Jim Friesen - Photography

Whatever you celebrate, and however you celebrate, I hope this is a happy time of year for you and yours.

And may there be a partridge in your pear tree!


We spent five wonderful days in Kyoto. Historically Kyoto is the home of the Shogun and the Shogun was the military leader of Japan. The above picture is of the Nijo Palace, the Shoguns' primary residence. It is surrounded by a moat, and gravel paths. The gravel was used so the guards could hear anyone approaching in the dark. Even the hallways were designed so that the floors would sing like nightingales (any weight would cause the slats to rub together making a birdlike noise) so intruders could not sneak into rooms and attack the Shogun or his guests.

Here are more pictures of the Palace and its grounds.



The fall leaves were just beginning to turn. If we could have stayed another two weeks we would have seen some spectacular landscapes.


One day we went into the mountainside and spent the afternoon in an open air onzen. The Japanese bathing experience is wonderful. They have co-ed onzens but Angela and I were at one where the men and women used seperate facilities. No cameras were allowed but if you go back to Kyoto - Part 1 you will find a link to a book of photos that will give you an idea of what it was like. You take off all clothes, bathing suits are not allowed, and wash yourself while sitting on a wooden bench, using a hand shower, soap and a cloth. When you are fully clean you enter a hot bath. Ours was a large marble tub that could comfortably hold over a dozen people. There were only four or five of us that day in the men's side. The water in this one came from natural sulfur pools and is very hot. In some baths there might also be a cold bath to cool down in. You can lay in the hot bath, listen to birds and smell the pine trees. Your thoughts rise up like steam and drift away with the clouds in the deep blue sky. I know, I'm getting carried away but it was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon. I used five or six different onzens while in Japan but this one was special.

We also visited the Bamboo Grove in Ashiyama. Among the many mistakes of a novice traveller that I made was not going to the grove on a weekday. We waited till Saturday of a long weekend to go. Another mistake was leaving a non-density filter on my camera without realizing it. For two days I couldn't figure out why my exposures were so slow (doh). I would love to go back and try it again.

I used my point & shoot for this shot.

I used the slow shutter speed to get some bamboo abstracts.
A cemetary connected to the grove. 

And back in Kyoto. There seemed to be so many of these little alleyways throughout Japan.

While viewing these gardens an insect stung me on my knee (I was wearing shorts). A guard noticed it, came over and without a word put a bandage on the bleeding wound. 





I loved the coke machine outside the Nature therapy center that persues health & beauty. A little ironic.
Even the parking lots were beautiful.

I believe this was part of the Philosophers Walk.
And at some point I started seeing Japanese brush strokes everywhere.
I found myself being intrigued by bicycles. Bicycles seem to be a lot more utilitarian in Japan than in Vancouver and used by a wider variety of people. They were often in the landscape and the combination of the new, to me, landscape and the practical but to my eyes beautiful bicycles was irrisistable. I took a lot of pictures of bicycles, usually parked against walls, but my favorite, and one of my favorite photos from the trip, was this one.
There were many memories from Kyoto that I didn't record with my camera, and may not be as interesting in the telling as they were in the living. I will always remember it as a time of fabulous meals (the Kyoto style mackerel sushi, ramen soup, and a unique pizza among them) as well as an exciting cultural buzz and powerful sense of tradition. But we had to leave. 
We had one more stop before we headed back to Tokyo.

We boarded the train leaving Hiroshima and were once again traveling through dream time.

My sense of being in someone else's movie came back when we were on an almost empty car with two large policemen who were escorting a young man in handcuffs. He looked small and vulnerable but I had no idea what he had done. That was where the real story was. I didn't take any pictures; I just looked out the window and thought about the near misses that littered my life.

We arrived in Kyoto ...

... and made our way to our Ryokan and to our room. There are many things that I did not spend as much time documenting as those things deserved; Japanese toilets (they take their toilets very seriously), onzens (click here to see someone who has given the Japanese bathing experience the time and artistry it deserves), restaurants (there were too many and the food was always wonderful), and ryokans (motels or travel lodges with small rooms). But they made this trip affordable and were charming. This was our room.

We went for a walk as soon as we stowed our bags. The Kamo River runs through Kyoto and we ended up walking beside it our first evening there.




bg_26791387168925.jpgThis photo of Angela, finding directions on her smartphone, is one of my favorite shots from the trip. 

Every meal was an adventure in Japan and that evening we found a great place near the ryokan where the chef worked on a large grill and put noodles and vegetables in a batter that he moulded into a cylinder and put on another grill in front of our place setting. We then put sauces on it and ate it. A poor description of an amazing meal.

The next day Angela wanted to explore on her own. I was sitting in the lobby of the ryokan looking hopelessly at maps when I saw a young man sitting across from me doing the same thing and with an equally confused look on his face. Raphael was from Paris and he was happy to join me on my photo safari. He became a friend during our stay in Kyoto. We decided to go back along the same route that Ange and I had taken the night before, but to explore it in more detail.


