johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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The Peacefulness of a Kyoto Garden

 

Globalisation, digitalisation, social media, rampant consumerism, the threat of terrorism and the seemingly endless debate about global warming intrude our daily lives and tend to discourage enjoying the natural beauty of our environments. Are we at risk of disconnecting from nature? For those such as farmers and naturalists whose lives revolve around the natural world, there is little risk. However, there are those at the opposite end of the spectrum who have effectively disconnected and live their lives wholly within urban and virtual environments. For those in the middle, perhaps it is time to think seriously about the role of nature in our lives, else we risk being swept further into the vortex of an artificial environment.

I recently experienced virtual reality for the first time and whilst I readily admit to enjoying the experience, I find myself wondering how this technology will impact on our lives. The technology is awesome and the scientific and commercial applications to facilitate forward planning decisions are obvious. I also know my limitations and that there are certain things I will never try, which I have come to accept. However, virtual reality will inevitably enable me to have those experiences without the risks (real and perceived) that hold me back. Even low risk experiences such as travelling to foreign countries or walking through a forest will be available to all by donning goggles and earphones. For some or many, which remains to be seen, this may become the mode through which they experience the natural world. What implications might this have for our ongoing individual and collective health? It is only my opinion, but I intend not to pursue virtual experiences where I have the opportunity to pursue the real experiences. What will you do?

Today’s selection of photographs have nothing to do with the above discussion except that they are real and remind me of the peaceful moments I experienced in gardens in Kyoto. Travelling can be hectic at times and it was always nice to find tranquil spaces where one could slow down, listen to the flow of moving water and the rustling sounds of wind moving through trees punctuated by birdsongs. Our green spaces provide this opportunity, not to mention the fundamental joy and benefit of being outdoors. If you read this and have not visited a green space in the past week, I challenge you to visit your nearest park or garden to maintain the connection that is surely fundamental to our existence.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

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Nishiki Market (Kyoto)

I think it is fair to say that markets hold a certain fascination for travellers. Kyoto’s famous Nishiki is no exception, though it is different to the sprawling open-air markets that one generally comes across.

Nishiki is a narrow alley housing some hundreds of stalls that continues to resemble a traditional shotengai or shopping street. Not only does it retain a traditional feel, Nishiki can be accessed from Shijo-dori, which runs through the commercial centre of Kyoto and is home to banks and luxury stores. The contrast is fascinating! In the space of a few minutes, one can move from browsing designer labels in glitzy department stores to immersion in the sights, sounds and smells of a market that has occupied the site for around 700 years. Popular with locals and tourists, Nishiki is known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” and is the location of choice for the city’s top chefs given the range of fresh, seasonal produce to be found there.

I regret not spending more time at Nishiki, but I hope this selection of shots will give some idea of this old fascinating market.

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Ueno

Ueno is one of those places that creep-up on you – in my experience at least. Before visiting Tokyo I was only aware of Ueno Park as the hub for several attractions such as museums and a zoo and perhaps I will cover the park in a future blog. Today, however, I want to show other aspects of the area.

Ueno still has the look and feel of old Tokyo, albeit blended in with the encroachment of newer buildings, as I have attempted to show in pics 1 to 12. These shots were taken within a few blocks and give some idea of what might be experienced by those wandering through Ueno’s streets.

The old temple (pic 1) within the shadow of taller buildings is a familiar juxtaposition around Ueno and indeed other parts of Tokyo. I don’t know the temple’s history, but perhaps the street sign is an indication that it may still be functioning as an educational facility. Imagine turning ninety degrees and looking down the street (as I did for pic 2) to see the dominant form of Skytree looming large. In fact, when walking around any of its adjoining areas, Skytree is a virtual guarantee against getting hopelessly lost and being reduced to walking in circles. If lost, walk towards Skytree.

One block down the street on the right I came across a captivating old house (pics 3 to 5), which a local resident advised is more than 100 years old. Sadly, one can only speculate as to how much longer the old house will survive. As can be seen at pic 5, it abuts a more modern building and the adjacent allotment is currently used for short-term car parking, most likely a means to generate income until the site is redeveloped. Perhaps this is the story of this picture.

