23 Dec 2008 (Tokyo, Hiroshima): Long shinkansen ride today. First a Hikari train from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka and then the next train on the same platform to Hiroshima, arriving just shy of noon. 4 hours in all to travel almost to the southern tip of Honshu. Grabbed a bag of sandwiches and bottled tea at Tokyo station 10 minutes before the departure, and true to Japanese rail's obsession with timeliness, we left at 7:03am. Only complaint I had during the trip was that the heating in the train was set to a balmy 27C at least, making it sweaty in a jacket. Kind of betraying the fact that it is below 10C outside. The only thing it is conducive to is the type of short naps that gives you splitting headache when you wake up.
Arrived on time in Hiroshima and right away I booked the train for tomorrow to Matsue. I let their super computer system choose the best path but will leave after lunch. Should make it to Matsue before sunset.
Time then to get on the JR line to Miyajima-guchi station to look for my hostel for the night. Will drop my things there before going roaming streets of Hiroshima till night time. Miyajima is an island that is quite popular, possibly just because of a floating Torii gate. Since the moon will be up during the morning tomorrow, I have decided the plan would be Hiroshima today, and if I get high tide tomorrow morning, I can catch the first ferry across to Miyajima to shoot the gate in the morning.
Hiroshima JR station looks rather bare for a large city. And rather devoid of commuters too, strange considering it is now lunch time. I was hoping to grab some GPS plots of the JR trip but we have an overhead highway along the track so I doubt there will be any useful signal. Nothing special about the local train that serves the Hiroshima suburb which I am taking to Miyajima-guchi.
After leaving my bag at the spartan hostel, its back to Hiroshima city center, with the train taking about half an hour to get there. At the Hiroshima JR station 6th floor there a couple of restaurants, all serving only japanese menu. A lot of sample dishes on the front display but no pictures to point to in the menu. I settled for kamaneshi oyster with tempura. Not exactly at random but.
First destination while there is still light is the A-bomb dome, which probably doesn't require any introduction at all. From the train station, tram number 2 gets there for a flat fee of 150Y, I mean, flat as in it gets you wherever you want to go in Hiroshima for a flat fee. Back to the ruin: it is what you would expect, that's the problem with heavily photographed buildings, when you get there you are disappointed. Its cordoned off by a metal fence so tourists will have to admire from outside. I walked a around and found that the area behind the dome is the best to shoot as there are not too many towers or building in your background. Nothing more unconvincing than a world war two building it skyscraper behind it. Later than evening I would return to shoot the dome at night when she sun start to set. Best time is around 1830 to 1900 where the sun has already set and the sky is still crimson and the dome has been lighted up for the night. The balance of lights in the sky and dome makes for interesting scene. White balance for fluorescent seems to work best for me.
Next across the river is a park with many monuments dedicated to peace. Nothing interesting to report so I just go through it quickly.
Up north, a short walk past the baseball stadium and a large library/sports center is Hiroshima-jo or remains of what used to be a castle. When you come to a body of water that is it. The moat marks where the castle used to be and only one tower seems to remain. I set up my tripod here and waited for the light to fade in the evening. Difference in light in the sky and on the tower seems too much to shoot properly so it was time for a little HDR. When it got too dark to shoot, its time to look for Okonomiyaki place at the Parco shopping center end of the pedestrian mall not too far from the A-bomb dome. How can I come to Hiroshima and not try it. it is probably more fast food than gourmet, pancake with noodles, beansprout, lettuce and toppings of your choosing. And of course the black sweet sauce. I can't say it is my favourite food or something I can have all the time. Oh yeah, forgot the bacon.
24 December 2008 (Miyajima, Matsue): It will be an early morning today. I stay close to the Miyajimaguchi ferry terminals so taking the second ferry of the day at 0705 hrs. Sun is just coming up but considering the populated part of the island is on the western side of Miyajima, I guess I will be in the shadow of the sun till 10 am at least. Over the horizon, amber skies greet me while this JR ferry covers the 2 km of waterway separating Hiroshima and Miyajima.
On Miyajima itself 7 am seems to be the best time to be out shooting. Sunlight is not too strong and has the warm feel to it. I unload shutter clicks on Itsukushima Shrine's floating Torii. Already over shot in the media, I will contribute to it. The shrine is also worth a visit and entrance fee is 300Y. Somehow I feel like I know this place, and it could be the countless japanese shrine shots I have seen in brochures. Wild deers roam the island, none in the shrine but present just about anywhere else. I took my time at Itsukushima Shrine, and before long, managed to put more than 100 photos in the mornin alone, which is a lot from me.
On the way back to the ferry, I passed by Senjokaku Temple and the five storied pagoda. What caught my eye was that it is made with wood, and not renovated in the recent century. I have not seen such an old original temple in japan before. Possibly in Nikko but in terms of size, Senjokaku is sprawling. Inside it is a large open hall suspended above the ground large pillars. The pagoda however looks new. Maybe it is the paintwork but I think I have seen too many of them.
At 1100hrs it is time to head back to Hiroshima and look for a nice soup soba after staying out in the cold for the last 4 hours. Pretty standard, hop on to the JR ferry to get to Miyajimaguchi, then walk 5 mins to Miyajima JR and take the passing trains towards the right to JR Hiroshima. There is a shopping place called ASSE, an unfortunate name, with restaurants around it.
