Tag Archive for kimono

5 Things to do in #Kyoto

In Kyoto, you will see the most beautiful city scenes ever. Kyoto cannot be recommended enough! Whenever I do these “5 Things” lists, I always feel a little apprehensive because I wonder, “Can I think of five things, whilst avoiding the clichés?”. However, the problem with Kyoto is the boundary between highlight and cliché is not clear, but it doesn’t matter. Everything you see in Kyoto will be a highlight of your life! My advice: Don’t care, be shameless, use a selfie stick, enjoy Kyoto to the fullest. This list is spectacularly short compared to what Kyoto has to offer. I plan to do another “5 Things to do in Kyoto” list another… five or six times? We’ll see.


I don’t normally like buses, as I don’t really trust them. They appear and arrive out of nowhere, and then disappear into the traffic to nowhere; I don’t know where they will take me. Trains, on the other hand, have tracks and a clear map that show definitely where they’ve come from, and where they are going. You cannot get (very) lost with trains. However, Kyoto city buses are AWESOME! As soon as you arrive at Kyoto station look for the tourist information centre, buy a City Metro day pass and get a map in your language. The map is very clearly laid out, very simple to read, and you can quickly and easily see how to get to the places you want to go. Also, the buses are very clearly marked. The buses in Kyoto are the only buses in the world I trust. However, they can be slowed down when stuck in afternoon traffic. To use them, get on via the back door, and then at your destination insert your day pass through the machine as you get off through the front door. There are multilingual TV screens on most buses that announce what the next stop is, so you can’t go wrong. The auditory announcements can also help you learn the correct pronunciation of the place names.


 

1. Kinkakuji Pavilion

This is Japan’s premier tourist attraction. This is the number one must see for all Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan. You haven’t visited Japan until you’ve seen this. However, remember that it is just a humble building, gold leaf coated, rebuilt in the 1950’s. This site alone receives visitors in the millions annually. Consequently, arrive at or moments after 9am, and rush to get ahead of the school and tour groups, but be prepared to get swarmed anyway. You will probably have just five minutes to enjoy this scene before you get elbowed or bumped one too many times. Walking around the place is calming, even if the main viewing area isn’t. Fortunately the grounds staff and security are very, very well practiced in shepherding people, and so the first real sight you see is the Pavilion itself, and then you can relax and unwind in the twenty or thirty minute stroll through the rest of the grounds.


 

2. Rickshaw rides & Gion
Yes, you can have a hot sweaty man pull you about in a comfortable rickshaw. It’s actually a great way to meet a local who can give you an introduction to the area, and give you ideas and travel advice. Besides, how many times in your life can you get this opportunity? Try it at least once. Also, I have seen women rickshaw pullers in Tokyo, so may be there are some in Kyoto now. Most rickshaws can be found in Gion close to the Ginkakuji Pavilion (the “Silver” one).


Gion boundaries are not clear, nor traditionally defined. I guess the definition of “Gion” is the nighttime geisha/maiko area, and the temple and shrines that are super popular with tourists. So this area includes Ginkakuji, Kiyomizu Temple, Yasaka Shrine, Kodaiji Shrine, and more.

3. Fushimi Inari

I’ve said before that “Tokyo is made of stairs” here. Fushimi Inari is also made of stairs. In fact, you will do a lot of walking in Kyoto. As if travelling and new experiences aren’t energy sapping enough, walking and stairs add to it. However, Fushimi Inari is grand. Take a picnic lunch, get there early, and slowly wander through the tree and orange-torii covered hill. This is a place where you can relax and recharge and forget about the stress of travel.


 

4. The food
To be honest, I find Japanese food salty and not to my liking; consequently, I don’t actually have any Kyoto-food photos to show. That said, there are a very many Westerners who absolutely love Japanese food. For them, Kyoto is a Mecca for Japanese culinary cuisine. How do I survive there? I look for the ramen shops, the “yakitori” (grilled meat on skewers) restaurants, and franchise places. The best places for anyone for dinner is definitely in Kyoto station on the upper floors, where you can browse and even find Korean and Chinese restaurants. For a truly unique experience, the “restaurant” below is near Kifune Temple, and the platforms are literally over the stream and surrounded by trees. It’s quiet and tranquil. The other place is near Gion by the river on the balconies that overlook the river.

