Steve Happ Photography Ramblings and dissertations

March 16, 2012

Hirakata to Arashiyama

Filed under: Japan — Tags: , — admin @ 8:44 am

66 Kilometer Bike Ride.

Here is Takuto and Toyo at the river in front of the Togetsu Bridge at the end of our marathon 33 kilometer bike ride to Arashiyama against a howling head wind. We started off at Hirakata which is west of Osaka.

Takuto and Toyo in front of the river at Arashiyama

We left our bikes on the other side of the river and walked into the town of Arashiyama over the Togetsu Bridge. Togetsu means “moon crossing” – this bridge was named by Emperor Kameyama because of the resemblance to that phenomenon.

Jinrikisha, “rickshaw” in English

Arashiyama has been a popular tourist destination for more than a thousand years, noted for its natural beauty, mainly cherry blossoms and fall colours. There are quite a few Zen temples in the area and I think one of them has been designated as a world heritage site.

bamboo thicket
Bamboo thicket

The bamboo forests around Arashiyama are some of the most beautiful in Japan. The sound of the wind in this bamboo forest has been voted as one of “one hundred must-be-preserved sounds of Japan” by the Japanese government.

bamboo forest
Sagano Bamboo Forest

We had a buffet style dinner (Kyoto “Obanzai”) at one of the restaurants where we could eat all we wanted for an hour. I had about 3 dishes and tried nearly everything that was put out. I did not like any of the slimy dishes but loved the wasabi vegetables, french onion with mayonnaise, tempura, deep fried fish and pork. The dessert of custard and cream was absolutely delicious. After our feed we went for a walk around the town and saw the Jyojyakkouji temple and the Rakushisya Residence which is a thatched hut that belonged to the 17th century haiku poet Mukai Kyorai. Mukai was a student of Basho Matsuo, one of Japan’s greatest poets.

Togetsu Bridge
Togetsu Bridge

Back over the bridge we went and back on our bikes, stopping at Sewaritei, in the Kyoto district, riding along the Yodo river. After another 33 kilometers we found ourselves back at Hirakata. At least the wind was at our backs on the return journey so it was much easier.

Hirakata Bridge
Takuto and Toyo at the Hirakata Bridge

Thanks to Takuto and Toyo for being such wonderful companions on this bike ride. Thanks especially for Takuto who pushed me along with “ganbatte”, which means “suck it up, princess!”. 🙂

April 5, 2011

Osaka 2

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Osaka Castle to Umeda

This morning I took off early to get to see Osaka Castle inside and to take some video of the Japanese Waxwings that have been hanging around outside the keep of the castle. I took 2 subways to the castle and when I got there, the Japanese Waxwings were being photographed by the hordes of bird photographers. There must have been more than a couple of dozen bird photographers snapping away.

Bird Photographers
Bird Photographers

I found out what the Japanese names for the birds were and then did an internet search to find the English names for them. The Japanese names were Hirenjaku and Mahiwa. I still have to edit the video yet, so that will be next post. (Edit) I have finally finished the video and uploaded it so here it is very late.

Birds of Osaka

I then went into the castle and had a look at the exhibits. I liked these little action figures of the Battle of Osaka. I think it was about the 17th century.

Battle of Osaka
The Battle of Osaka

There was also some very interesting newspapers from a couple of hundred years ago. They were printed from wood blocks and I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it would be to carve out Japanese script in a mirror image. Oh, maybe they used a mirror. doh! This is the view from the top of the Osaka Castle. Pretty impressive and ironic as it looks out over the modern city.

Osaka city
Osaka City Skyscrapers from the ancient Osaka-jo

After that I took the subway to Umeda and had a look around but there was not much there, it is just a huge terminal for trains, subways and buses. So, next post I will hopefully have the bird videos edited up and ready to go.

April 4, 2011


Filed under: General — Tags: , , — admin @ 1:45 pm

Osaka Castle.

Today my mission was to get to Osaka-jo, Osaka Castle. I walked up towards Nipponbashi and then turned right at Honmachi and walked another couple of kilometers until I got to the museum where there was this structure pictured below. The Hoenzaka Warehouses were built about the last half of the fifth Century. They were large elevated warehouses, having the characteristic multiple supporting posts and “Irimoya” roofing style.

Hoenzaka Warehouse
Hoenzaka Warehouse

I then continued on over the road to the Osaka Castle surrounds. It has a magnificent moat. I would have hated to have been part of an army charged with the task of storming this castle. I can picture the ninjas sneaking in after midnight, though.

