Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

What a hectic weekend. Saturday morning flight to Haneda airport followed by a drive to Fujikawaguchiko and the rush back the next day to catch the last flight from Haneda. This trip was supposed to take place the week before (31st October) but was delayed because of Typhoon Chaba, which would have caused non stop weekend of rain. And there would be no way Mount Fuji would be visible from the town located 10km away to the north. If you have followed this site quite a bit, you would have noticed that this is one of my favourite sites to shoot Mount Fuji. I could wake up early in the morning and walk 30 mins to the other side of Kawaguchiko across the bridge and set up my tripod before 6am. And in the last 3 times I have been here, Mount Fuji would always be visible in the morning along with a calm lake to catch some reflection. Kawaguchiko is large enough not to be perfectly calm, and the wind does kick in about 7-7:30am. So get there early. I will not detail too much how to get there, the easiest would be via the Keio Express bus line from Shinjuku just opposite Yodobashi Camera. And as a primer, Fuji 5 Lakes regions composes of... of course, 5 lakes. From the right to the left, there’s Yamakako, which I have never been, and since I have not heard too much about the view there, I have no plans to visit since it is also out of the way. Kawaguchiko is arguably the easiest one to access, as it is just situated by Fujikawaguchiko and the northern shore is littered with attractions like a monkey show and a music box museum. The views here are one of the best accessible without long hikes and a car, and Mount Fuji looks symmetrical from here. The only possible issue is that the town would be visible in your picture of the famous mountain. Only an issue if you’re after the mountain sans civilization. Just next to it would be Saiko, where Mount Fuji is not visible at all, obscured by a close by hill. News has it that Saiko is a good fishing place. Next to it, a little drive a way is Shojiko, which I think rivals Kawaguchiko. Cars could drive to the lake bank facing Mount Fuji, and you could get down to water level. What you would see on the opposite bank on the foot of the mountain is just pure nature. However, Shojiko is not that easy to reach without your own car. The public buses don’t run regularly, so you may have 1 hour there and if you do not get on the returning bus, the wait may be quite long. No buses at night the last time I checked, so night time shooting by bus would be impossible. One could camp by the lake side though. The last one is Motosuko, a relatively large lake, with an elevated vantage point at the far side of the lake. It is even more remote than Shojiko. This is also the view of Mount Fuji that could be found at the back of a 100 yen note.

Lets see what we have here...


Shoji-ko: This is one of the first shot of this Autumn season for me. The EXIF reads 5:30pm and it was already dark. Exposure reads 30 secs at f5.6 on a 28-70mm. It was already dark when I got there, and the long exposure lights up the mountain a bit. I kept the foreground dark to convey the evening mood. You could see car lights on the right at the bottom of the mountain, and some faint lights at what could be the mountain 5th station. AT this time of the year, the snow cap is starting to grow, but obviously it is still early.


Shoji-ko: This is one of my favourite picture of the shoot. Exposure reads 4 minutes 30 seconds and f8. I did another one that was 20mins long but came up to almost a blank shot. I had a ND8 on the lens and I would have to stretched it to 1hour exposure if I was to get something like this. What I wanted to do with this shot was to have a long enough exposure to catch the star trail. You could also faintly notice a line of a passing aircraft. I would have wished to have more time here, I guess I will explore the possibility to camp here the next time. Would have been great to catch an hour long star trail.


Kawaguchiko: This was taken at very close to 6am. Note the vapour on the lake surface. This morning was not what I hoped for, with cloudy skies in the morning. When I got to the lakeside at 5:30am the mountain was covered in clouds, but almost always it clears at close to 6am when the faint trace of sunshine appears. You also notice that Fujikawaguchiko town is quite prominent in the foreground. This is a 4 sec exposure at f8, at about 40mm, and I cropped the top and bottom of the original frame. You also noticed that the view from Kawaguchiko is a little different, with the long gentle sloping sides of the mountain visible from here, while at Shojiko, the slope is quite strong.


Kawaguchiko: Looking at the east at the rising sun. The only good thing about a cloudy day is that the morning red sun glow is quite strong.


Kawaguchiko: With the sun starting to appear in the morning, Mount Fuji starts to glow a little shade of red. This scene only lasts not more than 10 mins. In fact I think it might have been shorter than that. So this is where an ergonomic camera comes in, when you switch from one scene and light type to another. The controls has to be easily found and you do not have the luxury of diving into the menus to change something.


Kawaguchiko: Looking towards the west, at the thin layer of fog on the surface of the lake early in the morning. We are at 6:20am now.


Kawaguchiko: Here’s a 1 minute exposure intended to give the lake a smooth appearance and to blur out the clouds. It has this mysterious look although it was not one of my favourite shots. Lacks drama. EXIF says 60 sec at f8 and so far all these were shot at ISO200.


Kawaguchiko: This is one of the opportunistic shot for the morning. A fisherman was just passing by in front of me and I waited for him to reach the middle in nice alignment with the mountain peak before I took the photo. Note the altocumulus clouds, as the lower level clouds start to be blown away.


Kawaguchiko: And with a little graduated ND filtering, here is a shot that starts to look different from the rest. This one is 6:48am. There is now enough light to do 1/30sec at f8. I’ve switched to a 17-35mm wide angle set at 22mm for this shot. All on tripods and remote trigger.


Saiko: One of the reason to come here at this time is to catch the Autumn leaves in Fuji 5 Lakes region. At the lower altitudes most of the trees are still between green and yellow while it has already started on the top of hills.


Saiko: Ok I lied a little bit. It is possible to catch Mount Fuji on the western end of Saiko, but only at an oblique angle like this. Since Saiko lies on the shadow side of a hill, it gets the sun later in the morning, and the fog on the surface of the water is still visible at 7:50am. The lake surface is relatively calm here, with reflection of the mountains quite well defined. The blue tint on the water surface was courtesy of a Singh-Ray Gold-n-Blue polarizer. The non filtered photo looks quite bland since I’m shooting more or less into the sun. EXIF reads 1/90s at f8 and I’m back to the 28-70mm.


Saiko: Morning fishing at the lake. This close crop isolates the scene from the messy mountains in the distance which would distract from the subject, in this case the boats. This was shot with a telephoto, one of my favourite lens, 70-180mm Micro. It looks sharper than this on the original file, almost pixel level sharpness. I just love the way the surface level fog stays on this lake surface longer than the other 4 lakes.


Saiko: On the same side as I am standing on, a fly fisherman prowls the banks.


Motosuko: This is the only one that I liked from the banks of Motosuko. This is 8:30am and the sun is already quite high up in the sky. It looks like it over the mountain as at Motosuko you are looking from the west. The vantage point at the carpark is elevated, and I don’t think the lakeside view will be better because part of the right slopes of Mount Fuji is obscured by a hill. This view is very difficult to digest for me, mainly due to the lack of ability to capture a clean Mount Fuji like at Kawaguchiko. However, I met some Large format photographers at Motosuko, so there is obviously some with different opinions than me. The cloud day and the fact that most morning you would be shooting into the sun, makes Motosuko a better evening spot.


Shojiko: back at Shojiko, I noticed this opportunity to shoot a reflected bank at the western end of the lake. Mount Fuji would be on the right in this case. This was shot at a humble 35mm. ISO had to be cranked up to 560 due to the fact that most of the foreground is actually in the shadows. I had to use Lightroom to bring it out while keeping the skies controlled.


Shojiko: The rest of the lake looks quite normal. Nothing special in this view.


Shojiko: One of the boats you could rent for fishing. I’m not sure if a fishing permit would be required to rent it, but for fishing that’s for sure. For this shot I had to add +2/3 stops to the exposure as as the boat is relatively in the shadows compared to the background. But the resulting image was better than I expected when I first shot it.