Crossing the road and moving a few buildings along from the old house, one finds an oasis of urban calm (pics 6 to 10) in the form of a shrine and small cemetery overlooked on all sides by higher-rise structures. I am sure the delightful garden and koi pond serves as a place of respite and contemplation for neighbourhood residents, as well as occasional passers-by.

Finally, whilst the building at pic 11 has the appearance of age, I suspect it is a case of appearing “old by design”. By contrast, the building at pic 12 is what realtors would market as a development opportunity. In these few photographs I am not pretending to represent Ueno’s architecture, but by selecting images from a few blocks of one street, I hope it has shown Ueno as an interesting and diverse place to wander.

The remaining shots show the busy pedestrian crossing outside Ueno Station (pic 13) and the popular Ameyoko night market (pics 14 to 21) that occupies the streets and lanes running parallel to the elevated train line, which can be seen in several of the shots. Ameyoko started as a black market after World War 2 selling sweet potatoes and sugar, which is far removed from today’s market where a wide range of food and other goods are sold. Whenever I visited Ameyoko, I was always impressed by its relaxed vibe and how happy people seemed to be. Given that Ueno Station is on the JR loop around greater Tokyo, as well as being a Shinkansen station, access is easy and recommended.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

 

 


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Hibiya

Watching a place come to life is always interesting and so it was one chilly December evening in Hibiya. Visiting Hibiya was accidental and just happened to be the place I ended up after wandering around the streets of central Tokyo for most of my day. It turned out to be a fortunate accident given that my wanderings to that point had not yielded much in photographic terms. Feeling a bit weary and in need of a coffee I came across a café with a window bench and settled in to relax a while and do some people watching.

In front of me was a rather appealing single-storey brick structure punctuated by a series of arched entries, on top of which commuter trains shuttled backwards and forwards. In their day the archways would have provided access to all manner of goods stored within the vaults. Given Hibiya’s location between Marunouchi and Ginza, the location was strategic. However, in today’s economy of high-tech warehousing I did not have to wait long for an answer to my question of how the vaults had been repurposed.

As dusk descended the scene transitioned. More people appeared from both directions, not surprising really when one considers that Marunouchi and Ginza are each large employment hubs. As well as increased pedestrian traffic, the activity around the vaults grew. Neon signs lit up, internal lighting revealed the innards of the vaults, advertising signs adorned the pavements and it became clear that the old storage vaults had become a restaurant strip. The location is thus still strategic with a location between two large employment hubs serving the love of Japanese workers for a meal and/or a drink at the end of a working day.

Accidental finds are always the most enjoyable when travelling and in this instance, where to have dinner became an easy decision.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

 


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Hamamatsucho Pier

Whilst the opening shots for this post may create the impression of a rural fishing village, that is not the case. The shots were taken around Hamamatsucho Pier in the heart of Minato, a densely populated city within the greater Tokyo metropolis and only a short walk from the Tokyo World Trade Centre.

Curiosity created the shots and this post. When visiting Tokyo I have always chosen accommodation near Japan Rail’s Yamanote Line for ease of travelling around, as well as travel on the line being included within the JR Rail Pass. Each time I travelled on the line I would catch a glimpse of boats moored in a canal near the Hamamatsucho Station and curiosity eventually got the better of me.

As can be seen from the shots, the vessels are mainly pleasure cruise boats and fishing boats and serve as a reminder of Tokyo’s extensive system of waterways. To find a little community such as this nestled within Minato, which is host to many embassies and corporations, also demonstrates Tokyo’s ability to (seemingly) effortlessly accommodate the diverse needs of its population.

As I spent time within this microcosmic environment, I was impressed by its calmness despite the reality of it being enveloped by infrastructure. This can be seen at pic 7, which I’ve titled “Infrastructure aplenty”. First of all we can see a canal system supporting water-based transport and commercial activity. Running across the shot at mid-level, one can see a train crossing over the canal. Not just any train, but a Shinkansen (bullet train) capable of travelling at speeds in excess of 350kph and arguably the epitome of state-of-the art train travel. For the record, regular trains also cross the canal. Finally, running above the canal is an elevated toll road carrying motor vehicle traffic. With so much infrastructure and technology within one frame, we gain a glimpse of how Tokyo works around the constraint of space. Notice also the softening effect of the greenery along the sides of the canal and the creeping plant softening the look and integrating nature with the built environment.

