Photo of the Week #001

DSC_0618-2
Yasaka Pagoda, Kyoto | 18.10.2015

 

Advertisements

Military Archery Ritual in Kyoto

The Mushajinji Ritual Dispels Bad Luck & Brings Good Fortune

This is a ritual which not many people have heard of, even the locals. It is called the Mushajinji ritual, which is a military archery ritual held at Kyoto’s Kamigamo Shrine. It is said that the origin of this event started in the imperial court during the Heian period as means to dispel bad luck.

It is a special event where people dressed in traditional attire shoot arrows at a target 1.8 meters wide. By shooting arrows at the target, they are praying for good fortune as well as to repel evil away for the coming year.

DSC_0608
Kamigamo Shrine Archery Ritual | 16.1.2016
DSC_0623-2
Kamigamo Shrine Archery Ritual | 16.1.2016

 

Symbols of the Targets & Arrows

The targets are not just any targets that you have seen before. They have the word oni written on the back, which means “demon” or “ogre”. So, as you might have already guessed by now, the targets symbolise misfortune, whereas the arrows act as purifying agents.

The ritual usually takes place in mid-January at 11am in the morning. If you want to be in the front row however, I strongly recommend that you arrive early, probably about an hour earlier. If not, you would have to keep on tip-toeing or go all the way to the back, nearer to the entrance of the shrine where you can’t see what’s happening.

DSC_0628
Kamigamo Shrine Archery Ritual | 16.1.2016
DSC_0639
Kamigamo Shrine Archery Ritual | 16.1.2016

Anyway, at 11am, you can see a host of men and women in old style court attire assemble in the open grounds on the shrine precincts. Two priests will then officially begin the ceremony by firing special whistling arrows at the targets before the other archers line up to fire off volley after volley.

I have seen it myself and honestly speaking, when my friend first invited me to observe this ritual, I wasn’t quite interested. I thought it’s just a typical archery event, where all I’m going to see is a man with a bow let fly a quiver of arrows.

DSC_0648
Kamigamo Shrine Archery Ritual | 16.1.2016

Everything Was Done to Perfection

But I was wrong. The entire ritual was done to perfection. The archers were very detailed in everything that they did, starting from the beginning when they were preparing to shoot until the act of firing the arrow. It was definitely a sight to see. The elegance, perfection, respect and emotions being put into this ritual was very impressive. I’ve got to say that I was indeed very lucky to have captured all of these elements in my photos. I couldn’t thank my friend enough.

DSC_0654
Kamigamo Shrine Archery Ritual | 16.1.2016

When Will It Be Held This Year?

This year, the Mushajinji ritual will take place on the 16th of January and it starts at 11am. Admission is free. So if you are interested, I recommend you go check it out, and maybe let me know what you think about the event!

DSC_0675
Kamigamo Shrine Archery Ritual | 16.1.2016

 

Plum Blossoms in Kyoto

Do You Know What Plum Blossoms Are?

DSC_0744
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

DSC_0797
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

DSC_0795
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

DSC_1091
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

DSC_0414
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

DSC_0651
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

DSC_0577
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

DSC_0167-2.jpg
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.

Japan, Christmas & KFC

Hey all!

I know this is a rather late Christmas post, but I’ve been quite busy the past few days. So anyway, Merry Christmas, everyone!

This may be my 3rd year staying in Kyoto, but this is only my 1st time being here during Christmas, since I usually return to Singapore the past couple of years. I got on the festive mood by having a Velvet cake and a Mont Blanc cake (both are kinda small in size) which were heavily discounted at a Family Mart nearby.

Long Queues Seen Outside of KFC during Christmas in Japan

Anyway, I’m not sure if many of you guys know this, but here in Japan, the locals go to KFC during Christmas.

Yes…KFC!

IMG_1599
KFC in BiVi Nijo, Kyoto, during Christmas Eve | 24.12.2017
IMG_1598
KFC in BiVi Nijo, Kyoto, during Christmas Eve | 24.12.2017

So, on Christmas Eve, as I went to watch Star Wars (oh the movie was so intense!) at the Toho Cinemas in BiVi Nijo near where I live, I happened to walk past KFC. KFC itself, is not that popular in the whole of Japan, so it’s quite uncommon to see one, as compared to McDonald’s. So I was kinda surprised to see one there, and I was even more surprised with the crowd. I could see a really long queue. The outlet itself seemed rather small, so the queue extended outside the store. And as I went up the escalator, I saw one of the customers who had just received his order, and wow, wow, wow…he was carrying BUCKETS of chicken.

