Photo Friday: It’s Not This Time of Year Without… Illumination

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Landmark Tower Yokohama Illumination

Photo Friday Challenge: It’s Not This Time of Year Without… 

This week’s Photo Friday Challenge is perfect for the season – It’s not this time of year without… Illumination! Yesterday I talked about my Christmas wish list of things that remind me of winter in Japan, and today I have narrowed it down to the one thing that I miss most about Christmas in Japan. Illumination イルミネーション consists of Christmas light displays that range from local characters to famous Disney princesses.

Venetian Glass Museum

Santa’s escapades at the Venetian Glass Museum, Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture
– photo by kei

Crowds of people mill around the light displays, taking photos and enjoying the spectacle. Couples on a date, families with children, and spectators of all ages can enjoy the illumination. Despite the cold everyone enjoys the atmosphere of the season. While there are Christmas displays in major American cities too, Japan’s illuminations are a completely different event.

Tokyo Skytree Illumination

Tokyo Skytree Town Illumination – photo by kei

Visiting different illuminations in different cities gives you a small taste of the local culture, show off amazing creativity, and I love to try to visit as many as possible. For example, the Disney princesses are located throughout Tokyo in major shopping centers, etc. So if you visit each of the areas where the princesses are, you can take photos of all of them. I suppose it’s like collecting trading cards or Pokemon!

What completes your holiday season? What about holiday traditions from other countries that you enjoy? Let me know in the comments!

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Photo Friday: Quest / Mt. Takao

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Mt. Takao

Photo Friday Challenge: Quest

In June, my husband and I hiked Mt. Takao 高尾山 in Hachioji 八王子市, a suburb of Tokyo, Japan. Our quest was to make it to the top of Mt. Takao, and on a hot, humid day just before the official beginning of the rainy season or tsuyu 梅雨, we set off for the summit.

Mt. Takao Wooden Staircase

The humidity pressed down on us as we climbed a series of wooden staircases interspersed by regular hiking trails. We had taken the longest hiking course, which offered the best scenic stops between the walls of green of the forest on the way up. My husband is not as big a fan of hiking as I am, so I’m sure the quest seemed a lot longer to him than it did to me.

View from the Summit of Mt. Takao

When we finally made it to the summit, we found a cloudy view from the top. The humidity pressed down, even at the top, but the occasional cool breeze was very welcome. Even though the early rainy season humidity and clouds blocked most of the view, we had a sense of accomplishment from reaching the summit after all of our efforts. Our quest for the top done, we enjoyed drinks from the high-priced summit vending machines and watched the other people who had just finished their own personal quest.

Shops at Mt. Takao

Then, we headed back down the descent path and enjoyed the small shops at the foot of the mountain before heading back towards the bustle of Tokyo.

What kind of quest have you undertaken recently? What is your favorite part of the journey? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Friday: Transmogrify / Hoodoos

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Wyoming Hoodoos

Photo Friday Challenge: Transmogrify

Today’s Photo Friday Challenge is “Transmogrify,” which means “to change in appearance or form, especially strangely or grotesquely; transform.” Rocks known as hoodoos are a prime example of transmogrification. What is a hoodoo? In geology, it’s a column of rock that is weathered by the elements (rain, wind, etc.) into a usually top-heavy form.

View through the Hoodoos

View through the hoodoos in Wyoming, and some of the water that helps form the hoodoos – photo by kei

These hoodoos from the Wind River Basin in the US state of Wyoming are made of sandstone, and thus they have a soft look about them. You can see them throughout the northwest US and into Canada. The same structures appear throughout the world, and there some spectacular examples in places like Taiwan and New Zealand, which I unfortunately have been unable to visit.

Hoodoos form where rock that resists weathering lays on top of softer, more easily weathered rock. The softer rock weathers away faster, and the more resistant rock rests precariously on top. Sometimes it’s the same rock, like these sandstone hoodoos, and in other cases the two rocks are of different types. Usually, hoodoos are found in national parks and other desolate areas (like the ones I found in Wyoming), so you might have to hike to find them.

Have you ever seen a hoodoo? What is your favorite geology feature? Hot springs? Volcanoes? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Friday: Mirror / Tokyo Skytree

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Tokyo Skytree Mirror View

Photo Friday: Mirror

For the “Mirror” Photo Friday Challenge, I picked this photo of the Tokyo Skytree. I took this photo when I was in Tokyo this June, because I am always amazed at the size of the tower as it looms over the Tokyo skyline. The Tokyo Skytree is relatively new, and I think that most people still associate Tokyo with the more famous, although slightly shorter, Tokyo Tower. However, in June I finally got the chance to go to the top of the Skytree and to see out of it. The previous times I’ve gone, it’s always been cloudy and so I didn’t want to pay to go to the top just to see clouds and maybe nearby Asakusa.

What I didn’t realize when I took this shot from the ground is that the Skytree is reflected in the building to the left, like a mirror. This gives the Skytree an asymmetrical look at the bottom. I love to photograph architecture in a unique way, and although this asymmetrical effect was unintentional, I am quite happy with the result!