The Gion restaurant district is desolate in the day time, except for the occasional delivery guy pushing a trolley about.


 

5. People watch in the HUGE Kyoto station
This is perhaps going to be the most grand train station you’ll ever experience. It has department stores, a few floors of restaurants (some with spectacular views), cafés, souvenir shops, and of course luggage lockers (claim yours before 9am before they’re all taken). The view in this photo below doesn’t even capture a quarter of this building, but you can get this wonderful view in the late afternoon early evening; and yes, that is Kyoto Tower reflected in the windows.

 

Bonus: Rent a kimono
Yes, both men and women can rent a kimono, or yukata (for the summer) for the morning or the day. Girls can even be dressed up like a maiko or geisha with the full makeup, hair styling, and garb. Prices start from about USD$50 and up to about USD$100. There are a bunch of places in Gion, and they offer English language support, which actually means, some minimal help. However, it’s actually very easy, so don’t worry about the language gap. This model below was nice enough to write up a story about her experience renting a kimono, thanks so much Mariko.


 

Update: Watch this space for “Another 5 Things to do in Kyoto”.


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Using the #Gnarbox for the first time

Women at the Arimatsu festival posing next to a banner that says "Arimatsu" in Japanese script.

The Gnarbox was a Kickstarter project, and it is an in-field storage and back up device. It also lets you edit and post pictures without a laptop, and do it away from your office. I pitched in on Kickstarter paying USD$149, and it now retails at $299. It has a capacity of 128Gb, and a claimed battery life of 4 to 6 hours (a wide error of margin) with 4,000mha capacity. It can connect to your smarthphone or Android or iOS tablet via wifi and the Gnarbox app.

 

Sony a99 with Sony 70-300mm G lens, Gnarbox, iPad Mini 4 with Gnarbox app in index view.

Sony a99 with Sony 70-300mm G lens, Gnarbox, iPad Mini 4 with Gnarbox app in index view. (photo taken on iPhone)

The Gnarbox arrived and it sat doing nothing for about two weeks. It was already obsolete by the time I received it. It was originally meant to be delivered in March 2016, but finally came in May 2017. My previous blog posts describe the ordeal of waiting for the Gnarbox, the constant new promises, and missed delivery deadlines. There were constant complaints by Kickstarter backers near the end of 2016 and early 2017. For me, by the time it arrived it was already replaced by a Toshiba wifi memory card. Also consider that most new cameras now include wifi connection to your smartphone, too. Anyway, I paid for it (back in July 2015), and it’s finally just arrived. On Sunday just gone, I went shooting at Arimatsu. They are known for their cloths and tie-dying industry; no, not hippy tie-dying, but the kimono type, as you’ll see below. So, I thought it would be a great chance to do a real life test of the Gnarbox.

 

A kimono on display blowing in the midday breeze at Arimatsu.

A kimono on display blowing in the midday breeze at Arimatsu. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

 

To prepare this blog post, I’m using the WordPress app, the Gnarbox with my iPad Mini 4, the Gnarbox app, and an ice-cold Chocolista from my favourite cafe in Japan. Firstly, the wifi connection doesn’t show in the top bar of the iPad, and so I thought it wasn’t connected. After five minutes of trying different things, I thought I’d just try the viewer. Lo and behold, it was connected. It was showing 40% battery. Then I realised it didn’t automatically import the +300 photos from my SD card. It took a slow 5 minutes or so to do the job. In the meantime, it was sucking the battery dry.

 

From left to right. Sony A99 camera with Sony 70-300mm G lens. Gnarbox first generation (128Gb capacity). Apple iPad Mini 4. Tully's Chocolista Tall size.

From left to right. Sony A99 camera with Sony 70-300mm G lens. Gnarbox first generation (128Gb capacity). Apple iPad Mini 4. Tully’s Chocolista Tall size.

