Category Archives: Japan

Nachi-san

Japan, as someone put it to me, is the most exotic place one can go that is absolutely safe. Nachi-san, shown in this image, is one of the ends of the Kumano kodo pilgrimage trail. It is a religious Shangri-la above the ocean with an impressive waterfall behind the temple complex.

Nachi-san © Harold Davis

Nachi-san © Harold Davis

In my initial story on this image, I noted that “while some pilgrims do it the hard way and walk the ancient stones of the Kumano kodo up to mountain passes and down through valleys to arrive in Nachi-san, most visitors arrive by scheduled bus, or by tour bus. Like Lourdes in France, or Mt Koya in Japan, Nachi-san is a destination for religious tourists, almost all of whom are Japanese.” There’s more about the location in the story about my long exposure photo of the Pagoda at Nachi San.

When I first processed the image I straightened the lines of perspective, but my mistake left a little of the amrgin in the finished image. The version shown here fixes my earlier mistake.

Please consider joining me in the spring for a photographic trip to Japan, which includes a visit to Nachi-san.

Umbrellas, Tokyo

Umbrellas, Tokyo © Harold Davis

Umbrellas, Tokyo © Harold Davis

When it comes to photographic technique, sometimes simple is good. I photographed these umbrellas on the street in Tokyo in a light rain on a overcast but bright autumn day, handheld at 1/160 of a second, f/4.5 and ISO 400. There was no post-production involved other than a little adjustment in the RAW conversion.

Shirakawa River, Kyoto

Getting to Kyoto late in the afternoon, I checked into my hotel. Next, I proceeded to wander with my camera. In November, the sun set early and found me along the banks of the Shirakawa River. Somewhere between a canal and a river, and bounded in a stone channel, one-way streets ran along either bank. I set up my tripod on one of the stone foot bridges that crossed the Shirakawa, and shot the peaceful urban landscape as ducks played in the water.

Shirakawa River, Kyoto © Harold Davis

Shirakawa River, Kyoto © Harold Davis

 

Boss Coffee

Boss Coffee © Harold Davis

Boss Coffee © Harold Davis

Isuien Garden

Gardens in Japan are almost never just about nature. The key point in a Japanese garden is how the natural elements interact with structural and human elements.

Isuien Garden, Nara, Japan © Harold Davis

Isuien Garden, Nara, Japan © Harold Davis

The style of Isuien Garden in Nara is specifically to use extrinsic elements—landscapes and structures  that are outside the domain of the garden—to enhance the garden itself. My image echoes this stylistic idea by including only the reflection of the temple in the pond, in addition to the stone footbridge and natural reflections.

This way is not the way

Not the way © Harold Davis

Not the way © Harold Davis

Awagami Video with Botanique

I’m really pleased to note a new professionally-made video from Awagami about photographers who print on Awagami washi that shows my Botanique. The video can be played below, embedded from Facebook. The video is in Japanese with English translation in subtitles. Botanique is shown in the video at about the 50 second mark. 

Sunrise in the rice fields

Waking up just before dawn in the small Japanese village of Chikatsuyu (see bottom image), I threw my clothes on and hurried out with my camera. There were pockets of fog, and crystalline ice structures on some of the plants. As the sun rose, moisture evaporated up from the earth, and I headed for the nearby rice fields.

Field, Chikatsuyu © Harold Davis

Field, Chikatsuyu © Harold Davis

The trick when shooting into the sun is usually to radically underexpose—otherwise your image will be overexposed and full of blown-out highlights. The exposure data for this image in the rice fields using a 300mm lens on a full frame camera was 1/3200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO, hand held. As you can see, I purposely selected a wide open aperture for shallow depth-of-field. My underexposure was by about 2 EV relative to what the light meter indicated.

Morning Mist on the Hiki River © Harold Davis

Morning Mist on the Hiki River © Harold Davis

Back along the Hiki River, the morning mists were rapidly clearing. I turned my camera away from the fields, and shot an image back towards the mountains.

