Category: Night

Engyoji Temple

I decided to head to Himeji today, to see what shape the famous castle was in, but primarily to visit Engyoji Temple, a 30 minute bus ride away.  As expected, the castle was under construction, and the majority of it was covered making for a lack of photo opportunities.  Given that Engyoji was to take a half a day at least (including the bus ride to/fro), I decided to skip the castle.  I can always come back in 2014 when it’s finally done.  😉

As with many sites in Japan, Engyoji Temple was on a mountain, Mt. Shosha, and was reached by cable car (five minutes or less, on the Shosha ropeway).

Engyoji Temple is about a 1000 years old, and today is made up of several buildings, spread out over a few kilometers of up and down trails, narrow roads, and very limited vehicle traffic.


I wandered around for almost 3 hours, taking everything in and heading down a few hiking trails when the opportunity presented itself.  Parts of the movie “The Last Samurai” were filme here, and one of the monks was only too happy to explain as much in Japanese.

Himeji is west of Kobe, so on the way back I decided to stop off and see the Akashi Kaikyō Suspension Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world at 3910m.  The sun had just finished setting when I got there, so no sunset pictures unfortunately.  I waited around until it got dark and got a couple of interesting perspectives.

Back to Kobe, and off to bed.


Kobe Blossoms

Today was a busy day.  It started out at Ikuta Jinjya, which happens to be behind the hotel in downtown Kobe, and on my way to the Sannomiya train station I decided to have a look.

The shrine happened to include a large pond and some flowers nearby as well.  Overall, it was rather well kept for a shrine in the middle of the downtown core of a major metropolitan city – one that even had security at night! a first for me, anyways.

I was off to see some cherry blossoms today, and after a bit of research on the internet had located a spot that was rated one of the top 100 in all of Japan – Shukugawa Park, in Nishinomiya, just east of Kobe.  The blossoms were not quite full yet, but were quite impressive nonetheless.

The cherry trees line a canal for a few kilometres, and there were many people out enjoying them considering it was a weekday.

The food-stall vendors were also busy serving up an assortment of afternoon snacks.

A few more shots of the cherry trees over the water, and some people enjoying themselves in the sun.

That evening I found myself in Harborland, taking some photos at night with longer exposures.  Harborloand is a popular spot for tourists, but on this evening there wasn’t a lot going on.  Made for some nice pictures, though.

Two Days in Kobe

After leaving Okayama, I headed for Kobe.  Internationally, Kobe is famous for beef – but that aside, it’s not well known as a tourist destination for foreigners.  The city itself is very much international – and in that way, I would say similar to Toronto.  There are a lot of non-Japanese people living and working Kobe, and the culinary scene reflects that.  

The hotel I chose was downtown, and in the heart of the entertainment district – which is both good and bad.  The walk from the main train station to the hotel was littered with people looking dinner, bars, or entertainment.  There were only too many people on the street looking to help, in the form of handing out brochures and advertisements to local establishments, urging customers to enter.  Differentiating between actual restaurants and “Girls Bars” was fairly straightforward, as you might expect.

The hotel I had chosen was a little more upscale than the typical business hotel, but wasn’t much more money – what it lacked (a washer and dryer) it made up for in european style.  This also made it popular for weddings, and the fact that it had its own chapel certainly helped.  I think I saw a wedding couple getting their photos done at least once every day I was in Kobe.

Sunday was to be the day I visited the Sake Brewers in Nada, another thing that Kobe is famous for.  Over 30% of the Sake sold in Japan comes from Nada – so you know it’s good.  Most of the day was spent sampling the goods at six of the local breweries.  The plum blossoms where still open at one of the brewers, which was a nice touch, and the local greenery at one of the nearby shrines was quite a site.

As luck would have it, there was a park nearby with cherry blossoms in full bloom, the first I’d seen yet this mature.  

The next day I decided to visit Kitano, which is an area of Kobe made up of “foreigner houses” from days gone by, now mostly turned into shops, cafes, and restaurants.  Again, this is probably more of interest to japanese tourists, but it was a nice walk with views out over the city.

On the way, I snapped a couple of shots of the street “between the tracks”.

A Pachinko parlour (slots) at night, and a departing train were a couple of interesting night shots I was able to find.  The covered shopping streets were deserted, but the lighting was interesting enough.

On my way back to the hotel, I came across this rather intoxicated gentleman purchasing the local pastry on a street corner.  He looked happy enough, though stumbled a fair bit; it was entertaining to watch the interaction when other customers showed up.  A salary man, definitely, but I got the impression he had kids waiting for him at home.  