Shojiko: This marks the second trip where I get ducks swimming past me. The first time I fumbled to switch my camera to the right setting to get the ducks and the mountain sharp and the right shutter speed. I ended with a blurred out ducks... motion ducks. This time I dialed in 1/250s and f11 right away and also managed to set the camera to continuous shot. I have about 10 shots of various duck positions, but I tend to like this one that is a little past the mountain in the middle. I also like the way the sun is partly obscured by the cloud and it is possible to see the god rays above the mountain. Focal length for this shot is 17mm on FX sensor. I’ve heard of people complaining about the Nikkor 17-35mm, but it is a fine lens for me.


Shojiko: Picnic by the lakeside. One day....


Fujikawaguchiko: Enough mountains... the other reason to come here is for the red leaves. There is an entire tourist attraction the week I was here based around a flea market and the sights of red leaves like these. This was shot just next to the road on the northern banks of Kawaguchiko, with many tourists passing behind me. 70-180mm Micro does its second purpose as a micro lens.


Fujikawaguchiko: More red leaves. This is at 1/180s f5.6, the only reason for the large aperture is that I was hand holding the lens set at 90mm and I really wanted something sharp. ISO is 450. For close up shots like this I would go for shutter speeds that are reciprocal of double the focal length (i.e. 1/180s)


Fujikawaguchiko: Trying something different here.


Fujikawaguchiko: I have no idea what this chair is doing here, but it is one of those test shots that made me go “hmm, not too bad looking” after importing it into LIghtroom. So it stays.


And one last shot to close this post. What a better way than to shoot a Japanese Maple leave, Japanese style with uncluttered background and lighter earthy toned overall picture. Over and out, till the next season at Kawaguchiko.


Tochigi, Japan: Return to Senjogahara Plateau

Chuzenji-no-taki: Chuzenji waterfall You could say Tochigi is my playground. I just love the place. Take a long slow train over to Tobu-Nikko station and there are many options. Most tourists would spend the whole day at the temple complex, Toshogu, Rinnoji and of course, snap photos of the stable with 3 monkeys. But the hidden gem of Nikko is the many hiking opportunities like Chuzenji to the northwest and Kirifuri area to the northeast.I've been to Senjogahara and Kirifuri before, and the links are embedded in the two names in this sentence.

Senjogahara Plateau

Senjogahara is in the northwest just further up from Chuzenji. Chuzenji is, of course, synonymous with a waterfall, not just a normal waterfall, but one that drops hundreds of meters. The lake that feeds the waterfall, Chuzenji lake, is relatively large, and on a plateau in the highlands. On a summer day, there are anglers spaced evenly along its banks. I don't have proof, but it does look like you need to have permit to fish there and you are probably assigned slots. They do look spaced out a little too evenly to be random!

Fly Fisherman on Yukawa River

... And more fly fishing...

According to all the information I have, after all, I 've been here twice already, Chuzenji lake used to be a lot larger than what we have today. At one end, where the Yukawa river joins the lake, the dried lake bed makes up Senjogahara plateau. It is basically marshland today, with a habitat of its own and generally wet ground. The good thing about the place is that the air is fresh, and there is a long plank walkway for hikers.

Tobu-Nikko Station

From Yutaki waterfall, walk towards Akanuma

Going up towards Yumoto Hot Springs, you will enter a forest area before reaching Yutaki waterfall. Along the way, especially in the forested area, there will normally be fly fishermen (permits required again) along the Yukawa river. This is normally a nice area for plants and insect macros. People walk around with bells attached to their bag, and I was told that this was for scaring away bears. I have never seen one in the two times I have been here.

Station at Akanuma. Exit here and get your 150Y bottle of tea at the machine!

All in all, this is a nice place to spend the day out of Tokyo. Take the train from Asakusa early in the morning, the slow train takes about three hours to get there, and best thing to do is to take the second train out (first is an express that cost more) at 6:30 in the morning and sleep there. When arriving at Tobu-Nikko station, jump on a bus that goes to Yumoto Springs and get off almost an hour later at Yudaki-iriguchi station and walk down towards Akanuma. Walking slow to enjoy the sights and nature, it should take 4-5 hours to get there. Then take the bus back towards Chuzenji and stop at the midway station to enjoy sights of the waterfall. Then back to Tobu-Nikko station and back to Tokyo and you'll be really tired, and end the day with a nice bowl of soba!

Enjoy the photos. I'm sure I will be back to Senjogahara again in the future. I have heard that the marshes are starting to dry up. Next trip will hopefully be during winter.

Izumiyado Pond


... more marshland...

.... and more, but this time a little more trees...

... and ending with plenty of trees. This is close to Yudaki waterfall.

And here's a little close up shot with the amazing Leica Summilux 50mm ASPH lens...


Tourists at Chuzenji Waterfall viewing station

Tobu Nikko Station

Gears: All pictures in this post shot with a Leica M6 Classic with Leica's excellent Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH and with Kodak's new Ektar 100 film. Scans are a little cool, and I blame my lack of calibration with vuescan before really scanning it.

*end of post*

Tokyo, Japan: Shirokanedai at Night

f00727image0031 Now, for the last year or so, I have been staying near Meguro JR whenever I visit Tokyo on business. And 2008 this was a little more than a third of the year! To be specific, the area around the hotel is also called Shironakedai (I believe, but it could be also Shirokane) and there is a Tokyo metro with the same name. Over time I have grown to know this area quite well.


I would say it is an upscale place, since there are all these embassies near by (Gotanda and Ebisu is one JR station away) and most people stay in houses. Sometimes from the JR station, I would take a long walk, around 30 minutes, to the hotel and since this is Tokyo, I sometimes take the small lanes at night just to see what it looked like. Most of the time it is serene, no one on the street, fresh air and there is this look to it that I wanted to capture on film. In the morning, I have found a few route through the hilly pathways and lanes here and this has turned into a routine for me whenever I stay in Tokyo.

Photoshoot Location

The pictures in this series are taken in the area labelled Kamiosaki in the map.



There is something about shooting a nocturnal scene in black and white. The human eye uses a more sensitive cones for seeing in the dark, and if I remember my biology well, that is why dark scenes usually look black and white to us, thus a night scene shot in b&w look more realistic, at least to the mind. Personally, the best setup for night photography - now this is very personal - is a rangefinder because the viewfinder is not depending on what lens you use, a fairly fast lens, f1.4 say, and I'm now reluctant to say you need a Noctilux f1 or f0.95 in order to shoot scenes with only street lamps for illumination. Next you need a fast film.


Experience shows that my equation consists ideally of a Leica M-series RF, 50mm f1.4 (for this series I used a Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH with the Leica M6) and for film, Neopan 1600. This combination allows a regular sodium lamp lit scene to be shot around 1/60s and worst case 1/30s at f1.4, just nice for moving around without a tripod.

Anyway, won't go on too long on this post. Enjoy the pictures.


*end of post*

Tokyo, Japan: Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Market in the early morning It's difficult to be sitting still. I spent most of my year in 2008 travelling, and all of a sudden, it has been Shanghai since the the trip to Tokyo for christmas 2008 till now. And it's back to my favourite city this part of the world, Tokyo. This trip will be a multi-leg trip, with a weekend in the city before flying off to Taipei. Heard rumours before I came that Tsukiji fish market tuna auction section is now opened to tourists again. I'm sure it was closed because tourists were hindering the auction, but this I must see, being an addict of the red and fatty tuna sashimi.

