Working with Aussie model Shaun Ripper in the backstreets of Kyoto. Shaun is represented by GTR Global.
Working with Aussie model Shaun Ripper in the backstreets of Kyoto. Shaun is represented by GTR Global.
It has been ages since I did a test shoot, as I’ve been busy moving countries! But I finally got the chance to do an un-structured, freestyle shoot with Mikio, a model that I met in Tokyo. He was in Kyoto for a trip, so we decided to meet up and do a test shoot for his book.
One thing that I really love about Japan is the light. Photographers, you will understand. The quality of the light here is beautiful, its much softer and hazier than Melbourne, which has a very hard, intense kind of light. I feel very inspired shooting in Japan.
We shot these images at a university campus in Kyoto (I pretended to be an exchange student so that we could get free parking.) It was surprisingly diverse with many different textures and areas to explore, and a lot of the buildings were brand new, with gorgeous architecture. I really wanted this shoot to be about Mikio, and not about the location, which is why I opted for simple backgrounds. I also didn’t want it to be stereotypically ‘Japanese,’ which is why we didn’t shoot at a shrine or other similar structure.
Japanese folios are so different from those in Melbourne. They really lean towards the smiley, happy, commercial look, whereas in Melbourne it is all about looking serious and slightly pissed off or bored. The contrast is really interesting. So I tried to include some more serious expressions in Mikio’s shots, so balance out his very ‘happy’ images. We got a few smiley ones in there too though, to keep his agent happy! Thanks Mikio for a great first shoot in Kyoto!
I’m back in Kyoto, and it’s almost midnight. I feel like I’ve returned back to my home after a holiday. I suppose because Mundo feels like a family, and I feel so welcome and comfortable here.
Today I woke up to some construction-sounding noises. I wasn’t sure if they were coming from an actual construction site, of if the people in the room net door were just being exceptionally loud. It was only 7, but I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. I was actually kind of hungry, because I hadn’t eaten much last night, but I wasn’t really prepared for the size of the meal that was placed in front of me. Yesterday I was given the choice between Japanese and Western breakfast, so of coures i chose Japanese. This is what that choice entailed…
Wow. There was rice, a raw egg, nori strips, pickles, some niku-jaga made with naruto sweet potatoes, miso soup, grilled fish, some kind of roe with wasabi and spring onion, fish cake pieces, and some vegetables and tofu cooked in a little ceramic pot (which had a candle underneath that the waitress lit.) What a feast. I used the egg, rice and nori to make tomago-kake-gohan, which is raw egg and soy sauce on top of rice. Everything was really tasty, and I ate it all. I felt really full after, and had to sit for a little while before I could get up. I’m so used to having a light breakfast!
After that feast, I checked out and walked along the river towards the station. The river was such a beautiful colour, and the water was flowing and rolling along at a gentle pace. Do you remember how when you were a kid, you would draw waves that squiggled gently up and down? That’s exactly how this river looked. It was so peaceful. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom, and their pale colours looked amazing against the colour of the water. It was impossible to capture on camera.
At the station, I planned to buy a ticket for the bus to Kyoto, then do some souvenir shopping and perhaps visit Tokushima castle or Tokushima park, before getting the bus. But when I went to to ticket counter, the lady told me that the next bus was leaving in five minutes, and the one following that wasn’t until 3. I made the snap decision to get the one that left in five minutes, and have the whole afternoon in Kyoto to prepare for Kumano Kodo. I didn’t want to have to rush this preparation, because hiking in mountains isn’t something you want to do unprepared. So I jumped on the bus, which cost 4100 yen, and spent the next 3 hours watching the scenery change from seaside town to bustling city.
I arrived at Kyoto station around 1pm, then walked back to Hostel Mundo, which took an hour. When I got there, everyone was glad to see me (especially the dog, Tida), and I spent some time chatting and sharing photos.
The rest of the afternoon wasn’t very exciting, because I was just planning schedules and downloading five million maps about the hiking trails. Also booking a hotel in Osaka for the night that I would finish the hike. Real thrilling stuff.
