Japan Part 2 – Tokyo, Kanagawa and Hakone

I arrived in Tokyo via bullet train, or Shinkansen, from Kyoto. I had toyed with the idea of taking a more budget-oriented approach towards getting here but I’m glad I didn’t. Seeing the countryside whizzing by me at 170 miles per hour inside my whisper-quiet cabin was an experience in itself, not to mention all the time I saved over taking the much slower, local trains.

So ¥12,000 and 2 hours later we pulled into Tokyo Station, and I strapped on my backpack and headed out. I felt like a kid again, ready to start his first day at a new school.

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Japan Part 1 – Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto

Arriving in Osaka was a very odd experience for me. I had never been to Japan before in my life, however for some strange reason I was hit with a strong and persistent sense of nostalgia. From the moment I stepped off the plane, for the next 24 hours or so I felt like I was revisiting someplace from my distant past. I’ve come to the conclusion that either Osaka is a great representation of what America was like in the late 80s, or I was Japanese in a former life.

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Hong Kong

I had arrived in Hong Kong right around sunset. Now the airport was pretty far from the city, so by the time I had arrived in Mong Kok it was already dark. I’ll never forget stepping off that bus into the streets of Kowloon for the first time; I can only describe the experience as feeling as if I was on a movie set. The narrow streets walled in by towering concrete buildings, thousands of people lit by a sea of neon lights, cars and buses whizzing by on this calm, 70 degree night. It was one of the most surreal things I had ever experienced. My camera had died a few days earlier in Bangkok, but taking pictures was the last thing on my mind. Over the years I’ve found that in times like this, it’s best to just take everything in and live the experience rather than trying to capture it, as no picture I could have taken would be anything close to how I’d remember it.

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So after about a 20 hour overnight train ride from Penang, I had arrived in Bangkok. Now, Singapore and Malaysia were hot, but there was just something a little more oppressive about the heat in Bangkok. I had arrived at around 10 AM and I’d soon come to find out that the mornings in Bangkok are incredibly humid, even in January. By around noon though it eased up quite a bit, and by early afternoon the humidity was almost non-existent. Luckily this wasn’t really much of a factor for me after the first day or two as I’m much more of a night person. In fact even while traveling I could probably count the days I was out and about before noon on one hand. On the other hand, getting to bed at 3 or 4 AM was much more likely.

After getting out of the station, I started to make my way to the infamous Khao San Rd with a few new friends I had met on the train. After a relatively short bus ride we found ourselves in the midst of what is apparently party central for backpackers on a budget. We found a couple of rooms pretty quickly for about 7 bucks each (with air conditioning), and spent the next few days generally just lounging around being bums. We did check out a few of the temples in the old town of Bangkok, but public transportation is rather limited in this area so we mostly just hung around Khao San and lived it up amongst the melange of bars, restaurants and massage parlors. This may sound counter intuitive for someone on a budget like myself, but keep in mind that a one hour massage in Bangkok will run you anywhere from 5 to 10 dollars. It wasn’t hard to convince myself to find a way to work them into my daily budget.

There were temples scattered all over the place here in old town. I didn’t end up touring the grounds of the Grand Palace, but there were dozens of other equally impressive temples, or ‘wats’ everywhere you looked. Here are just a few.

This is a view of the Grand Palace from inside the grounds before the entrance gate. I had planned on going in, but the entrance fee was a little steep (with most of the other temples being free), and they didn’t allow medium format cameras inside, which I found a bit odd.

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After I left Singapore I made my way through Malaysia. I only spent about 4 days here, with my time divided between Kuala Lumpur, several overnight trains and a stopover in Penang. After hopping on a night train from Johor Bahru across the border in Malaysia, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur just as the sun was rising.

The Petronas Towers in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Each one of these towers is taller than the Empire State Building, and they were the tallest buildings in the world when they were built. They’re currently ranked at 6th tallest, and are just over half the height of the new tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

My time in Kuala Lumpur was spent mostly in the Chinatown area, although I did walk around the city quite a bit during the day. Chinatown was filled with curbside food carts serving satay, clay-pot chicken and a variety of other Malay dishes.

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First up in my upcoming series of posts will be Singapore. For those of you that don’t personally know me, I spent this past winter backpacking around Asia. I started right after New Years in Singapore, spent about a week there before traveling up to Malaysia for a few days, and then spent about 3 weeks in Thailand between Bangkok and the Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai area. After that I took a quick plane ride out to Hong Kong where I spent a couple weeks, and then flew out to Japan to finish off my trip. I ended up spending 5 weeks total in Japan, starting in Osaka, hitting up Kobe, Kyoto, Hakone, Yokohama, Kawasaki, and finally Tokyo. I figured I’d start out in the hottest places, and slowly move north to the colder areas as the season ended. This ended up working out great because Singapore was an excellent place to get my feet wet in Asian culture. Most people in Singapore speak English, nearly all signs are in English and the city itself even had a very western feel to it. As my trip went on I got into progressively more eastern cultures, ending in Japan which probably would have been very difficult to start out in due to the severe lack of English-friendly amenities. Overall I couldn’t have been happier with the way everything came together.

