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Japan – Hakone and Nara (a photo report)

December 24, 2012 5 comments

For the second instalment in our Japan trip, we find ourselves travelling through the very distinct landscapes of Hakone – a volcanic spa area near Mount Fuji – and Nara, a verdant and picturesque former imperial capital filled to the brim with centuries-old landscaped gardens, temples, and shrines.

NOTE If you are reading this in a news reader such as Google Reader, or inside Facebook on a tablet, you might want to open this in a dedicated browser window as the photo layout may work better. Also, there are more photos from these locations available in the corresponding set over on Flickr.

HAKONE

After our first few days in Tokyo, we were city’d out and ready for a change of scene. A quick Shinkansen bullet train and then a series of switchback local trains found us in Hakone, an area of volcanic scenery, hot springs, geysers and lakes surrounding Mount Fuji. It is also an extremely popular destination for Japanese tourists as it is so close to Tokyo. So, at times, one feels like one is at an amusement park, in an endless series of queues to board various funiculars and cable cars. But the moment your cable car comes over the first ridge and you see Mount Fuji dominating the horizon, it’s all worth it.

Mount Fuji from the Hakone Ropeway

Mount Fuji from the Hakone Ropeway

Mount Fuji from Owakaduni, Hakone

Mount Fuji from Owakaduni, Hakone

 

One of the obligatory and fun bits of the day tour of Hakone is Owakaduni, halfway along the ropeway, which is a national park area on the side of a mountain which is perforated with steam geysers venting sulphurous gases from the volcanic water table below. It is the done thing amongst the Japanese day trippers to visit this area, take a photo of the geysers, and then queue to buy an egg which has been boiled black in the sulphurous waters. We skipped the egg.

 

Hakone, as it turns out, was not the photographic treasure trove it might have been for me. This is not because of any fault of the subject matter, but of the preoccupation of the photographer with a more important capture. Back in 2007 I was very impressed with the beauty of the view from the Hakone Detached Palace Park on the shores of Lake Ashinoko, and took this panoramic:

Hakone Lake Panoramic (Mt Fuji in Background)

We have the picture above enlarged and hanging on our wall at home, and take great pleasure in contemplating it. So, it seemed like a nice place to propose marriage. Much rejoicing followed, though we never found this exact spot again, given the context, the view was just as impressive.

 

NARA

In a bit of a happy post-engagement haze, we moved on to Nara in the Kansai region. Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital, established in 710, and attracted powerful families, becoming a political and religious power centre. The legacy this left is a small, attractive city of low buildings, but the main attraction of Nara is certainly the large Nara Koen (park) and the various temples, lakes, gardens, tame deer, and bountiful autumn colours to be found therein.

The woman on the stairs, Nara Park

The woman on the stairs, Nara Park

 

Within Nara Park there are some stunning gardens, chief amongst them the Yoshikien and Isuien Gardens, adjacent to one another and both examples of immaculate landscaping in harmony with the surrounding countryside. Of course, in common with most Japanese gardens, these were liberally sprinkled with Japanese maple and gingko trees, and as we were bang in the middle of the autumn colour peak, there was a brilliant show of leaves, both on the trees and on the ground.

Yoshikien Garden

Stone Steps, Autumn Colours and Leaf Fall, Yoshikien Garden, Nar

Stone Steps, Autumn Colours and Leaf Fall, Yoshikien Garden, Nar

 

Isuien Garden

Isuien Garden was build as a “mirrored landscape” mimicking the hills surrounding it, and meant to draw your eye towards the main gate of the Todaiji Temple in the background.

Pond and Todaji Temple Gate, Isuien Garden, Nara Park

Pond and Todaji Temple Gate, Isuien Garden, Nara Park

Flowing waterfall, Isuien Garden, Nara Park

Flowing waterfall, Isuien Garden, Nara Park

 

Todaiji Temple

The main temple in Nara Park is Todaiji, the largest wooden structure in the world. The main Buddha hall or daibutsu houses a 15m bronze Buddha image as well as guardian demon statues.