Osaka Castle Moat
The moat around Osaka Castle

The current tower of Osaka Castle is the third one since the Toyotomi and Tokugawa periods. The present structure was restored by the mayor of Osaka during the Showa period. There were many other people there taking the exact same photo as this one.

Osaka Castle

There were a few couples getting their photos taken in traditional costume. I still do not know what it is all about but I promise to find out before I leave. The bloke was standing off to the side having a durry and looking very bored in his kimono.

Traditional Photo
Traditional Costume

I met a few fellow bird photographers on the way out and they were getting some great shots of some birds in the cherry blossoms. I tried to ask what the names of the birds were but I could not quite make out what they were saying. Cue an internet search. brb. I think they were Eurasian Siskin and maybe something like a grosbeak or a bullfinch. Anyway, on with the show. This next photo is of a typical past-time when the Cherry blossoms bloom (Sakura). It is called Hanami and consists of sitting under the cherry blossoms and drinking sake and having a picnic. It is a tradition in Japan.

Hanami at Sakura
Hanami at Sakura time

April 3, 2011

Shopping in Osaka

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Honshu, Japan.

This morning I took off from Nara and caught the train to Osaka. Again, a kindly lady helped me cope with the complexities of Japanese trains. But it was really easy. I just got off at Shin-Imamiya Station and walked down the street to find my hotel. Osaka is very different to Kyoto. It seems more working class and grungy. Kyoto is reputed to be more refined and cultured. I dumped my bags off at the Hotel and went for a walk to Den Den town, which is the electronic shops location in Osaka. It was not very good. The prices were not cheap and there was not much variety. There are heaps of these shops where girls go in and use cranes to pick up a fluffy toy. They are really into “cute”.

girlie arcade
Girlie Arcade

Further up, I found the Namba district which has heaps of shops that have very in your face advertising methods. The colours for the graphics and advertisements are very vivid and colourful. The spruikers are yelling out to come and buy their stuff and they have people with signs directing shoppers to their stores. It is sell, sell, sell.

Namba Shopping Mall
Namba shopping mall

Everywhere you go in Japan, there are Pachinko parlours. I finally worked up the courage to go into one and take a photo and some video. The noise is unbelievable. Watch the video further down the page to get the full effect.

Pachinko Parlour

Sashimi on a rice ball is a very common feed here in Japan. You can buy it in a bento box from the supermarket as well. I tried Sashimi once but did not like it. I prefer my fish cooked.

Slap some sashimi on it mate
Sashimi on a Rice Ball, please

Nearly all the young people have all these trinkets and cute fluffy little toys hanging off chains from their pockets or their backpacks. I do not understand it. But I am not really interested in cute “things”.

Trinkets for sale
Roll up, get your trinkets here

This guy was cooking Spider Crab. They had a huge spider crab above the shop.

Cooking crab
Cooking Crab

Another example of some direct advertising to catch your attention. It worked on me. The only problem was I did not have a clue what he was selling.

Crazy Hiro
Crazy Hiro

I went into a Pachinko Parlour and filmed it to convey the noise of the place. I also filmed some politician dude walking around town and some other crazy things. Video shows the extreme nature of the assault on the senses that is a Japanese city.

Shopping in Osaka video


Filed under: Birds — Tags: , , , — admin @ 11:22 am

Honshu, Japan

It is very easy to get to Nara from Kyoto. I just took the bus to Kyoto Station and asked Tourist Information how to do it! They held my hand through the whole process and almost put me on the train. A really nice lady even told me to get off a few stops later and catch the express. Nara is a lot smaller than Kyoto so it is not such a mad, bustling city. There are lots of old temples and ponds. In the parks the deer wander around freely and people feed them even though they are not supposed to. Nara Park has many world heritage listed sites such as Kofukuji Temple, Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Taisha.

 Sika Deer (Cervus Nippon)
Sika Deer (Cervus Nippon)

The cherry blossoms are coming out and this lovely couple was having their photos taken in traditional costume. I am not sure if they were getting married or not but they looked very nice indeed.

The Lovely Couple
The Lovely Couple

There is a very old five storey pagoda and this massive Buddha temple which was completed in 752 but burnt down twice. This one was built in 1709 and is the largest wooden structure in the world.