 

Additionally, the top surface of the Gnarbox was getting too hot to touch. A point of no concern for their snow-based “real world” testers. It seemed like they really did most of their testing in the Californian winter alps (just check their Instagram feed). I mention this, as I’ve not seen any other sample images and videos from the Gnarbox Instagram account. Previous blog posts describe how I was blocked by Gnarbox after complaining about yet another missed delivery date, and the social media censorship that coincided with the start of the prestigious CES exhibition. They obviously wanted to hide their missed deliveries and angry customers.

 

Editing view of the Gnarbox app. It's simple compared to the Adobe PhotoShop Express app, but it can do raw files.

Editing view of the Gnarbox app. It’s simple compared to the Adobe PhotoShop Express app, but it can do raw files.

A young lady in a kimono at the Arimatsu festival.

A young lady in a kimono at the Arimatsu festival. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

There are good points and bad points. Mixed in with this are the two facets of the Gnarbox, the box and the app. The box itself is heavy, but feels quite sturdy and rugged. The data connections including card slots are protected with environment proof flaps. In the app, the thumbnail display didn’t complete loading, and so I sat there waiting using up valuable battery life. I eventually found the refresh button; a problem I probably won’t have again. The main concern I noticed right away with the app was the skin tones; the gamma levels seemed off. Also, it doesn’t seem to be able to manage the transition from highlights to normal very well. I’m certain this isn’t a lens or sensor issue. Admittedly, no one wants to shoot in the midday sun, which of course contributes to the problem, but the point of editing software is to reduce this issue, which it failed. However, I do love the “punch” slider. I’m not exactly sure what it does, but I do like the outcome. It is probably like the vibrance slider in Lightroom. It does manage recovering details from dark areas wonderfully. The app seems good, but lacks a range of features when compared to the older and more mature Adobe Photoshop Express. However, the Gnarbox app can manage full resolution images, in raw format and video.

 

Two men sitting in the shade in front of a store at the Arimatsu festival.

Two men sitting in front of a store at the Arimatsu kimono and cloth festival. The man on the right is wearing a summer kimono known as a yukata. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

Other issues aren’t major ones. My camera was set to raw + jpg, as it is the only way for the Toshiba wifi card to work and connect with my phone. However, Gnarbox can work with raw files, no jpgs needed. However, the index view doesn’t indicate which is raw and which is jpg. Furthermore, as nice and neat as it looks, the cropped images make it hard to choose which photo is worth editing at a glance. You have to tap on one, check, then flick through and find out which you want the hard way.

 

The index view in the Gnarbox app.

The index view of the Gnarbox app. Using square cropped previews is nice, but which one will you want to edit? Which are raw and which are jpg?

 

Different tie-dye cloths on display at the Arimatsu festival.

Different tie-dye cloths on display at the Arimatsu festival. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

 

I don’t do much video editing, and so I probably struggle to use this feature. Which may explain why I couldn’t figure out how to stitch two separate videos together (if it is indeed possible). It is said that the Gnarbox comes with some basic music that can be overlaid into your in-field created video, and you can add more sound tracks to the box yourself. The video colour editing function didn’t work. The error message said something about a firmware update is needed first, something not possible while working on the fly.

The Gnarbox battery went from 40% to 9% within 45mins, which hints that the claimed 4-6 hours might not be possible on this particular unit. It was at about 50% when I opened the box minutes after receiving it from the mail man. There were issues regarding battery life reported online; I hope mine isn’t one of the affected ones. Some buyers have had to return theirs and get a replacement. The Gnarbox took some hours to charge, it was charged overnight, and so I’ll now have the opportunity to test the full battery life in the future.

 

Women demonstrating creating feature patterns that are unique to Arimatsu.

Women demonstrating creating feature patterns that are unique to Arimatsu. Photo taken on Sony a99 with Tamron 28-75mm lens, processed in the Gnarbox app.

