29 April, 2014

The Harmony of Japan vs. The Sakura Apocalypse

In Perfect Harmony

Illuminated in soft twilight, Osaka Castle floats on a sea of beautiful cherry blossoms…

In Perfect Harmony || Osaka
The past 5 weeks in Japan have been nothing short of amazing and while I’m filled with joy from all of the great experiences, I can’t seem to shake this sinking feeling in my heart knowing that this trip has come to an end. Japan is one of the very few places in the world that has that effect on me. It’s hardto describe, but it just feels right being there. So much in fact, that I’m already adding our next visit to the calendar

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We began our Japanese adventure this year in Kyoto to catch the tail end of the Hanatoro Festival. A bi-annual event where they light up certain shrines and pagodas throughout the city. It’s not as though I need an excuse to visit the beautiful Kyoto, but the extra potential for unique photographic opportunities around this lighting event made it impossible to resist. The only slight issue was that this year, Hanatoro fell two weeks before the sakura began to bloom. Last year, the cherry blossoms peaked two weeks ahead of schedule, which happened to coincide perfectly with the Hanatoro event. Kyoto is of course an enchanting town either way, with dozens of beautiful shrines to photograph. Having fully blooming cherry blossoms would’ve certainly been welcome, but we still had a great time there nonetheless.

Thoughts from Naomi:

There’s simply no place in the world quite like Japan, and of the places we’ve visited thus far in Japan, no city quite like Kyoto. Being there feels to me like stepping back in time, to a way of life that has remained unchanged for centuries. I’m certain things have changed drastically, but Japan is this beautiful blend of old traditions mixed with the modern age. On Sunday afternoons, the streets of the old town surrounding the Yasaka Pagoda are filled with women or couples in love, dressed in traditional Kimonos wandering about enjoying the day.

©2014 - Naomi Locardi - All Rights Reserved.

©2014 – Naomi Locardi – All Rights

From Kiyomizu-dera to the Fushimi Inari shrine, being in these places brings on a sense of peace like nowhere else. Spending the morning, standing alone amidst the towering trees of the Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama, the place has its own special sound–the stalks swaying and the leaves rustling in the wind. This is of course mixed with the normal sounds of morning as the birds wake up and begin to sing to the world of a new day. I know I have said it before, but it’s truly one of my very favorite places on the planet.

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After a few great (and very chilly) days in Kyoto, we took a train down to Hiroshima to spend some time photographing both the castle and the Grand Torii Gate on Miyajima Island. Hiroshima has been our list for quite some time so it was great to finally make it down there. Ever since I first started researching images of Japan, I’ve wanted to capture the Grand Torii Gate during a beautiful sunset. I feel like it’s truly one of the most iconic images that Japan has to offer.

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Of course, we also made sure to visit the WWII memorial site. Carved into the plaque are the words. “Forgive, but never forget.” This had a very strong impact on our hearts. While it’s a somber reminder of the horrors that mankind is capable of, it’s also an inspiration to see the strength and perseverance of the Japanese people.

As you can see from the photo at the top called, “In Perfect Harmony,” we arrived in Osaka at the peak of the cherry blossom bloom. I couldn’t have asked for more beautiful conditions for photographing the castle. It was truly spectacular and the big credit here definitely goes to Naomi for convincing them to let us in the gate early so we could get set up for the shot! How horrible would it have been to miss a sky like this?

A sampling of “The Moments Between” Photos from throughout the trip:

Onward to Tokyo and The Sakura Apocalypse

This visit to Japan was timed specifically to take full advantage of Hanami and the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms. Pre-scheduling the trip last year, I actually took the averages from last season and planned two weeks on both sides of my best prediction of when the peaks would occur. This season, I was pretty much right on the money with the timing in Hiroshima, Osaka, Tokyo, and Fujiyoshida, but the weather proved to be quite an obstacle. In Tokyo, for example, the day prior to our arrival and just as the Sakura had reached their full bloom, the city was hit with high winds and freezing rain that decimated the flowers. My friends in Tokyo were jokingly calling it the Sakura Apocalypse and when we got there we could see why. In one day the cherries had been reduced from 100% to a miniscule 30%. Everyone in the city was obviously disappointed by it.

Despite the “Sakurapocalype” we still had an amazing 10 day visit to Tokyo. We even managed to catch part of the Fertility Festival that was going on the weekend we arrived. A big thank you to our good friend and very talented local Tokyo photographer Jason Arney for joining us for the event and showing us around in Japan. I won’t describe the festival in too much detail here in this post since it’s NSFW but if you Google the term “Tokyo Fertility Festival,” I promise you’ll get a laugh out of it. ;)

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From Left to Right: Naomi, Jason, Ken & Elia

Our visit to Tokyo was also part of a project that both Ken Kaminesky and I are working on with Fujifilm. We had the pleasure of visiting the headquarters and meeting with the team of very bright minds responsible for the development of the X-Series Cameras and Lenses. Fujifilm has long been one of the most celebrated names in photography and getting to see the amount of careful thought and passion that the team puts into their products was an enlightening experience. Even more enlightening still was getting to see what’s in the pipeline for the next few years. Though I can’t reveal much, what I can say for sure is that the future of Fujifilm looks very bright!

Of course, no good meeting in Japan would be complete without an epic night out together and what I can honestly say was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. A huge thanks to everyone at Fujifilm for the wonderful hospitality!

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Thoughts from Naomi:

The variety of food in Japan is simply amazing! In Tokyo, we had the pleasure of meeting up with our good friend Victor (and some new friends) to try Shabu Shabu for the very first time. This restaurant had an all you can eat package, with an option for all you can drink too :) . They bring out different soup stocks of your choice along with a variety of uncooked meats and vegetables. Then you cook them yourself in the boiling soup stock and enjoy the wonderful variety of dipping sauces. Think Japanese Fondue… So delicious!

