Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

What a hectic weekend. Saturday morning flight to Haneda airport followed by a drive to Fujikawaguchiko and the rush back the next day to catch the last flight from Haneda. This trip was supposed to take place the week before (31st October) but was delayed because of Typhoon Chaba, which would have caused non stop weekend of rain. And there would be no way Mount Fuji would be visible from the town located 10km away to the north.
If you have followed this site quite a bit, you would have noticed that this is one of my favourite sites to shoot Mount Fuji. I could wake up early in the morning and walk 30 mins to the other side of Kawaguchiko across the bridge and set up my tripod before 6am. And in the last 3 times I have been here, Mount Fuji would always be visible in the morning along with a calm lake to catch some reflection. Kawaguchiko is large enough not to be perfectly calm, and the wind does kick in about 7-7:30am. So get there early. I will not detail too much how to get there, the easiest would be via the Keio Express bus line from Shinjuku just opposite Yodobashi Camera. And as a primer, Fuji 5 Lakes regions composes of… of course, 5 lakes. From the right to the left, there’s Yamakako, which I have never been, and since I have not heard too much about the view there, I have no plans to visit since it is also out of the way. Kawaguchiko is arguably the easiest one to access, as it is just situated by Fujikawaguchiko and the northern shore is littered with attractions like a monkey show and a music box museum. The views here are one of the best accessible without long hikes and a car, and Mount Fuji looks symmetrical from here. The only possible issue is that the town would be visible in your picture of the famous mountain. Only an issue if you’re after the mountain sans civilization. Just next to it would be Saiko, where Mount Fuji is not visible at all, obscured by a close by hill. News has it that Saiko is a good fishing place. Next to it, a little drive a way is Shojiko, which I think rivals Kawaguchiko. Cars could drive to the lake bank facing Mount Fuji, and you could get down to water level. What you would see on the opposite bank on the foot of the mountain is just pure nature. However, Shojiko is not that easy to reach without your own car. The public buses don’t run regularly, so you may have 1 hour there and if you do not get on the returning bus, the wait may be quite long. No buses at night the last time I checked, so night time shooting by bus would be impossible. One could camp by the lake side though. The last one is Motosuko, a relatively large lake, with an elevated vantage point at the far side of the lake. It is even more remote than Shojiko. This is also the view of Mount Fuji that could be found at the back of a 100 yen note.

Lets see what we have here…

DSC6841-2010-11-7-20-37.jpg

Shoji-ko: This is one of the first shot of this Autumn season for me. The EXIF reads 5:30pm and it was already dark. Exposure reads 30 secs at f5.6 on a 28-70mm. It was already dark when I got there, and the long exposure lights up the mountain a bit. I kept the foreground dark to convey the evening mood. You could see car lights on the right at the bottom of the mountain, and some faint lights at what could be the mountain 5th station. AT this time of the year, the snow cap is starting to grow, but obviously it is still early.

DSC6848-2010-11-7-20-37.jpg

Shoji-ko: This is one of my favourite picture of the shoot. Exposure reads 4 minutes 30 seconds and f8. I did another one that was 20mins long but came up to almost a blank shot. I had a ND8 on the lens and I would have to stretched it to 1hour exposure if I was to get something like this. What I wanted to do with this shot was to have a long enough exposure to catch the star trail. You could also faintly notice a line of a passing aircraft. I would have wished to have more time here, I guess I will explore the possibility to camp here the next time. Would have been great to catch an hour long star trail.

DSC6856-2010-11-7-20-37.jpg

Kawaguchiko: This was taken at very close to 6am. Note the vapour on the lake surface. This morning was not what I hoped for, with cloudy skies in the morning. When I got to the lakeside at 5:30am the mountain was covered in clouds, but almost always it clears at close to 6am when the faint trace of sunshine appears. You also notice that Fujikawaguchiko town is quite prominent in the foreground. This is a 4 sec exposure at f8, at about 40mm, and I cropped the top and bottom of the original frame. You also noticed that the view from Kawaguchiko is a little different, with the long gentle sloping sides of the mountain visible from here, while at Shojiko, the slope is quite strong.

DSC6878-2010-11-7-20-37.jpg

Kawaguchiko: Looking at the east at the rising sun. The only good thing about a cloudy day is that the morning red sun glow is quite strong.

