Plum Blossoms in Kyoto

Do You Know What Plum Blossoms Are?

Plum Blossoms at Jonangu Shrine | 28.2.2017

Say what? Plum blossoms?

Yes, those are exactly the reactions that I usually get when I show them photos of plum blossoms. The fact is that, many people don’t even know what plum blossoms are. Most of them only know about cherry blossoms, also known as “sakura”, but when asked about plum blossoms, they shrugged their shoulders and gave me that “What did you say?” look on their faces.

Plum Blossoms Are Japanese Apricots

Plum Blossoms at Jonangu Shrine | 28.2.2017

Plum blossoms, or also known as “ume”, are actually Japanese apricots. They are sometimes regarded as late winter or early spring flowers. Foreigners outside of Japan will probably think that plum blossoms are not popular in Japan as cherry blossoms. However, that’s definitely not true!

Plum blossoms are just as popular as cherry blossoms, but there aren’t just as many plum blossom viewing spots as there are for cherry blossoms. The successful marketing campaign to attract tourists to visit Japan during the cherry blossom season had also somewhat caused all the plum blossom viewing culture to be overshadowed by their much successful counterpart.

See the Plum Blossoms in February or March

Plum Blossoms at Jonangu Shrine | 28.2.2017

Hence, there aren’t as many visitors at plum blossom viewing spots as compared to the overcrowded (and sometimes overrated) cherry blossom viewing spots. So I strongly recommend you to visit at least one of the plum blossom viewing site in Kyoto if you are here in February or March. This is definitely a plus point for nature photographers or those who just love to look at flowers without being interrupted by other visitors rushing and taking such a long time to take photos.

You’ll be delighted to know that you can actually find many different varieties of plum blossoms in the whole of Kyoto prefecture. As you walk around the grounds of temples & shrines including public parks, you will be able to see the plum blossoms scattered around. If you are a nature fanatic, I would highly recommend you to come visit during the plum blossom season!

If you are hoping that I come up with a recommended list of places to visit for plum blossom viewing in Kyoto, don’t worry! I will do that very soon!




5 Favourite Photography Spots in Kyoto

As a language school student from ARC Academy for roughly around 2 years since I came to Kyoto, I was fortunate and lucky to have quite a lot of free time to spend on. Class typically lasts for around 3 hours 15 mins. It can be either in the morning or in the afternoon, depending on your Japanese proficiency level. The upper-intermediate and advanced levels are usually in the morning (9.15am – 12.30pm) while the beginner and lower-intermediate level classes take place in the afternoon (1.30 – 4.45pm).

From the class timings that I’ve shown you right here, I believe that you could imagine just how much free time we have as students from this school. We have homework, of course, but from what I’ve observed, the higher the level you are in, the least likely that you’re gonna do the homework.

So yes, there’s a lot of free time. Some of my classmates would just stay at home and procrastinate. Some would spend hours binge-watching TV shows on Netflix. Some might be working their part-time jobs. And then, there’s me, who goes around Kyoto city taking photographs.

“…where there are temples, shrines or gardens, there will certainly be promising photo spots”

I love taking photos in Kyoto, especially during spring and autumn seasons. This city also has a lot to offer to photographers like myself. You can literally find countless photo spots with scenic views at amazing angles, all in this very city. To me, where there are temples, shrines or gardens, there will certainly be promising photo spots.

I’ve compiled a short list of my top 5 favourite photography spots in Kyoto. Do take note that all the locations are sorted in random order.


1. Yasaka Pagoda

Yasaka Pagoda | 7.8.2016

This location has got to be one of my favourite photography spots in Kyoto. Just like what Yusuke-s mentioned in his “Stroll around KYOTO: the Best Photo Spot in Higashiyama” article, this is “the most photogenic landmark in Kyoto”, and I have to agree with him 100%. The scenic view of Yasaka Pagoda along with the ever so charming street somehow makes you feel as though you time traveled back to the Meiji era.

Best Time to Visit?

Best time to take is right before sunset or after sunrise. The street would be empty at that time. Make sure to check the weather forecast.


2. Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji | 16.1.2017

Kinkakuji, or also known as the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen buddhist temple in northern Kyoto. The temple’s top 2 floors are said to be covered in gold leaf. Kinkakuji is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Japan itself, so it will be crowded with locals and tourists alike. The temple is even more beautiful to look at during the winter season when snow falls occasionally. You can read my “Kinkakuji During Winter” post if you wanna know more about it.

Best Time to Visit?

The temple opens at 9am and closes at 5pm. I know you might be thinking that visiting the temple at 9am would probably be the best option, so as to avoid the crowd. However, that is not true at all. I go to school every morning and the bus that I always get on would pass by Kinkakuji. And I have also visited the temple at 9am. Little did I know that, that would be the worst time to visit.

