Thank you Japan for a wonderful trip and memories. We love every moment of it, the food, the people, beautiful country and landscape. Everywhere we went, we felt welcome. Everytime we needed help, someone offered it to us even they can’t communicate in English.

 I haven’t been here for 19 years and was looking forward to coming back. Definitely felt like more people can speak english but that may partly be because we get used to no english in China.

Eight days on backpack went by so fast and we pretty much stayed in all types of accommodation from business hotel, farm house, ryokan, traditional house to temple. Airport benches are excluded from this trip though. We took the new D800 with us and the 24-70mm lense as she is very new and we need to get to know each other.



Our flight from Shanghai was delayed by 2 hours due to air traffic congestion and we just sat there on the runway waiting for the clearance. We arrived Nagoya at around 11pm ,  almost didn’t make it to the last train to the city. Luckily the business hotel is not too far from the Meitetsu station. It’s pretty much check in and light off. The next day was going to be a long day.



The next morning we headed back to Nagoya Meitetsu station to catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto and then transit to Nara. JR rail pass would have been handy to have and is available only for the foreigner. Basically, it is unlimited use of rail network over 7 days  (There are many options to choose) except on the Nozomi. We calculated and the cost of rail ticket for the whole trip and it is still cheaper than the JR pass so we didn’t buy it.

Shikansen Hikari.


And our Nozomi train arrived, right on time. From Nagoya to Kyoto was just 20 minutes.


Once we arrived in Kyoto, we had to changed to the slow train. Having seen the Nara Mascot, Sento-kun (せんとくん) we know we are at the right track.

Rice field

We arrived at Nara Kintetsu Station at 9am. In Japan, it is common that you can only check in after 3pm but if you need to drop off you bags and come back later that’s ok, which was exactly what we did.  The intention was to wander around town and get back just before the curfew.
On the way to our backpacker house.

We were lucky as the weather turned out to be really nice. Since moving to Shanghai, the sky is always full of smogs and haze so it never gets this blue. This remind me of a nice autumn day in the UK.


At the entrance of the backpacker house. This house is 90 years old and used to be owned by a tea ceremony teacher. Inside it is quite large and exquisite (for me anyway). There is a courtyard, a tea ceremony room which is very unusual even for Japanese.


After dropped our backpacks, it’s time to go explore the city.


For an architect, coming to Japan is similar to being on a pilgrim trip. Japanese architecture and gardens are very advance of their times. Many design principles has been adopted and form basis of which many European and American Modernist architects applied in their thinking -The framed view of  building with natural setting, the organic form but yet very controlled, expression of structure, abstraction, etc.
My thesis on virtual building many years ago referred heavily to the human experience with Zen garden, so it was amazing to see those famous one.

Our first stop was at Yoshiki Garden (吉城園の池). Interesting small garden.


Pao is hard at work shooting the 50mm.


Entering the Tōdai-ji Temple (東大寺) where deers can be seen roaming freely and are believed to be messengers of Shinto gods. You can buy Senbei to feed them but be warned, ten of them will come out of nowhere to surround you. We saw a girl being chased by a whole pack while trying to feed them.

This deer makes a fantastic photo model as he sat there really still, so still I was convince he was a statue.

Large wooden gate at the great Buddha hall which house the bronze Daibutsu – Buddha statue.


Lucky charms for various wishes can be bought at the temple. I think the last time I went in an exam with a pregnancy charm, it didn’t work that well.

Strobist deer. He is just looking for Senbei.

A man pulling rickshaw near Nara Park. I have just realised the word Rickshaw came from Japanese word, jin-rikisha.


What’s great about Nara is that it’s not very big and most of the temple, with an exception on one or two, are located around the nara park. So you can see most of the place by simply just walk.
Nigatsu-dō Temple (二月堂)

Walking around Nara park, we also went to Kasuga Taisha Shrine (春日大社) which is famous for the bronze and stone lanterns donated by worshipers. The shrine is very photogenic with red timber structure and hundreds of gold metal lanterns.


The D800 is very good in low light than our old camera in both the focusing and handling the ISO noise. This image was shot at 1/15 and ISO1000, literally no visible noise.


I have been wondering about why most of the good architectural lighting consultant are from Japan. In Shanghai most of the building are way over lit with really cheesy multi colour light features that glitter like star but when you go to Hong kong or Tokyo, the lighting is very simple and elegant. I guess the answer is in these photos. They uses a lot of natural, diffuse, non-diffused light and shadow even in traditional building.

A Shinto priest chanting.


These stone lanterns are lit twice a year in the lantern festival around February and mid-August. It’s something we really like to see and probably make a very beautiful night portrait. However, to get the visit timing right is probably unlikely unless we live in Japan.

We also walked around the city area after all the temples closed. Nara is a very lovely city, not as big and busy as Kyoto but big enough to sustain your interest in exploring the  neighbourhood. Weather play a key part to make it more enjoyable and the sunset make everything more beautiful.


When seeing a small street with many shops like this one in the photo, it looks quirky. When seeing it in Thailand or China it looks messy. Not quite sure why, still trying to figure out the differences.


Everywhere we look there are textures, colours, patterns. The street is very rich with details.
The D800 can also handle such a high dynamic range really well. Where we have high contrast with strong sunlight casting shadow in the adjacent areas, the sensor can capture the image with detail on the highlight and in the shadow. I’m definitely loving this camera.

The camera has no problem shooting the really high contrast scene. I was metering the sky -2 stops. Detail on the bronze can still be seen and much of it can be recover if needed. The lense also has a very minimal flare and ghosting even when shooting directly into the sun. I can’t wait to use it in the next official shoot.


We came across a japanese sweet shop 御菓子司なかにし which apparently is very famous.  Everything inside the display looks like a art piece. We didnt take any picture of the interior and the sweet but you can see the panorama from google streetview here


Food replicas.


After all day of walking, we were glad to come back to a lovely house. This is the room that we stayed in – A typical japanese 10-mat room in a traditional japanese house. This type of room is probably very common to the local but seeing from a fresh eye, it reminded me how amazingly simple and flexible a space can be used. The western style house need a dedicated bedroom which is well, pretty much useless during the day when you are not sleeping. The traditional room with futon that can be stored away during the day allowing it to be used as living room is actually make much more efficient use of space. It reminded me of modern hotel with bath tub in your room which using the ‘new’ concept of overlaping space between 2 functions to reduce the room size. I guess the concept is not that new. We have learned it and forgotten it.

Probably the most advance thinking of that time is the use of Shoji screen which is lightweight skin that allow natural light inside the room but keep the privacy, the screen can be fully opened and allow different rooms or corridor to combine with the room. The space between perimeter glazing and screen is used as corridor and, at the same time, an air cavity  to prevent cold air get into the living space.

Contemplating the imminent labouring work?

Nara has been great. Next destination Kyoto.
More to come.