Sunday, October 25, 2009


Every year we visit a fruit orchard in Ide-cho to eat mikan. In Japanese it is "mikangari" or hunting for mikan. We take a packed lunch and eat it under the trees and eat far too many mikan. This year the weather was overcast, not like the hot sun of previous years. Just a few photos of the mikan.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A rainy saturday

It was raining for most of the day  and so we stayed home. Around 4pm it cleared up and with the sun low in the sky and some mist around from all the day's rain it the light looked good for taking some photographs. Unfortunately I had almost no time available, so I just managed a quick trip with my son to a local park. Despite some nice colours on the trees it was hard to find a good subject and the sun soon dissapeared behind the nearby apartment blocks.The best shot was from a foot bridge over the highway next to the park.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Joruriji and Gansenji

Monday was a national holiday (health and sports day) and in the afternoon we went back to the area near Joruriji to explore some of the trails in that area. The trees had slightly more colour than last time but still not the full autumn colours. We looked briefly in Joruriji where I took a couple of shots of the pagoda again.

The pagoda at Joruriji

We then walked towards Gansenji, another temple in the nearby. The whole area has many stone carvings dotted around the forest and fields. The path to Gansenji went up a small hill through a wood and past fields. Near the path we found a couple of enormous mushrooms, the top must have been at least 20 cm in diameter.

Large mushroom

Most of the fields were rice fields but some were growing red chillies and a strange yellow fruit/gourd. These were for sale at various stalls near the fields.I have not been able to find out yet what the yellow things were.

Yellow fruit


Chillies for sale outside Gansenji

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shiso forest park

After leaving the observatory we headed a short distance along the expressway towards Osaka to a new forest park in Shiso city. Finding the park was slightly awkward because it was built after car navigation was made so it was not marked.

The park has a monorail which climbs 300m up a hill to a picnic area on the top and some trails in the woods. The ride is free but you have to book in advance.

The monorail

We had lunch on the top and had a short walk to the top. There were some Japanese maples planted next to the monorail which had started to turn. There were only a couple of trees so no wide angle shots presented them selves. The best I could come up with was a shot directly upwards.

A Japanese Maple

On the top was an over architected lookout post.

Lookout post on the top

The highlight of the park was hunting for freshwater crabs in the small river near the car park at the bottom. We then headed back home.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nishi Harima Observatory

This weekend was a 3 day holiday and on  Saturday we went to the Nishi Harima Astronomical Observatory in Hyogo prefecture with some friends. Although Hyogo prefecture has always seemed far from Kyoto, lying on the other side of Osaka, the traffic was fairly light and it only took just over 2 hours to drive to the observatory.

The observatory is run by the prefecture and has accomodation for visitors in either a group lodge or family lodges. The organized star gazing is just from 7:30 to 9:00 when you get to have a brief look through their main telescope along with a large number of other people. You can also borrow a smaller telescope to use by your self. The main telescope is a 2m diameter reflecting telescope and is the largest in Japan. While it was certaintly interesting to see Jupiter and Uranus through such a powerful telescope, the whole event seemed not very well organized and was a bit dissapointing. Hands on experience with smaller telescopes with some expert instruction would have been much better than a couple of brief glimpses through the large telescope.

The best part of the trip for me was the chance to photograph the sunset and sunrise from the mountain top where the observatory is located. The light traffic meant that we arrived about 4 pm giving plenty of time to get ready for sunset at 5:45.


Since the group lodge where we stayed was located at the observatory I could get up at 5:30 am and be ready for the sunrise at 6:06 am. I then spent the next 2 hours taking photographs before before breakfast.


Mist in the valley

More mist

Although the observatory is located in the middle of nowhere, this is still central Japan so there are electricty pylons marching across the landscape. Trying to compose a shot without these was rather tricky so I have tried to remove some of them in post.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Joruriji Temple

Chillies for sale at 100Yen

Typhoon No 18 came through last night bringing lots of wind and rain. Even though it had moved on by this morning there was still a heavy rain alert out in southern Kyoto and school was canceled. I took a day off work to look after the boys and when the weather cleared up in the afternoon we went out to Joruriji.

Joruriji is a small temple near to Nara. It is featured in a book I have on recommended places to photograph the autumn colours. Although the leaves have not really started to turn yet I thought that this was a good opportunity to investigate and to plan a return visit in a few weeks when the momiji have turned red.

The temple is only 20 minutes drive from home and is another one of the places which I did not know about despite being right on the doorstep. If nothing else, photography is leading me to find lots of interesting places nearby.

The entrance to the temple is along a small path with farms on either side. Just before the gate was a small stall with chillies for sale and an honesty box.Shown in the photo at the top of this article.

The temple itself has a pagoda, shown above, and a hall next to a lake. Some of the trees have started to get some orange tinges but most of them are still green. After photographing the pagoda I turned to see a tree backlit by the afternoon sun. This would have been better if there was more colour in the leaves, but I will have to wait for a future visit to try to capture that.

Walking round the lake I tried to get a photograph of the bridge leading to the island in the lake. I did not manage a very interesting shot, apart from the bridge there was noting really of particular interest in the scene. There are several turtles in the lake but they were not cooperating today.

I finally took one more of the pagoda, with leaves in front of it.

We did not have long as we had to get home for football practice, but I am looking forward to coming back here in the near future.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


My first digital camera

My first real camera was an Olympus OM/10 which I used for many years, initially with Kodachrome 64 slide film then with some generic colour film. At that time I enjoyed taking photographs but did not really take it seriously nor did I really understand what I was doing.

