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Fodor’s Travel – Essential Japan

In spring 2022 I spent several months traveling around Japan updating four chapters of the guidebook Essential Japan by Fodor’s Travel.

It was great to be back in Hokkaido, and introduce some of the amazing places to ski and snowboard, plus fantastic opportunities for wildlife watching.

Noboribetsu Date Jidai Mura (Historical viallge) Edo period theme park, Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido, Japan

In Kyushu I had great experiences exploring the volcanic scenery of the island, and meeting some amazing people.

Head Priest Eishu Sato at the Amanoiwato Jinja, Shinto Shrine, Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan
A miko (巫女), or shrine maiden at Takachiho Shrine, a Shinto shrine amongst cedar trees, Takachiho, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan
Fujisaki-san, a master of Kagura the Shinto ritual performance telling the stoires of the gods. Wearing the white mask to perform The Dance of Tajikarao. Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan
Artist Yutaka Isozaki at his gallery in Yufuin, Oita, Kyushu, Japan
El Patio Ranch, Frontier Horses, Aso, Kumamoto Kyushu, Japan

My time in Western Honshu was when the cherry blossom was in full bloom, so many of the sights were looking particularly stunning.

Kintaikyo Bridge and Cherry Blossom, Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Western Honshu, Japan
Motoyasu-gawa River, Hiroshima City, Western Honshu, Japan
Motoyasu-gawa River, cherry blossom, Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima City, Western Honshu, Japan
Himeji Castle with cherry blossom, Himeji, Hyogo, Hoshu, Japan

I’ve been updating the Okinawa chapter for numerous editions of the guidebook, but my daughter has given me new insights into what makes attractions, hotels, or beaches family friendly.

Updating the guidebook also revealed how tough the pandemic has been for many people and businesses. So many restaurants, bars, and even hotels had closed for good. As things return to (a new) normal I hope that everyone is able to get back on their feet once again.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – Kyushu Edition :)

Season finale of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power tonight.

Reminded me that I hadn’t shared the pics I took when visiting the El Patio Ranch in Aso, Kyushu.

Active volcanoes gurgle away across the region, but the blackened landscape is actually due to noyaki grass burning that takes place each March. Burning the old grass encourages fresh new growth, which produces rich pasture for the local cows.

The El Patio Ranch is located in Aso and visitors can take short rides around the area. The ranch dogs often join for the walk, and seem to be loving life in Kyushu’s version of Mordor.

I gave the pics a quick colour grade, and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio crop to get in the mood for tonight’s finale

El Patio Ranch, Frontier Horses, Aso, Kumamoto Kyushu, Japan
El Patio Ranch, Frontier Horses, Aso, Kumamoto Kyushu, Japan
El Patio Ranch, Frontier Horses, Aso, Kumamoto Kyushu, Japan
Landscape after grass burning “Noyaki” in March to encourage new grass growth. Road closure and area closure due to level of volcanic activity. Mt, Aso, Aso City, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

Amanoiwato Jinja, Takachiho

Amanoiwato Jinja is a sacred shrine in Takachiho. I was lucky enough to get a guided tour by the head priest Sato-san.

Torii gate of Amanoiwato Jinja, Shinto Shrine, Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan
Omikuji fortune papers with picture of the god Tajikarao who lifted the rock door to free Amaterasu. Amanoiwato Jinja, Shinto Shrine, Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan
Head Priest Eishu Sato at the Amanoiwato Jinja, Shinto Shrine, Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan
Head Priest Eishu Sato using an onusa for purification at the Amanoiwato Jinja, Shinto Shrine, Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan

Takachiho Shrine, Miyazaki

In spring, while on assignment in Kyushu, I spent a couple of days in Takachiho which is famous for its gorge, and the kagura performances.

Another notable site is the Takachiho Shrine which is hidden in amongst many giant cedars.

Honda S660 at the torii gate of Takachiho Shrine, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan

As a Shinto shrine, the entrance is marked by a giant torii gate. There are komainu guardians, flanking the steps to the main shrine buidling, and another sacred komainu housed inside.

Guardian statue at Takachiho Shrine
Ema prayer tablet showing cedar trees at Takachiho Shrine

Ema, prayer tablets, that are unique to the shrine, can be purchased to write your hope and dreams. Omikuji, fortune papers, tell what your future holds. These are sold in the little shrine shop manned by the miko (巫女), shrine maidens, who are dressed in red and white.

Takachiho Shrine at dusk.

As I was visiting officially, I was able to ask the staff if I could take a photograph of one of the miko in front of the shrine. This is not something I’d usually be able to do, so a huge thank you to the staff of the shrine for being so friendly and accommodating.

A miko (巫女), or shrine maiden at Takachiho Shrine

All pics taken with the Sony A7RIV and the FE 24-105 f4 lens which is a great combination for travel photography when you need one lens for many different situations.

Takachiho Gorge, Miyazaki, Kyushu

Takachiho Gorge ( 高千穂峡, Takachiho-kyō ) is a small but very pretty gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu. The sides of the gorge are made of basalt columns, one reminder of the areas volcanic history.

Another indicator of vulcanism is the giant boulder Kihachi-no-chikarashi which could be have been ejected by a volcano, or if you ask the locals, was thrown by the demon Kihachi.