At 9am, it is already packed with people. One by one, tour buses kept on coming in to the carpark. Therefore, countless large tour groups flock into the temple. In addition to this, there are also several Japanese high school and middle school excursions visiting the temple. And of course, there are the local Japanese visitors and the foreign tourists as well.

After several visits to Kinkakuji, I realised that the best time to visit is during lunch hour, probably around 11am – 1pm. At this time, there won’t be any high school or middle school students, and the number of large tour groups drops drastically. As a photographer, you wouldn’t want to be under pressure by other tourists who are dying to take photos of the temple or even getting pushed around by them. So yes, lunch time would be the best.


3. Keage Incline

Keage Incline | 5.4.2016

Keage Incline is not as popular as the other locations in this list. Even some locals don’t know about this place. During the summer, autumn and winter, Keage Incline is kind of “dead”, but during the cherry blossom season, it suddenly comes back to life!

Keage Incline is a slope with railroad tracks that extends roughly about 600 meters and is located near the Nanzenji Temple.

Best Time to Visit?

Cherry blossom season. There are no better time to visit Keage Incline. During this season, crowds of people (not as many as compared to the other locations in this list) come to walk along the old railroad tracks and take photos of the beautiful sakura. This is definitely one of Kyoto’s must-see spots during spring.

If you want to visit during winter, you can check out my “Snowy Streets of Kyoto” post for information and photos!


4. Kiyomizudera

Kiyomizudera | 18.10.2015

Everyone surely knows Kiyomizudera, right? Just like Kinkakuji, this Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist attractions. It is also part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. The site is currently under renovation, so please take note! I heard that its main hall is covered up to renovate the roof, so I’m afraid that you might not be able to take the photo that you wished for.

Best Time to Visit?

During sunrise and sunset. Its closing hours vary, depending on the seasons. Make use of this opportunity to take some beautiful sunrise and sunset shots. Make sure to do some research on the sunrise and sunset timings beforehand, as well as check the weather forecast before going! Take note that tripods aren’t allowed, but at the observation deck, where you can see the above view (in the photo), there are thick wooden structures where you could place your cameras for stability.


5. Byodoin Temple

Byodoin Temple | 23.8.2015

Byodoin Temple is also another Buddhist temple which is recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage. It is located in Uji city, south of Kyoto city. Uji city is popular for its Uji matcha, rich history and association with Japan’s first novel, the Tales of Genji.

Best Time to Visit?

Byodoin Temple is not as busy or crowded all year round, especially when compared to all the other locations in this list. So yes, you can visit the temple at any time.

Nishinoshima, Oki Islands: Japan’s Hidden Gem

Discover the Hidden Gem of the Oki Islands

What comes to mind when you talk about famous islands in Japan? Most likely it will be Matsushima (Miyagi Prefecture) or probably Miyajima (Hiroshima Prefecture) or maybe even Okunoshima (or also known as the “Rabbit Island” in Hiroshima Prefecture). However, have you ever heard about the Oki Islands?

An Archipelago Consisting of 4 Large Islands & 180 Small Islands

Aerial Kuniga Coast (2)
Kuniga Coast | Image by Nicola Jones-Kuchimura

Formed by volcanic activity about 5 ~ 6 million years ago, the Oki Islands is an archipelago, located off Shimane Prefecture in Western Japan. It consists of four large islands (Dogo, Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima and Chiburijima) and numerous smaller islands which are mostly uninhabited. Nishinoshima, in particular, is the second largest island of the Oki Islands and is also one of the few populated islands in the region, home to about 3400 people.

Becoming part of the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network (GGN) since 2013, Nishinoshima has been progressively growing and building itself and is slowly making a name for it, as a great tourist attraction. “It is a great place to hike along the picturesque coastline, wander through little fishing villages, sample some fresh seafood and relax at your home-away-from-home accommodation”, said Nicola Jones-Kuchimura, a tourist office staff working at the Nishinoshima Tourism Association. “This is Japan, but not the Japan that most people think of. You can really experience Japan here!” admitted the 38-year-old.

Aerial Kuniga Coast (3)
Kuniga Coast | Image by Nicola Jones-Kuchimura

Born and raised in New Zealand, Nicola moved to Shimane Prefecture with her husband and has been living in Nishinoshima Town for 6 years. Fluent in English and Japanese, she has been working really hard in the tourism industry and always has her hands full with promoting the island as a tourist attraction. Also as the only English-speaking staff member in Nishinoshima Town, she is very busy dealing with English-speaking visitors.

