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Tokyo and Kyoto, April 2016

Discussion in 'Street, Documentary, and Portrait' started by MarkRyan, Apr 23, 2016.

  1. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    772
    May 3, 2013
    California
    I don't do much travel, but this week I just got back from 10 days spent in Japan. I started in Tokyo and ended up in Kyoto, where my wife and I did a lot of walking around and taking in the sights (and food). I of course shot photos.

    The photos below are presented in chronological order. If you'd like to see all of the photos I've processed from the trip, I've got a Flickr album here. A few notes on equipment:

    I brought with me an Olympus E-M5ii and a handful of my favorite prime lenses. I also brought the Panasonic 12-32/3.5-5.6, which I got with a recent GM5 purchase but haven't used much. I brought it because it's so small "why not?" and thought it may come in handy. I ended up using it way more than I thought I would. Really discovered how good a lens it is, and would have used it even more if I'd brought a polarizer that fits it. Otherwise, I used mostly the Olympus 25/1.8 and an OM 100/2.8 because I could leave polarizers on the front of them and swap between the two for most shots.

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    We got to Tokyo at 5:00 am on a Sunday. We went everywhere by train, which is quite easy in Japan -- everything is well connected, and Google Maps gives perfect routes. At 5:00 am, the station was still relatively lively, but not packed.

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    We stayed in an area of Tokyo called Shibuya. It's a busy area with a labyrinthine set of alleys tucked away from the busy stuff, bustling with life at all hours. I could walk these alleys for years with my camera, but only had a few days. What's really cool about shooting this area is that you can find an interesting scene, frame a shot, and wait a few seconds for something or someone to pass through the frame and make it a better shot. It's not just inevitable that someone will stroll into the frame, it is going to happen within a minute. Or less.

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    We spent a day walking around Harajuku, an eclectic neighborhood of kitschy souvenir shops, young Japanese fashion, and some high-end hip stuff. Somehow I managed to spend no money here except on food.

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    The next day, we visited Tsukiji and the fish market there. It's very crowded, probably worth seeing, but most notable for all of the street food vendors selling cheap seafood snacks on sticks. It was fun walking around with a pocket full of 100 yen coins and exchanging with vendors for unrecognizable (but delicious) food bites. The one photo of the grinning vendor above I thought would be a candid, until I looked up from my camera and saw the man making a great photo for me.

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    That same day, we trained over to Akihabara to check out the location that, when I was a child, was the Mecca of all my hobbies. I'm not as into video games and anime these days, but it was still a sight to behold. I got in a game of Mario Kart with the wife at the sit-down arcade.

    We checked out the nearby Yodobashi Akiba, a damn massive electronics store with more cameras packed on one floor than the total of camera gear I've ever seen in US shops. Yodobashi has everything new, and it was fun handling all of the cameras I've read about online but never experienced in person. Handled all of the Fujis, the Sonys, and even picked up some Nikon DSLRs to find out if they're still too large for me (they are!). This experience really settled a lot of GAS -- the Fujis are nice, but the dials are super busy, the Sony A7s are even uglier in person, and the Micro 4/3 gear really seemed the best compromise of size and quality. The build materials on the top Olympus cameras stands out in that setting, you only touch metal parts, which can't be said for pretty much everything else. Even the Fujis have some plastic dials.

    We trained back to our apartment, and the station was beautifully lit. I had to snap a few candids.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2016
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  2. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    772
    May 3, 2013
    California
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    I mentioned I could walk around the Shibuya alleys endlessly with the camera, and did that even more. Not only are the photo ops worth it, but it's fun finding businesses tucked away within residential blocks. I stumbled onto a cafe stocked with owls -- my wife really wanted to visit an owl cafe while in Tokyo, and it turned out there was one less than five minutes walk from our apartment. Very cute owls, though we did feel a bit bad that they're tethered to chairs and tables. Hopefully they live happy and free-flight lives during hours that customers aren't visiting.

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    I got to do some night shooting, which is what I was really looking forward to. I'd even packed my tripod to Japan, which was a significant packing space compromise. But I ended up never using the tripod. Olympus stabilization to the rescue -- I managed some great shots handheld, and and mostly at ISO 400.

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    We hit up Shinjuku on our last day in Tokyo, mostly because I wanted to check out a handful of used camera shops recommended by Japan Camera Hunter. The best of the bunch is Chute Box (not to be confused with the Brazilian MMA house). It's a tiny downstairs hole that is lovingly crammed with camera gear, display cabinets layered with used cameras and lenses. If I'd had more intent to buy something, I'd love to ask to shuffle through the stack of OM lenses, but just spent a few minutes scanning through the glass and trying to check prices against what I'd pay online. (I concluded that eBay still has more options and similar pricing, even if it's not as fun.) Again, I somehow left Shinjuku without spending any money.

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    We found the Shinjuku National Garden on a map and walked to it. Beautiful location with cherry blossoms still in bloom, and walkways that, when the light breeze shifted laterally, showered us in blossom petals floating down from the trees.

