Category Archives: Japan

Stories that weave through my blog

I’ve been writing this blog since 2005, which is to say over twelve years. Sometimes there’s more, and sometimes I have less to say, but the average is about ten stories a month. That’s quite a bit of material; back-of-the-envelope it comes to more than 1,400 stories.

Of course, some are more weighty than others. But it will probably come as no surprise that some stories are serial and sequential, and build on each other through an adventure or fraught life event. 

Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis

Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis

The purpose of this meta-blog story is to point out a few of these embedded series, and to show you where you might start reading if you are interested.

The Birth of Katie Rose—My daughter was born very prematurely, and we didn’t know if she would survive. I photographed her in the NICU, and wrote about what was happening in real-time. You can start with First Look or The Birth of Katie Rose Davis (written after she came home and was out of danger).

Hands © Harold Davis

Hiking the Kumano Kodo—In 2013 I hiked the famous Kumano kodo pilgrimage trail in Japan. You can read about some of my adventures in Japan starting with Noriko Tries to Poison Me, and read about my hike starting with On the Kumano kodo.

Tree and Reflection, Nara © Harold Davi

Tree and Reflection, Nara © Harold Davis

Camino de Santiago—More recently, in the spring of 2018, I hiked a portion of this famous pilgrimage trail in Spain. My pilgrimage story starts with Beginning My Compostela.

Romanesque Bridge along the Camino © Harold Davis

Does the Wilderness Care About Me?—Back in 2005, I launched myself on an ill-prepared early season venture into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. I survived to tell the tale that starts in A Walk on the Wild Side.

Alone I Stand © Harold Davis

Vietnam—In 2017 I visited Vietnam with my longtime friend Eric. Our ostensible goal was to visit the largest cave in the world, Son Doong. Along the way, we saw many strange and wondrous things, starting with the Long Bien Bridge that was important during the American-Vietnamese war because it connects Hanoi by rail with the port of Haiphong.

Son Doong Cave © Harold Davis

Cuba—In 2009 I visited Cuba with a photography group. You can read some of my observations starting with Fifty Years after the Cuban Revolution.

On the Cover © Harold Davis

 

Also posted in Cuba, Katie Rose, Vietnam, Writing

Nanzenji Aqueduct

Nanzenji is one of the Five Great Zen Temples of Kyoto, Japan. Wandering through the grounds at Nanzenji, I came across a huge red brick aqueduct, built in the 19th century, and designed to carry water to Kyoto from Lake Biwa (it is still in use today). The mammoth nature of this structure seemed incredibly interesting to me, so I moved underneath the aqueduct with my camera and tripod to capture its supports, which seemed oddly out of place, almost like an ancient Roman engineering project in the heart of Japanese Zen.

This image is brought to mind because it is one of the illustrations in my new book The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook, which will be published by Monacelli Press.

Under the Aqueduct at Nanzen-ji

Under the Aqueduct at Nanzenji © Harold Davis

28mm, 4/5 of a second at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted; processed in Photoshop, and converted to black and white in Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Click here for more blog stories about Japan.

Related image: Under the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

Also posted in Monochrome

From Heaven to Hell

Poet William Blake wrote about building a Hell in Heaven’s despite, and the cognitive dissonance of traveling in Japan often put me in mind of this poem of Blake’s (which also describes building a Heaven in Hell’s despair). In Japan, there’s an aesthetic that embraces remarkable beauty, and at the same time is able to create landscapes that bear a passing resemblance to Hell itself, from the vast human ant piles of the urban Japan to the industry on the shores of the Inland Sea.

Fern Forest © Harold Davis

Fern Forest © Harold Davis

Less the thirty miles apart as the crane flies, the peaceful, serene, and fern-filled landscape along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail (above) somehow manages to reside in the same consciousness as the heavy industry in the port of Wakayama (below).

Shores of the Inland Sea © Harold Davis

Shores of the Inland Sea © Harold Davis

I photographed the image of the Fern Forest on a wet and dripping day, with the sun starting to come through the overcast skies. Everything I needed was in my backpack, and I waited for the wind to still as I used my umbrella to protect the camera on its tripod from raindrops. Exposure data: 36mm, 1/13 of a second at f/8 and ISO 400, tripod mounted.