At 6pm, Kazuyo, myself, and another girl went to Nijo-jo to see it lit up at night. Around cherry blossom time in Kyoto, various temples and shrines hole this ‘Light Up’ event to show off the sakura. We bought tickets and went inside, where there was a route to follow which passed lit up bamboo totem poles, cherry blossoms, and other parts of the castle grounds. It was so beautiful, and I thought that the cherry blossoms looked like snow, or popcorn. The best part was a whole tunnel of cherry blossom trees that was lit up. It was pretty spectacular. I can’t describe it in words, so here are some pictures.
We stopped to buy food on the way home, then ate together in the common area. I had a salad, some bean and konnyaku things, some heated up burdock root dish, and two onigiri (one vegetable one and one yakiniku one.) Then I had some traditional Kyoto style sweets, which were awesome. Filled with anko, of course.
Tomorrow I will head off on a 5 day hike through the mountains of Wakayama prefecture. The hike is a traditional pilgrimage route, and I’ll work for 6-8 hours each day. I won’t have internet access at all, so you’ll have to wait a few days for another blog. Wish me luck! My legs will probably fall off by day two, but we’ll see.
When I woke up this morning I still hadn’t decided what I was going to do in the few days after visiting Naoshima. I’d been thinking about it all night, and had a few different options in my head, but nothing locked in. I also had the problem of my heavy and inconvenient suitcase, which I didn’t want to take with me through the islands. I really should have through about all of this before yesterday. I thought about sending the suitcase somewhere, but I hadn’t decided where I was going to be, and hadn’t booked the accommodation to send it to. So then I thought that I could leave it in Kyoto, and come back for a night or two to collect it. This was just a thought last night, when I was feeling sad about leaving the Mundo family. But I asked Midori if there was any vacancy on the 30th or 31st, and she said there was only one bed left on both nights. I had asked out of curiosity, but as the night went on, I liked the idea of returning more and more. When I woke up this morning, I knew that I wanted to return, so I booked myself back in on the 31st. It saved me having to worry about what to do with my luggage.
After waking up and having breakfast, I packed my backpack with everything I would need for the next four nights, and then shoved everything else into my suitcase. Then I stored it underneath the stairs, and handed back the key to my room. I spent the next few hours sitting in the living room, trying madly to book hotels and work out a schedule. Tida watched me from the chair opposite, before falling asleep with his head on the arm rest. 1pm came around quickly, and I ate some cabbage with sesame dressing, and a cup of mis soup for lunch. I really wasn’t hungry after yesterday’s feast, but I knew I should eat. Then I said goodbye to everyone and walked to Nijo station, where I drank a vegetable juice and got a train to Kyoto.
At Kyoto, I switched to this really rapid train which took me all the way to a place called Aioi, at the base of many mountains. I was surprised that I could use this train with the 18 kippu, because it went so fast that sometimes my ears felt funny. We passed Shin-Osaka, Osaka, and Kobe, and I stared out the window in awe when we passed by the inland sea. It was raining slightly, and everything looked pastel and blue. The sea and the sky merged together on the horizon, and deep blue silhouettes of boats dotted the water. I saw the giant bridge that links the main island (Honshu) with Shikoku. Having read a lot about it, it was strange but also amazing to see it pass by on the train. I feel like such an old man saying that I enjoyed watching a bridge. Oh dear.
As we got closer to Okayama, the train passed through small towns at the foot (feet?) of many mountains. It was raining lightly, and while clouds of mist crept up through the deep green hills. It was really really beautiful, and I kind of felt like I was in a Miyazaki film. The atmosphere was just so serene and the scenery so beautiful. There was also that sense of being inside a warm dry train carriage whilst the cold wet world passes by. I felt like I was in the Neko bus (Totoro reference. Nerd. again.)
