johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Yokohama

Although Yokohama is Japan’s second-largest city with a population of around 3.7 million, one’s first impression is that it is part of the greater Tokyo metropolis. I travelled there by Shinkansen in under twenty minutes and even the return trip on the regular rail network took only thirty minutes. Yes it does seem ridiculous to take such a short Shinkansen ride, but I had a JR Pass and I enjoy travelling by Shinkansen. Along the route I did not discern any real geographical separation from Tokyo – it was more like riding through the apparently never-ending Tokyo metropolis.

Nevertheless, even a short Saturday afternoon touristy type visit revealed a city with a distinct character. Most of my time was spent strolling through Yokohama’s Chinatown – the biggest Chinatown in Japan, which has grown along with Yokohama’s growth as a key port city. It does not take long in Chinatown to realise that the main attraction is food. Apparently the area has more than 500 eateries of various types and most visitors seemed to be on a mission to enjoy the gastronomical delights on offer. Queues were everywhere, with people patiently waiting their turn for tables to become available and the overall atmosphere was very relaxed.

Probably the most striking building in Chinatown was the Kanteibyo Temple (pics 6 & 7), a brightly coloured Chinese temple built in 1873 and dedicated to the Chinese god of good business and prosperity.

A short walk from Chinatown is Yamashita Park, which runs along the waterfront and was full of individuals and families enjoying time outdoors. The park was constructed following the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and seems to align perfectly with Yokohama’s history as a major port city. The most striking attraction is the Hikawa Maru, a retired ocean liner now permanently moored on the waterfront and serving a new life as a museum and affording visitors a glimpse of 1930’s style. I understand the ship mainly served the Yokohama to Vancouver/Seattle route and was well patronised by Japan’s imperial family and celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, who were attracted by the quality of the ship’s first-class cabins.

On the way back to the station I passed through the Minato Mirai area and came across an interesting juxtaposition of styles (pic 14) where part of an old stepped structure appeared to have been retained within a more contemporary shopping precinct. I don’t know anything about the old structure and perhaps that is a good reason to return and explore Yokohama more extensively.

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

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Higashiyama Whimsey (Kyoto)

Higashiyama is one of the eleven wards that comprise the city of Kyoto and is well known for its examples of old Japanese architecture and for a number of significant historic sites within the ward.

I have covered many of these historic sites in previous posts and today I would like to share images of a more whimsical everyday nature. Whilst I will be forever impressed by Kyoto’s better known sites, I also enjoyed my walks between these sites and took many photos to remind me of the little joys of walking around the Higashiyama precinct.

I will restrict my comments to brief mentions of the Tokei-ji Temple (pic 14) and the Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine (pic 15). Tokei-ji is a small temple that dates back to the mid 18th century, which was transferred to its present site in 1860. Also known as Akiba-san (after the main object of worship), the temple is seen as a guardian against fire-related calamities and robbery, as well as for safety at home.

The Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine was established in 1053, with the main deities enshrined being the Emperor Ojin and his parents, Emperor Chuai and Empress Jingu. The shrine was moved several times before settling at the present site in 1605, with the present shrine buildings dating back to 1654. A four-day pottery festival is held from August 7th through 10th each year in commemoration of the deity of pottery (Shiinetsuhikonomikoto) who was enshrined here in 1949.

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


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Arashiyama (Kyoto)

It is said that “word of mouth” is the best advertising and I suspect that Arashiyama benefits from this form of advertising. If you are a first-time visitor to Kyoto and seek advice from others of where to go, there is a very good chance that Arashiyama will be recommended. That was my experience and now when I am asked I always recommend visiting Arashiyama.

Why is this so? Well, rather than complicate the answer, my view is that Arashiyama is simply a pleasant, relaxing and interesting place to visit. One can enjoy beautiful natural scenery, visit spectacular temples, stroll through beautiful gardens, watch life go by from cafes and restaurants and meander through Arashiyama’s laneways. Most visitors seem to do most, if not all of these activities.