Its Saturday today, and since the weather forecast is perfect for today only, plan is to visit the fish market first thing in the morning at 5am and once I covered Tsukiji, I plan to catch the first morning train to Nikko, another one of my regular destination.

Dividing up a giant tuna

According to the market's online site, the visitor area for tuna auction is only opened between 0500 and 0630. The next next problem, other than waking up early enough, is the transportation. The Tokyo metro does not operate until 6am at least, and Tsukiji, being rather far away from Meguro JR, means that the only mode of transportation that can get me from the market that early in the morning is the taxi. Will cost me a little more than 3000 Yen just to do that.

Taxi definitely goes fast at this time in the morning, like all taxis in big cities when there are no traffic, I suppose. At 5 am I reached the market. The taxi dropped me at a location I'm not familiar with. There were a bunch of American tourists (not difficult to tell) but it looks quite obvious that no one knew where the auction really is. I know the general market where anyone can buy seafood, and on my Nokia E71's GoogleMaps I was able to get a rough idea where I am. So I move on, and the market is already buzzing with people selling their stuff, My Leica M6 with Fuji Pro400 comes out and I take a few shots here and there, making use of the nice depth of field on the Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH. At the same time, I followed a bunch of Japanese traders that look as thought they were going to buy giant tunas, but they started going to the first floor. Thinking that the auction area is up stairs (I know, didn't make sense too, as they will have to haul the large tuna up the stairs!) I followed them and we came to a long alleyway on the second floor. After a minute or so, I decided it would be better to backtrack as I will not find it here.

A dealer at work in the general section of the market

There are no signs, but just a general loitering at the ground floor, and I came upon a couple of warehouse-looking area. There were some tuna visible, and some tourists tried to enter and this seems like a restricted area. However it is possible to peep and see some fresh giant tuna and many dealers going around inspecting the tuna. No gaijins here for sure.

This is one of the restricted auction section, clearly no outsider welcomed!

... And clearly the fish here are fresh!

And so the loitering continues, and finally a guy that looks like a tourist usher comes and tells everyone to go to a particular warehouse. When I got there was a sign that clearly says this is the tourist area. It is just a strip in the middle of the warehouse enough for 3 person standing side by side, and the system looks like they require everyone to move to the end and then come back, like a conveyor belt. Obviously no one does that, so soon there is a long traffic jam of tourists, fat, thin, tall, short. And the ocassional obnoxious tourist, including one I almost turned into negitoro for being an ass and a half. Anyway, to hell with him.

Mr usher for the tourist section

And in this section the tunas are all frozen

... and it this place it swarmed with people who look like experts in tuna.

Soon the auction begins. And there are some serious action going on here.

Eventually the sold tunas get tagged with a red mark before being carted away.

So, there there is an usher in white, making sure everyone moves so that the conveyor belt of tourists is moving all the time. Here the tunas are all frozen, laid out on the floor, and the tail of which are chipped into a chunk still attached to the fish. I observed the buyers coming to check the flesh in the exposed part. Not too sure what they are checking, guessing texture and the colour. Then at around 5:30am, the auction starts, and it's a guy standing on a small stool, notebook in hand, and shouting out something. Handycams start rolling and tourists start giving their self commentaries. Anyway, this goes on until all the tunas are sold, and someone comes over and paint something red on the fish, and long story short, quickly it gets carted away by someone with a hook. Bet there are all these Tsukiji carts waiting outside. Rumour says that one of these fish could go for a million yen or so.

General section Tsukiji Market (if there is such a name)

After the auction, its time to just roam the market, using up my few rolls. After the Fuji Pro400 I had a few test rolls of Kodak Ektar 100, which seems to be quite good for red colour, which is the dominant colour here. And I just love how incandescent light behaves with colour negative film. The scene looks warmish, which keeps the mood intact.

Since it is not the first time for me at Tsukiji, I'm done with the place after a while and it is time, 7am, to go have some sashimi donburi in one of the obscure shops. I don't intend to do a general review of the restaurants and stalls here, but I would say majority of the shops here go awesome sashimi. I don't care about sushi, not in the morning anyway, nothing beats rice bowl with tuna sashimi and minced tuna to start the day.

Baby octopus for sale

Done with with the market,  done with breakfast and now time to hop onto the Tokyo metro. Next stop Asakusa Tobu line to catch the next train to the next destination on this busy Saturday!

Always a pleasure to end the post with a Mighty Car, a Tsukiji special!

*end of post*

Equipment for Japan trip

Thought now is the best time to document what I brought with me to Japan. This trip requires quite a number of trips in trains and local buses so I was hoping to travel with as little bulk as possible, although at the end of the day, I feel that my packs are a little too heavy. For bags, I have a 35L backpack for clothes and chargers and items that does not require removal during transit. Even though temperature in Japan at this time of the year plunges below zero, becuase of the constant moving I will be doing, I packed only a fleece with Windstopper (Gore) material, and for waterproofing, a Mont-Bell packable Gore-Tex outer shell.  A Gitzo G1341T tripod with RRS BH25 is attached on the outside for the late evening photo shooting in dim light, and this tripod/ball-head combination is light enough to be brought along for the trip.

On my belt I have a Leatherman tool for emergency, and my Ricoh GR Digital point and shoot on the other side. They do get in the way especially when sitting down, but hey, better than nothing.

Nokia E71 'Blogging Machine' and ThinkTank Speed Demon camera carrier with lens case attached...

I have also a belt pouch, a Think Tank Speed Demon with 2 lens case attachment on the belt. Most of the time it is not around my waist, but I carry it with the shoulder strap. In this combination, I have the following items: - Garmin eTrex Vista GPS: Black and white, 7 years old, but still kicking. Drains batteries though, so I keep it off except for waypoint entry. - Nikon D300 with RRS L-bracket attached to it permanently - Nikkor 12-24mm f4 AFS DX Lens - Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8 AFS Lens - Nikkor 28-70mm f2.8 AFS Lens - Nikkor 105mm f4 AI Micro Lens - Spare batteries for GPS & Cameras - Cokin P filter holder with 77mm adapter - Singh-Ray 77mm Gold-n-Blue Polarizer - Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Filter - Singh-Ray 2-stop HS Graduated ND Filter - B+W Slim Circular Polarizer - Many CF and SD cards, enough to fill 25Gb of storage

The 4 lenses alone was enough to make the waist pouch at least 5-6 kg. Which is a little too much for a trip like this. The only reason I brought that many with me is that I just exchanged my 80-200mm with the 28-70mm (with a little topping up of course) so I wanted to test it out. The Think Tank pouches were just perfect, when it rained I just take out the rain cover and put it over the pack. Only issue is that on the Speed Demon pack, the rain cover doesn't cover too well when you are using the shoulder strap and not the belt buckle. It works, with some effort.

Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 3)

Sunset over Syojiko in Matsue 26 December 2009 (Matsue, Tottori): It is not fun to wake up to the sound of rain outside. This happened today, so I decided to sleep in. For japanese breakfast, Yoshitaka-san I just realised is their name, made grilled Kare fish and rice. A little bottle of yakult yogurt tops it all off.

Took a kilometre walk to Matsue-jo castle this morning, passing by the lake for another crack at shooting the little island by the art museum. Again it started to rain little hailstones. On the way across the main bridge, the hail storm intensified and mixed with a little snow. Once that quickly cleared, the sun was out in full force.

Matsue-jo Outer wall & moat

Matsue-jo is on top of a hill. It is just after a large hospital, and you know you are there when you see a hill and a moat going around the area. The entrance of the castle is on top of the hill, accessible by going up a few flight of stairs. A cub baseball team was training on the grounds the morning I was there. Made to run up the staircase.