At Aoio, I had to change to a local train for Okayama. This train was bright yellow, and stopped at every station. I took another hour to reach the station, but I really didn’t mind watching all the scenery go by. When I got to Okayama station, I realised that I had no idea where I was meant to go because I’d stupidly forgotten to screenshot the map of my hotel. Luckily, Okayama is a huge station, and it also had a large detailed map that listed most of the big hotels. But of course, my hotel wasn’t on there. It was called ‘Hotel Riverside,’ so I assumed that it was near some kind of river. But the river looked really far away from the station, and I didn’t think that I would have booked something so far away when I was only staying one night. Puzzled, I studied a few more maps, just incase they had forgotten to put it on the first map, but there was no sign of this hotel. I thought that maybe I’d reserved a room in a hotel that didn’t exist. Then, in my most brilliant move yet, I had the bright idea to visit the tourist information centre and ask if they knew where it was. Surely they would have heard of it at least once or, at the very least, would have the internet so I could look it up. It took me a while to find the tourist info centre, because it was tucked away in the corner of an underground shopping mall. Inside, the two ladies at the desk were really helpful, and knew exactly what I was talking bout when I mentioned the name of the hotel. They drew a little route on a map for me, and spent about ten minutes explaining over and over how to get there (the directions weren’t hard; I only had to turn once.) I thanked the, and made my way to the station exit, where it was raining and misty, and starting to get dark. Okayama is much colder than Kyoto, which made me wonder if I’d brought enough clothing for Naoshima island.
I found the hotel really easily, and it only took about 5 minutes to walk there. I was really glad I’d brought an umbrella with me, because it rained constantly the whole time. But the rain was gentle and calm, if that makes sense. I didn’t mind it, and it didn’t make me frustrated, just happy. The hotel did end up being near a river, but not a real river. There is a tiny canal that runs down the length of the street that the hotel faces, hence the name ‘Riverside.’ I checked in with no hassle, and was given a special ‘ladies pack’ which included all the essentials for the female human. Things like a comb, shampoo, and a little scrunchie. There is a big bath and sauna complex in the hotel, but only men are allowed to use it, so I guess the ladies pack is the compensation for being female.
The room was clean and neat, and looked pretty modern, despite the slightly seedy appearance of the hotel’s lobby. I dumped the heaviest of my stuff, but wasn’t brave enough to leave my laptop or anything valuable in the room. Then I walked around the streets for a while, looking in a few stores and checking out which places looked tasty for dinner. I was looking at the menu of a ramen shop, when this gross began looking guy came out and said to me (in a dirty Australian accent) “its ramen. Like, noodles. It’s the bloody best one in the whole town.” That pretty much consolidated that I was not going to eat there. I found a place that served a bit of everything, including bibimbap, which I felt like, but the wait was 30 minutes, so I decided to find somewhere else. I was hungry, from not really eating a proper lunch, and felt like lots of food, fast. Across the street there was a little izakaya called Daruma, and I headed inside and was seated at the bar. This was great because I could see into the kitchen and watch the guys preparing food. One guy was working over hot charcoals, pumping out delicious yakitori and tending to the flames. It smelled amazing. I ordered a bunch of dishes, which were all cheap, and sat back to enjoy the atmosphere. The place was multi story, and most people were upstairs, so it kind of felt like I had the whole place to myself.
The dishes came out one by one, and I demolished them straight away. I had chicken and leek yakitori, shiitake yakitori, a Caesar salad (Japanese style) which had a soft egg on top, and some special vegetable and chicken rice cooked in its own pot. Everything was pretty tasty, but the salad was swimming in dressing. The best was the yakitori. After dinner, I was still hungry, but I couldn’t be bothered waiting for food to be cooked because I wanted to go to sleep. So I went to a convenience store and bought a little vegetable dish with 10 kinds of vegetable inside, and a chicken onigiri. I also got a little pudding and a 60 cent ice-cream bar which I ate back in the hotel. I used the downstairs LAN internet for a while, and I could see all the other guests in the hotel looking at me when they thought I wasn’t looking. It was like they’d never seen a girl before. I suppose the hotel does cater more towards men, but still. It was kind of weird.
Back in the room, I had a shower, and it was kind of nice not to have to wait and then race in when there was a free space. I had planned to go to bed early because I have a full day of activities tomorrow, but when I got in bed I knew I was going to have a crappy sleep. You see, the bed was catered more towards people who enjoy having metal springs poking between their rib cages. I could feel every single coil in the mattress, and there was nowhere on the bed that I could escape them. Ahh the joys of travelling.