    This was our last excursion in Tokyo. The next day, we boarded a Shinkansen -- a bullet train -- to Kyoto.
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2016
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  3. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    772
    May 3, 2013
    California
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    We got settled into our Kyoto apartment at around 5:00 pm, which is about the same time that most of the shrines and temples close shop to tourists. So we just walked around a bit, and found a less-touristed temple lit by the setting sun. We're not Buddhist, I don't understand the customs, so we always tread lightly, observing quietly while solo followers stepped in and paid respects before walking home from work.

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    On our first full day in Kyoto, we visited Arashiyama, a district with lots of sights, including more temples, a famous bamboo grove, and a mountain hike with wild macaque monkeys at the top. The monkeys are comfortable with people and walked amongst us. Incredibly, they don't hassle people for food unless you're inside a small building and feeding them through a fence. The macaques cling to the fence and reach through with greedy hands for chunks of apple and peanuts. The one pictured above had the saddest "In the Arms of the Angel" face I've ever seen from an animal. How could we resist?

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    When we got back into downtown Kyoto, we took a tiny elevator to the top of Kyoto Tower. Some great views of the city below, and a useful Google-esque map helped identify the various landmarks visible from those heights. It was cool seeing places like Kiyomizu-dera, which we'd later visit on foot, from this perspective. Maybe even cooler was observing the bustling street life below, especially with the quaint, light piano music pinging in the background. The aesthetic of Kyoto is always tasteful.

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    We trained south a couple of hours on the next day, to the town Nara. There's a large temple, Todai-ji, but mostly we went for the deer. A large park adjacent to the temple is crowded with wild deer. Wild-ish. The deer walk right up to people and have learned to bow for food -- no joke. These deer are the most prolific bowers in all of Japan. Unfortunately, the light in Nara was super harsh, which wasn't great for photos. I ended up turning some black and white to salvage the shapes and tones.
     
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  4. MarkRyan

    MarkRyan Instagram: @MRSallee

    772
    May 3, 2013
    California
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    The light was better in the morning -- much better -- because of fluffy clouds that rolled in and dumped a bit of rain on the city. Unfortunately, the clouds left before we got to Inari, and the light got hard again. Oh well. Inari is really a stunning area. Visually beautiful and a stunning display of human devotion. You may have seen photos of Inari before, a row of vermillion gates covering a walkway. I'd seen it before and figured it's maybe 100 yards of path. Nope. It's miles. We spent about two hours hiking to the top of the mountain at Inari, the whole way lined with the gates. The best part of hiking to the top: The density of tourists drops sharply, elbow-to-elbow tourists at the bottom, and scarcely another human at the top. What a great experience.

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    That night, we rode bicycles through Kyoto to the Gion district. Gion is an upscale neighborhood packed with nightlife and the loose promise of seeing real-life geisha (or geiko) at night. The main street is indeed busy and beautifully lit, but no geisha in sight. We took to the back streets and found, like the back streets of Shibuya, endless narrow streets with scattered life, a more authentically Kyoto scene than the main drag. And it was back there that we caught isolated glimpses of a few geisha, each moving quickly between engagements.

    I didn't snap any photos of the geisha -- the glimpses were too brief, and I didn't want to play paparazzi -- but got some more night shots. Again, handheld. Who needs a tripod?

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    On our last leisure day in Japan, we bicycled around Kyoto, visiting Kiyomizu-dera and walking the Philosopher's Path. Both were populated more with tourists than Kyoto-ans, but both provided beautiful sights. I managed to find frames without tourists in them.

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    The next day we left Kyoto, returned to Tokyo by Shinkansen, and caught a midnight flight back to San Francisco. I'd packed my camera away for the last day, tired and sure I'd photographed everything I needed. I ended up with a few solid iPhone grabs (above) that might've been better on my camera, but are the kinds of snaps I don't get when I'm trying hard. They just happen, which makes me think I need to carry my GM5 + 12-32 more often.

    An awesome trip. I'd love to go again. And probably end up doing the same thing -- walk around and take photos between bowls of ramen.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2016
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  5. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, CA
    Great shots! I'm hoping to plan a trip with my wife in the near future to Japan as well! I can tell from these shots you were having a blast!
     
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  6. phigmov

    phigmov Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 4, 2010
    Wonderful travelogue! Thanks for sharing.
     
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  7. bigboysdad

    bigboysdad Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 25, 2013
    Sydney/ London
    Excellent.
     
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  8. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Walter
    We spent a week in Japan in 2013, split between Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. Wonderful, but way too little time spent in each place. Nonetheless, a great trip.
     
  9. mossie

    mossie Mu-43 Regular

    86
    Feb 14, 2012
    Wonderful. Unique style. Distinctively different from usual shots in these two great locations.
     
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  10. jdcope

    jdcope Mu-43 Regular

    93
    May 21, 2015
    Oregon
    Awesome pictures! I would love to visit Japan some day.
     
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