Chikatsuyu © Harold Davis

Chikatsuyu © Harold Davis

The Minshuku—a budget version of a ryokan, roughly speaking a Japanese bed & breakfast—where I stayed is to the left in this photo, right along the river.

 

Temple Flags

The temple flags shown in this image are along the steps leading up to the grand shrine of Kumano Hongu Taisha located in Tanabe, Japan on the Kii peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture. This temple has been one of the most important centers of the Shugendo Buddhist faith for more than 1,000 years.

Temple Flags © Harold Davis

Temple Flags © Harold Davis

My idea was to create a mystical, ghost-like image. I wanted to use the natural motion of the flags in the wind to create a soft effect, with the forest landscape in the background partially “peeking” through. To make this image, in the gathering twilight, I put my camera on my tripod, and dialed down the ISO as low as possible (to ISO 50).

With my ISO set low, I next picked a small aperture (f/22). At ISO 50 and f/22, an eight second exposure was about right—which created the flowing and soft otherworldly effect I wanted.

Special Edition Print: Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po

What better time to consider the spiritual side of things than at the beginning of a new year?

Hiking the ancient Kumano kodo trail on the Kii peninsula in Wakayama prefecture in Japan, involves a spiritual quest where walking itself is part of the pilgrimage. And the views themselves represent a spiritual and dreamlike landscape.

Weather on the Kumano kodo

During a short break in the very wet weather, from Hyakken-gura—a lookout high on the trail—I shot this panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po—which translates to “view of 3,600 peaks of Kumano.” When the wind gusted, rain splattered my face and my camera lens and tripod, so it was pretty hard to make notes to keep track of the positioning of the frames in the panorama. It was wet and cold. I had to work hard to keep myself—and more importantly—my camera dry. But I realized that the weather was a part of the spiritual scenery that makes the Kumano kodo so special. And as Ansel Adams put it, “You can’t capture a clearing storm without being out in the weather.”

Peaks and Panoramas

I don’t think there are actually 3,600 peaks—it’s important to remember the role of metaphor in life, particularly when you are on a pilgrimage—but as you can see there are certainly quite a few mountains. You can click here, or click on the image, to view it wider than it is shown here.

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis—Click here to view larger

This is a high-resolution panorama, shot in 10 separate sections with my 36MP Nikon D800. The final, full-size processed file measures 12,256 x 4,747 pixels at 300 ppi.

A Fusion of Old and New

This special edition panoramic archival pigment print is presented on the fantastic Kozo washi made by Awagami on Shikoku Island. The Awagami Mill has been making this paper for generations.

The print measures 24″ wide by 11 3/4″ high (the image size is 20″ X 7 3/4″) with generous 2″ margins. It is hand-signed and inscribed in pencil on the bottom margin. This is an elegant collectible print, handcrafted in my studio, that will add the spiritual essence of the Kumano kodo landscape to any environment.

For a limited time, we will ship one of these unique prints to you, packed flat and insured, for the special price of $675.00.

To order your Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po panoramic print, or for more information, please click here to contact my studio. Larger sizes are also available, please inquire.

Samadhi Mudra

The hand gestures of representations of Budhha are significant, and have specific meanings. The Dhyana mudra (hand gesture of Buddha), also called the Samadhi mudra, is shown in the photo below. This hand gesture invites meditation and a sense of deep involvement with the universe.

Dhyana Mudra © Harold Davis

Dhyana Mudra © Harold Davis

I photographed this statue of Buddha in the garden outside Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo (also known as the temple of the Asakusa Kannon). Click here to read my story about having my fortune told at this temple!

Distant Japanese Landscape

About half a mile before reaching Hyakken-gura, I paused in the steady rain. Peering out from beneath my umbrella, I could see through the pine trees to a distant landscape in which the cloud cover seemed to be breaking up. The view seemed to call for a panorama, so I mounted by camera on my tripod. Holding the umbrella over the camera, and ignoring the cold rain splashing on me, I panned from forest edge to forest edge, encompassing the entire view spread out below me. I knew there would be time enough later to warm myself in a hot communal bath, and to clean my camera lens from the drops of rain that were inevitably falling on it.