What kind of mirrors do you see around you? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Friday: Shine / Maui Sunset

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Sunset in Maui

Photo Friday Challenge: Shine

Today’s Photo Friday Challenge is called “Shine” – and I immediately thought of the shining sun. I’m quite fond of the sun, and I enjoy being outside when I have time off or when I travel. I love to view the sunrise and sunset wherever I travel, and I especially enjoyed watching the sun set on the lovely Hawaiian island of Maui. I also saw a few sunrises, but I usually went paddle boarding in the early morning, so I didn’t bring along my camera!

Catching the sun behind the clouds makes the sun shine since it doesn’t wash out the shot with light, but rather filters it around the clouds. Maui is primarily a resort island, but whenever I watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean at the end of the day, the atmosphere was calm and peaceful as if I was the only person on the island. I think this is part of the magic of tropical islands.

What is your favorite time of day – sunrise, sunset, midday? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Friday: H2O / Koi

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Koi - Japanese Friendship Garden

Photo Friday: H2O

Today’s theme is H2O – water. I enjoy water features in gardens, lakes, and of course the ocean. The elements of water included in Japanese gardens are always particularly beautiful, and the koi pond in the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego, CA is no exception. I caught this group of koi swimming around on a sunny March afternoon, as they created ripples in their wake. The sun catching the ripples and reflecting on the dappled patterns of the koi created an interesting shot.

Do you find water features to be relaxing? What kind of water features are your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Friday: Frame / Lava Tube

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Maui - Waianapanapa State Park

Photo Friday: Frame

At Wai’anapanapa State Park in Maui off the Road to Hana Highway, I crawled into a lava tube to take this photo of the surf beyond the beach. The black sand that makes up the beach here comes from the weathered dark volcanic basalt, which forms the lava tubes. Using the dark lava tube to frame the photo brings the attention to the waves beyond, and the beautiful blue color of the ocean.

Stooping to go through the lava tube – that’s big enough to enter but not quite big enough to stand up in – it’s incredible to think about the volume of lava that passed through the tunnel. Lava on the big island still flows out of long active tubes like this one, and someday perhaps others will crawl through the remnants of those lava tunnels! Black sand beaches are unique to areas with volcanic deposits that create the unique sand color. This black sand beach is a little less comfortable than white sand beaches, as the gravel size of the black sand creates a surface that’s not enjoyable to walk on in your bare feet, but with sandals it’s still a really cool beach!

What is your favorite beach trip? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Friday: Edge / City Scape

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City Scape

Photo Friday Challenge: Edge

This Photo Friday Challenge theme is “Edge” and I immediately thought of this photo, where I caught several buildings grouped together, and framed an additional building in the reflection on a windowed building. I was wandering around downtown Oklahoma City, OK and when I looked up, I captured what I think is a visually interesting scene. The trees at the bottom of the scene soften the sharp edges of the buildings.

Do you have a favorite city scape? Let me know where in the comments!

Photo Friday: Rare / Hydrangeas

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Kamakura Hasedera Hydrangeas

Photo Friday Challenge: Rare

Japan is full of things that are fascinating and rare to the Western world, so for the Photo Friday Challenge “Rare” I could have picked many things. For this challenge, I picked hydrangeas or ajisai アジサイ. While hydrangeas themselves are not rare, the season in which hydrangeas bloom is relatively short. And while hydrangeas are blooming, people make trips to view hydrangeas. This is similar to the tradition of flower viewing or hanami 花見 for cherry blossoms or sakura 桜. The tradition of viewing flowers that are in season is very Japanese.

Hydrangeas bloom during the rainy season, or tsuyu 梅雨, which is literally translated to plum rain because plums come into season during tsuyu. The rains are strong and last for as long as two months. This year I was in Tokyo just prior to the start of the rainy season, which started the day I left. In the week leading up to tsuyu it was hot and humid because it wasn’t raining, but it gave a cloudy grey backdrop to make the beautiful blue and purple hues of the hydrangeas pop.

What kind of seasonal traditions does your hometown or country have? Let me know in the comments!

Photo Friday: Fun! / Sanno Matsuri Children

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Sanno Matsuri Children

Photo Friday Challenge: Fun!

What expresses Fun better than children? These kids are pulling the mikoshi 神輿 (also 御輿), a portable shrine in which a deity is enshrined, at the 2016 Sanno Festival or Sannou Matsuri 山王祭 in Tokyo, Japan.

The Sanno Matsuri is a summer festival, held in mid June on even numbered years in Tokyo. The Kanda Matsuri is held on odd numbered years. This photo was taken during the grand procession, which begins at Hie Shrine 日枝神社, winds its way through Tokyo for nine hours, and then finally returns to Hie Shrine. There are several places to view the procession, and we caught it on June 10th in Ginza.

Watching the children, who had already been traveling around Tokyo in the hot sun for hours, give it their best as they escorted the mikoshi, and still having fun as they walked beside cars and waited at stoplights in the heat, I was quite impressed at their endurance. As people lined either side of the Ginza streets, we cheered them on in their efforts. Even the adults accompanying them seemed to be having fun!

What do you think of when you hear the theme of fun? Let me know in the comments!