When staying at a temple, your schedule is somewhat set – and that includes getting up in the morning for 6:30 meditation.  Somehow, I made it in time – and I’m glad I had my winter wear, as the pond outside had an ice glaze on it, having frozen overnight, and it was cold – very cold.

Meditation lasted about 30 minutes, after which we were given a tour (in Japanese mind you) of the treasures of Shojoshin-in, the temple where I am staying.  There were five of us at meditation – a grandmother, mother, and two sons, and another foreigner.  After meditation, the other foreigner left, presumably to go to breakfast, whereas I hung back with the japanese and as a result got to go on the tour.  We headed to breakfast afterwards (which they serve the same as dinner – in your own ‘meal’ room, different than where you sleep but just as private.

Today was to be a day of travelling around the mountain top, visiting all the major temple and museums on offer.  A few kilometres of walking (I generally avoid the easy option – the bus) and snapping photos of:

The temple where I stayed (Shojoshin-in):

It was cold and I needed I warm drink – corn or red bean?  I went with the one on the right.

Tokugawa Mausoleum – can’t see through the fence, unfortunately

Nyonindo Gate


The Garan – Dai-tō (Great Pagoda), Kondō (Main Hall), Sai-tō (Western Pagoda).  Met a middle-aged japanese couple here, the husband ran a photo shop and was interested in the camera I was using.  He only had a point-and-shoot with him, having left his SLR (too inconvenient).  With tripod in toe, I attract attention somehow…

Daimon Gate

and finally Reihōkan (Treasure Museum) (no pictures allowed inside!) and Karukaya-dō.  I’m somewhat surprised I could fit it all into one day, but some of the guidebooks did say you could do Kōya-san as a day trip, although it wasn’t advised.

Few more shots of the temple (Shojoshin-in) in late afternoon.  Definitely recommended if you come to Kōya-san and want to be close to the cemetery.

After dinner and onsen, I decided to brave the cold and the Oku-no-in cemetery again – only this time, I would approach it from the main entrance, which is about a kilometre up the road.  Upon entering the main approach to the temple, the path was quite a bit wider and well lit – far fewer feelings of someone jumping out from behind a tombstone (or within one).

Eventually though, the path joined up with the other one, and the way ahead lay in darkness – I’m not sure if they light up the Tōrō-dō (Lantern Hall) or the Kūkai mausoleum, but I decided tonight was not the night to find out and headed back.

Some night shots of the temple (Shojoshin-in) on my return:

As luck would have it, I missed the early morning ferry.  Getting up early enough to catch a 5:55am ferry simply wasn’t in the cards, I guess.

On the plus side, while I might have lost a few hours sightseeing, I also saved some $$ by taking the bus instead of having to grab a taxi to the port.  The ferry is a couple of hours, followed by another three on the train to get to Mt. Koya.  Not the fastest way to get there but the best option considering where I’m coming from.

The last leg of the trip included a cable-car ride up the side of the mountain, and a bus to get to the temple I was staying at.

Meals were included, and happened at set times, so with an early dinner I decided not to waste the afternoon and headed out to the nearby Oku-no-in Cemetery, one of the highlights of any visit here.

I walked all the way to the Kūkai Mausoleum (no pictures allowed in the inner shrine area), and then headed back so I would make it in time for dinner.

Dinner was a traditional Buddhist vegetarian affair – lots to eat, hardly any of which I knew what it was, and given the variety and quantity you really didn’t miss the meat.  This was followed by onsen – bath time is restricted to late afternoon to early evening, so it was now or never.

Aside from getting to bed early, the one thing I wanted to take a walk and try was some night photography at Oku-no-in Cemetery.  The first hand experiences I had read said that as night falls and the temperature drops, you get some really great atmosphere.

Well, night wasn’t falling – it had already fell.  It was after 9pm by the time I got there and started my walk, and in some places the lighting was almost non existent.  I didn’t walk the whole way, instead I spent an hour wandering around in the cold, dark, and eerily quiet atmosphere that only a cemetery can provide.  I wouldn’t recommend doing it alone.

The good news is I got to finally try out my cold weather gear, to combat the frost bitting temperatures up here.  I knew there was a reason I was still carrying them around…

One of the reasons I arranged my schedule as it is was to ensure I was in town during the Sunday Market.  So this morning I headed out into the throngs of people and looked for two things – great photos, and lunch.  I managed both.

Break Time

Arriving I Tokushima, I checked into the hotel and went out for dinner.  Along the way, I took in the city at night, the only time I was apt to see it.

A dinner of shashimi moriwase, kaki, and edamame.  Tomorrow, I’m off to Mt. Koya via Wakayama on the early morning ferry.