DSC6882-85-2010-11-7-20-37.jpg

Kawaguchiko: With the sun starting to appear in the morning, Mount Fuji starts to glow a little shade of red. This scene only lasts not more than 10 mins. In fact I think it might have been shorter than that. So this is where an ergonomic camera comes in, when you switch from one scene and light type to another. The controls has to be easily found and you do not have the luxury of diving into the menus to change something.

Continue reading “Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan”

Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 3)

Sunset over Syojiko in Matsue
26 December 2009 (Matsue, Tottori): It is not fun to wake up to the sound of rain outside. This happened today, so I decided to sleep in. For japanese breakfast, Yoshitaka-san I just realised is their name, made grilled Kare fish and rice. A little bottle of yakult yogurt tops it all off.

Took a kilometre walk to Matsue-jo castle this morning, passing by the lake for another crack at shooting the little island by the art museum. Again it started to rain little hailstones. On the way across the main bridge, the hail storm intensified and mixed with a little snow. Once that quickly cleared, the sun was out in full force.

Matsue-jo Outer wall & moat

Matsue-jo is on top of a hill. It is just after a large hospital, and you know you are there when you see a hill and a moat going around the area. The entrance of the castle is on top of the hill, accessible by going up a few flight of stairs. A cub baseball team was training on the grounds the morning I was there. Made to run up the staircase.

Matsue-jo

Matsue-jo requires an entrance fee to get in, and if you are a foreigner, it is 280Y and half the original price local pay. It must be a limited time promotion. There is nothin special about the garden although it is a nice little stroll and has nice views being perched on top of a hill. To enter the castle it is necessary to remove shoes and there are ample lockers with locks to store them too bad they are not made for shoes sized 11 or more. I had to get creative to fit my shoes into the locker. There are about 5-6 storeys in this castle and the interior has a rustic feel to it. It is quite clear they did replace some wood here but generally the original interior stayed intact. The most interesting part for me is how they take a bunch of wooden pillars and staples them together with a giant piece of steel brace to form a larger pillar. The wood is darkish in colour and on the outside the mortar is all bright white, which kills the exposure on my camera, you have pure white and black wood, so impossible to get details in both. Back to the interior, on the first floor is the storage area and this is where they store the original building materials when they are renovated, and also a really deep well to get water in times of a siege. Second floor is a museum with a nice collection of samurai costumes and hats. The other floors are empty which explains why I lost count of the floors after the third.

Continue reading “Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 3)”

Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 2)

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.
Shinkansen! It is always exciting to be taking the bullet train, no matter how many times you have been on it.

JR Hiroshima Station

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.

Continue reading “Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 2)”

Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 1)

Mount Fuji from Kawaguchiko
Somehow the end of the year season is now becoming a global holiday. In places where Christmas is not normally celebrated, you have lighting and large trees, especially in areas of commercial interests and where shoppers like to feel like they have an excuse to shop more than they usually do. I don’t celebrate Christmas other than accepting gifts. Somehow I don’t think I will get anything from anyone this year. Self-pity aside, one thing I do during the end of the year season, is NOT be in my country of residence, always preferring to be out travelling during this holiday. Last year it was the toture up Huashan in Xian province, China. And this year in 2008, thanks to free ticket courtesy of the airmiles I have collected on Cathay Pacific, this year the destination is Japan.

With the Japan Rail Pass, trains are now affordable, especially when the trip involves long distance train rides on the excellent Japanese bullet trains and jumping from train to train everyday. Anyone who has been to Japan knows that travel by rail, for any kind of long distance travel there can get quite expensive. The Japan Rail Pass brings flat rate rail fares for multiples of 7 days up to 21 days. For long distances like Tokyo-Hiroshima, a Rail Pass for a week cost less than a return ticket for the same destination. For my case, a return ticket to Hiroshima from Tokyo Station is roughly 18,000Y one way reserved seat while a Rail Pass is 28,000Y for 7 days. Only difference is that with the Rail Pass you cannot use the Nozomi express trains. But not a big issue. So I proceeded to purchase the pass in Shanghai, and generally any of the Japanese airlines like ANA or JAL will sell them. You buy a document the size of an airline ticket way back when they still use paper tickets, and exchange it for the Rail Pass when you arrive in Tokyo. As far as I know, it is not possible to buy the thing when you arrive in Japan. So plan ahead.

Continue reading “Mount Fuji and Western Honshu, Japan (Part 1)”