The JH Sundex

Second Insane Sunset Photo

I’ve devised a system for rating how photogenic a sunset or sunrise was. I’m calling it the JH Sundex. It goes from 0-10. The JH Sundex will measure how much light ,color and texture there is in a given sunrise or sunset. It’s totally subjective.Using the JH Sundex as a guide, you can rate your own photos, or blast out a heads up about a super sunset/rise. Tonight I saw a sunset that was a mid to high 8 on the JH Sundex. There was plenty of light, color and texture. It was amazing.

I’m thinking that with this system, 10 will be an ideal. Unattainable. The highest levels will be factors of 9. I will have to flesh it out a bit more with examples.

I’ll use the photo up top as my first example. I’ll look at four factors: Composition, light, color and texture.

The photo has an okay composition, but it’s not that great. However, the light color and texture are spectacular. I believe this sunset came about due to standing wave clouds near Mt.Iwate, so due to the rarity of the event and all the elements put together, I would probably give it a 7.8 or 7.9 on the JH Sundex.

New Ride

I forgot to mention this on the blog, but as of May 2, I’m the new owner of a 2013 Mazda Demio Skyactiv. This model is the Mazda 2 in North America. It’s the first new car I’ve ever owned. I bought it because I was looking for a fuel efficient auto, and this thing gets 30km/L. I’m pretty pumped about that. I’m thinking of using the blog to track my history with the car and the odometer readings. I will outline some of the early milestones in this post.

Purchase Mileage: 8km
May 4: 100km
May 11: 250km

I should hit the 500km mark sometime in the next two days. I’ll post when that happens. Might as well use my blog for something. Haha.

If you have a new car and you’re tracking its history as well, feel free to share your blog with me.

My Best shot of 2012

The years just keep rolling along,  and this will be my eighth year of churning out serious photography. By serious, I mean I put a great deal effort into finding the location, composing the shot and post-processing. This is how I differentiate serious photography from my snapshots. Oh, there are times when I can get snapshots that look as good as my serious work, but those times are quite rare. In fact, these days, most of my snapshots are taken on my iPhone, and you’ll probably never see them. They just don’t hold up to my work on flickr. Unless I’m out looking for something specifically using my iPhone. I still use DSLRs for most of the heavy lifting. It would be hard to capture many of my photos on anything but DSLR camera, or one of those new(and expensive) mirrorless cameras. They allow me to select the lens and choose how far to step up or down in light. Camera phones are getting closer to this, but I don’t think they’ll ever do what my other equipment can do.

Anyway, before I announce my Best shot of 2012, here is a list of the previous winners from back when I started keeping track of the best of the year.



See you on the other side


一本桜 (The One Cherry Tree)


Edge of Heaven


The Place I met you in my dreams


And finally, this year’s Best shot. I fell in love with this the minute I took and couldn’t believe what I had. I went out there looking for a cherry blossom tree photo. I never expected the clouds to be like that. It was a pleasant surprise. And there it is,

One Tree vs The World

My iPhone might have just saved my life

In  the last couples of hours I just went through a pretty large earthquake. It didn’t help that I was driving at the time. Oh, and the roads were icy as heck. Here is how it went down.

I’m almost home from my daily commute from Ashiro to Matsuo (about 30 minutes) The road conditions are poor and it’s snowing. Then, out of nowhere, my iPhone starts blaring. I know immediately that this is the built in Earthquake warning system. I slowed my car down from 50km/h to about 30km/h, then things start shaking like there is no tomorrow. Even at 30km/h I was having trouble keeping it on the road. It feels like I’m driving on an uneven dirt road. I did manage to keep control, and the quake subsided.  I figured I had about 10 seconds from the alarm to the quake. Not a lot of time, but enough to get my car under control.  Scary stuff. All is ok. I got the car under control and home with no major issues.

Some folks are asking me which app I used. This one is built into all iPhones sold in Japan.  I am ok, and there doesn’t seem to be any damage. But, boy am I glad that system was in place. Apple and the Japanese Government had the best coop deal in the world there.

Oh, I should also mention that many other phones in Japan have this feature built in. It isn’t exclusive only to the iPhone. I’m just glad it was there.

The Earliest Sunset in Hachimantai

©2012 Jason Hill

We are  getting closer to the earliest sunset of the year. November 23 is what I like to call the “One month pit.” What I mean by this, is that on November 23, the sun will set at 4:14pm (setting earlier the next day), then one month later it will set again at 4:14pm (setting later the next day). In my area the earliest sunset will be on December 2 at 4:10pm and stay that way until December 13. During this month of darkness, it’s almost impossible for me to do any photography after work since it’s pitch black when I’m finished. I usually have to wait until early March until I can get any after work photography done.

One thing you should keep in mind is that the earliest sunset of the year is earlier than the solstice, which in my case is December 21, and due to the geometry of our orbit and how we measure time compared to this, it’s usually about two weeks earlier than solstice. This time is also different depending on your time zone and what latitude you live in. I use the iPhone app “Darkness” to figure this out. If you are a photographer and you want to take advantage of that “golden light”, you should start to learn about when the sun sets and rises in your area. It will help you in planning for your shoots.

For a better explanation, check out this article on Earth Sky  for more info. Here is a loose order of events:

[Earliest Sunset  – Winter Solstice – Latest Sunrise]

There is usally a two-week gap between all them, but it really depends on where you live.