Arriving in Matsuyama on Sunday by ferry, I arrived at the hotel late afternoon and decided to take it easy, catch up on some blogging and photo processing, and, of course, laundry.  The one meal of consequence on Sunday night was straight out of the guidebooks – Tori-sen, a restaurant specializing in free-range gourmet-chicken.  Finding the place was a chore, but perserverence and a bit of luck paid off.

Tori-sen serves chicken just about anyway you can think of – except maybe fully cooked.  I couldn’t read the menu, so went with their recommended setto – but made sure I got the sashimi as well.  Yes, raw chicken – which, when raised and handled properly is just fine.  I’m still alive, and out of all the variety I had, the tori sashimi and the gyoza were the best – in fact, I think the gyoza were the best I’ve ever head.

The next day, I decided to stick around town and start by seeing the castle, Matsuyama-Jō.  The book said their was a ropeway you could take, which turned out to be a gondola or a chair lift.  I opted to walk.

The castle was, well, a castle – worth seeing, and interesting enough to browse around inside.  The light rain, on again off again, not withstanding, of course.

Following the castle I decided to head straight towards the Dōgo Onsen.  Arriving via streetcar, I decided to wander through the Dōogo-kōen park first – the best time to visit the onsen was apparently around dinner time (when most of the japanese tourists would be getting dinner), so I had a couple of hours to walk around.

One of the many reasons people come to Shikoku is to do the 88 temple pilgrimage, and it just so happened one was within walking distance so I treked out to the 51st of them, Ishite-ji.

After taking in the temple, I proceeded to locate the Dōgo Onsen Honkan building, the main building of the onsen.  This is one of the most famous onsens in japan, and one where royalty visited, including the emperor.  I paid the fee which gave me access to all three baths, and proceeded to experience each one in turn – with some tea and cookies in between soaks.

Afterwards I headed back towards the tram, and was lucky enough to experience the Botchan Karakuri Clock (坊ちゃんからくり時計) near the station doing it’s thing.

Dinner was simple – grilled meat (yakiniku).  Then, off to bed.

Ginza at Night

The next couple of days I spent wandering around Tokyo to some familar haunts, seeing some of the minor things I missed and generally just looking for some photo opportunities.  This selection of photos is from around Ginza in the early to late evening.  Photography was to be a large part of this trip, so I brought my tripod to ensure I could get some decent night shots which while a bit of pain to lug around is certainly the only way to do so.

While I may have looked a little conspicuous, safety in Japan is not generally a hugh concern – so running around with a tripod and camera in the back streets of Tokyo seemed perfectly natural and no one bothered me.  Don’t try that at home, kids.

Tokyo uses every bit of space available for cramming in all kinds of shops – under and around the railway tracks is a very typical place to find some of the most interest restaurants, and Ginza is no exception.

These photos are also an attempt to play around with Photoshop HDRPro, a new feature in CS5 that appears to work quite well.  This is my “photorealistic” version of the shots, in attempt to make it look realistic, not manufactured.

This bike was still there the next day around noon - no lock. In Canada, it'd be long gone by then.

Hope you enjoyed!

Having just completed a course on photography at George Brown College, and I need some practice blogging about photos before heading out on another photo hunting vacation, I thought I’d post what I think are my most interesting shots.  Learning Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 has been an interesting journey, one that I anticipate continuing far into the future – but I hope I’ve mastered enough to make these shots at least somewhat polished, thought certainly not perfect.

Univeristy and college

This was an experiment with Photoshop HDRPro, specifically a combination of three photos at different exposure.  Worked out pretty well, and although the HDR effect is minimal (on purpose), it does add a bit to the photo.  An architectural shot, at College & University.

Local pub

Where I usually end my evenings – a local pub.  Hand held, which was fun, and with a filter applied in Lightroom to add some character.


As this is my first photography blog, it would seem only fitting that I post a picture of the skyline in Toronto, facing south near the CN Tower.  The time delayed exposure, wide variety of colours and light, and the clarity and perspective I got while using a fish eye lens (on a cropped frame camera) make this one pop for me.

Streetcar blurred

It also wouldn’t be Toronto if you didn’t see at least one street car.  And this one worked out quite well, given the time exposure yet sharpness of the other elements.  Street cars make for great photographs, especially at night it would seem.

Streetcar artsy

Yes, this is another streetcar.  Or a ghost of one, in any event.  What made this shot was a complete accident, actually – I managed to bump my tripod mid shot, and ended up creating an artsy version of the streetcar ghosting across the frame at night.  I’m not sure I could repeat this, but I’m sure going to give it a shot.   Certainly a contrast to the smooth motion blur of the previous image, yet both are distinctive in their own way.

Well, that ends my first photography post.  I’m sure this will get reorganized as I post more content and learn how to integrate photos into the content better.  Cheers!

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