I took over two thousand photos while I was in Japan, of varying quality, but there are a few that I absolutely love. Dare I say it, there’s even one in here I’m quite proud of. I had a fantastic time in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, and I will definitely return to Japan one day.
This is a very quickly put together flatlay taken at Matsubaya Ryokan in Kyoto; I like it simply because it’s the only flatlay I took while I was there and marks a change in my photography. A lot of my photos before this were flatlays, but after Japan, I’ve found that I prefer photos with a bit more dimension. If you’re wondering why the pages of my guidebook are crinkled, it’s because I spilt green tea all over earlier that day.
This photo is from my first night in Japan, taken in Osaka after a complete nightmare trying to check into our hotel. My brother and I were wandering round Dotombori, sleep deprived and hungry, completely overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of Japan. This was a quiet spot amidst the chaos, running parallel to the main shopping and eating street which was heaving with tourists and locals alike.
This quick shot of the Dotombori Canal was taken on our second night in the city, and we actually ended up eating yakitori at a restaurant on the left bank of the river, watching the tourist boats travel up and down. I have a video somewhere of one of these boats, blasting out music, moving steadily down the river and the Japanese tourists on it absolutely losing their shit when my brother and I waved to them. I think they’d had rather too much to drink.
I like this photo in part because of how badly framed it is. It’s slightly cock-eyed and I was trying to avoid including the crowd and failed brilliantly. I quite like how it ended up as it gives a sense of just how busy and those Osaka back-streets were; it wasn’t all neon lights and skyscrapers, it was the smell of fried food and the feeling of shoulders pressed up against each other, it was an overwhelming crush of people almost everywhere you went, which is perhaps why my favourite moments from Japan are all moment of quiet amongst the madness.
Speaking of which, the tiny streets of Hozen-Ji just off Sennichimae in Oska provided one of those pockets of calm. It was a glimpse of pre-war Osaka and was relatively quiet, although it quickly became busy when a group passed through, so narrow were the streets.
I fell in love with Japan’s paper lanterns pretty quickly. Alone, they provide a soft illuminating glow, without the harshness of neon. Several quickly become a bright light in Japan’s relative darkness. I noticed that while I was there, the darkness. Street lights aren’t as bright or omnipresent as in the UK, meaning you often walked in the darkness between pools of light, a phenomenon more prominent in Kyoto.
Sticking with lanterns, I think this might be my favourite photo of the trip except for ones of my brother and I being silly. I love the way the light just catches the bicycles and it’s such a Japanese image for me. It’s a tiny French restaurant tucked away in Kyoto, and when I went for a look it was packed with locals rather than tourists. I didn’t have time to stop and eat, but I loved the juxtaposition of the French flag with the lanterns, cracked concrete and greenery. This was the Japan that I saw and loved.
Again in Kyoto, this was very quickly snapped while out on a night walk along a stream, just as it started to rain. It was backlit by a lone street light and (I think) it’s a shrine to a local god for travellers to make offerings to for safe journeys.
I’ve always loved photos of ascending staircases, perhaps because I like the mystery of not knowing what’s at the top. This was taken in Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto, home to the bamboo grove and a place in which I suffered some mild sunstroke (not recommended).
Annoyingly, this is my only decent photograph of the bamboo grove itself. I took several videos slowly panning up through the branches but this was the only good photo I managed. I still love it, particularly the way that some of the branches don’t quite meet and seem to avoid each other, akin to crown shyness.
Yet another stairs photograph, this time from Kobe. It leads up towards Nunobiki Falls and was absolutely heaving with giant spiders and other creepy crawlies. The only reason I managed to get this photo was because my brother had sprinted up the stairs in the 30-degree heat to get away from an oversized huntsman spider. Please note, my brother is 6″2 and built like a rugby player, and I found him crouched on top of a boulder on a bridge clear of the trees like the ground was lava. In fairness, the spider was horrendous.
Now for three photos of my favourite place in Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Shrine. It’s one of the most famous shrines in Japan and it’s easy to see why. I wrote about it in my post on the top five things to do in Kyoto, but the short version is that there are over 10,000 crimson torii, or gates, that lead up the mountain. The red and green make for a spectacular contrast and I absolutely loved it. I chose this particular photo because it included one of the rarer stone torii, and I like the difference in tones and textures it brings to the photo.
Can you really blame me for another one? I love this photo of Fushimi Inari because of the electricity lines running up the side, providing a nice contrast to the green of the woods and the red of the shrine on either side. It’s a nice example of sacred and profane living alongside each other, as they do more in Japan than anywhere else I’ve been in the world.
And here’s the money shot. I was very lucky to get an empty photo of the shrine as while it wasn’t packed when I went it was definitely still busy. I took this in the split second after a Japanese tourist moved out of the frame and an instant before another one moved into it. There was no time to focus or adjust the ISO levels, something I usually at least attempt when using my phone, but this was a complete chance and I had to just go with what I got. I’m pretty pleased with the result.
I’ll finish with one last lantern photo because I do just bloody love them. I talked (probably too much) earlier about enjoying the contrast of neon and paper lanterns, and this one has both! The blue of the neon with the diffused red of the lantern is very reminiscent of Japan for me, with both modern and traditional coexisting peacefully with neither attempting to outdo or usurp the other. It’s a funny place Japan, but I think I liked it.