The trip to Matsue today will involve a Hikari Shinkansen to Okayama and then switching to a smaller Yakumo train that goes directly to Matsue. No, I didn't plan this myself. It is again thanks to the magic of the JR computers. I have had a look at the JR line map and it was impossible to make out which is the quickest way. Truth is, the quickest way is probably driving as a signboard I saw yesterday indicated less than 200 km to Matsue while my train journey today will take 4 hours. Most of it on a local train.
Got to love this place. Arrived in Matsue on time down to the minute. It is possible to program a robot to get from one place to another in Japan. The train from Okayama passes through forested hill area almost all the way before reaching the coast and very very soon, Matsue.
10 minutes walk away is my accommodation for tonight, a Ryokan called Terazuya. Run by an old couple it is possible to have breakfast and dinner here. Dinner tonight is an assortment of crabs, sashimi, tempura, suki-yaki and sake for drink. First taste of home made dinner for me and worth every yen. The rooms are all tatami floored japanese style but I am beginning to like it better than western style rooms. After dinner its a little chatting in broken japanese and broken english. Broken english from me so they understand and broken japanese from them hoping that I do too. Pretty sure both sides are doing context based understanding. Anyway, happy to be spending christmas eve at a Ryokan with pleasant owners.
25 December 2008 (Izumo): Merry Christmas to those that celebrates it. Surely not the town of Matsue as people seems to still go to work. Not a good start today, woke up to a cold rainy morning. Forecast was for snow in the morning but I guess that was more like very early before the sun comes up and in the mountains. Had breakfast at the Ryokan consisting of kare fish and the assorted small dish.
Picked up a 0837 hr train ticket on the Super Matsukaze train (gotta love the train names) stopping at Izumo to see a very old shinto shrine. That is about all Izumo is famous for it seems. Maybe a lighthouse not too far from the shrine, but will see if I go or not. According to the ticket I will arrive at 0905 hr and I am sure I will be there exactly at that time. I was under the impression that Izumo was at least 1 hour away!
At Izumoshi, right next to the JR station is the private line Dentetsu-Izumoshi train line that goes to Izumo Taisha where the shrine is located. As the line does not go direct from here, there is a small change to change at Kawato station just 4 stations away. Cost for the trip is 480Y one way. They do sell a 1500Y ticket but I don't know if this is just limited to the private trains. If it is then I will not need it as I do not intend to take them more than twice today.
Its a case of dejavu again. It seems as though I have seen Izumo Taisha shrine before. It is not a big temple compared to the others that I have seen but it has those antennas arranged like an X on the roof, like what I would expect old Japanese buildings to look like but not too common. At least I believe this is the first time I have seen it. I wouldn't say it is impressive by any means but worth a visit.
For lunch, got to try the Warigo Soba, a local speciality. It comes in small stackable shallow cylindrical plates and depending on how much I feel like eating, 3 or 5 levels of it. Each bowl of Soba is equivalent to 2 mouthful for me. Just soba, chives and soba sauce on it and then its time to chow it down. The soba is a little more al dente than most I have had in Japan answer I just like it that way. That's how all noodles should be serve according to me.
Just 15 minutes to the west is the seaside. can't really imagine without looking at a map that Izumo Taisha is so close to the sea. The weather this week is quite bad and winds are strong so there are white caps everywhere and sand from the beach gets blown into the eyes. Only person crazy enough to be out here in this gale, apart from me, is a wind surfer, struggling to get out to sea. It is not really too easy to set up the camera for a shot at this beach, and the light is not cooperating either. Little rock outcrops near the beach with bonsai-like trees make it a good picturesque setting but not today it seems.
On the road, a bustop awaits me. Taking the bus to the end at Hinomisaki. The Ryokan owner Mr Terazuya tells me there is a lighthouse there, and automatically that means cliffs. So got to go there for sure.
Bus ride takes 15 minutes from where I got on, hugging the cliff side all the way to Hinomisaki. There are small shops everywhere and they all seem to be drying cuttlefish and squids. First significant structure that strikes the eye is a shrine, in a nice red colour, but in this overcast day, it is not as bright as it should be.
The lighthouse is a short walk away on top of a hill. The walk there is not too rural, shops and houses are along the way, but many are closed today. When I reached the lighthouse the wind starts to pick up again and waves crashing onto the rocks and cliff sprays salt water up and foams of dirt rises from the sea requiring some dodging. My water proof layer goes on and all exposed camera lenses gets a filter. The wideangles get a slim polarizers but the darn salt water keeps on sticking to the front element, and eventually forming a layer of grime. Trying to wipe it off doesn't help as the filter turned into a soft filter. Looks like all filters will have to go into a bath tonight and all lenses and the camera will need to get a wipedown as they are all drenched by the time I was done with the photos.
It is not too easy to photograph a white lighthouse and a dark rock foreground like this scene. I try my best, and possibly impossible to set up a tripod and use a graduated neutral density filter either. I try not to get too close to the cliff edge as well as the wind is so strong, occasionally the gust is enough to push me a few steps.
Got back to Matsue by train with enough time to spare so I went to the art center not too far from the Ryokan to shoot sun setting over Syoji lake. There was already a TV crew of two set up over there and while I was taking my time putting up the tripod, another 2 photographers arrived as well. While waiting for the sun to get close to the horizon, I felt a little rain coming down. The wind has always been blowing hard so for a while I was thinking this has to be the water spray. In a few minutes it started raining hard, and I packed all I could as fast as I could but camera, lenses were all wet. The water proof cover was rather difficult to put on the Think Tank Speed Demon, so I decided to just grab everything and make it to the closest shelter I could find. It is getting dark early in winter, 1630 hr is the hour of last light so it is time to find some place to have a long dinner waiting for the rain to stop.