an item to wear?

Tourist number two photo Man Crazy

Fourth is Condomania, a shop filled with condoms and related… stuff. Here’s the Tenga, a one-use male pleasure toy. I found out what it is by accident last year, because I wanted to use Tenga as the name of a town in my fantasy novel Demon’s Bane. A Google search revealed that it might not be the best name for a town; a bit strange for any Japanese readers. Anyone in Mexico wanna buy a Chevy Nova?

Tenga - you don't want to know

Last for today is a famous intersection near Shibuya station. From the Starbucks you get this fantastic view when the cars get a red light and every crosswalk goes green at once:

Pedestrian crosswalk at Shibuya, taken from Starbucks

I actually have a ton more photos from this day. Eventually there’ll have to be an article about the best hamburger I’ve ever had outside the US, at Blacows in Tokyo.

Here’s a question for today: what is the best hamburger you’ve ever had outside the United States? I’m thinking: good beef that can be cooked rare, flavorful toppings, and a hearty, non-crumbly bun. Messy is okay, but tasty is required – in which country/city did you find it?

Posted 12 years, 3 months ago at 3:06 pm.


Sneak Preview: Japan

On June 18th, all I did was travel. Straight from the hotel to Auckland airport, then a 12h flight to Singapore, a 4h layover, and a 7h overnight flight to Tokyo.

I did take ONE snapshot today, but it was just to remember the website of a NZ photo contest that I might enter. Singapore airport offered some photo opportunities (there is a free butterfly house!), but I was just too tired. Instead, I watched the Germany and then US World Cup games.

So, I’m going to give you a sneak preview of what I might see in Japan tomorrow (wink wink, nudge nudge).

June is rainy season in Japan. But the overcast sky means nice, high-contrast reflections in the lakes. Here’s a shot from Shinjuku-Gyoen park.

Reflections in a lake at Shinjuku-Gyoen Park in Tokyo

Here’s a popular Japanese sports drink, I guess aimed at people who like to… drink sweat? Or at those who perspire a lot? Who knows. Thanks to tomorrow’s “Pocari Sweat” model, Nick.

Nick modeling Pocari Sweat sports drink. For the record, he is not sweaty at this point.

Japan has a lot to offer, and more to see (and eat) than you can imagine. From Grease street dancers to $100 canteloupes, we’re going to see it all! I have a feeling this is going to be a wild ride…

Posted 12 years, 3 months ago at 3:52 pm.


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