Wednesday, December 29, 2004

First Snow in Tokyo!

This morning we had the first snow in Tokyo since I came in Japan. Not really a huge snow storm, but enough for cheering up the child in me, and to start to practicewith my new camera. Too bad I do not know yet how to take good pictures!

This one instead has been taken with my G5. I didn't dare going out in the snow with my new D70!!!

Monday, December 27, 2004

Experiment: zooming technique

This is an interesting technique I've always wanted to try but it was simply impossible with my previous camera.
The theory is quite simple: you just use the zoom while shooting (zoom from tele to wide (zooming out), the opposite way would lead to not so nice results). With a shuttes speed slow enough (1/50 sec in the example above) you can get a nice effect, putting a lot of emphasis and the focus on the central subject, while blurring all the surrounding objects and person. Yes, in this case the subject is not that interesting (just a man waiting for the green light in Akihabara), but I wanted to try this technique as soon as possible.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Sunday, November 21, 2004


In the year 794, the same year in which Kyoto became Japan's new capital, To-ji was founded as the city's guardian temple.

Today, it is most famous for Japan's tallest pagoda (57 meters) and the Buddhist sculptures that are displayed in the temple's large Kondo (Main Hall) and Kodo (Lecture Hall).

Toji is one of Kyoto's many UNESCO world heritage sites.

Black & white vs. color?

Which one do you prefer?

Ninna-ji (仁和寺)

Ninnaji Temple (仁和寺) is located in Omuro-ohuchi, in Kyoto. Since its foundation by Emperor Uda in 888 A.D., the Temple has been known as Omuro Palace, since the head priests of the Temple were tonsured sons of the imperial family until the Meiji Restoration (1869).

Passing through a vermilion Chumon Gate, you can see a five-storied pagoda and Kondo Hall, originally a Shishinden Hall of the Imperial Palace. The uniquely trimmed low-branched squat cherry trees are known as Omuro cherries for their beautiful blossoms.

These pictures were taken during autumn, and in particular during 紅葉, the period in which all the leaves change their color.

Maiko in Kyoto

The word geisha literally means 'arts person' or artisan.

The role of Geisha first developed from that of men known as Taikomochi or Houkan, the Japanese equivalent of a court jester. Later, the role came to be principally performed by women.

Geisha were traditionally trained from childhood. Geisha were common in the 18th and 19th centuries, and are still in existence today, although fewer in number. They were skilled entertainers who endured years of hard training, effectively as child slaves. First they worked as maids, and once a woman became an apprentice geisha (maiko) she would begin to learn how to dance, sing, play the shamisen (a stringed instrument similar to the banjo), and in general practice the art of being a geisha.

Geisha were not prostitutes. Although the right to take their virginity ("mizuage") was sold, they were not obliged to have sex with any customers, even the men who bought their virginity. There can be seen to be links between the geisha and the 16th and 17th century actress.

Ryoan-ji (竜安寺)

Ryoanji (竜安寺), or Temple of the peaceful dragon, located in the northwest section of Kyoto, not far from Kinkakuji, is the most famous and celebrated garden in Japan. Simply composed of stone and sand, it serves as a subtle yet effective example of the dry garden type.

In December 1994, this temple was designated as World Heritage by UNESCO. This is a temple belonging to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai branch of the Zen sect. The earliest temple recorded on this site dates from 983, though it was originally the estate of one of the branches of the Fujiwara family during the Heian period. After serving as the retirement home of an emperor it became a temple known as Tokudaiji (also referred to as Enyuji).

But this temple is composed not only by sand and rocks.

Kinkakuji in Kyoto

Kinkakuji means the temple of the Golden Pavilion. Constructed in Kyoto's northern hills in 1398 by Yoshimitsu, the third Ashikaga shogun, it was once part of a much larger villa complex. When he died it became a Zen temple in accordance with his will. Sadly, the original temple burned in 1950 when a deranged Buddhist monk set it ablaze. A good dramatization of the arson can be found in the book The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima

Each floor of the Kinkakuji is a different style. The first floor, called The Chamber of Dharma Waters is inspired by the Heian mansions of the 11th century and often described as the Shinden style. It is merely a large room surrounded by a verandah. The verandah sits beneath the more massive second story and is separated from the interior by reticulated shutters called Shitomido. The Shitomido reach only halfway to the ceiling, allowing ample light and air in the interior.

The second story, called The Tower of Sound Waves, is the Samurai house style. Intended as a Buddha hall, it encloses an icon of the Bodhisattva Kannon.