One may argue over the beauty of the aesthetics, though I don’t think there can be much argument over the beauty of how the various infrastructure elements combine to help a giant metropolis run smoothly.

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Crossing Paths

Perhaps the greatest joy of travelling is the opportunity to meet new people. Even though most meetings are short and one-time occasions, they nevertheless leave an impression that stay with us long after we return home.

In this post I show some of the people I met or encountered on my visits to Japan. Most images were shot with the subject’s permission and a few were irresistible photographic opportunities. There are many more shots in the archive, but I chose to limit myself to twenty selections based entirely on my personal preference.

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Toyota Car Museum (Odaiba)

Travel photography often requires one to adapt to circumstances. My visit to Odaiba was one such day due to miserable weather, which meant I spent longer than expected wandering through the Toyota Car Museum. Before that I spent some time trying my hand on a car-racing simulator and let’s just say that had it been real I doubt I would have survived to visit the Museum. Great fun though!

You don’t have to be into cars to enjoy the Car Museum, as many of the cars are displayed quite theatrically within movie-set environments, thus adding to their appeal, especially the older vehicles. The vehicles shown here were produced in the period 1945 to 1973 and in some cases are significantly different to the cars produced today. For example, during their heyday, the owners of these cars would have had little awareness of computerisation, yet modern vehicles rely heavily on integrated computers to manage many automotive systems such as anti-lock braking.

Looking back through my shots to select the included images also made me think more broadly about the car industry. Whilst today’s cars are very different to those displayed in the museum, we are of course in another transition phase with the move from petrol powered to electrically powered vehicles now regarded as inevitable. Given that Ford’s Model-T commenced production in 1908, the internal combustion engine has been around for just a little more than a century. In this time it is fair to say that the car industry has impacted significantly on our lives and cultures, in both positive and negative ways. Where then will we be in a further 100 years and how different will the vehicles of 2117 be? Something for us all to ponder!

On a less philosophic note, my personal favourite was the 1967 Toyota 2000GT (pics 3 to 5), of which only 337 were built. James Bond fans may remember the convertible version of the 2000GT featuring in the You Only Live Twice movie, which was predominantly set in Japan. Fifty years on the car has lost none of its appeal. The other Japanese made vehicle shown is the 1955 Toyopet Crown (pic 13), which I can’t help but visualise as a car that would have been popular with gangsters.

Of the others, they all have individual charm and serve as reminders of other times, but the 1954 Porsche 356 (pics 17 to 19) is hard to ignore. Few car companies are as true to their heritage as Porsche and although the design has been progressively modified over the past 70 years, the underlying design principle has been maintained.

Which car would you choose to drive away in if you had the choice?

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Tokyo Station

My first visit to Tokyo was during the time Tokyo Station was undergoing significant refurbishment and I recall being disappointed that the station’s glories were hidden behind scaffolding and screens. When I returned the second time my disappointment continued and I was mentally associating Tokyo Station with the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which I had visited when it too was shrouded from view. Perhaps I’ve discovered my superhero skill!

However, timing is everything and a few days later when I again passed through Tokyo Station, the scaffolding and shrouding was gone and a beautifully restored station could again be appreciated. Everyone seemed to be stopping to look, even locals, many of whom probably used the station every day.

I don’t know how Tokyo Station compares statistically to other Japanese and international stations, nor do I wish to know. What I do know is that for such a large station I have always found it quite easy to navigate, primarily due to good signage in both Japanese and English. Nevertheless, upon viewing the restored exterior for the first time, I must admit to being a little surprised at its architectural style. My first impression was that it did not appear to be very Japanese and would not be out of place in western cities.

First impressions are, however, prone to mellowing when one has had time for reflection and so it was in this instance, especially when viewed from above. The station fits its surroundings and the more I reflected, the more I came to the view that it is a quite imperial structure befitting its close proximity to the Imperial Palace.

Several of the photographs were taken from the rooftop of the Kitte Shoka shopping centre opposite the station, which allowed one to more fully appreciate the quality of the restoration work and see detail that would not have been possible from street level. Whenever I can access an elevated position, I always regard it as a photographic treat. The detail shots (e.g. pics 7, 8 & 10) show, in my opinion, exceptionally good craftsmanship. The copper work is sublime and as the copper patinates with age and acquires those wonderful greens that come with patination, the aesthetic will change progressively and the station’s character will similarly change.