Matsue-jo requires an entrance fee to get in, and if you are a foreigner, it is 280Y and half the original price local pay. It must be a limited time promotion. There is nothin special about the garden although it is a nice little stroll and has nice views being perched on top of a hill. To enter the castle it is necessary to remove shoes and there are ample lockers with locks to store them too bad they are not made for shoes sized 11 or more. I had to get creative to fit my shoes into the locker. There are about 5-6 storeys in this castle and the interior has a rustic feel to it. It is quite clear they did replace some wood here but generally the original interior stayed intact. The most interesting part for me is how they take a bunch of wooden pillars and staples them together with a giant piece of steel brace to form a larger pillar. The wood is darkish in colour and on the outside the mortar is all bright white, which kills the exposure on my camera, you have pure white and black wood, so impossible to get details in both. Back to the interior, on the first floor is the storage area and this is where they store the original building materials when they are renovated, and also a really deep well to get water in times of a siege. Second floor is a museum with a nice collection of samurai costumes and hats. The other floors are empty which explains why I lost count of the floors after the third.

After Matsue-jo, I went out through the back of the castle to the northern exit towards the home of Lafgadio Hearn but I don't intend to enter it. The street directly circling the castle moat clockwise from the home is quite interesting. The houses here are constructed in the style of the olden times and it is just charming. I passed the preserved house of a Samurai but I have to get back to Terazuya's Ryokan to pick up my items and catch the train to Tottori. I would say Matsue is a nice walking city.

Continuing with the nice train names, after lunch, I'm on a Super Oki train to Yonago. At the time I wanted there are no express direct train to Tottori so I will have to spend 1 more hour on the train by going to Yonago and taking a non reserved local train (more like a metro!). Considering the next available direct train from Matsue to Tottori leaves 2 hours later than Super Oki, I will still get to Tottori an hour earlier allowing me to visit the dunes before sunset.

All towns in Japan begin to look similar. They all seem to be built around a JR train station where all life seems to happen. After checking with the tourist center at JR Tottori, I picked up the bus timing to the sand dunes and based on the first couple of bus back tomorrow morning, proceeded to book an early train and Shinkansen back to Tokyo Shinagawa station. This will allow me to have some time shopping in tokyo before I return on Sunday. So, train tomorrow leaves before 9 am.

Then its time to go look for the bus terminal just in front of the JR station and berth 4. The bus ride to the dunes is not too far, 15 to 20 minutes at the most and costs 310Y by the meter. Only worry is that now the sky is starting to get dark and it is not even 4 pm yet with sun setting almost 5 pm. I get off at the cycling terminal entrance and proceeded to look for a hostel to stay for the night among the stars and dunes. I start to have a sense that here no one seems to understand a single word of english, and being able only to count in Japanese surely does not help for me.

After checking in, and finding out that in this off season, no meals are included in the room rate as the restaurant is closed, I lighten my load and brought only tripod and camera and it is time to explore the dunes. As Murphy's law would have it, just after I left the hostel it started to rain,and not just rain, being pelted by ball bearing sized rocks of ice was not fun, which is all I can say. Gore-Tex hood on, and rain cover comes on; on the camera bag and it just wouldn't stop. As I got closer to the beach on the sand dunes the wind started to be gale force and hail stones travelling almost horizontally. I couldn't face windward without getting battered by ice rocks. No desert for me today it seems, the sand is now compact and starting to have a snow buildup on it, accents of white snow building on the throughs in the sand dune ripples. Just as I had hoped, the wind and snow then stopped all of a sudden and I set my camera bag down and took a series of photos with the 17-35 f2.8 mounted on my camera and thereafter switched to the 28-70 f2.8 before quickly packing everything up as the snow, hail and wind picks up again. Saw a really nice scene with half the sky bright and puffy clouds and the other half dark and moody, but I couldn't shoot with the hail stones hitting the lens front element at this rate. When it died down the scene was gone.

Hurried back to the hostel and left my camera bag there and decided to take the bus to Tottori JR station for some seafood but once in the bus realised I forgot my wallet so its going back again. Once back I had no mood to take the bus again so decided to hike 20 minutes to the nearest convenience store along a road I have not gone before.

So for 10 minutes, the road goes through a dark woods, and here I am, hiking in the dark, with only a slight moonlight as my only source of illumination while listening to a Melvin Braggs podcast on science of time. This road could be haunted for all I know but I was hungry so nothing will stop me. After passing the halfway point, the road starts to pitch downhill and there right in front of me was an excellent night view of Tottori city.

27 December 2008 (Tottori and the trip back to Tokyo): Ah, it had to end like this. Woke up early at 0530 this morning to have morning coffee and wait for the sun to come up, hoping for a dry and sunny morning but it was not to be. It snowed overnight. It stopped raining by 0700 but taking a stroll on the sand dunes only yielded compacted sand, dark in colour. As the skies doesn't seem to be clearing anytime soon, low hanging clouds dampening the mood early in the morning and all hope is lost. Its time to make it back to JR Tottori and to hope for better luck next time.

Sand Dunes at Tottori. This is about the best I could do with the 2 days of storm when I was here.

Taking the 0853 Super-Hakuto 4 train to Himeji where I will switch to the Hikari shinkansen to Tokyo. Along the way on the Super-Hakuto, the countryside was all white from the heavy snow fall overnight. In large fields it was possible to see small tracks of little 4 legged animals going through it. Too bad a moving train presents a difficult shooting environment for DSLR so I took snapshots with the point and shoot and mobile phone. As the train weaves through tunnels and tightly spaced valleys and hills, in some area there are low hanging clouds which will make for good photo mood but only if I was outside the train. So I could only look this time. At Himeji there will be a 30 minutes stopover before the train I am supposed to take arrives. It seems that Himeji has a nice large castle in town, and has its own festival, a float being displayed inside the Shinkansen terminal waiting area in JR Himeji. Maybe next trip.

Sun setting over Tottori

Passing through Kyoto, it was clear that the snowfall overnight was quiet heavy. All the buildings in the city was blanketed with heavy snow and for a while the sun was out giving a nice glow to the whole city. I wished I was out there with my camera. It was not possible to do it from the train and hope for a photo nice enough for publishing, at least technically. If only it was like this in the morning in Tottori sand dunes, and my trip would have been 100% perfect!

The Shinkansen

The rest of the journey was quite uneventful. For the first time I didn't sleep in the bullet train. It took another 3 hours to get to Tokyo, and for me the stop was Shinagawa as it is closer to Shinjuku, my next destination. For a country that prides it self with being green, the trains seem to be very heavily heated. At least for me, it was impossible to feel comfortable in the Japanese trains with any jackets on. The temperature has to be cranked up to at least 25C! I think they can save a lot of energy reducing the temperature by at least 5 C and still make commuters feel comfortable.

Once I got to Tokyo, it was time for a last minute shopping. As this is already Saturday, my flight back is on the next day and one of the first flights out of Tokyo. So in short, a shopping spree that started with Shinjuku, then on the Chuo Rapid service to Nakano (Fujiya Camera!), and back to the Chuo Rapid/Yamanote JR line to Akihabara (had to visit the large toy section at Yodobashi Akihabara, Yodo Akiba in short, for my little niece), and then back on the Yamanote JR to Ikebukuro to visit BIC Camera's original store, and then back to Shibuya to spend the night.