I’m sorry there aren’t many photos today, I shot a lot of video instead, and I can’t upload it because I’m too cheap to pay for that privilege. Oh, and I probably won’t have internet access for a few days, so please don’t think I’m dead. I’m just on an island :)
I must have been truly exhausted last night, because I fell asleep immediately and didn’t wake up until 8:30. It was oddly quiet this morning, probably because the loud and annoying Phillipino people checked out already. Despite having the most solid sleep I’ve had in a week, I still felt tired and,my body felt like a bag of bricks. I guess that’s all the walking and cycling catching up with me. I had breakfast and got ready, then set out for a flea market that the girls last night were telling me about. I wanted to get a coffee from this cafe I saw yesterday, but it was closed. So I got a chilled one from Family Mart. Like I keep mentioning, it’s becoming an addiction. I walked to the temple where the market was held, and was surprised at how big it was. It completely covered the area in front of and next to the temple grounds, as well as spilling out into the streets. The vendors were selling mostly antique things (crockery, kimono fabric, bags, that kind of thing), but there were also some pickle and vegetable sellers thrown in for good measure. One side of the market was great, but the other was kind of tacky, packed with carnival style games and fried food stalls.
After looking around and debating whether or not to buy a hand carved wooden bento, I walked back towards the main river in Kyoto, to a station called Demachiyanagi. This station is the terminal for a special train that goes up into the northern mountains of Kyoto. There are two main towns that are accessible from this train; Kibune and Kurama. It is popular to hike between the two towns via a special route that passes through forest and temples. This is what I planned to do. So I took the train up to Kibuneguchi, where I would start my hike.
It was a funny little train. It was two cars long, and had different kinds of seats inside. There was a row of single seats, some pairs of seats facing each other, and some bench-style seats facing the window for your viewing pleasure. The train slowly made its way toward the mountain, with voice-overs every 20 seconds that said the name of the next station, and continually thanked everyone for using the train. It said everything in Japanese and English, but the English voice was really slow and annoying. It spoke English as if it was speaking to a non-English speaker. I felt like the voice was being intentionally patronizing.
The train arrived at the station and I got off and collected a free map. I was a bit disoriented, and there was nothing around, so I wasn’t really sure where I was meant to go. I knew that I could either take a bus to the main part of Kibune town, or walk for about 20 minutes. I could see the bus stop, but I wanted to walk, so I studied the map and eventually worked out where I was meant to go. It was much colder up in the mountains, and I wondered if wearing shorts was such a good idea. I had been walking for about 5 minutes when it started to rain. Not heavily, just a shower, kind of. Just my luck, I thought, but it didn’t last very long, and I didn’t get very wet. The walk to the town took 20 minutes, as expected, and was just along a paved road that wound around the hills and followed the river. I was amazed at how tall the cedar trees were, and how clear the river’s water was. The town wasn’t really much of a town, more of a small collection of noodle restaurants and a shrine. And, being Monday, most things were closed. It started to spit again, and I sheltered underneath an overhanging roof to eat lunch. There was a bench there, which belonged to a restaurant that wasn’t open, so I sat on that. I ate a new kind of salad, with sweet potato, walnuts, pumpkin, hijiki and burdock root mixed in with the salad. And I had an ebi-may sushi roll, which I am now a pro at unwrapping (it’s tricky the first time because they are always wrapped so that the rice and nori don’t touch.) Then I was still hungry, and wished I had brought another onigiri as well. I thought there might be yaki-mochi vendours or homemade onigiri stalls in the town, but there weren’t. I did, however, come across a guy selling all kinds of daifuku, so I bought one that was famous in the area, which was brown and filled with tsuba-anko. Super tasty!