Remember November

©2012 Jason Hill

2013 is next year, and if you look back into the archives of my blog, you’ll see that 2003 is when I came to Japan. In fact, this blog actually began before I arrived. I created it just after I found out I was coming to Japan. I didn’t even know where I would be placed. It’s all ancient history now. So much has happened in that time. Empires have risen and fallen. I lived through a massive earthquake and tsunami, and many other have struggled through Hurricanes and floods. I lived in Senmaya for three years, and now I’ve live in Hachimantai. It was a time before Facebook, Twitter, iPhone, Prius. Funny to imagine such a time today. It was a time before time itself.

So what is so important about November? Well, if you go back to the time before I made the blog, before I was even accepted on the JET programme, you’ll see that I had to have started the application at some point. And, if I remember it correctly, ’twas November 18 I submitted my application. Therefore November is the very beginning of my tenth anniversary in Japan. The actual anniversary will be July 18, 2013, but I plan some small celebrations leading up to it. This is my first little party. I doubt most of you still even read this blog anymore. That is partially because I don’t write here much. I’d like to change that. We’ll see.

Anyways, happy November.

Autumn in Northern Japan 2010

Every year, autumn comes to my little corner of northern Japan. I always great it with a smile, but I know it will be a fleeting visit. Unlike Kyoto or Tokyo, Autumn arrives in Iwate quickly and it only lasts for a handful of weeks. I treasure every moment I have with it. This year, I took many photos during the autumn season. Autumn in Hachimantai can be thought of as two sub seasons: The color season, and the golden season. For this years photos I will show you some of my best examples of each sub season. If you can, you should really try to come here during the autumn season. Japan becomes one of the most beautiful places on Earth during this time. Well, at least in my humble opinion.

The Color Season

Break it Down

Autumn Soup

Rainbow Hachimantai

Fall in Full Gear

When gold and crimson are with us

Autumn Leaves. Autumn Bugs

A Place to Rest

Autumn Backgrounds in Japan

The Golden Season

The Patterns of Autumn

Golden Autumn

Golden Forest

Looking out over Hachimantai City at Sunset

Golden Pillars

Tohoku Free Blades Ice Hockey Club

Being a hockey fan in Japan is not an easy thing. Despite living in northern Japan and even playing hockey in Morioka, it is tough to find my hockey fix. However, with the introduction of a new local team, I think I may have just found what I am looking for. The Tohoku Free Blades.

Professional hockey in Japan has had its share of ups and downs over the years. All of the turbulence is due to the fact that hockey is just not a dominant player in Japanese sport. In a country dominate by baseball, sumo and soccer, sports such and volleyball and even handball routine drown ice hockey in the headlines. There is nothing wrong with that. To each their own I say. But there is a core group of fans and players and for the moment, they have the Asia League to turn to.

The AL is league made up of teams from China, Korea and Japan. they play a regular season followed by a brief playoff tournament. A northern team based out of Hachinohe joined the league last year. They are called the Tohoku Free blades, and they represent my area. I got the chance to see a game when they came to Morioka earlier this year. They played ‘Halla Korea’ the eventual season champions. They lost the game, but it was a fairly exciting game . I would compare it to tier 2 Junior hockey back in Canada, though it did have its Major junior moments. There was even a nice fight that broke out.

Given the instability of the league at moment, I am not going to hold my breathe on how long it was last, but I given some updates to the progress of the Free Blades and their 2010 season when the new becomes readily available. For now I am going to try and purchase a ‘season’ ticket and make sure I can see them when they are playing in their home rink and in Morioka.

Mt.Iwate and Lenticular Clouds

Living in northern Japan has its share of good and bad. Being in a smaller area means that you have less access to major shopping and entertainment facilities. These are downsides many people could not stand to live without. One major bonus, however, is the incredible amount of raw nature a person can experience. In my little area of Northern Japan, Hachimantai City, located in Iwate Prefecture, I live not 15 kilometers from Mt.Iwate, one of Japan’s one hundred famous mountains.

The Mountain
Mt.Iwate as seen from Hachimantai City

Now Mt. Iwate is famous for a number of reasons. It looks just like Mt.Fuji from some angles. It’s a great mountain for climbing, and its snow cap paints a picturesque view in the winter. Recently, I have discovered that Mt.Iwate, like other cone shaped volcanoes such as Fuji and Mt. Rainer act as amazing lenticular cloud making machines.

Lenticular Kind of Day

Lenticular Clouds near Mt.Iwate

Lenticular clouds are saucer shaped clouds that are often seen stacked like pancakes near large mountains. On certain days winds rolling off the mountains create a standing wave. If stable and moist the air is around the mountain and falling downwind when the dew point is reached, the disks condense into clouds will stack up on each other. Every year, many people call the police to report these odd clouds. They looks either like a flying saucer or a cover for one. they are perfectly normal clouds. But you tend to find them around mountains.

Mt.Iwate has been a perfect source of lenticular clouds this year, and I’ve had my camera going most of this summer trying to document them. The following is what I have recorded so far. Sometimes, the lenticular clouds bend and warp out of shape and form incredible bulges in the sky. Once or twice a year, they provide for a spectacular sunset. Please enjoy these photos and look out for them the next time you are hanging around some mountains.

Lenticular Clouds over Homac in Nishine


At the End of the World

Road to the Mothership

Dancing With the Fire

Sky Ribbon

One of my Photos on Boing Boing

I had a significant bump of traffic the other day, and it appear Boing Boing used one of my photos for an article pertaining to wikileaks. They provided all the proper CC attribution and I was quite honored to have my photo used. They did a little photoshop work to it to make it fit the article. Here is the orginal:

Film Noir - Take Two

And you can see the version they used in the article here:

I wonder if I should be shooting more of these little models and figures in B&W settings.