Shinjuku JR West Entrance

And suddenly, as fast as it started, it was time to end this week long trip. It is my first time moving around multiple destinations in Japan. I have been spending quite a lot of my time in 2008 in Tokyo for business, and this only allows day trip trekking in the mountains and forests around Tokyo, but it is always back to the hotel in the evening. This time I was able to move around from town to town, staying in tatami floored room. What do I think about the traditional Japanese way of being comfortable? I actually love the tatami floor and it is extremely comfortable, if you have the right heating for the room of course. And the room is a lot more neat when after getting up, basically everything seems to be chucked into the cupboard leaving a clean and neat straw mat floor. For sure next time I am in Japan I will insist on being given a Japanese style room and not a Western one. Japanese style toilets are another thing. I dont like squatting when carrying out my business. I get cramps when doing so.

And while looking at the Map of Japan at the end of my trip, it looks as though I have conveniently covered Hiroshima, Shimane and Tottori prefecture, majority of Western Honshu. Thoroughly enjoyed the trip and language was definitely an issue in this part of Japan, but gives me more incentive to at least learn some Japanese before I return next time to cover other region. As usual, I love the food here, and especially the fresh and light taste unlike more western stuff. Like I said, nothing like a hot bowl of soba in the morning. Or natto. Wrapping up this blog posting, its amazing I have managed to typed so much in a week on my Nokia E71, and still only scratching the surface of how I really enjoyed this trip.

Nikon D300 + Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8 AFS


Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 2)

23 Dec 2008 (Tokyo, Hiroshima): Long shinkansen ride today. First a Hikari train from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka and then the next train on the same platform to Hiroshima, arriving just shy of noon. 4 hours in all to travel almost to the southern tip of Honshu. Grabbed a bag of sandwiches and bottled tea at Tokyo station 10 minutes before the departure, and true to Japanese rail's obsession with timeliness, we left at 7:03am. Only complaint I had during the trip was that the heating in the train was set to a balmy 27C at least, making it sweaty in a jacket. Kind of betraying the fact that it is below 10C outside. The only thing it is conducive to is the type of short naps that gives you splitting headache when you wake up. Shinkansen! It is always exciting to be taking the bullet train, no matter how many times you have been on it.

JR Hiroshima Station

Arrived on time in Hiroshima and right away I booked the train for tomorrow to Matsue. I let their super computer system choose the best path but will leave after lunch. Should make it to Matsue before sunset.

Time then to get on the JR line to Miyajima-guchi station to look for my hostel for the night. Will drop my things there before going roaming streets of Hiroshima till night time. Miyajima is an island that is quite popular, possibly just because of a floating Torii gate. Since the moon will be up during the morning tomorrow, I have decided the plan would be Hiroshima today, and if I get high tide tomorrow morning, I can catch the first ferry across to Miyajima to shoot the gate in the morning.

Hiroshima JR station looks rather bare for a large city. And rather devoid of commuters too, strange considering it is now lunch time. I was hoping to grab some GPS plots of the JR trip but we have an overhead highway along the track so I doubt there will be any useful signal. Nothing special about the local train that serves the Hiroshima suburb which I am taking to Miyajima-guchi.

JR Train Station at Mijajimaguchi. The Ferry stop is 100m walk away.

After leaving my bag at the spartan hostel, its back to Hiroshima city center, with the train taking about half an hour to get there. At the Hiroshima JR station 6th floor there a couple of restaurants, all serving only japanese menu. A lot of sample dishes on the front display but no pictures to point to in the menu. I settled for kamaneshi oyster with tempura. Not exactly at random but.

Inside the Hiroshima tram

First destination while there is still light is the A-bomb dome, which probably doesn't require any introduction at all. From the train station, tram number 2 gets there for a flat fee of 150Y, I mean, flat as in it gets you wherever you want to go in Hiroshima for a flat fee. Back to the ruin: it is what you would expect, that's the problem with heavily photographed buildings, when you get there you are disappointed. Its cordoned off by a metal fence so tourists will have to admire from outside. I walked a around and found that the area behind the dome is the best to shoot as there are not too many towers or building in your background. Nothing more unconvincing than a world war two building it skyscraper behind it. Later than evening I would return to shoot the dome at night when she sun start to set. Best time is around 1830 to 1900 where the sun has already set and the sky is still crimson and the dome has been lighted up for the night. The balance of lights in the sky and dome makes for interesting scene. White balance for fluorescent seems to work best for me.

Hiroshima's A-bomb Dome

A-bomb Dome at dusk

Next across the river is a park with many monuments dedicated to peace. Nothing interesting to report so I just go through it quickly.

On the way to Hiroshima-jo Castle

Hiroshima-jo Castle

Up north, a short walk past the baseball stadium and a large library/sports center is Hiroshima-jo or remains of what used to be a castle. When you come to a body of water that is it. The moat marks where the castle used to be and only one tower seems to remain. I set up my tripod here and waited for the light to fade in the evening. Difference in light in the sky and on the tower seems too much to shoot properly so it was time for a little HDR. When it got too dark to shoot, its time to look for Okonomiyaki place at the Parco shopping center end of the pedestrian mall not too far from the A-bomb dome. How can I come to Hiroshima and not try it. it is probably more fast food than gourmet, pancake with noodles, beansprout, lettuce and toppings of your choosing. And of course the black sweet sauce. I can't say it is my favourite food or something I can have all the time. Oh yeah, forgot the bacon.

Shooting Hiroshima-jo in the evening

Okonomiyaki at Okonomi-mura, Hiroshima

24 December 2008 (Miyajima, Matsue): It will be an early morning today. I stay close to the Miyajimaguchi ferry terminals so taking the second ferry of the day at 0705 hrs. Sun is just coming up but considering the populated part of the island is on the western side of Miyajima, I guess I will be in the shadow of the sun till 10 am at least. Over the horizon, amber skies greet me while this JR ferry covers the 2 km of waterway separating Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Miyajimaguchi Ferry

Miyajimaguchi Ferry station early in the morning

Miyajima JR Ferry

Morning ferry to Miyajima from Miyajimaguchi

On Miyajima itself 7 am seems to be the best time to be out shooting. Sunlight is not too strong and has the warm feel to it. I unload shutter clicks on Itsukushima Shrine's floating Torii. Already over shot in the media, I will contribute to it. The shrine is also worth a visit and entrance fee is 300Y. Somehow I feel like I know this place, and it could be the countless japanese shrine shots I have seen in brochures. Wild deers roam the island, none in the shrine but present just about anywhere else. I took my time at Itsukushima Shrine, and before long, managed to put more than 100 photos in the mornin alone, which is a lot from me.

Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima

Itsukushima Shrine Torii gate

View of Floating Torii on Miyajima from Itsukushima Shrine

On the way back to the ferry, I passed by Senjokaku Temple and the five storied pagoda. What caught my eye was that it is made with wood, and not renovated in the recent century. I have not seen such an old original temple in japan before. Possibly in Nikko but in terms of size, Senjokaku is sprawling. Inside it is a large open hall suspended above the ground large pillars. The pagoda however looks new. Maybe it is the paintwork but I think I have seen too many of them.

Impressive looking cookie stamping machine in one of the high street stores on Miyajima

World's largest rice scooping ladle... ?!?!?!

At 1100hrs it is time to head back to Hiroshima and look for a nice soup soba after staying out in the cold for the last 4 hours. Pretty standard, hop on to the JR ferry to get to Miyajimaguchi, then walk 5 mins to Miyajima JR and take the passing trains towards the right to JR Hiroshima. There is a shopping place called ASSE, an unfortunate name, with restaurants around it.

The trip to Matsue today will involve a Hikari Shinkansen to Okayama and then switching to a smaller Yakumo train that goes directly to Matsue. No, I didn't plan this myself. It is again thanks to the magic of the JR computers. I have had a look at the JR line map and it was impossible to make out which is the quickest way. Truth is, the quickest way is probably driving as a signboard I saw yesterday indicated less than 200 km to Matsue while my train journey today will take 4 hours. Most of it on a local train.