 

Nigatsudo Hall

The Todaiji Temple has a sub-temple up on a hill – the Nigatsudo Hall – which is (yet again) situated within some amazing autumn foliage.

 

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Finally, nestled in the southeast corder of Nara Park is the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, the most important Shinto religious site in Nara. Kasuga Taisha is known as the Lantern Shrine, with hundreds of stone lanterns littered throughout the forests surrounding it, and hundreds of worshipper-donated bronze lanterns hung throughout the main complex. There are also regular donations of rice, cabbage, and sake to keep the kami spirits appeased.

 

That’s it from Hakone and Nara. The next episode will take us back into the cities of Osaka and Fukuoka, where we will see neon nightscapes, samurai castles, and sumo. See you then.

[From the Archives] Japan, November 2007

January 20, 2012 1 comment

From time to time, I will use these “From the Archives” posts to highlight some of my photography from the period before I started this blog in 2009. These photos have been publicly available on Flickr for some time but they have never before been featured on this blog. I hope you enjoy this blast from the past!

JAPAN
Back in November 2007, I took a 2 week photo holiday to Southern Japan. Like many Westerners I had been fascinated with Japan since I was a child – every boy goes through a ninja phase, after all – and I had a growing appreciation for the refined nature of their culture, especially their cuisine. I came to Japan with many preconceived notions, somewhat expecting everyone to be demure, deferential and bowing non-stop, but I quickly realised – of course – that the Japanese are human after all, and a few rowdy nights in izakaya and out on the streets of Harajuku and Osaka quickly put paid to my hackneyed stereotypes. The Japanese people were generally very kind and even inquisitive, and it was a joy to travel through this land, and, barring the occasional instance of having no clue where I was or how to read the signs, I had one of the most perfect times imaginable. I am looking forward to returning to this fascinating land.

Below are a small selection of the thousands of photos I took during my travels through Japan:

Girl dressed for "Seven Five Three" ceremony, Yoyogi Park
Girl dressed for "Seven Five Three" ceremony, Yoyogi Park, Tokyo

Parental Encouragement, Yoyogi Park
Parental Encouragement, Yoyogi Park, Tokyo

Tokyo Rockabilly Club
Tokyo Rockabilly Club, Harajuku

Shinjuku Girls
Shinjuku Girls, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Toshogu Shrine Roof, Nikko
Toshogu Shrine Roof, Nikko

Sunset from Kyoto Graveyard
Sunset from Kyoto Graveyard

Heian Shrine, Kyoto
Heian Shrine, Kyoto

House on the Pond in Gardens of Heian Shrine, Kyoto
House on the Pond in Gardens of Heian Shrine, Kyoto

Mini Zen Rock Garden, Roan-ji, Kyoto
Mini Zen Rock Garden, Roan-ji, Kyoto

Entrance to Senso-Ji, Asakusa
Entrance to Senso-Ji, Asakusa, Tokyo

Lanterns, Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto
Lanterns, Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto

Himeji Castle
Samurai Castle at Himeji

Itsukushima Shrine by Night, Miyajima
Itsukushima Shrine by Night, Miyajima

Morning at Torii Gate, Miyajima
Morning at Torii Gate, Miyajima

Owakaduni Hot Springs, Hakone
Owakaduni Hot Springs, Hakone

Fuji-San
Mount Fuji from Hakone

Hakone Lake Panoramic (Mt Fuji in Background)
Moto-Hakone Lake Panoramic (Mt Fuji in Background)

Backlit trees and Maniden Roof, Shoshasan
Backlit trees and Maniden Roof, Shoshasan, near Himeji

Incense Smoke, Engakuji Temple, Kamakura
Incense Smoke, Engakuji Temple, Kamakura

Temple Roof Detail, Shoshasan
Temple Roof Detail, Shoshasan, near Himeji

Inari Kitsune Statue, Toshogu Shrine, Ueno Park
Inari Kitsune Statue, Toshogu Shrine, Ueno Park, Tokyo

Temple Gate Detail, Engakuji Temple
Temple Gate Detail, Engakuji Temple, Kamakura

More of my Japan 2007 photos can be found over on Flickr.