The third story is built in the Zen style, with cusped windows and ornamentation. Appropriately, it houses an Amida triad and twenty-five Bodhisattvas. A Chinese phoenix crowns the eaves.

Kinkakuji serves as an important model for later works, particularly the Silver Pavilion, or Ginkakuji, constructed between 1384-1390 by another member of the Ashikaga family, Yoshimasa, who was the 8th shogun. Yoshimasa developed upon the styles employed at Kinkakuji and borrowed the names of its 2nd and 3rd floors for his own work.

Like Ginkakuji, Kinkakuji owes much to the Saihoji temple and moss garden complex of Muso Soseki (1275-1351) built in 1339. Soseki himself is said to have been influenced by the Song dynasty Zen text, The Blue Cliff Record. It is believed that Yoshimasa based his design of Ginkakuji on the Lapis Lazuli Pavilion (Ruriden) of Soseki's complex.

[EDIT: one of these pictures has been published on]

A nice shop

Not exactly a famous touristic spot, but this shop was too funny, I couldn't resist

EngRIsh in Kyoto

Wasn't it Atlantis, with an "L"? ^_^

Saturday, November 20, 2004

the bad guy

Speaking about bad guys...

the look he gave me, even without him noticing I was taking pictures, was so scary!

ギオン, the red-light district

Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district.

Walking in the streets, you can find more or less the same things you can find in the same districts all over the world. Nice girls approaching you...

and bad bad guys controlling that there are no problems out there.

There are also a lot of places where people of all ages go just to have a funny and relaxing company for the dinner.

In Gion, even taxis are different.

Kyoto (京都) by night

Kyoto (京都) was Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. It is now the country's seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people and a modern face.

Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its historic value, the city was not chosen as a target of air raids during World War II. Countless temples, shrines and other historically priceless structures survive in the city today.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Kyudo (弓道)

The bow and arrow began to be used more than 10,000 years ago for hunting and in war. In the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1185) periods they were utilized in rituals dedicated to the gods; it was around this time that archery made its appearance in events held at the Imperial court.

In 1543 firearms were introduced to Japan by a shipwrecked Portuguese who landed on Tanegashima, an island off Kyushu that's part of present-day Kagoshima Prefecture. After this, the role of the bow and arrow in battle declined, but as members of the ruling class, warriors continued to train themselves in archery--called kyudo in Japanese, meaning "the way of the bow"--because they considered it important as a mark of their refinement.

National ChanpionshipAn event called toshiya was held during the Edo period (1603-1868) at Sanjusangendo (the main hall of the temple Rengeoin in Kyoto) in which warriors would compete in archery to see who had the greatest physical and mental strength.They would try to shoot arrows through the length of the long, narrow hall--2.2 meters (2.4 yards) wide, 5 meters (5.5 yards) high, and 120 meters (131 yards) long--without hitting the walls, floor, or ceiling. What's more, each contestant would have to spend an entire day and night shooting arrows in sitting position.

Warriors who were confident of their archery skills would enter the contest and compete to see who could make the most good shots. The best archer in toshiya was Wasa Daihachiro of the Kishu clan, who took 13,053 shots in a single contest, out of which 8,133 were successful.

In the Meiji era (1868-1912) kyudo was brought into the school curriculum, and today many universities, high schools, and middle schools offer archery instruction either in class or as an extracurricular activity. Since archers can adjust the tension of the bow according to their own strength, kyudo is popular as a sport that men and women of all ages can enjoy.

The pictures above have been taken during a tournament in Meiji Jingu.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Saturday, July 31, 2004

smokers style

In Akihabara, the electric town in Tokyo, you can smoke only inside a few bar and special spaces, including this "smokers style" bar ^_^

Friday, July 16, 2004

The imperial palace in Tokyo

The current Imperial Palace (皇居) is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo station. It is the residence of Japan's Imperial Family.

Edo Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867. In 1868, the shogunate was overthrown, and the country's capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. In 1888 construction of a new Imperial Palace was completed. The palace was once destroyed during World War Two, and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards.

The palace buildings and inner gardens are not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year's Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor's Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the Imperial Family, who make several public appearances on a balcony.

During the rest of the year, guided tours of the palace are offered in Japanese, with an English pamphlet and audio guide provided. Tours must be reserved in advance at the Imperial Household Agency.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

ItaRian Cultural Institute!

In the Kudanshita metro station there is another example of EngRish: the ItaRian Cultural Institute!