Tuesday, July 26, 2005

What to Photograph in Kyoto

When most people think of Japan, they probably come up with an image of the bustling, neon-lit streets of Tokyo. They think of technology and Toyotas. This is a legitimate concept of modern Japan, but if that's all you think of, then you are missing out on a lot. To catch a glimpse of old-world Japan, head to Kyoto.

Kyoto was actually the capital of Japan until 1868, when the emperor's residence was moved to Tokyo. Because Kyoto is a former capital city, there are many important temples and shrines that are worth visiting and photographing. Some of these structures are in their original forms and are hundreds of years old. Others have been rebuilt after being leveled by wars, fires, earthquakes, or other natural disasters. If you do make it to Kyoto someday, you should definitely visit the following places.

One of the most famous sightseeing stops in Kyoto is the Golden Pavilion, which is a Zen temple. The original structure was begun in 1397, and stood until 1950 when it was deliberately set on fire by a monk. Therefore, the Golden Pavilion that you see today is a replica. I recommend bringing a camera that has a high optical zoom (or else bringing a camera that can accept different lenses) because you won't be able to get very close to the Golden Pavilion. The temple sits on the edge of a pond, and visitors must stick to a path that winds around the outside of the pond. To get a direct photograph of the front of the Golden Pavilion, you have to stand on the opposite edge of the pond, which means you are going to be about 60 yards or so away from the subject. As you move closer to the Pavilion by following the path, you will only be able to get a side view of the temple.

Another great place for a photograph is the Kiyomizu Temple, which dates back to 780. This temple is located high atop a hillside, which means you have to do some stair-climbing to get to it. So, if you have very heavy photographic equipment, you might want to think about leaving some things behind and bringing only the essentials to this temple. You will get a great panoramic shot of eastern Kyoto from the viewing platform of the temple.

Finally, you should stop by Nijo Castle for more great photo opportunities. Nijo Castle was built in 1603, and the cool thing about it is that it is made almost entirely from wood. Over the last 400 years, the wood has become worn and smooth in the high-traffic areas, which I think is neat. There is no flash photography allowed inside the castle, so you will have to content yourself with pictures of the outside of the structure and the surrounding grounds. Nijo Castle is longer than it is tall, so a wide angle lens would serve you well here.

All of the places listed here are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so please don't violate any of their photography policies. Have fun shooting in Kyoto!

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