We went down random streets, taking photos of whatever struck our fancy, until we found a traditional garden. It was beautiful. 



Then we went back into the streets and explored the city.

Raphael made some friends. I believe they were Geisha in training.
bg_26861387170366.jpgKyoto has an entertainment district where Geisha and Geisha in training (half jewels) can be seen. These young women may be part of that tradition. You can find out a little bit about it here. There was a strange atmosphere in this aspect of the city, with cars and their drivers waiting outside houses ...


and drunk businessmen being chauffeured through the streets. I would have liked to have spoken with this young woman to find out what her life was really like; if she really inhabited a "flower and willow world". I stumbled onto her as Raphael and I wandered aimlessly through downtown Kyoto. There were a couple of other 'tourists/photographers who were trying to get a picture. One of them was a woman who ran past me trying to set up and cursing, "She won't stop so I can get a shot". I took this photo reflexively and later I felt as close as I've ever come to feeling like paparazzi. I hope that if she saw the picture she would forgive me.


I felt more comfortable taking pictures of this beautiful bird.


More of Kyoto to come.

Our next big adventure was a ferry ride to the nearby island community of Miyajima. It is famous for its floating shrine. I had seen a beautiful picture by a Vancouver photographer, Michael Levin, (I include a link to his work even though I know my photos will pale by comparison to his beautiful images) who also works as a printer where I get my ink, Tricera Imaging

We caught the ferry to  Miyajima. It was a beautiful ride across the bay.

When we got to the other side I was glad that Ange and I were on our own. The tour groups followed a guide with a high flag and went straight to the main attraction. Ange and I took a long route up a hill that wound through the very small harbor town. 

The thing you should know about Miyajima is that small deer are left to roam freely throughout the community. It is similar to India and their sacred cows.


But there was more to the community than just the deer. So we took the path ignored by the others ...










... and found a delightful little community full of quirks. But as we descended and approached the main tourist area, it was once again the deer ...





... who definitely displayed some personality and a liking for ice cream.



We eventually got to the area of the floating shrine where all the tour groups had headed first.





The crowd was starting to thin out by the time we got there but it was still going to be difficult getting the shot I wanted. Iwanted to make my own Long Exposure shot of the "Floating Gate" Shrine. Finding a place to set up was hard enough as the best spots were popular with the other people chronicling their visit.

On top of the usual challenges that a long exposure photographer faces, I couldn't find my remote shutter release, which meant that I had to hold my finger on the shutter release for four minutes while the image exposed. We were losing time, as we had to get back to Hiroshima, and I was taking the second of what was supposed to be a two-photo-long-exposure-panorama, when I felt something pulling at a paper in my back pocket. I knew it was one of the deer, who are notorious pickpockets, and I thought it had taken my Japan Rail Pass (which at that time still had $300 worth of travel time on it). I abandoned my shot and tried to rescue the paper. Do you have any idea how strong a deer's jaw is? The paper was gone. Fortunately it was just an information pamphlet and not my rail pass. But I lost the photo as we had to catch a ferry and Angela had lost patience with my bumbling photo misadventures. 

I did manage one long exposure shot, and the difficulties I faced make it all that much more treasured.







These were the scenes that greeted me after a pleasant sleep (although I must admit, the plastic pebble pillows were a little uncomfortable) before we had breakfast and more conversations with the other guests. 


After breakfast our hostess walked us to the bus stop and when we realized that the buses were no longer on their summer schedules, and we would have to wait for an hour before one arrived, she hurried us into her car and drove us the 10 kilometers or more to the train station. I will include a link to the Inn's website when I find it, for anyone thinking of staying there.




This is our hostess with Ange outside the train station where she dropped us. As we were casually taking pictures in the parking lot, the train had already pulled in and was loading passengers. The station was empty by the time we entered, except for an elderly woman bent over a mop and washing the floor. When she saw us she left the mop and motioned us toward the ticket counter. The clerk sold us our tickets and the old woman ushered us with rapid hand gestures toward the stairs to the platform. It was at that point that we realized the train was ready to pull out, that we only had seconds to get aboard and the cleaning woman was hurrying us along, smiling and bowing the whole time. The trains are very efficient in Japan and don't generally wait, but the conductor had his head stuck out the window of the last car. He seemed to be watching for us and waved his hand to signal the "All clear" as we climbed aboard. It was a close call and we wouldn't have made it without help.

Our next destination was Hiroshima where we spent two night. People who travel a lot must get used to the coincidences that go with it. We had a pleasant conversation on the train with a British couple who were on a similar schedule (they had hired a tour company and we had the help of the fabulous Sydney to plan our trip. Thanks again Sydney!) and we ran into them in Hiroshima about three times before our trails finally parted. 