Waiting for the train to Okayama in Hiroshima

Got to love this place. Arrived in Matsue on time down to the minute. It is possible to program a robot to get from one place to another in Japan. The train from Okayama passes through forested hill area almost all the way before reaching the coast and very very soon, Matsue.

Interesting looking apartment with identical locks and what look like coin slots at the door, in Matsue

10 minutes walk away is my accommodation for tonight, a Ryokan called Terazuya. Run by an old couple it is possible to have breakfast and dinner here. Dinner tonight is an assortment of crabs, sashimi, tempura, suki-yaki and sake for drink. First taste of home made dinner for me and worth every yen. The rooms are all tatami floored japanese style but I am beginning to like it better than western style rooms. After dinner its a little chatting in broken japanese and broken english. Broken english from me so they understand and broken japanese from them hoping that I do too. Pretty sure both sides are doing context based understanding. Anyway, happy to be spending christmas eve at a Ryokan with pleasant owners.

Room at Terazuya ryokan. I just love sleeping on tatami flooring

25 December 2008 (Izumo): Merry Christmas to those that celebrates it. Surely not the town of Matsue as people seems to still go to work. Not a good start today, woke up to a cold rainy morning. Forecast was for snow in the morning but I guess that was more like very early before the sun comes up and in the mountains. Had breakfast at the Ryokan consisting of kare fish and the assorted small dish.

Picked up a 0837 hr train ticket on the Super Matsukaze train (gotta love the train names) stopping at Izumo to see a very old shinto shrine. That is about all Izumo is famous for it seems. Maybe a lighthouse not too far from the shrine, but will see if I go or not. According to the ticket I will arrive at 0905 hr and I am sure I will be there exactly at that time. I was under the impression that Izumo was at least 1 hour away!

Dentetsu-Izumoshi private train line ticketing booth to get to Izumo Taisha shrine

At Izumoshi, right next to the JR station is the private line Dentetsu-Izumoshi train line that goes to Izumo Taisha where the shrine is located. As the line does not go direct from here, there is a small change to change at Kawato station just 4 stations away. Cost for the trip is 480Y one way. They do sell a 1500Y ticket but I don't know if this is just limited to the private trains. If it is then I will not need it as I do not intend to take them more than twice today.

Izumo Taisha's Outer Shrine

Izumo Taisha

Its a case of dejavu again. It seems as though I have seen Izumo Taisha shrine before. It is not a big temple compared to the others that I have seen but it has those antennas arranged like an X on the roof, like what I would expect old Japanese buildings to look like but not too common. At least I believe this is the first time I have seen it. I wouldn't say it is impressive by any means but worth a visit.

Izumo Taisha roof details

For lunch, got to try the Warigo Soba, a local speciality. It comes in small stackable shallow cylindrical plates and depending on how much I feel like eating, 3 or 5 levels of it. Each bowl of Soba is equivalent to 2 mouthful for me. Just soba, chives and soba sauce on it and then its time to chow it down. The soba is a little more al dente than most I have had in Japan answer I just like it that way. That's how all noodles should be serve according to me.

Izumo seaside, a major storm on its way

Just 15 minutes to the west is the seaside. can't really imagine without looking at a map that Izumo Taisha is so close to the sea. The weather this week is quite bad and winds are strong so there are white caps everywhere and sand from the beach gets blown into the eyes. Only person crazy enough to be out here in this gale, apart from me, is a wind surfer, struggling to get out to sea. It is not really too easy to set up the camera for a shot at this beach, and the light is not cooperating either. Little rock outcrops near the beach with bonsai-like trees make it a good picturesque setting but not today it seems.

On the bus to Hinomisaki

On the road, a bustop awaits me. Taking the bus to the end at Hinomisaki. The Ryokan owner Mr Terazuya tells me there is a lighthouse there, and automatically that means cliffs. So got to go there for sure.

Drying seafood in Hinomisaki

Bus ride takes 15 minutes from where I got on, hugging the cliff side all the way to Hinomisaki. There are small shops everywhere and they all seem to be drying cuttlefish and squids. First significant structure that strikes the eye is a shrine, in a nice red colour, but in this overcast day, it is not as bright as it should be.

The lighthouse is a short walk away on top of a hill. The walk there is not too rural, shops and houses are along the way, but many are closed today. When I reached the lighthouse the wind starts to pick up again and waves crashing onto the rocks and cliff sprays salt water up and foams of dirt rises from the sea requiring some dodging. My water proof layer goes on and all exposed camera lenses gets a filter. The wideangles get a slim polarizers but the darn salt water keeps on sticking to the front element, and eventually forming a layer of grime. Trying to wipe it off doesn't help as the filter turned into a soft filter. Looks like all filters will have to go into a bath tonight and all lenses and the camera will need to get a wipedown as they are all drenched by the time I was done with the photos.

Hinomisaki Lighthouse

Rough seas at Hinomisaki

It is not too easy to photograph a white lighthouse and a dark rock foreground like this scene. I try my best, and possibly impossible to set up a tripod and use a graduated neutral density filter either. I try not to get too close to the cliff edge as well as the wind is so strong, occasionally the gust is enough to push me a few steps.

Heavy cloud cover on the way back to Izumo from Hinomisaki

Got back to Matsue by train with enough time to spare so I went to the art center not too far from the Ryokan to shoot sun setting over Syoji lake. There was already a TV crew of two set up over there and while I was taking my time putting up the tripod, another 2 photographers arrived as well. While waiting for the sun to get close to the horizon, I felt a little rain coming down. The wind has always been blowing hard so for a while I was thinking this has to be the water spray. In a few minutes it started raining hard, and I packed all I could as fast as I could but camera, lenses were all wet. The water proof cover was rather difficult to put on the Think Tank Speed Demon, so I decided to just grab everything and make it to the closest shelter I could find. It is getting dark early in winter, 1630 hr is the hour of last light so it is time to find some place to have a long dinner waiting for the rain to stop.

Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 1)

Mount Fuji from Kawaguchiko Somehow the end of the year season is now becoming a global holiday. In places where Christmas is not normally celebrated, you have lighting and large trees, especially in areas of commercial interests and where shoppers like to feel like they have an excuse to shop more than they usually do. I don't celebrate Christmas other than accepting gifts. Somehow I don't think I will get anything from anyone this year. Self-pity aside, one thing I do during the end of the year season, is NOT be in my country of residence, always preferring to be out travelling during this holiday. Last year it was the toture up Huashan in Xian province, China. And this year in 2008, thanks to free ticket courtesy of the airmiles I have collected on Cathay Pacific, this year the destination is Japan.

With the Japan Rail Pass, trains are now affordable, especially when the trip involves long distance train rides on the excellent Japanese bullet trains and jumping from train to train everyday. Anyone who has been to Japan knows that travel by rail, for any kind of long distance travel there can get quite expensive. The Japan Rail Pass brings flat rate rail fares for multiples of 7 days up to 21 days. For long distances like Tokyo-Hiroshima, a Rail Pass for a week cost less than a return ticket for the same destination. For my case, a return ticket to Hiroshima from Tokyo Station is roughly 18,000Y one way reserved seat while a Rail Pass is 28,000Y for 7 days. Only difference is that with the Rail Pass you cannot use the Nozomi express trains. But not a big issue. So I proceeded to purchase the pass in Shanghai, and generally any of the Japanese airlines like ANA or JAL will sell them. You buy a document the size of an airline ticket way back when they still use paper tickets, and exchange it for the Rail Pass when you arrive in Tokyo. As far as I know, it is not possible to buy the thing when you arrive in Japan. So plan ahead.