There is, of course, major attractions for which Arashiyama is well known such as Tenryu-ji, the bamboo grove and the gardens of Ohkochi-Sanso Villa. Each has been covered in earlier blogs and there is no reason to revisit them here. Instead, this post shows glimpses of everyday life that one may encounter during a visit. With the exception of the Togetsukyo Bridge, a prominent local landmark, the images shown are quite nondescript. This is not unlike life, which, if captured photographically would be replayed as many nondescript images punctuated by occasional highlights. Rather than celebrate the highlights, I hope this post may demonstrate that there is much to celebrate within the nondescript moments of our daily lives.

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


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Kyoto streets by day

Following-on from my last post of Kyoto at night, this post shows sights that one encounters wandering Kyoto’s streets during the day. When selecting the images, I have intentionally ignored the shrines and temples for which Kyoto is famous, choosing instead to show aspects of the city that one may encounter moving between the more famous attractions.

Kyoto is a great walking city and will reward those with the time and energy to meander through its streets and laneways. As well as getting a better feel for the city, one may find hidden gems the equal of the more popular tourist sites.

The shots do not require explanation, but let me make some observations nevertheless. Arashiyama (pic 1) is simply a delightful place to spend time and should be a must-see on any trip to Kyoto. The bridge in pic 5 is wider than it appears, but not recommended for those who may have had one too many drinks. Above the tunnel (pic 7) is the Keage Incline – a popular and magnificent place to view Sakura during the cherry blossom season. My apologies to the taxi driver (pic 8), though I can report that he was amused at walking into the picture. Although the dish hails from Hiroshima, Kyoto’s okonomiyaki (pic 11) is worth trying. Last but not least, the parked car (pic 16) was one of the more amusing examples of creative parking I came across, albeit not conducive to a quick getaway.

Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy these little windows into the real Kyoto.

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


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Night Moods (Kyoto)

I imagine that if people were asked to imagine a night-time image of Japan, most people would visualise the bright, in-your-face, high energy images of areas such as Tokyo’s Shinjuku at night. I know I would respond in this way despite my fondness for Kyoto, as Japan’s second city has an altogether different night-time vibe.

Kyoto is always interesting and entrancing, including after the setting of the sun. However, it beguiles rather than beckons; coaxes rather than grabs; and promises rather than teases. In a word, Kyoto is moodier at night, with fewer bright lights resulting in more shadows, though not of the threatening variety. Meandering through Kyoto’s streets and laneways at night is just as safe, pleasant and interesting as during the daytime hours, perhaps even more so as people are more relaxed and the pace a little slower.

There is, of course, one iconic group for whom the pace quickens after dark and I refer to Kyoto’s Geisha, or Geiko and Maiko as they known locally. This is their working time and they are often unexpectedly encountered rushing between engagements as elegant and traditional as always. There were times when I felt sympathy for Geiko and Maiko trying to go about their work under the duress of attention from the public (local and foreign) seeking to capture a Geisha moment. Gaining access to Gaiko and Maiko is difficult and I may never have the privilege of photographing them in a relaxed environment, but I am happy with my memories and the blurred images as they rush by do, at least, accurately depict an often overlooked part of their profession.

I do hope this selection of shots provides a glimpse of Kyoto’s night moods.

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


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By the Kamogawa (Kyoto)

 

The Kamogawa flows through Kyoto and translates literally to Wild Duck River. At only 31 kilometres, it is a relatively short river with its source in the nearby mountains around Mount Sajikigatake. Kamogawa is locally regarded as a gift from the gods and considered to be one of Kyoto’s natural treasures.

I always enjoyed my strolls by the river and it is easy to understand why it is a much-loved location for people to relax and enjoy the company of friends. The photographs shown here were taken around the Pontocho area, mostly between the bridges crossing Shijo and Sanjo streets, which is one of Kyoto’s prime entertainment precincts. Whilst it is naturally busiest during weekends and evenings, one would generally find people strolling or sitting quietly by the river at other times.

Kamogawa suits Kyoto with its quiet energy, thus further enhancing the charm and warmth of this traditional Japanese city.

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

 


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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.

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


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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.

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