Hiroshima probably touches everyone differently. I did not expect as emotional a response as I ended up having. It was on our arrival and my thoughts had been circling closer and closer to the events that led up to and followed the dropping of the bombs on Japan that ended the second World War. I choked up as soon as I stepped off the train. It was sudden, intense and didn't last long but colored the rest of my stay. We checked into our hotel and went for a long walk through the city.










It ended with a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The burned out building above was directly below the bomb blast on that terrible day. That is why it was not completely destroyed.

We had a quiet evening walking around the streets of Hiroshima and having a wonderful Vietnamese meal at Mis Hoa's. After dinner, a hot bath and then sleep. The next day would be another special one. We were going to visit Miyajima Torii.



I took a break from editing Japan photos to work on some shots I took with Ed Peck of Sassamatt Images



Photographer unknown

    We didn't set an alarm or plan to get up early; Ange and I don't do early if we can avoid it. We had our usual fruit & rice cake breakfast and one more macha latte at the local Starbucks, where Angela made a friend. So many people responded to our being from Canada with big grins and exclamations like, "Ohhhh, I want to go there!" I can never say enough about how friendly and helpful everyone was to us.

     But it was a travelling day and we had an adventure waiting for us. We entered the subway maze. The usual morning crowds and sights were waiting for us. 




After a transfer or two we got on a train leaving Tokyo. Before long the landscape started to change ...


... and after two or three hours we were there.


     After the crowded platforms of Tokyo, an abandoned station across from a lumber yard and not far from a farmers field seemed like another world. We took a bus and then we jumped in a cab and found ourselves in Magome. 



     Angela tended to get a little exasperated with my lack of ability to remember place names but I don't think I will ever forget Magome and Tsumago. They are two old towns about half way between Tokyo & Kyoto. They prospered at one time, being linked to a major postal road but modern modes of transportation bypassed them and they declined, until they redefined themselves as tourist attractions maintaining many aspects of historic towns from the Edo period of Japanese history. 

     We had reservations at a traditional inn in Magome so we thought it logical to leave our luggage in lockers there, hike to Tsumago, take a bus back, pick up our luggage and find our inn. We didn't know at the time that most people do the downhill walk from Tsumago to Magome. But if we had done that things wouldn't have turned out the way they did. We put our suitcases away and kept cameras, a tripod and backpacks for the walk. It was early afternoon so we walked through Magome ...






... and stopped for lunch before we hit the trail.


     Like almost all the meals we had in Japan it was delicious.

     Then we started to walk. We had to keep in mind that the last bus from Tsumago to Magome was at five thirty or six o'clock p.m., so we had to keep that in mind as we hiked the seven kilometers and tried to capture in pictures what we saw around us. 













     It was around this point, near the mill, that we got slightly lost. If I had been paying more attention to what the sign said ... 

... instead of how rustic it looked under the bending branches of the tree, we might not have ended up taking the wrong path. There were bells every kilometer or so to warn the bears that there were hikers in the area but when the path we were on started to dwindle into nothing and we stumbled across a bear trap, complete with droppings, we knew we had gone the wrong way. We never did get back to the route everyone else takes but we managed to come across a spot that most of the hikers might have missed. 



     We eventually found our way to Tsumago, and again, it was not the prescribed path but it was ours and we saw things that we wouldn't have seen otherwise ...


... and by the time we arrived in Tsumago the sun was setting and EVERYTHING looked beautiful.





     You would think that would be enough for one day but we still had to go back to the traditional inn. We took the last bus and by the time we made Magome everything was dark and appeared abandoned. We found our lockers, retrieved our luggage and started looking for some way of finding our way to the inn. Panic was setting in when we saw a woman walking across a parking lot. I think we scared her but, like almost everyone we spoke to, she knew a little English and took us to a small lighted shack where a security guard phoned a taxi and we got to the inn. And the inn was fantastic.


     There were two couples, besides Ange and me, staying at the inn. There was a Mexican couple who were designers, travelling Japan to find ideas, and a Canadian Couple, one of whom spoke Japanese. The dining room was a few tables ...

... around a fire pit, with a hanging kettle that looked as if it was designed by Joan Miro or Jean Arp.

     The meal was a traditional 7 course mountain dinner that started with raw horse meat (apologies to all my vegetarian friends), mushroom stew, miso soup, a fried fish, soba noodles and various vegetables. I've probably forgotten something. Everyone got the same thing. There was no menu. 

     Then the owner sang folk songs (he was around my age, 60, and was joined by his teacher, who was at least 15 years older, arrived, sang the one song and then went off to another engagement). Then the owner told us about the history of the area, plying the one Canadian who spoke Japanese with Sake so he would continue translating, and then drove us into the village to view it by moonlight ...


... and then back to the inn and to bed in a room beside a stream that gurgled and laughed me to sleep.

     I know I haven't done it justice but it was a wonderful day and will go down as one of the highlights of my life. 



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