I remember the 1st time I heard about Japanese people having KFC during Christmas, and I couldn’t quite believe it, because…WHY? WHY JAPANESE PEOPLE?!

The Real Reason

So apparently, I heard from one of my teachers that the chicken from KFC “resembles” turkey. And because it is just impossible to get turkey here in Japan, Japanese Christians (or some say that it’s actually foreigners instead) opted for KFC’s finger lickin’ good fried chicken due to a “Kentucky for Christmas!” marketing campaign way back in 1974. The marketing campaign turned out to be very successful and the KFC culture is still going strong, even until now.

5 “Side Effects” I Have As A Study-Abroad Student In Japan

I’ve been staying in Kyoto since July 2015. I started out with studying Japanese in a Japanese language school, called ARC Academy. After about 1 year 9 months, I graduated from the language school and got accepted into Ritsumeikan University, majoring in Global Studies.

And since today is the 22nd of December 2017, it’s been roughly around 2.5 years of living in Kyoto. My family, relatives and friends sometimes wonder if I’m a changed man whenever I return to Singapore during my vacation breaks. They kept on thinking and assuming that due to the fact that I’ve been living in Japan for quite some time, I’ve somehow “become” Japanese.

Well, it’s definitely not true that I’ve completely changed and become a Japanese man. However, it is certainly true that I’ve changed some of my habits and mannerisms, kinda in a way that it has adjusted to the Japanese culture.

I have listed down below, the 5 “side effects” that I have after staying in Japan long-term.

 

1. I Bow…All The Time

When I say thanks, I bow. When I apologise, I bow. When I give way to oncoming vehicles or pedestrians, I bow. I bow all the time. I got so used to it that I even bow while having phone conversations! Bowing is a like a daily routine for Japanese people. One does not live in Japan and not bow at least once a day. History has it that bowing started off as a reflection of social status, but as times changed, bowing now serves for many different purposes, including greetings and even when you are asking someone for a favour.

 

2. My English Speaking Ability Got Worse

“Hey, it’s so warm today. Let’s go get aisu kurimu!” Yes, that means ‘ice cream’. For those who have learnt the basics of Japanese, you should know how Katakana works. Katakana borrows words from the English language, change its pronunciation and then add it to its dictionary. There are literally thousands of Katakana words, such as doa (door), so-se-ji (sausage), be-kudochi-zuke-ki (baked cheesecake), etc. As an English speaker, I chuckled when I was learning all these words. However, as karma would have it, I end up speaking English like any other Japanese would.

 

3. I Go To The Convenience Store Almost Every Day

Convenience stores (also known as konbini in Japanese) such as 7-Eleven and Family Mart being convenient are totally an understatement. They offer way more services than any other convenience stores around the world could. Other than buying late night snacks (really wide selection of foodstuff you can find there), I find myself paying electricity/gas bills, photocopying and scanning documents, printing photos and even using the Wi-Fi, all in these really handy stores. I can even pay for movie or concert tickets, or even night bus tickets there.

 

4. I Don’t Jaywalk Even If There Are No Cars

‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Unfortunately, Japanese people adhere to the traffic rules very strictly. Even if it’s a very narrow road, the kind of road where you can walk across in less than 3 seconds, the locals here will never jaywalk. I remember the first time I tried to jaywalk when I was in Kyoto. I regretted my action after that. It was embarrassing as I received stares from the locals. I used to always jaywalk back in my home country, but over here in Japan, no.

 

5. I Leave My Valuables Everywhere

Laptop, iPhone, wallet, bicycle, you name it. Japan is such a safe country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Well, of course, ‘low crime’ does not mean ‘no crime’. However, here in Japan, the chances of you having your stuff stolen are so minute. I have left my stuff, especially my wallet and phone, in public places such as schools, restaurants, toilets and cafes and have yet to get it stolen. I am not trying to say that I am just waiting for it to happen, but it’s just that, everyone does it, especially the locals.

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

âTâôâZâbâgâJâäâbâN
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.”

DSC00444
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

IMG_1964
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.