However, the decline in population on the island has proved to have a slight impact on the tourism industry. Nicola mentioned that “Sadly, the population of the islands is dropping and so is the number of Japanese tourists, so it may be hard for this place to be a top destination, but I think it will be a remain as a hidden treasure for the lucky few who chose to discover these islands.” Despite the falling number of visitors, she still remains optimistic. “Personally, I don’t want too many visitors as quiet, relaxed island life is what many people come here to enjoy”.

Love for Nature

Aerial Kuniga Coast (1)
Kuniga Coast | Image by Nicola Jones-Kuchimura

If you are a nature lover, you will definitely love this island. There are several incredible rock formations which were created slowly over millions of years using the hardest materials. A definitely must-see location of the Oki Islands has got to be the massive sea-eroded cliffs and strangely-shaped rocks of the Kuniga Coast.

This dynamic landscape includes such sites as Tsutenkyo, a large rock arch coloured with dramatic red, white and grey rock which contrasts against the aquamarine sea, and the astonishing Matengai, a sea cliff which stands at a lofty 257m. This spectacular rugged coastline is softened by pastoral vistas of cattle and horses which graze peacefully upon the mountaintops.

No Shortage of Outdoor Activities to Enjoy

Image by Nicola Jones-Kuchimura

Hiking, cycling, sea kayaking, scuba diving, snorkelling, wharf fishing, etc…The list just keeps on going on and on. For all the adventure seekers out there reading this article, this island has got what it takes to offer you all that, no matter how short or long your stay is.

When questioned about the different kinds of activities Nishinoshima has got to offer, Nicola gave me a lengthy reply by pointing out that “Visitors enjoy renting a bicycle or car to explore the island, snorkelling or swimming at the beach or on the coast in the summer, guided kayaking tours, fishing, hiking on the Kuniga Coast on Mt. Takuhi, making jewellery from abalone shell dyeing fabric with red clay from the islands and much more.”

Image by Nicola Jones-Kuchimura

And when asked if there are any new activities to be added to the current list (of things to do in Nishinoshima), she added, “The tourism office is preparing new tours for 2017 – 2018 which include bird-watching, star-gazing and flower-hiking.” So outdoor goers, please take note!

Recommended Times to Visit

Image by Nicola Jones-Kuchimura

“I think this depends on what you want to do, but anytime from April – October is a good time. If you want to swim or snorkel (bring your own gear!) then July – August is the best.” said Nicola. It is probably best to avoid visiting the Oki Islands during the summer break, especially during weekends and the Obon Holiday, which takes place in mid-August. “But it is also the time of year when many Japanese people take their summer break to visit relatives or enjoy summer in Oki, so the ferry can be very crowded…” she added. Winter is also not the best time visit due to strong winds and choppy waters, which may delay or postpone your ferry departure time.

How to Get There

By Plane

From Itami Airport in Osaka, you can take a (60 minutes) flight through JAL (Japan Airlines) to Oki Airport. From there, take the local bus (10 minutes) to Saigo Port, and then take the ferry to Beppu Port. The ferry ride will take around 30 minutes or 1 hour, depending on whether you take the fast ferry or the normal ferry.

By Train / Bus

If you plan to get there by train, you will have to take the Shinkansen (50 minutes) from Shin-Osaka station and transfer to the Limited Express Yakumo (156 minutes) at Okayama station, all the way to Matsue station. From there, it will be a 45-minute bus / train ride to Shichirui Port or Sakaiminato Port, where you can take either the fast ferry (60 minutes) or normal ferry (120 minutes) to Beppu Port. However, please take note that unlike the bus, the JR trains from Matsue station do not go to Shichirui Port.




Kinkakuji During Winter

The ‘Golden Pavilion’ Covered in White

Kinkakuji | 16.1.2017
Kinkakuji | 16.1.2017
Kinkakuji | 16.1.2017

As mentioned in my previous post, “Snowy Streets of Kyoto“, snow in Kyoto is just not that common, but when it does, the view is breathtaking!

You must also be wondering…

“So what do locals do when it does snow heavily in Kyoto?”

Well, they visit Kinkakuji (also known as, ‘The Golden Pavilion’). I’m not trying to say that ALL or MOST of the locals here visit the temple when it snows. However, that is what I observe, from the multiples times that I had visited the temple. Some of my Japanese friends even told me that they envied me and that I was very lucky to have seen it with my own pair of eyes.

So yes, snow is uncommon in Kyoto, but to see Kinkakuji covered in snow is just a rare but beautiful sight.

If you’re into photography, I can assure you that this will be really worth your time and money to take several shots of it in the snow.

