The hanami (花見) flower viewing) season has arrived in Japan, and the rush is on to enjoy, and photograph, the sakura (桜) cherry trees. If the sakura all blossomed on the same day every year, Japan would probably declare a national holiday so that everyone could enjoy it, but in reality the timing of the bloom can vary up to two or three weeks (this year was late) so finding a chance to escape work and get under the trees while the blossoms are mankai (満開) or "full bloom" can be a challenge. Hanami parties planned ahead of time are often too early, or too late, and then there is always the inevitable rain. The parties are fun, and if the revelers are drunk enough, they might not care if the timing is a little off, or if they end up sitting in the rain. But, my goal was to get photos and the timing was important, so given my work and schedule limitations, it turned out last Saturday morning was my best chance to catch the full bloom. The forecast called for rain, so after grabbing my camera bag and umbrella, I caught the first subway out of Fujigaoka, transferred to the Meitetsu line, and ended up at Iwakura Station. From there it was a five minute walk to Gojo River, which has been declared one of the hundred best places in Japan to view sakura. Though only an hour away by train, I had never been to Gojo River, but I had seen some breathtaking photos taken there, and decided to make it my goal for this year. With over 1,400 cherry trees lining the river for a 7.6 kilometer stretch, it really is a hanami goers dream. By the time I got to the river, it was about 6:40 A.M. and raining lightly, so there were not many people.I started off with my 24-70 lens, hoping to get some wide, scenic shots,
But, soon my attention was taken by the cries of the hiyodori (鵯) "brown-eared bulbul" birds in the trees. They were flying from tree to tree, bickering and pecking at the sakura blossoms. So, I quickly switched to my 70-200 zoom and sat for awhile, waiting for the hiyodori to get used to me so I could get some close-up shots.
There were also other birds, including a kosagi (小鷺) white egret, who prowled the river for food and then flew up into the branches of a sakura tree to rest, a couple of waddling ducks, and a little sparrow with a beak full of straw for her nest.
I could have spent the whole morning just shooting birds, but at some point decided I had enough bird photos, and went to look for other life forms, the most obvious being people. As I had gone to the river alone, candid shots were my only option, so I stuck with my telephoto lens, standing in and behind cherry trees so they would appear to by my photographic subject, but focusing instead on the people behind them. It was pretty easy to do as everyone was concentrating on getting photos of the sakura and themselves.
The rain was light and sporadic, but heavier rain the night before had left puddles along the walkway. Whenever I see a puddle, I like to walk around it and look at it from different angles to see what sort of reflections it might contain. I love how puddles can seem like windows into a parallel world. Again, I used an innocent bystander as a subject. (In case you're trying to figure it out, I flipped the first photo upside down in post production.)
Even without birds or humans, the sakura trees and river were an inspiring sight. Over the decades the sakura trees have extended their branches out from both sides of the river so that, when covered in blossoms, they create a tunnel of pink. I like to use a shallow depth of field when photographing the blossoms to give the scene a soft, "bokeh"ed look. The bright yellow nanohana (菜の花) rape blossoms provided a nice contrast to the subtle pink of the sakura. By mid-morning the rain had gotten harder and despite my umbrella, my camera was starting to act funny (it has been sensitive to moisture ever since I took it on the school ski trip in the rain last January), so I decided to wrap it up. Since Saturday, there has been more rain, and now the petals are falling, so I feel fortunate to have gotten in a solid morning under the mankai trees.