The crowning glory (pic 8) is, of course, the domes – simply magnificent! These were destroyed during the 1945 bombings and not replaced until now. Whilst it has taken a long time, it has been worth the wait and as well as being true to the original design, they add an important Japanese element that will surely become a defining feature of the Marunouchi skyline.

When visiting Tokyo, don’t rush through this station. Take the time to enjoy it.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Kyoto Station

First time visitors arriving at Kyoto Station could be both impressed and surprised when they disembark at Kyoto’s large and ultra-modern central station. Anyone expecting the station to match Kyoto’s reputation as Japan’s cultural jewel is likely to be surprised at the towering, futuristic edifice that is Kyoto Station.

The station is Japan’s second biggest station building and at 470 metres in length and fifteen storeys tall is also one of the nation’s largest buildings. Typical of large Japanese stations it is more than just a station and also incorporates the ten storey Isetan department store, a large underground shopping mall, a hotel and several local government facilities. Welcome to Kyoto – starting with a little bit of culture shock.

Its central location, with the main exit on the Karasuma side exiting directly into downtown Kyoto, establishes the station as not only a transportation hub, but also a general community hub.

In this post I have attempted to give readers some idea of its impressive architecture with several photographs of the main concourse (pics 5 to 8) combined with other shots that play with the “meeting place” role served by stations everywhere. I was always amused by Platform 0 (pic 3) as I can’t think of another platform zero I’ve come across, though I readily admit to not being expert on train stations.

Have you noticed that crowd shots often throw-up a person who immediately catches the eye? For example, in pic 9 “Over there!” we have the gentleman at bottom centre pointing and mouthing directions to another person out of shot. Or maybe he was telling me not to take his photo – sorry! It is enjoyable to have a bit of fun titling such photos and, of course, it is pure speculation on my part, but pics 12 to 14 suggest widely contrasting emotions. The young woman at pic 12 has the worried, confused look of someone who may have been stood-up; whereas the woman in pic 13 is a study of calm and patience; and at pic 14 we have a woman who clearly knows where she is going. Look at the woman and station guard at pic 10 “How can I help” engaged in an apparently earnest conversation. I wonder what about?

I fondly remember Kyoto Station as the starting point of many trips and the source of nourishment when returning late at night and I hope this post gives others some insight into a magnificent modern building that serves as the doorway to one of the world’s greatest cultural cities.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Bullet Train Ride

Travelling on Japan’s Shinkansen network was always a pleasure. Comfortable, safe and on-time performance makes it an obvious choice and it is easy to understand how the service has become such an integral part of Japan’s transport system and indispensable to business travellers.

After recently watching a documentary on the Shinkansen, which showed the behind-the-scenes organisation and attention to detail, my admiration of the service is further enhanced. The documentary also served to jog my memory of a trip I made from Kyoto to Tokyo where I took photographs along the way. The images are titled simply by the time of day and are shown sequentially in the order they were taken. The first pic is a Kyoto scene and the final pic a passing shot of a Tokyo suburb.

Train travel is always a good way to see slices of a country and some of my observations from this slice of Japan are:

  • The compactness of Japanese homes and the general tidiness of the neighbourhoods along the line.
  • The lack of graffiti and other signs of petty vandalism to property that often characterises properties adjoining railway lines.
  • The changing weather patterns during the trip, which ranged from bright sunshine to wintry scenes.
  • The extent of horticultural and aquacultural activities, including traditional rice crops and several installations utilising glasshouses.
  • Typical views showing Japan’s mountainous terrain.
  • Evidence of Japan’s industrialisation, including one of the nation’s most iconic brands (SONY).

More specifically, at pic 12 “12.48pm” one can observe (around the middle-right of the shot) a small cemetery located within the fields. One observes these small cemeteries throughout Japan, which one would also expect to include a shrine honouring those who have passed. Seeing Mount Fuji is, of course always a thrill for visitors and I like the symbolism of Fujisan watching over a group of baseballers in the foreground of pic 15 “1.20pm”. Similarly, in pic 16 “1.22pm” the twin symbols of Japan’s ancient iconic mountain meeting an industrial scene reminiscent of the nation’s post-war growth seems quite apt.

Until next time – safe travels.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)