Archive for the 'Nature' Category

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

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.




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

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

Hachimantai’s Late Spring

We’ve had a long, long winter here in Hachimantai City. Usually, I can expect to see cherry blossoms bloom around the middle of the month, however this year it is April 27 and they still haven’t bloomed. Daffodils are other flowers are also very late with their arrival. In fact, we’ve had snowfall as late as last week. Here are some photo of the late April snow:

Late April Snowfall in Hachimantai

White Snow Cover on the Mountains

Even the poor flowers got buried. I was worried they wouldn’t make it under the heavy snow, but most of them seemed to have pulled through.


New Flowers Punching Through the Snow

Yesterday, it seemed that spring was finally making an appearance. The grass started to glow green and warm winds blew over Mt.Iwate. That is usually a good sign that spring is on the way.

Gentle Sunset over Mt.Iwate

To put this all in perspective: This is the first time since I came to Japan that I’ve seen snow this late in April. In fact, if you browse my flickr archives, you’ll see with the cherry blossom photos of previous years that spring is usually quite a bit more punctual. I even spoke to a local farmer about it and he says he has never seen anything like it before. Is this a sign of rampant climate change, or just a random act of nature. I have a sad feeling it’s the former.

Strange Clouds Seen near Mt.Iwate

It was near five o’clock yesterday when I looked out my window and noticed the waves in the sky. The sun had not set, but I knew there was something up with the clouds.  So I grabbed my camera gear and took off to find a better perch in which to shoot them. Here is what I got:

Sky Ribbon
It appear as if a large ribbon had formed over the sky.

At the End of the World (by jasohill)
This amazing lenticular cloud appeared out of nowhere.

At the Vortex (by jasohill)
More of the lenticular cloud with Mr.Iwate.

The Sky Opened up. (by jasohill)
The lenticular cloud and the ribbon wave seen together.

The Mysteries of Japan (by jasohill)
Mt.Iwate seen with the ribbon wave and a bridge.

Searching for the Japanese Sun

The Rolling Mountains of HachimantaiJapan is famously known as the land of the rising sun. In fact, the Japanese word for Japan, “nihon, or nippon” is written with the Chinese characters ‘origin’ and ‘sun’.  For a country so bathed is sun symbolism you’d think a northern Canadian such as myself could find a some sunlight on this little Island.  Sadly, if you come from a northern latitude and are used to those nine o’clock sunsets, you are in for a little shock.  Read on to find out what I mean.

First, I need to be fair to Japan. As a person who used to live in Edmonton, Alberta, where the 55 degree latitude gave me amazingly long 17 hour days in the summer, there is going to be a stark difference between Japan and Canada . Earth’s tilt dictacts that countries in more extreme latitudes will experience long summer days and short winter days. Japan is situated  closer to the equator than Canada and therefore, the days in the summer and winter are not so extreme. Of course, we pay for those long days in Edmonton with long, cold winter nights.  However,  let’s leave that aside for the moment and explore why Japan seems to have a shockingly short day, even in the summer.

One thing I quickly noticed upon my arrive to Japan some seven years ago was that in the summer, you don’t really need an alarm clock if you are getting up at 6:30am. The sun is up at around 4:45 and by the time you need to get up for work, the light is pouring in.  That is crazy early for sunrise. And since Japan doesn’t have any daylight savings scheme, the sun never comes up any later that 7am in the winter. This means plenty of early morning light all year long.  This was probably set up early on so that farmers could enjoy as much early sunlight as possible.

Of course, on the other end of this, the sun goes down quite early. In the winter, the earliest sunset occurs between 4:10 and 4:40 depending on what part of the country you are in, and this in itself is not too shocking, but in the summer, the sunsets between 7:10 and 7:40.  Sure, it is about 15 hours of daylight, but it doesn’t feel like it to me. I don’t wake up at 3:50am, so I can’t really enjoy that early summer sun.   This meant I got a case of  summer SAD(Seasonal Affective Disorder) during my first summer here .  Crazy, huh?  Having grown up in a northern country I took those late summer sunsets for granted.

You’ll probably notice however, that I am still in Japan. There were many other factors that kept me here, and I wasn’t driven off by the short summer days. But while, I’ve adjust to a certain point, I still long for those long Canadian summers.  I often wonder if Japan is in the wrong time zone, but then it doesn’t really affect people here. In fact, when I brought it, a salaryman told me he’d prefer it if things stayed exactly as they were. If there was more sunlight,   his company would have him work more overtime. Point taken.

Do summer sunsets here seem early to you as well? Or normal? Let me know in the comments.

Spring in Japan

Spring in Japan, originally uploaded by jasohill.

There are many signs that spring has arrived in Japan. At first, the daffodils come out, followed by crocuses and tulips. Green grasses start to slowly cover brown fields. Finally, in a burst of white and pink, cherry blossoms awaken across the country from the end of March until the end of April.

You can see many signs that spring has come in people here as well. First comes the graduation ceremonies followed by the farewell parties(sobetestukai.) Then, new job assignments and High School placements are announced. After this, comes the first day and the welcome parties(kangeikai) and finally, to experience the explosion of cherry blossoms all over the country, there is a mass of flower viewing parties(called Hanami) all over the country. People in Japan take their cues from nature. It’s so timely, you could set your watch by it. This is spring in Japan.

Photo: Cherry Blossoms at Takamatsu pond in Morioka City, Iwate Japan. HDR with three exposures around sunset. Canon 350D 50mm f/1.8 ISO 100.

Hey, it’s Sn’o problem

Hey, it’s Sn’o problem, originally uploaded by jasohill.

I was able to avoid the blizzards that hit Vermont and Edmonton. I escaped them on a jet plane to sweet sweet freedom. However, today I wasn’t able to outrun the one hundred centimeters of snow that seemed to have buried my house, my car and my sanity.

The snow was so deep I had to shovel a path to car just to shovel out the car. Then when I got on the road it was like some sort of aircraft turbulence from hell. The vehicle started to sway back and forth, and then when I slowed it down to about 30km/h I got this massive up and down vibration from the road. Then up the road, I could see my nemesis. The grader from hell. Shoveling snow and blocking my road. That was the only time I went out today. I hope not to have to go out again until April.

Remember folks, Japan might seem like a magical Island of awesome food and rice fields, but when winter comes, we get the same old crap. At least when you live in Iwate it is.


Originally uploaded by jasohill.

I took a little break from moving this afternoon and got down to some photography. I noticed a little girl sketching out an amazing flower. All the students are now on spring break, so she was using her free time to hone her artistic ability. I though I would join her.

I just love the way this flower draws you in with its subtle change in colors. This is why I love flowers and this is why I love Japan. It’s full of stuff like this.