Before I left on my trip I met a fellow photographer by the name of Rizal on flickr. We talked a bit before I left and planned to meet up once I got over there. Originally we had just planned to go out for a quick shooting session around Singapore, but between Rizal and his friends he introduced me to we ended up getting together almost every day I was there. He even brought me into the Arab Quarter to find a hookah lounge after I mentioned my affinity for shisha. Read on a bit for more on these guys.

I brought three cameras with me on this trip; two main cameras and a backup. The two main cameras were my 645 medium format rangefinder, the Fuji GS645S, and my Minolta X-570 SLR with a few lenses. The Fuji 645 has a fixed lens, being a 60mm f/4, and for the Minolta I brought my 50mm f/1.2, 28mm f/2.8 and 135mm f/3.5 lenses. I brought a little over 100 rolls of film with me, 72 being 35mm and 30 being medium format. I actually ended up running out in Japan and had to purchase film there for almost double what I paid back home. My entire film stock was Kodak Portra, with the 35mm split almost evenly between 160 and 400 speed, and the 120 split between 160, 400 and 800. I also brought a mini travel tripod with me which served me alright in Southeast Asia for the few times I wanted to use it, but once I started getting into more serious night photography over in Hong Kong I ended up purchasing a much larger and sturdier tripod over there. Oh, and my backup camera was a tiny little 35mm rangefinder, a Yashica Electro 35 CC with a 35mm f/1.8 lens. It came in handy a few times when I didn’t want to bring one of my larger cameras out with me, and for a few days when my Minolta’s shutter died in Bangkok. Well, that’s enough writing. On to the pictures.

The Singapore Artscience Museum, in front of the downtown skyline and Marina Bay.

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Austria and Switzerland – Melk, Hallstatt and The Swiss Alps

If you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1 of this trip before reading on.

After Prague I decided to head back to Austria, to a city called Linz which was situated perfectly to give me relatively quick access to the cities of Melk and Hallstatt. I only spent about 12 hours in Linz, but from what I saw it looked like a very nice city. In 2009 Linz was voted as the Cultural Capital of all of Europe, so apparently it is. When I make it back to Austria someday I’m definitely going to stop by and really check this place out.

These kids were just sitting on the steps with a pile of empty pint-sized bottles in front of them. Keep in mind it was roughly 10 AM at this point.

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Austria and the Czech Republic – Innsbruck, Vienna and Prague

It’s been quite some time since I’ve updated this site, so I figured it was time for a redesign. I had pretty high hopes for Photosomnia back when I created it, but unfortunately it’s taken a backseat to my daily photoblog over at www.shuttermaki.com. Hopefully this will help breathe some new life into it, and motivate me to update it a little more often. To be honest, this site has taught me that while I still love the art of photography more than ever, my desire to write about it isn’t as great as I had hoped.

Now, on to the pictures. I recently took a trip to Europe spending about a week in Austria, a few days in Prague, and then ended up hiking around the Swiss Alps for a few days. This was quite the trip, and as you can imagine I have a ton of pictures to share. Normally when I go on a trip I’d just post the dozen or so images on my photoblog, but considering I have over 100 I needed to find a more efficient way to get these out for everyone that wants to see them.

All of these were shot on my Leica M6, the vast majority with my Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon, and a handful with my Leica 90mm f/4 Elmar C. I brought 3 different kinds of film on the trip with me, Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 400VC and Ilford HP5+. I’ll take you through my trip in chronological order as best I can remember, so without further ado here are some shots taken at the JFK and Zurich airports at the very start of my vacation. These were shot on HP5+ at ISO 400.

I always shoot the first frame on a roll as a ‘throw away’ shot, just in case I haven’t wound it far enough to get past the burn, but I rather liked this shot for some reason.

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Return to Iron Horse

Since my last Iron Horse post I have made two more trips, shooting mostly black and white film with a little digital thrown in. These trips were much more successful than the first, as I’m sure my results will show. It was a little disappointing however to find that they had removed all the buses from the repair yard. Despite this, some great new pictures were had in exploring parts of this complex that I had skipped the first time around.

I only used 2 lenses for these trips, my Canon 24mm 2.8 and Sigma 50mm 1.4 primes, which I would interchange between my Eos-1 and my 5D. First I will display a few of my digital shots from my first return trip, all of which were shot with the 50.

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Sakura Zensen

Well, the cherry blossoms are currently blooming, and I figured, what better time to photograph them? They are only in full bloom for a couple weeks, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, they are quite beautiful. I tried a couple different techniques here, the first of which was using my Sigma 50mm with a very shallow depth of field, so most of these shots were taken between f/1.4 and 2.8. My 5D was also used for all of these. I had contemplated using film, but I didn’t, so here are the first of the digital shots with the Sigma.

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