Just be careful, though. There will be huge crowds of locals and tourists rushing to take photographs and selfies at Kinkakuji during winter, especially when it snows heavily.

My best advice?

Be the first to enter the temple when it opens at 9 in the morning, to beat the crowd.

Good luck!

Snowy Streets of Kyoto

Snow in Kyoto is not that common. But when it does snow, it’s incredibly beautiful. The photos below were taken last winter, on the 15th of January, when it snowed rather heavily for a day or two. I was so delighted that I woke up early, went to Keage Incline (because I just love this place) and walked around the area for a couple of hours by myself, with my Nikon D90.

Walking along the snowy streets of Kyoto was like going down a pathway filled with bliss and peacefulness. Needless to say, this was one of my best days in 2017.

After exiting Keage station | 15.1.2017
Nearby Keage Incline | 15.1.2017
Nearby Keage Incline | 15.1.2017
Keage Incline | 15.1.2017

How I Started Photography as a Hobby

That’s me trying to look for the best angle
That’s me smiling after I had found the best angle 😀

“It’s a long story, bro”

Usually, when I meet new people in school or at work, most of them will ask me the same, exact question: “So Asyraf, how did you start photography as a hobby?”

And every single time that question is asked, I give the same answer with a wide grin, “It’s a long story, bro”.

So yes, I’m going to tell you exactly how I started taking up photography as a hobby.

Started in the Year 2011

It was 6 years ago. I think it was in January, I guess? By then, I was already a Year 1 Ngee Ann Polytechnic student (in Singapore) who was about to complete my 2nd semester. At that point of time, I knew that my cumulative GPA for that year would be considered ‘really good’ (not trying to brag here, but that’s not the point), and hence, I thought that I should join one of the many interesting clubs/societies that the school has. I remember looking through the long lists of clubs and societies, and I was super excited. There were just too many that I was spoilt for choice. If I remember correctly, I think that I singled out 3 different clubs: Bowling, floorball and photography club.

Bowling: Went for their training for a few weeks and then quit due to some reasons with the coach.

Floorball: Went for the trials and I was like “Ohh, this is gonna tire me out after just a few weeks in”. Their training was really intense. And I know, that deep down inside, my lack in stamina was just gonna hit me real hard if I were to train with them every week.

Photography Club: Looked great. Seemed fun and enjoyable. More importantly, I could actually earn some money from some of their photography projects. What’s there to lose?

I discussed my choices with my secondary school buddy who also got into the same polytechnic as me and we decided to join the photography club. But before we joined, we thought that it would be best to purchase our very own DSLR. I remember asking my parents to buy one for me. I told them that I was planning to join the photography club in school with my friend and promised them that I would not quit the club after joining it.

Nikon D90 – My 1st DSLR

I was so overjoyed when they gave me the green light. On that very day, my parents and I went to Courts to get myself a camera. I realised that I didn’t know much about cameras, so one of the staff recommended me the Nikon D90, which became my first ever DSLR, and I’m still using the D90 till today!

However, my friend and I never did attend any of the club meetings or anything. We never did join the club at all. We planned to go for one of the meetings but it just never happened. After we gave up trying to join or even participate in any of the club activities, I find myself not using my D90 at all, until…

Japan Trip 2011

The 1st time that I could test the camera out (especially outdoors) turned out to be the most vital part of my journey as a beginner in photography. And that 1st time happened during my 1st ever visit to Japan in 2011. Yes, it’s the same one that I mentioned in my previous post.

I had a really amazing time, testing out all the camera modes and settings. Ohh let me tell you this, especially if you (yes, you!) are an amateur photographer, the early stages of learning photography involves A LOT OF TRIAL AND ERROR. It’s normal. The more you do it, the better. I’m pretty sure you know the phrase “Learning through mistakes”, right? Yeah, well this phrase applies 100% to photography. It’s only through mistakes that you know how to change which settings to get the best shot. That’s how it is, and there’s no other better alternative to mastering photography.

Anyway, it was also from that trip to Japan that I realised just how much I love nature and landscape photography. Mountains in the backdrop, cherry blossoms with pink bokeh background, city skyline at nighttime…

…it’s all so BEAUTIFUL.

I was so fascinated by nature and landscape photography, and I still am now. So yes, maybe this will explain why you’ll see a lot more of these kinds of photos in this blog 😉

Why Start a Blog?

Hey everyone!

So yes, this blog is supposed to be like a medium for me to post and sell photos that I captured here in Japan. Along with the photos, I will tell stories with it, and probably give some advice for those who wish to travel, study or live in Japan. I’m a friendly person, so please ask me anything if you have any questions!

I’ll post my 1st photo in my next post, so please stay tuned… 😀