©2014 Naomi Locardi

We really had such a wonderful time out this night. After dinner we met up with Ken and a few more friends of Victor’s for a bit of dancing fun, followed by a late night karaoke session. After all, what would a trip to Japan be without getting to have the late night Karaoke experience! You know it’s been a fun night when the sun has risen by the time it’s over. ;)

After Tokyo, Naomi and I rented a car so we could spend 10 days exploring the five lakes around Mt. Fuji. Again, when we arrived in Fujiyoshida, our sakura timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We even reversed our sleeping schedule so we could be set up on location at a groggy 2:00AM each morning to secure a spot in the photographic lineup. Some of these spots are so popular during Sakura Season that people literally camp out in order to keep their spot. It’s sort of like staking your claim with a flag in the ground, only instead of a flag, it’s a tripod.

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Then, the Sakura Apocalypse struck again just as the cherry blossoms in Fujiyoshida reached their peak with 5 consecutive days of wind, fog and rain. After that, the cherries were completely destroyed and unfortunately, so was our time in Fujiyoshida. :(

On the plus side, we found an awesome Sushi Train place called Hamazushi where every plate you order is only 90 yen. So while the overcast skies, cold wind and freezing rain was destroying the cherry blossoms, we took it upon ourselves to put down our cameras for a few days and destroy a mountain of tasty Sushi instead.

Fujiyoshida-Japan-Sushi-train

Having forced time away from the camera also gave us the opportunity to finalize some important projects, including launching an upcoming Post-processing workshop that I’m teaching next month in Portland / Vancouver area and scheduling a project with Queensland, Australia that starts shortly after.

Balancing our time between shooting and exploring with managing a full-time business in our 100% location independent lifestyle can prove quite challenging at times. So having forced downtime on occasion can actually be quite a positive thing. If it’s a rainy, stormy, grey scape outside and impossible to be out shooting, then spending time in “the office” getting things done doesn’t bother me quite so much.

Thoughts from Naomi:

After five weeks in Japan, it is officially the longest time we’ve spent in a single country in years. And it still wasn’t long enough to really explore everywhere that we wanted. We could spend a lifetime capturing this country’s beauty as it changes throughout each season.

We’ve come to realize that certain countries just call to us. Japan is just one of these places. Leaving felt kind of like being separated from your love, it’s a bit difficult to explain the emotion. But it left us both with a sense of longing and loss. Going from Japan to Italy, it’s hard not be excited… We’re leaving one place that we love, to visit another place we love. But it was still difficult to board that plane and watch as the country disappeared beneath us. It helps knowing that we’ll be back, so we’ve already added a visit during fall colors to our calendar. :)

“Song of Spring” | ©2014 Naomi Locardi

Even with the Sakura Apocalypse, this was absolutely the best trip in Japan to date. It’s a country that I can see myself returning to again and again, season after season, and year after year. So Arigato Japan for an amazing five weeks. “So long and thanks for all of the fish!” ;)

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About the Author

Elia Locardi is an internationally recognized professional travel and destination photographer, writer, public speaker and educator who spends his life seeking out and capturing some of the most beautiful and inspirational locations in the world. Recently featured by Professional Photographer Magazine, CNet Australia, and Wacom USA, Elia has cultivated an engaged social media following of nearly 2.5 million people across Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram. On the road full-time, he teaches the Art of Photography here on www.BlameTheMonkey.com, collaborates with various brands, sponsors and tourism boards, and leads Photography Tours and Post-processing Workshops worldwide.

  • http://alikgriffin.com/ Alik Griffin

    Nice Job. I too have been in Japan for the last 5 weeks. Got rained in in Okinawa though. Such a bummer. Was traveling with friends so the trip was mostly about food, and visiting 20 spots a day. One day I will come out here and it will be all about photography.

    Can’t wait to see more.

    • Elia Locardi

      Well, spending 5 weeks in Japan concentrating on food and fun sounds pretty awesome to me! :)

      • http://alikgriffin.com/ Alik Griffin

        lol. Yeah. It has been.

  • http://trashthelens.com/ Tomek (TrashTheLens)

    Oh, Miyajima… I remember standing there watching the sun go down as the tide was slowly coming in filling the bay with water, the torii starting to “float” in the last rays of sunlight… A remarkable experience indeed.

    BTW, I really like this new, longer and more in-depth format of this post.

    • Elia Locardi

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying the long form posting style. We’ll do our best to make a habit out of it. :)

      I totally agree about Miyajima. It’s an enchanting place at sunset, especially with the large population of deer wandering around and mingling with the people.

  • http://www.themarkeworld.com/ Mark Esguerra

    This is such a great post Elia and Naomi! You both explored Japan the right way and I’m really glad to know you’ve both fallen in love with the country. It was finally great to meet you two out there, though brief. Next time I’ll schedule things better to be able to shoot more with you. And if you’re planning to visit Japan for the Fall colors, I can tell you you’ll be as blown away by the Fall as you have been by the Spring. And for the Fall, I highly suggest Nikko to the North of Tokyo. You’ll love it up there!

  • Shane Corderoy

    Hi Elia,
    I love this longer more detailed blog. I really enjoyed reading it and so did my wife. We were lucky enough to visit Japan last year and we also fell in love with the place. We are actually learning to speak Japanese now and we are planning on going back next year :) Keep up the great work mate and I love all your images.

    • Elia Locardi

      Hey Shane,

      I’m really happy to hear that you guys fell in love with Japan. It really is one of the best (and most beautiful) countries in the world… Do you have any plans for a specific season next year? I would highly recommend Sakura Season or Fall Colors. :)