Distant Japanese Landscape © Harold Davis

Distant Japanese Landscape © Harold Davis—Click here to view larger

You can click here, or on the image, to view it wider than it is possible to see it on one of my vertically-oriented blog pages.

Related story: 3,600 Peaks of Kumano

3,600 Peaks of Kumano

During a short break in the very wet weather, from Hyakken-gura, a lookout high on the Kumano kodo, I shot this panorama of the “Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po”—which translates to “view of 3,600 peaks of Kumano.” When the wind gusted, rain splattered my face and my camera lens and tripod, so it was pretty hard to make notes to keep track of the positioning of the frames in the panorama, but fortunately Photoshop is pretty good for sorting this kind of thing out!

I don’t think there are actually 3,600 peaks—it’s important to remember the role of metaphor in life, particularly when you are on a pilgrimage—but as you can see there are certainly quite a few mountains. You can click here, or on the image, to view it wider than it is possible to see it on one of my vertically-oriented blog pages.

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

This is a high resolution panorama, shot in separate sections with my 36MP Nikon D800. The final processed archived original file measures 12,256 X 4,747 pixels (about 40″ X 16″) at 300 ppi (before any interpolation and enlargement). So I can’t wait to print it on a long (but not very tall) strip of Moenkopi Kozo washi made by Awagami on Shikoku Island. It might even make a good scroll.

Related image: Misty Mountains.

Along the Kumano Kodo

Along the ancient Kumano kodo pilgrimage trail there is mostly the silence of the weather. Wind whistles through the trees and a fine mist falls drop by drop. It wasn’t always this way.

When nobles from Kyoto made the pilgrimage they would often travel with many retainers—sometimes as many as a hundred people. You see the remains of those days all along the trail, from the damp and moss-covered stone stairs to the remains of small settlements and tea houses. The tea houses would wait until they saw a party of pilgrims coming, then fire up the tea kettles and rice pots so they would have refreshments to offer.

Along the Kumano kodo © Harold Davis

Along the Kumano kodo © Harold Davis

But today the world of the Kumano kodo is an empty world, alone with its ghosts—and so different from the hustle and bustle of Japanese cities like Tokyo. There were almost no Japanese people on the trail, but one man from Tokyo I did meet was wearing a business suit, business shoes, and a winter fur-lined coat.

He was staring about him wildly at the emptiness of solitude, wide-eyed and obviously terrified and afraid of the unfamiliar surroundings of wilderness without people. I wish I could have spoken enough Japanese to have learned his story, but this was not possible.

What brought him to the Kumano kodo pilgrimage, so far from his usual haunts? Tokyo Station with its acres of platforms, trains and levels sees fourteen million passengers a day. For someone used to this volume of people, their absence must be terrifying. Why was he here? I have never seen anyone look so obviously and physically afraid. As Phyllis said when I told her about meeting this man in the wilderness along the Kumano kodo that was so alien to him, “He must have done something bad, very bad, and was atoning. Probably, he will never do it—whatever it was—again!”

Hot springs resort

The hot springs resort of Yunomine Onsen nestles in a valley basin in the Kii peninsula of Japan, where it has provided respite to weary trekkers on the Kumano kodo for at least a thousand years. As far as I know, it is the only hot springs that is formally registered as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Japanese Hot Spring Resort © Harold Davis

Japanese Hot Spring Resort © Harold Davis

A hot creek, belching steam and sulfur smell, runs down the center of the town. There are public baths anyone can use after paying a small fee beside the creek. Some of the pipes feed water from the hot springs to private baths such as the one shown below in the Ryokan in which I stayed.

Hot Spring Bath © Harold Davis

Hot Spring Bath © Harold Davis

A local culinary specialty is fish, cooked in the waters from the hot springs. I was therefore amused to find that the darker pool to the right of the bath is used to “keep fish fresh” until it is time to cook them. I took a bath in the hot spring with a gentle rain falling, and listened to the fish plash in their own pool next door, trying not to consider the fact that I might be having one of them for breakfast.