The photograph of industry on the shores of Japan’s Inland Sea is from the “Big Tuna” ferry heading from the port of Wakayama on Honshu to Tokushima on Shikoku Island. In processing this image, I regarded the industrial landscape as a kind of abstraction, almost mirroring the kind of calligraphy sometimes used in Japan. Exposure data: 300mm, 1/800 of a second at f/8 and ISO 200, hand held.

Related: Japan category on my blog.

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome

Yoshino River

The Yoshino River is one of the three great rivers of Japan. Located on Shikoku Island, it is nicknamed “Shikoku Saburo,” Sabaro being a popular first name for a third son. The photo shows the wide sweep of the Yoshino near its outlet in the ocean near Tokushima. The landscape is actually much more built up than it seems in this image—typical of Japan, most flat areas such as the lower Yoshino Valley are heavily populated.

Yoshina River © Harold Davis

Yoshina River © Harold Davis

Exposure data: 28mm, circular polarizer, 1/500 of a second at f/8 and ISO 200; hand held, processed in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, and converted to black and white using the “Ansel in the Valley” preset in Perfect B&W.

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome

Views of Japan

Hokusai, the famous Japanese woodblock print artist of the Edo period, created many views of Japan that included Mt Fuji, but the one shown here was probably not in his contemplation as they didn’t have air travel back then. I made the photo on an internal Japanese flight from Tokushima on Shikkoku Island to Haneda Airport near Tokyo.

View of Mt Fuji © Harold Davis

View of Mt Fuji © Harold Davis

For my own homage to Hokusai in the context of San Francisco, check out my book 100 Views of the Golden Gate.

As part of a chapter in the new book I am working on, related to black and white photography, I’ve been looking through my photography of Japan. These are some of the iPhone photos I’ve found, mostly of subject matter that I also photographed with conventional, high resolution cameras.

Misty Mountains © Harold Davis

Misty Mountains © Harold Davis

For example, the view of misty mountains long the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage on the Kii peninsula shown above can be seen more extensively in Distant Japanese Landscape.

The somewhat bleak courtyard shown next is in Koya-san, where I stayed for a couple of rainy autumn days as a guest in a monastery.

Autumn in Japan © Harold Davis

Autumn in Japan © Harold Davis

If you’ve ever visited Japan’s ancient imperial capital of Nara, you’ll know that the deer of Nara are a big touristic deal—which is why they are portrayed in the attractive design on the manhole cover that I found on a Nara side street.

Manhole Cover, Nara, Japan © Harold Davis

Manhole Cover, Nara, Japan © Harold Davis

I liked wandering around Nara. There was a great deal to look at, such as Kofuku-ji, a Buddhist pagoda temple with origins dating to the 669 AD, once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples. Today, even monuments as important as Kofuku-ji radiate a palpable sense of time having moved on, and despite all the hustle and bustle in Japan Nara seems like a delightful backwater.

Pagoda in Nara © Harold Davis

Pagoda in Nara © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone, Landscape, Monochrome, Photography

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo

In the eighteenth century, Tokyo—then known as Edo—was the world’s largest city, with a population of over one million. Today, Tokyo is still one of the world’s great metropoli, sprawling over an almost unimaginable population and area with numerous “cities within the city,” districts that are important in-and-of themselves.

The Rainbow Bridge crosses northern Tokyo Bay between two of these districts,  Shibaura and the Odaiba waterfront development in the Minato district.

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo © Harold Davis

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo © Harold Davis

Walking across this graceful suspension bridge is an uplifting experience in several sense of the word. The graceful curves of the bridge take you high above the bustle of the city, at the same time making the lines of modern Tokyo apparent.

As I crossed the Rainbow Bridge with my camera in the dusk of a foggy November day, I tried to align the curves of the bridge with the lines of an apartment complex in Odaiba in image that uses selective focus to contrast the curves in the Rainbow Bridge with the linear spaces of the buildings beyond.

300mm, 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 400, hand held; processed in Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop, and converted to black and white using Perfect B&W.

Also posted in Monochrome

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.

Also posted in Photography

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

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography

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. 

Also posted in Flowers, Photography

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.

 

Also posted in Landscape

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.

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography Tagged |