Feeling slightly better after finding the daifuku, I set off on the hike to Kumara. You have to pay 200 yen to enter the trail, but I have no idea why. The sun had come out (although temporarily), and the forest was incredibly beautiful. The trail was also very steep. It went straight up, and I was panting after about three minutes, thinking how am I going to do this?! I remembered reading about the hike online, and I remembered reading that it’s intimidating at first, but soon levels out. Intimidating, it certainly was! I passed a few people coming down, who told me gambatte! (do your best!) After a while, I got to a small shrine, which also featured this sign…
1915 meters to the main gate at Kurama. That doesn’t sound that far, but you have to remember that this is a climb, not a paved, flat path. I just kept thinking of my grandfather, and how he would be proud if I finished all these hikes that I set out to do. I also thought of my dad, and how he’d want me to keep going and do my best, and never give up. I make it sound like the hie was impossible, but really it wasn’t that bad. The first bit was steep, but only enough to make my heart rate rise, not enough that I needed climbing picks and ropes. Don’t get the wrong idea here people.
The next section of the course featured a whole heap of tree roots, all over the ground. They were incredible, and looked like a maze. Some parts were really smooth, from being stepped on over and over again. I really had to watch my footing because the roots were really uneven, and some were quite high. The root forest led to another small shrine, and then I had to climb about 400 stairs (steep ones), which seemed to go on forever. I passed a lot of people, all going in the opposite direction to me, of course. I had only gone up, so I thought maybe I should have started from the other end of the course, because it might be easier. Oh well, I liked the challenge.
At the top of the death stairs, there was another collection of root trees, which snaked across the ground in a beautiful pattern. I have a thing about tree roots- I just think they’re really cool. And then, there were stairs that went down! I was so excited. These stairs led through more forest, and eventually came out at a large temple. I started to rain again, but the view from the temple balcony was so beautiful, and all the mountains faded into the distance in different shades of blue. I felt so free and calm, I think hiking tends to de-clutter my brain.
From the shrine, the path kept leading downwards, and I passed more forest and little shrines and lanterns along the way. I happily passed all the people coming up, feeling a bit smug that I had chosen to walk the course in this direction, because I ended up going down a lot more than I went up. He he, suckers.
Then, I was suddenly at the bottom. I had arrived in Karuma in only an hour, which I thought was strange. I really thought I remembered reading that it would take about three hours. Maybe it does if you walk in the other direction, who knows. Anyway, I was a bit surprised and stunned, but I walked around the small town on Karuma, then headed back to the train. I was actually surprised how easy the hike had been, as I was expecting it to be a bit harder and longer. But I was also happy that I had completed it.
The train ride home was fast, and at the station I bought a chestnut flavoured daifuku from a little stall. It was only 3:30, so I decided to catch the subway to Gion, and buy some food for dinner from the department store there. It felt strange riding the subway in Kyoto. I associate trains and subways with Tokyo, so I felt kind of out of place. There was also only 4 people in the carriage, whereas in Tokyo is would be full at all times of the day. In Gion, I wondered around the basement food level of Takashimaya, then walked through Nishiki market, and all the way back to the hostel. It was freezing, and the wind was icy. My legs got really cold because I was still wearing shorts.
When I got back, Tida the dog greeted me, and I learned that he was about to be taken for a walk. I was invited to come, and I said yes, because they were only going to a nearby park. Tida liked eating the grass. It was freezing, so we didn’t stay out long. I warmed up in my room, and then it was time for dinner.
I was so hungry, having worked up a huge appetite from hiking all day. So I went all out and made a huge tei shoku dinner. I made a donburi with brown rice, topped with some cooked spinach and mushroom from the supermarket, and an egg, which cooked in the heat of the other food. I also had a cabbage salad, some miso soup, and the collection of food that I’d bought from the department store. It was amazingly delicious, and I ate everything. I ate dinner with 2 staff members and another guest. I like how everyone just joins each other and talks. It’s really homely, and it feels like a little family.
One of the girls has been learning how to do the tea ceremony, so we had a little practice one, and drank the matcha tea with daifuku ice cream and matcha Kit Kats that I’d bought. I had a go at whisking the tea, which was much harder than it sounds.
I can’t believe tomorrow is my last night in Kyoto already. Time is zooming by and I’m gling to be back in Australia before I blink. Tomorrow we are having nikujaga party at the hostel, for my last day. They have last day parties for everyone, so there’s a party almost every day!
Here are some more photos from today that didn’t really fit anywhere…