Kihachi-no-chikarashi Rock a 200 Ton stone thrown by a demon Kihachi. Takachiho Gorge, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan

Tourists can rent rowing boats and explore the gorge from the river.

Takachiho Gorge, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan

Kagura – Takachiho

Fujisaki-san is a master of Kagura, the Shinto ritual performance that tells the stories of their gods. While in Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture, I had the chance to meet up with him, and photograph several of his performances.

Local legend is that Amaterasu Omikami, the goddess of the sun, once hid in a cave, plunging the world into darkness. The other gods worked together to bring her out of the cave, and bring back the light.

First Fujisaki-san performed the Uzume Dance in which he portrays the goddess Ame no Uzume who danced outside the cave to entice Amaterasu Omikami out. 

Dressed as the god Tajikarao, and wearing a white scowling mask, Fujisaki-san then performed The Dance of Tajikarao. In the myth this is when the god Tajikarao searches for the cave. 

The third performance was the Totori Dance. Fujisaki-san is still the god Tajikaro, but wearing a red mask. In the first pic, the straining red-faced Tajikarao removes the giant stone that closed the cave. 

After shooting inside Fujisaki-san’s home, I wanted to get a few shots in the forest next to his house.

Fujisaki-san, a master of Kagura the Shinto ritual performance telling the stories of the gods. Wearing the white mask to perform The Dance of Tajikarao. Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan

A huge thank you to Fujisaki-san and his family for letting me visit their home and take photographs. Thank you also to Aoi Hidaka for guiding me around Takachiho and her introductions, and to Kyushu Tourism for all their assistance.

Fujisaki-san, a master of Kagura in Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan

Images shot with the Sony A7RIVa with the Sony FE 24-105mm. For some images I used the Profoto B1 with the shoot through umbrella for flash.  

Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 Miyazaki, Kyushu

Udo Shrine is located around 40 kilometers south of Miyazaki City, in Kyushu.

 

Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.

The Beauty of Bise

Last week, Yuki and I photographed a lovely young lady in an elegant kimono amongst the fukugi trees of Bise Village. For a few hours I had to stop checking the news on my phone, and just focus on sharing the beauty and culture of Okinawa.

My heart goes out to all those suffering around the world, the horrors of the pandemic and war have claimed the lives of so many. It is hard not to feel overwhelmed by the bleakness of the last few years, but I try to remember all the good and positive things in the world.

The Okinawan people went through almost unimaginable suffering during the Second World War. When I talk to those that survived, I am always struck by their love of life, and the joy they have for their family, friends and culture.

I’ll continue to stay up to date with the news, but I’ll also do my best to be grateful for all that I have, and optimistic about the future for everyone in this global community.

Thank you to Jesika for modeling the kimono, and to Yuki for styling and assisting. Also, thank you to Bise Village for giving us location permission to shoot.

2021 Highlights

Another challenging year, but we were able to focus on the positives, and look to the future. Here are a few highlights.

In March, I released the documentary I made about Murata-san and his amazing Toyota 2000GT, a unicorn in the automotive world.

The Karate Masters Portrait Project continued, and we completed Season 1 of the documentary series Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate.

2021 was also the first time local media contacted James Pankiewicz and I about our goals to document Okinawa’s martial arts heritage. The Ryukyu Shimpo interviewed us for their website and discussed the project on their podcast. https://ryukyushimpo.jp/news/entry-1439603.html…

In October, I was part of a BeOkinawa campaign to help promote tourism to Okinawa. It was interesting to be on the other side of the camera, and to work with a team of people who are also passionate about the Ryukyu Islands.

In November, I had the amazing opportunity to record Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.

Meanwhile we’ve been making some preparations for 2022, with the construction of a retaining wall and the leveling of land. Jasmine was so excited by the diggers, she convinced us that she needed her own.

Much to Jasmine’s excitement, Christmas finally arrived, and the three of us enjoyed the holidays surrounded by cake, teddy bears, and dinosaurs.

I hope 2022 is a much better year for everyone. I know many people around the world are waiting to come back to Okinawa, and likewise hopefully we’ll visit the UK. Jasmine already has plans to show Gran and Grandpa her newly acquired digger skills .

Morinobu Maeshiro, 真栄城 守信 10th dan Shorin-Ryu Karate

Morinobu Maeshiro, 真栄城 守信 is 10th dan in Shorin-ryu Karate, and an Intangible Cultural Asset Holder in the Field of Okinawan Karate and Martial Arts with Weaponry. I photographed him for the first time at the Budokan in 2014, but I was pleased to be able to photograph him again in 2021, this time at his dojo in Naha City.

After taking some new portraits, we set up the cameras and recorded a 45-minute interview with him discussing his life spent studying karate, his teachers, and his own philosophies. This will become Episode 1 of Series Two of Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate.

After the interview, we then streamed an online seminar which was watched live by his students around the world. The seminar was also recorded and will be available on Bujin.TV from mid-December.

You can learn more about the portrait project and the documentary series by clicking on the “Karate” tab on this blog, or by following this link.

Thank you so much to Maeshiro Sensei for his time, and to Nicolás Pérez for setting up the shoot, interview, and seminar.