The Land of the Rising Sun: A Photo Essay

Misa Shikuma

 

Editor’s Note: Highbrow Magazine writer/photographer Misa Shikuma recently showcased her photos of Tokyo. This week, we feature Shikuma’s photos from Mt. Fuji, Chichibu and Kyoto.

 

Mt. Fuji:

Five and a half hours to go up and three to come back down – that was the plan for scaling Mt. Fuji. In reality it took at least an hour longer on the way up, not least because the narrow trail was jam-packed with people, but also it was nighttime.

 

Like hundreds of others, my family and I set off from the fifth station (located 2,300 meters up from sea level and about 1,400 meters from the peak) at 10:30pm in order to reach the summit by sunrise at 4:30am. We slept on the train and bus that took us from Tokyo to the highest peak in Japan, bringing along snacks, water, flashlights and extra layers for the chilly high-altitude temperatures. None of us had done any physical training in preparation, although in retrospect I wish I had – for days afterward I experienced unparalleled soreness.

 

Watching the sunrise from the top of a mountain is something so spectacular and breathtaking that words and photos don’t even come close to capturing the experience. The way that the sun, slowly at first, peeks up above the horizon, and from behind a zoom lens looks as though it sets the sky on fire; or how its upward progress gradually accelerates and leaves behind traces of pinks or oranges that only exist at dawn; and the way that the sun, once settled in the heavens, pierces the clouds with beams refracting like a prism onto the shadowy valleys below. A feat like this is no longer about seeing, but experiencing.

 

Chichibu:

Chichibu is only 90 minutes away from Tokyo by train, but contrast of the rural town with the urban capital makes it feel much further away. The few locals we ran into didn’t seem to speak any English, and it was common to see rice paddies nestled between stretches of buildings. But as fascinating as quaint village life was, the real reason we were there was for a pilgrimage, of sorts, to the many temples and shrines located in and around the town.

 

My father had been there years earlier, and so our only guides were his memory and an outdated book from 1990. Hence what we thought would be a casual stroll around six or seven of the sites turned into a 10-kilometer hike through quiet streets and silent forests. It was meditative, to say the least, and a welcome break from the noise and crowds of the city.

 

Kyoto:

Tokyo. Kyoto. Both rank among Japan’s biggest cities but, as their names suggest, felt like polar opposites.

 

In contrast to the ultra-modern Tokyo, Kyoto, the former imperial capital, is an eclectic mix of old and new. We stayed in a sparsely furnished but modern compound at the Shunko-in Buddhist temple, just minutes away by train from the chic shopping and dining area downtown. Nearby Gion has many well-preserved examples of traditional architecture and, if you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a geisha.

 

For the spiritually inclined there is no end to religious sites in Kyoto. Heian Jingu is a popular Shinto shrine, forever immortalized on film in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation as one of the places Scarlett Johansson’s character visits in her quest for self-enlightenment. But my personal favorite is the peculiar Fushimi Inari-taisha, where hundreds of closely placed red torii create winding passageways leading to the inner shrine at the base of the mountain Inari. Stone foxes (regarded as messengers in the Shinto religion) are commonplace throughout, making visitors feel protected as they revel in the shrine’s tranquility.

 

Author/Photographer Bio:

Misa Shikuma is a contributing writer and photographer at Highbrow Magazine. 

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