Off to Kyoto

The next day I decided to set out for Kyoto following my return from Nagoya. This was one of the places I really wanted to visit after hearing about the older style buildings and beautiful fall colors the city can be known for. I woke up at 5 am that morning and set out with my friend towards Tokyo around 5:30 am as this is his usual commute time. There's something to be said for the Japanese working life but that will be saved for a later entry.

I got to Tokyo not too long after that, grabbed a boxed bento and a beer for the Shinkansen and grab some shots while waiting for the train. One of the things I came to appreciate was waiting for the Shinkansen on the days I arrived early. The rush of people and constant movement of trains can be something to admire endlessly at times.

Upon arriving in Tokyo it took some effort to familiarize myself with the subway map there before eventually taking a chance on what I figured was the correct train, luckily it was. A few stations over I got out and decided to walk the rest of the way towards the mountain side temple I had decided on during the Shinkansen ride there. The city core looks quite similar to any other city core around Japan but once you get a few steps out you begin to notice what Kyoto is really known for. The older architecture and buildings begin to peer through and before you know it you're wandering up a tiny road between buildings towards a popular attraction.

I quickly was surprised to see the already narrow streets become even narrower before stumbling across the one lane road packed with visitors and students off to see the temple. The road leading up to it is lined with small restaurants, souvenir and sweet shops, every one with their own distinct flavor. A few steps into the crowd and I noticed the elementary level students paying an extra amount of attention to me. A few more steps further I was stopped by a pack of them and asked if I wouldn't mind taking a picture with them. It was a little emberassing to be stopped in a big crowd of people to pose for a picture but funny in the end. I didn't think too much of it beyond a funny story to tell and continued on. Along the way there were a few more glances, a few hellos and even a high five from some of the other students there.

Now initially I was starting to become a little surprised but at the same time noticing the subtle differences between Kyoto and Tokyo. Overall the people were incredibly friendly, not just the students either. The atmosphere was very different from the big city where everyone was on a schedule or in a rush to get somewhere.

Finally after getting inside the temple I began to revel at the chance of photographing people in such a nice setting and began to wander around getting candid shots of people. Along the way I ended up getting stopped around 6 more times for pictures and questions. There ended up being quite a lot of students there that day from various schools. Some of them had some assignments which included approaching English speakers and asking a few questions.

I actually ended up wandering around the temple and side streets for almost the entire day in Kyoto before walking all the way back to the main station towards the setting sun. On my way back I stumbled across another shrine which was closed for the day but one I was intent on seeing.

Before I boarded the train back that evening I had already decided to come back the next morning. I mulled over the idea of grabbing a hotel but figured I'd just spend the evening doing photo editing and writing, something I could do on the train ride back.

I came back the next day and ironically enough found myself back at the temple, this time around I had set out to shoot candids as much as I could. I really enjoyed Kyoto for my 2 days there. Beautiful city and extremely friendly and kind people.

Days in Niigata

I decided to condense the particular 3 days into a single entry as it was more of a catching up and sight seeing trip with a friend I hadn't seen in a while and the whole experience revolved more about culture and life than it did photography. I also ended up shooting more film than digital while in Niigata so there may not be too many photos to share.

I set off pretty early to the west coast of Japan and after a bento breakfast on the train and some mountain tunnels I arrived in Niigata. Right from the bat it started to remind me of Edmonton. It's a sharp contract from Tokyo where it's near impossible to not be surrounded by people anywhere you go. Niigata on the other hand was much quieter, cooler and laid out similarly to Edmonton in some ways. The big difference is that it is a port city and as such has a lot of influence that way.

Speaking of which, the friend who was generous enough to give me a tour of the city as well as some of the popular locations happens to be a Port Queen of Niigata and not only has quite a bit of knowledge of the area but is a beautiful person all around.

The first day was spent between sake breweries, fish markets, observation towers and one of my Dave locations, the Ito family house. A edo period "mansion" that is incredibly true to the old school Japanese way of life and comes off as something you'd see in an old school Akira Kurusawa flick.

The day following I got a chance to see the merchant equivalent of such a home which also turned out to be a incredibly beautiful place. I could sit by the window and just appreciated the garden or listen to the rain there for hours. It really can make you take a step away from being surrounded by technology and fall back to the original elements.

Over the course of lunch I got to watch a Geigi performance which itself was a very cool experience but it also brought forward the history that led to the influence of hostess bars across Japan. It's something that would be interesting to discuss further in a future entry.

Finally we ended up going to a mountain temple not far from Niigata city as well as making it to the top of the mountain just in time to catch a glorious sunset over the pacific ocean. The country side along that part of Japan is a very interesting and beautiful place. I really got the strong desire to come back one day, rent a scooter and just ride across the countryside with a camera, stopping wherever.

The last day was spent making soba noodles from scratch at a cultural center in the city. It's always fun to see people teach their craft and all around it was a wonderful experience to learn some of the food culture and traditions behind a popular dish across the country. I was really glad to experience that. We also got a chance to visit a rice cracker factory. Niigata is well known for its rice, this of course has a strong influence on their sake and rice related dishes. Seeing the behind the scene elements at play, especially in a very different culture than our own is always an interesting contrast to witness.

Finally, we spent some time by the ocean, something that I kept wanting to revisit all 3 days. Edmonton doesn't have an ocean front and it's something you can't miss till you experience it. I will truly miss all the smells and sounds as well as the feel of the cool breeze.

The 3 days went by really fast, as they always seem too. I hate saying goodbye to friends, it is however a source of joy being able to see how far they've come and grown. It's a bit of a childish notion but at times it feels like being in a movie, seeing friends with such beauty and character.