While I was there I managed to video some birds. The Oriental Turtle Dove was filmed in Kyoto. The highlights of the birds in Nara were the Spot-billed Ducks, the White Wagtail, and the Little Ringed Plover.

Birds of Nara

I did take some video of the turtles in the pond, but since found out that they are feral animals – Red-eared Slider Turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans). They are commonly kept as pets and in Australia they are banned because they can get to be such a pest. I stayed in this fantastic traditional Japanese Guest House in Nara with sliding panel doors and tatami mats. It was so cool.

Bird List of Nara, Japan

Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis) – Kiji-bato
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Common Teal (Anas crecca)
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) – kochi-dori
Chinese Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorhyncha)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Pale Thrush (Turdus pallidus)
Dusky Thrush(Turdus eunomus)
Japanese Cormorant (Phalocrocorax capillatus)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Large-billed Crow

Red-eared Slider Turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) feral.
Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)

March 31, 2011


Filed under: General — Tags: , , — admin @ 1:46 pm

Honshu, Japan.

I caught the bus from Maizuru to Kyoto Station and then stumbled down into the bowels of the earth to catch a subway to Shijo station. It was very confusing so I just kept on asking people until I made it. That afternoon I went for a walk along Teramachi Street. There are heaps of shops and in the olden days it was where they sold all the souvenirs and relics for the temples. I could not believe all the fashions. Everyone is all dressed up in the latest gear. And everyone has a “look”. It is like they are playing characters out of manga or anime.

Sunset in Shijo
Sunset at Teramachi

This is a shop where they sell gift boxes with candy and biscuits and other stuff in them. Giving gifts of food is big in Japan.

Bento Box Shop
Bento Box Shop

There are Pachinko parlours all over the place. Pachinko is like slot machines but with round balls. The noise in these places is horrendous. I think they are horrible stupid places. Gambling is so dumb. This was an advertisement outside one of the parlours.

Pachinko Parlour Ad
Real men squander their hard-earned cash down the toilet

This afternoon I went for a walk to the Kyoto Castle, Nijo-jo. I could not believe how much like a samurai movie set it was like. I could visualise the ninjas walking across this moat in their floating pontoon feet and then scaling the walls to assassinate the shogun.

Kyoto Castle Moat
The moat around Kyoto Castle

This is the castle where they have the nightingale floor. They had this floor made so it squeaked whenever someone walked on it so that they would hear the ninjas coming to kill the shogun. It really does squeak and sing like a nightingale.

Kyoto Castle
Kyoto Castle

Then later on tonight I went to the Gion district and saw these Cherry trees in blossom. When the cherry trees blossom it is called Sakura in Japan. It is a pretty special time for the Japanese and they go and have picnic under the cherry blossoms and drink sake.

Sakura at Gion
Sakura at Gion

The Gion area in Kyoto is where all the geisha hang out but I did not see any. Maybe they were busy.

Birds of Maizuru

Filed under: Birds — Tags: , , — admin @ 1:10 am

Western Honshu, Japan.

I arrived on the ferry from Otaru at 9pm and walked to the Port Shine Hotel which overlooks the port, funnily enough. The next morning I went for a walk with the video camera to find some birds. I am not too confident about my identifications because I do not have a birds of Japan book and the internet does not have a very lood photographic listing. Anyway, here is a photo of the port. It is nice and glassy early in the morning. Later on the wind came up and made it all choppy.

The Port of Maizuru
The port of Maizuru

The first birds I spotted were what I thought were Asian House Martins (Delichon dasypus). The were foraging around in the grass pecking at the sticks and seeds. I then spotted what I thought might be Eurasian Wigeons in the creek going into the bay. But on second looks I thought they might be Northern Shovelers. I have really no idea. It is a lot more difficult to identify birds from a video. After that I walked up this wooded hill and spotted a Dusky Thrush on the way back.

The Port of Maizuru
View from the hill

Back down on the street along the port, I spotted some Black-eared Kites and got a few shots of some of them. They have this piercing call and you can hear this on the video. I also spotted an Osprey but failed to get a shot of it. I also filmed some Eurasian Tree Sparrows. On the creek next to my hotel I filmed some more ducks, a pair of Little Grebes and a Little Egret.

Birds of Maizuru video

Maizuru Bird List

Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Dusky Thrush
Black-eared Kite
Little Egret
Eurasian Wigeon ?
Little Grebe
Asian House Martin (Delichon dasypus)

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