Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


Which way to Kiyomizudera (Kyoto)?

Given its location near Gion, Kiyomizudera (which translates to “Pure Water Temple”) is one of Kyoto’s most visited and celebrated temples. Sitting atop a hill on the site of the Otowa Waterfall from which it derives its name, the temple offers glorious year-round views over Kyoto and since 1994 has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Despite its significance and popularity I must admit to spending little time there, mainly due to my visits not quite coinciding with the peak Autumn colours or the Spring cherry blossom season when Kiyomizudera is one of Kyoto’s most popular viewing platforms. Unfortunately this means I cannot offer photographs showing Kiyomizudera at its best. I can, however, suggest that intending visitors give some thought about the route taken to and/or from Kiyomizudera.

The most popular route is through Gion by wending one’s way uphill through Gion’s old narrow streets until Kiyomizudera appears at the top of the hill, where one can follow the steps taken by the pilgrims shown at pic 1. An alternative, lesser-used route is to approach from the other side of the hill via the Otani Mausoleum complex and I would certainly recommend first time visitors to approach from one direction and exit from the other direction. Either way involves an uphill approach.

Approaching from the Otani Mausoleum side takes one through a number of grand wooden gates and halls at the foot of the hill, then along a path through a rather full and impressive cemetery (pics 2 to 9). Along the way one will find areas of specific interest such as small shrines or vendors who specialize in the preparation of incense blends specific to the needs of families with relatives interred in the cemetery (pic 4). Above all, it is an interesting and pleasant walk offering an “off the beaten track” insight into Kyoto’s story.

Upon reaching Kiyomizudera the views from the famous viewing platform make the effort worthwhile regardless of the season (pics 10 and 11) and show why people come from all over Japan to enjoy the scenic views over Kyoto. Another popular attraction is the Otowa Waterfall (pic 15) at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall, where the waters are divided into three separate streams. Visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from their selected stream, which are believed to result in longevity, academic success and a fortunate love life. Despite being regarded as a demonstration of greed, I did observe many drinking from all three streams. Temptation is always hard to resist.

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Koko-en Gardens (Himeji)

Koko-en is a Japanese garden overlooked by Himeji Castle on the other side of the castle moat. Its proximity to Himeji Castle allows visitors to enjoy the serenity of a Japanese garden after visiting the castle. Indeed, the peacefulness of the garden is an ideal complement to the castle’s symbolic reminder of Japan’s often violent feudal history.

At only 3.5 hectares, Koko-en is a relatively small garden, but once inside the gates the impression conveyed is that of a larger space, which is a credit to the designers. The garden was constructed in 1992 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Himeji municipality, thus is relatively new. Nevertheless, It is historically linked to Himeji Castle in that it occupies the former site of the feudal lord’s west residence.

The photographs shown here are of the garden of the lord’s residence, one of Koko-en’s nine walled gardens and arguably the most visually impressive with features including a pond stocked with Japanese Koi fish, waterfalls, bridges and pavilions.

Whenever I visit Japanese gardens I enjoy the beauty of their apparent simplicity whilst, at the same time, recognising the complexity of achieving this impression. The elements may be basic and elemental, but their arrangement creates living and evolving masterpieces. For example, the concrete spans used to cross water (pics 7 and 10) are not only functional; they become key focal points especially when subtly arched as in the span at Koko-en.

Enjoying beautiful gardens is one of life’s simple pleasures and if you agree, make a commitment to visit a nearby garden soon, whether of Japanese or other style.

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


Osaka from 173 metres

Osaka’s Umeda Sky Building is an impressive structure of two towers connected at the top by an open-air circular walkway offering magnificent views of the city and surrounds. The area atop the building is formally described as the Floating Garden Observatory, but is more frequently referred to as simply “173” denoting its height of 173 metres above ground level.

Even though I have visited higher observatories, including the Shanghai World Financial Centre Observatory, which, at 474 metres, is the highest in the world, I found “173” a more enjoyable experience. This is due to its circular design providing 360-degree vantage points and most importantly, the unimpeded views from being in the open-air. Notwithstanding that my visit took place on a cold December day, not having to deal with the barrier of glass windows made it an altogether more pleasurable experience.

I was also fortunate to have visited in late afternoon/early evening, thus providing an opportunity to witness the sunset from a “birds-eye” position. My only regret was not carrying a tripod and having to shoot handheld on high ISO settings, hence the somewhat grainy images. Nevertheless, I am happy to have these images as memories of a most enjoyable interlude and I highly recommend a visit to “173” for those visiting Osaka.

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Osaka Castle

On flicking through the subjects I have covered in this series of Japanese posts, it became apparent that I had given little attention to Osaka, due mainly to having spent very little time there. However, like many visitors to Osaka, I did visit Osaka Castle – the subject of today’s post.

Now that I reflect a bit more, my experience of Japanese castles is also quite limited, having visited only three, the others being Kyoto and Himeji. Of these, the standout is definitely Himeji ( I do not like to speak negatively about such important and magnificent buildings, but I did find the restrictions on photography imposed at the Kyoto and Osaka Castles to be disappointing, as much of the most interesting subject matter was within the restricted areas. Notwithstanding such restrictions, they are worth visiting.

I travelled to Osaka Castle by train and the walk from the station through municipal parklands builds one’s curiosity through early glimpses and as one gets closer, the scale of the castle and surrounding moat (its first line of defence) is most impressive – if not majestic. Entering through the gates (pic 1), one’s eye is immediately drawn to the magnificence of the dry-stone walls, which are quite captivating in their own right. Once inside the castle grounds, one becomes more aware of the towering edifice that is Osaka Castle (pics 2 to 4). I wish I could include internal shots, but much as I dislike photography restrictions I do respect the right of operators to impose them. Climbing to the highest level is recommended for the views over Osaka (pic 5) and the appreciation that the castle was very strategically positioned from a defensive perspective.

The inclusion of pics 6 to 10 is somewhat of an indulgence, but during my visit I was quite taken by the geometric patterns of the stone walls around the castle. In fact, I distinctly remember comparing the visual impact of the castle walls to more contemporary structures utilising acutely angled aperiodic tiling as a surface treatment. Of course a major difference is that the castle walls relied on manual planning and construction techniques, whereas contemporary structures benefit from the use of sophisticated computer-aided design, fabrication and building techniques. It does, therefore, seem appropriate to conclude with pic 10 “An Artisan’s Mark”, which shows an example of how the stonemasons of the day marked their contribution to the construction of Osaka Castle.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.)