Do you really need a Gnarbox? For day trips, it’s probably not needed. Just use a $50 wifi SD card and the Adobe PhotoShop Express app (set your camera to raw + jpg). For extended trips, as a backup device in case you lose your memory cards, for some people it’s good to have. For immediate social sharing it’s a must have (if you can’t or don’t want to use a wifi SD card). For an overseas jaunt, it’s perhaps quite under capacity at a mere 128Gb. An hour or so of shooting at Arimatsu created 198 photos taken at raw & jpg, which created a 5.92Gb folder. Plus two short videos at 100mb (1:09min) and 35mb (0:24min). I usually take about 300 plus photos at an event and more video. So, I typically walk away using about 12Gb of storage space on memory cards. Consequently, for a trip away, I think the last few photos won’t be transferred onto the Gnarbox. For videographers and vloggers, you might want to wait and see if Gnarbox creates a second generation product with more capacity. Of course, this is my own take on things on its first outing, and as based on my needs and uses. You may see advantage in it, or not. Overall, I will use it, but not as often as I might have 22 months ago. Would I buy one now? No. I’ve never lost a memory card, and my next camera will probably have wifi built in anyway. I have to say this once more, the Gnarbox app does a great job of recovering details in the dark areas, and the punch/vibrance slider is awesome.

Women at the Arimatsu festival posing next to a banner that says "Arimatsu" in Japanese script.

Women at the Arimatsu festival posing next to a banner that says “Arimatsu” in Japanese script.

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Coming of Age Day in Japan


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Hong Kong model Sabrina visiting Meiji Shrine in Tokyo during the Coming of Age Day in Japan. The Coming of Age Day (成人の日 Seijin no Hi) is celebrated annually on the second Monday in January by only young adults who have recently turned twenty years of age. They return to their high school to attend ceremonies, and then go to shrines and temples to pray for their futures. Typically the guys wear a nice suit; the same one they would wear for job interviews, but the ladies dress up in kimonos.

Unfortunate for the young ladies who chose too come to Meiji Shrine, there were hordes of tourists, photographers, and Sabrina and I waiting to harangue them into photos and selfies. It was almost masochistic the attention these ladies received from almost everyone there. Anyway, with the ladies pictured above we were nice and respectful. In fact, they were happy to talk to a Hong Kong model, were pleased with the photos I took, and then asked me to take exactly the same ones with their own camera. Because they did us a favour, I was happy to oblige.

It was great working with Sabrina, I hope she had a great time in Tokyo. Update to the JapanesePhotos Instagram at: http://bit.ly/2kpZFbj. Also see other photos from this collection at the Sabrina gallery on my PhotoShelter portfolio.

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#POTW: A beautiful lady in a kimono in Kyoto

This is the first Photo of the Week in a long time. I have been busy, and so I’m sorry for letting this fall off. So, it’s with great pleasure to re-introduce the POTW with this one from Mariko earlier this year. You can see her story about her kimono photo shoot. You can purchase a licence to use this photo at Alamy.

A young lady renting a kimono, enjoying walking around Gion, Kyoto.

A young lady renting a kimono, enjoying walking around Gion, Kyoto.

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Renting a kimono in Kyoto is easy

The following article was written by the model you see in the photos, Mariko. It was a pleasure to work with her, and despite the cold, she did really well. A special thanks Mariko for writing your experiences below. These photos are available in the Mariko II Gallery.

 

Renting a kimono in Kyoto
By Mariko

Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to wear a kimono? Well, if you’re in Kyoto you can rent one. It’s not expensive, and you can drop in and be on your way fairly quickly and easily. Kimonos are usually worn in winter and the intermediate seasons, and the lighter yukata is worn in summer. Men can rent kimonos, too, but this is my experience on the day of the photo shoot.


Andrew and I arrived at the kimono rental store not long after opening at 9am. When we entered, a lady behind a counter took the name of my reservation and then directed me to remove my shoes and put them in a bag, along with the rest of my belongings. I said bye to Andrew (no men allowed!), then I was led into the kimono room. There were rows upon rows of beautiful kimonos hanging on racks. There were two racks that were listed as around 5000yen, and a third rack was listed at 8000yen. The 8000yen kimonos were brightly coloured and absolutely gorgeous of course, and you could tell they were higher quality. That’s not to say the other kimonos weren’t beautiful as well, but if you want brighter colours and don’t want to pay for the more expensive choices I would suggest getting there early as there were only a handful left that weren’t more muted purples, blacks and blues.