20 Dec 2008 (Tokyo, Kawaguchiko): The 1 hour time difference between Shanghai and Tokyo makes the 2 and plus hour flight feel longer than it really is. This is nothing special, I have been doing Narita to Tokyo countless times in 2008 for work it just feels second nature. Since there is no more hotel to go to as before, I take the Narita Express NEX and first stop would be Nakano to have a browse at Fujiya Camera! Right after a quick stop by Map Camera at Shinjuku West Entrance before going to the Keio bus terminal for the 1900hrs bus to Kawaguchiko.

Brian's church in Tokyo, Fujiya Camera!

Kawaguchiko or Kawaguchi Lake is a small resort town at the biggest of the 5 lakes that make up Fuji 5 Lakes on the northern side of Mount Fuji. The lake bank makes for very good scenic shots of Mount Fuji, weather permitting. A quick check with the Japanese Weather Bureau tells me that the rain was going to hit Kawaguchiko area the two days I planned to be there. No good, but chance of rain is 70% so there is still a small chance of nice weather part of the day.

Mount Fuji framed by a tree

Fishing at the banks of Kawaguchiko

The Keio highway bus costs 1700Y and makes about 14 stops before hitting Kawaguchiko and continuing on to wherever. I arrived late at night and took a nice 30 minutes stroll to K's house hostel, located close to the lake and as I highlighted in my last visit there, is possibly the cleanest hostel I have ever seen. Got a more expensive tatami japanese room this time and it was very very comfortable.

Too bad by the time I arrived at the hostel, started to feel like crap, combination of lack of sleep during the last week and the beef stew I had during the flight. Later it would turn out that I had food poisoning but a day of careful eating and plenty of water would cure it eventually.

Night time in Kawaguchiko

Early day tomorrow morning so will sleep 'early' tonight.

21 Dec 2008 (Kawaguchiko): Woke up feeling slightly better, but it was evident that what I had yesterday (and partly today) was food poisoning. Looking at the timelines, it is most likely the airline food, but I cannot be sure and maybe it is better not to put the blame on anyone. However, food poisoning or not, I still got and by 0600hrs I was on my way across the bridge to the other side of Kawaguchiko to shoot Mount Fuji in the morning. This was the same spot I was at earlier this year when I shot with 6x4.5 camera. The sun seems to be rising in a slightly different spot compared to what I recalled from the first trip. But as with any landscape photography, early in the morning is the best time as for a while the light on Mt Fuji is not too stong, at least not enough to cause the snow on the moutain to be overexposed compared to the foreground. Thanks to my new Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filters, I was also able to control the relative exposures of the moutain compared to the lake.

Traditional Japanese door made with paper. No I did not tear it...

Kawaguchi speciality: Hotto

After the photoshoot, it was time to get back to the hostel for a morning nap. It was barely 0800hrs when we were done shooting. For lunch it was time to look for some Hotto, the local speciality. It is mostly a thick udon like noodle in a miso soup base and vegetables. I guess I have never had so much pumpkin in a soup, and I confess I was a little overdosed on it for a while. But Hotto in winter, with the hot miso soup with vegetables in it, was just the right combination. And this is not just any cheap miso soup that you get in Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, but proper artisanale (I hope! for the price we pay for one of these dish) stuff that taste a little richer.

Cycling in Kawaguchiko. The basket was supposed to be for the camera, but the weight of the gears made it difficult to steer!

22 Dec 2008 (Kawaguchiko, Tokyo): The original plan was to wake up earlier and have another photoshoot of Mount Fuji again this morning, but the panda in me reigned today. work up well after the designated 0500hrs alarm that was set last night. As the sunlight bright and overhead already by then, it was not really a good time to do some serious landscape photography. By now I was feeling much much better compared to the last 2 days. Checked out of the hostel and left the heavier backpack in the storage room. Since I seem to be back in Kawaguchiko all the time, decided to make a survey of the lake area. So took a rented bicycle across the bridge again and proceeded to make a circumnavigation of the lake anti-clockwise, just to see what was around the place and to scout for new photo locations in the future.

On the second, cloud cover was think enough to mask Mt Fuji from, making for very bad Fuji pictures.

Overturned boats in winter

There are many hotels around the place, and looks like this is quite a getaway for people from Tokyo. At this time it seems to be off-season, as most hotels have empty car parks. The interesting thing for me about Kawaguchiko is that at every portion of the lake, Mount Fuji, being quite the dominating item in the landscape, appears to be different, depending on what is framing it. There are cherry trees all over, so in spring it shoud be quite interesting indeed. And in Autumn, red leaves framing the mountain should be quite a draw. I entered coordinates of future photo locations into my Garmin GPS and hope to come back again next time.

One last round of Hotto before leaving. Notice the calendar with the Yokosuna Sumo wrestler...

And after lunch it was time to return to Tokyo by bus and to rest before the second leg of my trip begins.

Travels: Okutama, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan

View from Okutama Dam (Ricoh GR Digital) Okutama is an area of wilderness in Tokyo prefecture, lodged on the western end of it, looks close to Tokyo but according to schedules, takes almost the same amount time to get to as Nikko. The plan would be to hike from the train station to the lake and then back. Figured 4-5hrs hike to get there.

Okutama Forest  (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

Traveling light today. Only cameras are the Ricoh, which comes along with me everywhere and a Leica M2 with 35mm Summicron ASPH lens. Weather is 50% chance of rain, which in my experience means sure chance of a drizzle. Whether or not it will get me wet is another story. This trip sees my old GPS tagging along, fresh from its stint in New Zealand last week and a newly charged battery to boot. Shouldn't have the urge to buy overpriced batteries anymore.

Something about this pile caught my eye, has to be the neoprene suit  (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

0804hrs: On the Chuo rapid line to Tachikawa station before switching to a train that hopefully ends up at Okutama. This rapid train seems to stop at Musashi-Kagonei. A swith will be required to get to Tachikawa.

I should be going to Okutama now (Ricoh GR Digital)

0844hrs: Train change at Tachikawa. Surprisingly large train station this. Chuo line is on platforms 3-6 and Ome line that goes to Okutama in on platform 1-2. Only problem for me is that the first train i see on the platform goes towards Okutama but stops short in Kabe. looks like another stop is in order here.

0950hrs: Ok this is getting somewhere. I'm still in train station land. Looks like the least stressful way is to wake the ome line to Ome and then switching across the platform for the train that goes from Ome to Okutama. Finally. More than 2 hours to get there. The elderly hikers decked in goretexes and heavy boots tell me I'm on the right train. I'm dressed in shorts and t-shirt. This time a little smarter. I have me a little packable gore tex jacket i bought from Mont Bell the last trip to Japan. Rightly so as it will be raining the whole day today, drizzling little bit the whole day long.

Okutaman local bus (Ricoh GR Digital)

1020hrs Okutama Station: finally got here. There is a tourist centre right outside the train station with maps printed on low cost paper, but none of them in english so this will be a challenge. I took the map anyway, and immediately grabbed a gps coordinate of the station. The train schedule says that there are at least 1 to 2 trains per hour till 11pm so i don't worry about transport back.

Okutama JR Station (Ricoh GR Digital)

Okutama town is quite picturesque like the other towns on the way here. It is at the bottom, or almost there, of a large valley with nice stream flowing quickly alone the valley floor. The sounds of water are all over the town. Can't miss it. Steep mountain surround the town on both sides. I should walk down hill and then turn right to get to the dam by walk.