Shortly after arriving in Japan I bought my first digital camera. This was also an Olympus, a C-820L 0.81 Megapixel camera (shown in the photo) which used 2Mbyte SmartMedia memory cards. At the time it seemed amazing, but with no zoom and a ridiculously short battery life it was geek toy not a serious camera.  When my children were born we got a Canon Kiss SLR for family photographs. As with the OM/10, I still did not take photography too seriously.  Film was still relatively expensive and the turnaround time for processing meant it was a long time before I could see the results by which time I would have forgotten the conditions under which the shot was taken.  Once digital cameras had improved I went back to a digital point-and-shoot. The attraction of seeing the pictures immediately was too strong.  The Canon SLR then sat in a drawer.

While shopping for a new point and shoot to replace my wife’s broken one I realized that the price of D-SLRs had dropped to the same as a good point-and-shoot and less than I had paid for the Olympus C-820L 10 years earlier.  Also, if I got a Canon I could use the 90-300mm lens that had come with the film SLR. So I bought a Canon Kiss X2 (450D).

Having bought the DSLR, I thought that I better learn how to use it. This was just before a trip back to England for a summer holiday, so I bought a book on using the 450D (it was easier to read than the Japanese manual that had come with the camera) and downloaded some photography podcasts that I listened to on the plane.  Several trips to bookshops in England yielded more books on digital photography; it seemed that I am now hooked.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Yamashiro Shinrinkoen and Sanjouzan

We went out to a forest park today, Yamashiro Shinrin Koen (山城町森林公園), with the idea of just having a picnic and a short walk but that is not how it turned out. But more on that later. I don't know why I have not discovered this park before.  This park is less than 20 minutes drive from home yet we have only just found it.There is a small area for having BBQs and picnics near a river and walks through a forest and up a small mountain.

South of Kyoto, the Kizugawa river runs towards Nara and to the east of the river are a range of forested hills. I can see these hills in the distance every morning as I walk to the station and have often thought that there must be something interesting there. Each autumn we go to pick mikan (small oranges) there and we have driven through them to the pottery shops in Shigaraki in Shiga prefecture. The park is in these hills at the end of a long winding narrow road which passes through rice fields and small farms and up into the hills.

We arrived fairly late so after investigating the river and looking for chestnuts we sat down for lunch. While eating our bento we were visited by a small a small lizard who also seemed to be looking for his lunch as I later saw him munching on something in the grass nearby.

After lunch we decided to  go for a walk through the forest up the nearby mountain, Sanjouzan (三上山). The guide book we have calls it mikamiyama, which are the same Chinese characters but read differently. It also says it is 432m tall whereas the site linked above gives a height of 478m. Wikipedia has an entry for Mikamiyama (みかみやま) which is a 432m mountain in Shiga prefecture, so it looks likely that the author of the guide was rather careless about the information. If we had know that  before setting out we may have been more careful about our route.

The path up the mountain was a lovely winding path through the forest, rather steep but very pleasant walking, with the occasional sign post at intersections. Near the top we found some yama budo, a type of inedible wild grape which have an intense purple colour.

Reaching the top was fine, our problems started when we wanted to come down. The guidebook showed a road looping round back to the entrance to the park. We decided to follow that route and set of down the track. After going for some time it seemed that we were coming down the wrong side of the mountain and were no where near the park. We decided to ask some farmers harvesting rice and they confirmed were were in completely the wrong place. So we had to go back up the mountain and back down on a different route.

This long detour added a significant distance to the walk, but it did have one surprising bonus. On the way back up the track we came across some wild monkeys sitting on the path. Unfortunately they dissappeared into the trees before I could take a picture. I know there are many places in Japan which have wild monkeys, but I did not expect to find them to be so close to home.

The autumn colours have not yet arrived, but there was quite a log of susuki or fairy grass by the path. With the sun getting low in the sky, this susuki was nicely back lit making it glow.

We will definitely be back to this park, but next time we will try to get a proper map of the trails.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Long exposures: photographing a local stream

I have started gradually working my way  backwards through the episodes of the great photography podcast by Martin Bailey. I am only at episode 188 now, so still a long way to go.  On the way home on Friday I was listening to episode 190 on "Ten steps to great long exposure images", so when my boys wanted to go to the park today I though that this was a good opportunity to try out some long exposure photographs of the stream that runs through the park. So while the boys went fishing for zarigani I set up the tripod and took some shots.

One thing that I learnt from this podcast, which had been bugging me for some time, is the problem of using very small apertures. I had seemed to me that going to small apertures to increase the depth of field made sense, if there was enough light . For long exposures why not use f/22?  Why use a ND filter at f/11 instead? Then Martin said "diffraction" and it made sense. The small aperture causes diffraction which reduces the sharpness of the image. I had already heard other photographers talking about a "sweet spot" for sharpness around f/8 so this seemed to explain that as well.

The stream runs through some trees so there was a lot of shade. I used a ND 4 filter and polarizer to reduce the light and further reduce the shutter speed. For the first few shots I used the automatic focus but for the remainder I switched to live view and manual focus.

Not mentioned in the ten steps was need to cover the view finder to get an accurate light reading. On one of the first shots I took I forgot to do this was underexposed. Covering the viewfinder with the rubber cover changed the exposure time from 1 second to 3.2 seconds. If you shoot in manual then this is probably not a problem, but using Av mode with an ND filter this seems to be an essential step.

Also not mentioned was to bring some mosquito repellent. Standing by the stream for several hours I was getting constantly bitten....