A size chart hanging on the wall listed sizes as being S,M,L and LL, these refer to height! Compared to Japanese women, I’m pretty tall (174cm / 5’9”) so I chose size L and that worked well for me. It was really difficult to choose a kimono! They were all so lovely and there were so many of them. There were lots of young Japanese women also choosing kimono and we were all taking our time looking through the racks. Finally I settled on a purple flowered kimono and then came the next tough decision; the obi, a kind of cummerbund for women’s kimonos. There were shelves piled with obi of every shade of every colour imaginable. At this point I needed a professional and so asked the opinion of the lady working in the kimono room (who also spoke a little English). She recommended me a yellow obi telling me it would look “nihon-poi”, Japanese style, which goes well with the purple kimono I chose.


Taking the kimono, obi and the bag of my things in hand into the next room I waited for my turn to be dressed. There were two women working very efficiently in the room, wrapping and tying kimonos onto women in front of full-length mirrors. The first thing they put on you is a lightweight plain undergarment, a kind of a kimono-slip. After that goes on it is easy to remove jeans or other bottoms without showing everyone your underwear. It’s a good idea to wear a tank-top or some other non-baggy top that you can keep on under the kimono if you’re uncomfortable undressing fully in front of other people. Because it was late winter, I wore heat-tech, a kind of thermal undershirt popular in Japan.

After the slip, there was a second under-kimono that was yellow and a little less plain, and then finally the purple kimono. In the photos you can see the elegance of the yellow layer under the purple. I only needed to stand there while the woman worked around me, occasionally raising my arms as she wrapped, tied and tightened. After the kimono and obi were on I was told to choose either a shawl or a kimono jacket from the back of the room as well as a purse. I chose a light shawl for the photo shoot, but if I were hanging out with friends in winter, I’d prefer the kimono jacket. Then I was sent to another room for hair.

At the hair station I could choose which style I wanted from photographs hanging on the wall. The hairstylist worked very quickly and the result looked great! As a finishing touch I picked a yellow flower hairpin from an assortment of pins and combs. I transferred my important belongings to the purse I borrowed, while the bag with my shoes and my regular purse was put in a back room for safe-keeping. After paying for the rental I slipped on a pair of zori (kimono shoes) and went back down the elevator with Andrew, ready to walk around Gion dressed in beautiful traditional Japanese style.


After the photo shoot we returned to the store and returned the kimono. I left still with my stylish hair in place, and I could keep the tabi, which are a kind of sock for kimonos.


 

Note from Andrew:
Mariko looked fantastic on the shoot. The colours were complimentary, and the main patterns were striking and others subtle. Also her hair was absolutely elegant, and her hair decoration nicely matched her obi. Her zori nicely matched the kimono, so the whole look was superb. We returned the kimono to the store, but some stores allow you to return it to your hotel reception, but double check the details first. We couldn’t really walk fast in the kimono, as walking seemed a little restricted for her, so we casually had time to properly enjoy the sights around Yasaka Shrine and the main Gion tourist area. In all, it was great working with Mariko, and a fun shoot.


If you’re in Gion or in the Kiyomizu Temple area and you see women in kimonos, a “maiko”, or a “geisha”, and if you think she might be Japanese, listen carefully, she might actually be Taiwanese or Chinese, though many young Japanese ladies do rent kimonos in Kyoto, too. Kimono rentals are quite popular, where this one kimono store we went to apparently handles about 200 clients a day, and there are quite a few in Gion. You’ll see some young couples and groups of ladies enjoying strolling about the tourist areas of Gion all dressed up, and some stores can dress you up in full maiko or geisha garb. Some stores will even give you a special “passport” which can give you discounts at certain stores, including two-for-one lunch deals in high class restaurants, but only if at least one person is wearing a kimono or yukata.

So, why not enjoy the experience yourself. It’ll be a photo op and bragging rights you won’t soon forget.

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