Nice dog I met during the hike but he sure barked like crazy after I shot him (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

There are quite a fair bit of logging going on in Okutama (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

Tamagawa River (Ricoh GR Digital)

1200hrs On the Okutamako trail: have been walking for some time. Mostly on nice mountain tarmac (road) and the sun is hiding behind thick clouds today. It was drizzling on the way here in the train but now that part has cleared. Went on the wrong path a few times. Went deep into the forest in one and had to track back and a second time stumbled across a grave site in the forest. Walk was pleasant. There are sounds of rapids and waterfalls aplenty. In case I forgot to mention, taking a walk towards lake Okutama today. Should be a nice 4hr walk over there and maybe spend a few hours at the lake. Have the option of taking the bus back but you know me. May walk all the way back still. Ok, time to enjoy the Japanese countryside.

Trials in Okutama on the hillside (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

Its very common to see multi-level transport system, roadway bottom of picture, and unused train track on the top, and of course treking track I'm walking on (Ricoh GR Digital)

1412hrs Okutamako: Right now, I have finally reached Okutama lake. Or at least a glimpse of it except the only issue is I'm up on the hill and not on the lake level. It has been drizzling for the last hour or so and I have got the waterproofed jacket on for that length of time.

Construction site near Okutama Lake (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

This machine is quite interesting: Its a mechanized chair set on rails to get you up the hill! (Ricoh GR Digital)

One of many swaying cable bridges over Tamagawa river (Ricoh GR Digital)

The path now is quite high up with sheer drops for 100m at least on my left and I have a feeling I shouldnt be blogging in this conditions. Won't be fun to drop off the side for sure!

Temple I encountered in the mist somewhere in the forest, spooky as anything you'd encouter in the fog! (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

One of many workshops I met along the way  (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

Sometimes the forest track merges with the road (Ricoh GR Digital)

Worlds highest car park (Ricoh GR Digital)

1443hrs Okutama Dam Visitor Centre N35.79218 E139.04822: OK not really at the visitor centre, and the hike is really really disorienting. I have thought I was at the base of the dam an hour back but since I was up on the hill and basically hugged the contours, it took an hour to move 200m in straight line terms.

Sometimes the trekking path does get dark and damp (Ricoh GR Digital)

Sumimasen... you may be lost (Ricoh GR Digital)

Okutama in the Fog  (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

Okutama Dam power plant (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

No complains. The view from the dam is really nice. Hills and more rolling hills and cloud hugging them. Almost like a chinese painting. Too bad its still raining. I will get a couple of shots and it should be time to pack up and leave this place if I am to get back in time. Behind me is Okutama lake, apparently the source of drinking water for downtown Tokyo. there is not too much to do here except for the hike here. Wondering between continuing the hike or making the journey back. Undecided.

Lake Okutama (Ricoh GR Digital)

1353hrs: Will cheat this time. Can't be bothered to walk 4 hrs back to Okutama Station. Waiting now for the next bus to arrive and according to the time table at this stop, that will be 1615hrs and cost me 340 yen for the journey. Not too bad. Weather is getting worse. You can tell the dam is a tourist spot. Everyone here drove from somewhere and dressed for the lazy drive too. Looks like I am the only one to hike here from downstream. Nice experience, not sure I want to retrace my path. So bus is the way to go.

Okutama Bus Schedule at the dam (Ricoh GR Digital)

Abandoned van (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

1615hrs On the bus: on time like everything else here in Japan. Think I have said this many times before. like any bus in Kanto, you go in from the middle of the bus and grab a ticket with the number of the bus stop you boarded. Then you look at the LED signboard in the front of the bus and the price for your ticket number will increase as the bus moves along. Ingenious. When you get off the bus just drop ticket, which is printed on both sides, into a little receptacle with your payments at the front of the bus and you have it.

The buses here are not as flashy as the ones in Nikko, actually for Japan standards I might even say it is rickety. Actually it is not half that bad. I'm just fussy. But it does look like we are currently going downhill quiet a bit. Just wondering how much attitude I must have done earlier today! Amazing.

Okutama Station (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

1640hrs On the Holiday Rapid Okutama Train: This was the train I should have caught this morning. Skips most of the stops on the way and goes directly to Shinjuku, unlike the local train I took this morning. It starts moving at 1652hrs so there is still some time to burn. Lets see. 28 mins to Ome. And then the same train to Shinjuku. The station platform is not straight so there are gaps up to a meter at the entrance depending where you are. Last thing you want is to end up under the platform.

Train is moving now. Time to get some nap.

Okutama Bus (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

1757hrs Tachikawa Station: this train, although and express, moves slowly and makes long stops at almost all the stations. Looks like a 2 hour train ride. I slept first half hour at least. Will make the stop in Shinjuku for dinner tonight.

So overall a nice little exercise today. Nice walk with plenty of hills to climb and uncertainty on whether I was going in the right destination, which is great. The only problem is that the weather does not allow any good photo opportunities, which is also good that I don't bring along a heavy medium format gear. The leica does well with 400 Tri-X black and white film. Only shot a roll of it though.

Shopkeeper at Okutama Station (Leica M2 + Summicron 35mm ASPH)

What I have in mind for a next trip is a trek in Mitake instead. Looks like a large group of hikers prefer to stop there a couple of stops before Okutama. That would a nice plan for my next trek. The path should be shorter but will include mountain climbing. Signing out... Time for some sushi celebration.

Self Portrait (Ricoh GR Digital)


What to do on a Sunday in Tokyo...

After a lot of weekends in Tokyo, its difficult to know where else to visit. Until I stumbled upon this Tokyo tourism webpage with a list of recommended walks around Tokyo. Going through the whole list, I went for the "Discover old Edo (Half Day) [Monzen-Nakacho]" route. This involves taking the Toei line all from Yoyogi JR all the way to Kiyosumi-Shirakawa station. Kiyosumi Garden

A short walk away is the Kiyosumi Garden, which cost 150Y to enter, which is not too bad considering the gardens are quite well maintained, and the lake there filled with turtles and the largest Kois I have ever seen, some of them size of a full sized cat. This would make a nice place to do some landscape photography with tripods. The rest of the route is a nice walk, but nothing special.

A little bored after, I decided to go to Minami-Osawa to check out the Asics and Mont-Bell outlets. The trip starts at Shinjuku station, where you jump on board the Keio line trains bound for Chofu. This is not the New Keio line (no idea where it goes). Chofu is the station where all the trains on the Keio Line seems to run. If you're lucky there are local, rapid and express trains that branches off from Chofu station to Hashimoto, which is the direction that you want to go. But the quickest way is to take one of those Special Express or Semi Special Express trains that skips most of the stations along the way straight to Chofu, and you can switch to the Hashimoto train on the same platform.

La Fete Tama Outlets, Minami-Osawa

The station to stop would be Minami-Osawa. Once exiting from the station, the outlet centre is on the right of the station exit. I don't know the facination with the French, but the whole centre is modelled on a French village. Anyway, went looking for shoes, and Japanese sizes seems to be in cm, and the issue is most shops seems to stop at 30cm (size 12 US) while my current running shoes are all at least 30.5cm. Too bad. But however, bought a Mont-Bell Gore-tex XCR jacket. The thing I like about Mont-Bell products is that most of them comes with a little pouch, and they're mostly packable. The model I bought is Dyna Action Parka without excessive layers, etc so it packs into a little package that just a little larger than an short umbrella. Very very nice.

On the way back to Meguro station, saw some nice sunsets made with the overcast skies. Easy day today, still recovering from yesterday's hike in Kirifuri.