Some People Call it Heaven.

Some People Call it Heaven
Some People Call it Heaven, originally uploaded by jasohill.

I call it Hachimantai.

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.

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010

I was in Sapporo this year for an unrelated reason(a friend’s wedding.) However, I happened to have a free evening on my hands so took in the sights of the Sapporo Snow Festival.  This festival is the biggest of its kind in the world, and I didn’t have much time to capture it all. Here is what I got while I was there.  Enjoy!

Yosakoi Dancers performing behind a massive Ice sculpture

Massive Ice Palace

Cold Yosakoi Dancing in Sapporo

The Chibi Maruko Monument

Yosakoi Dancing at the Sapporo Snow Festival

In the festival light tunnel

Korean Temple made of ice and snow

Hurray for everything

Performing a dancing at the snow festival

Snow Sculpture in Sapporo

Godzilla/Matsui Sculpture

Haiti Earthquake reilef effort in Japan

I’m compiling a quick list of resources for people living in Japan should they desire to donate to the relief effort in Haiti. I only have  a couple at the moment, but I’ll be adding more as I find them.  These allow you to make a bank transfer if you don’t have any other way to donate. If you don’t live in Japan, check out this article on The Huffington Post to find a place to donate:

1. Japanese Red Cross

If you want to send money to the Red Cross in Japan, please visit this page to get the bank transfer info you will need to send money:
If you need assistance with instructions in how to do the transfer please leave a comment and I will give you a quick overview of how to do a Japanese bank trasfer.

2. Doctors without borders Japan branch:

This one time donation allows you to donate with a japanese credit card.

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.

Japan a Major force in Baseball during 2009

In the world of professional baseball, this has been the year of the rising sun. Japan has started to shift into the position of major leaguer in terms of world status. A position that previously might have been questionable.

The winning came early as Team Japan clenched their second World Baseball Championship title, showing the world they weren’t just a one hit wonder(pun fully intended).  Championships aside, records also started falling when Ichiro broke the record for 200 hits over nine consecutive years. A record that stood for more than one hundred years.

Then came the spring and summer Koshien tournaments that introduced the world to the  stunning arm of Yusei Kikuchi. The young Iwate Prefecture native with the 154km/h fastball took his team, Hanamaki Higashi High School, to within one game of the spring title and two games of the summer Koshien title.  He was courted around by the likes of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox before deciding to start his pro career in Japan and being drafted by the Seibu Lions in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. He was requested by 6 pro team. Half of the teams in Japan.

Kikuchi wasn’t the only person causing a stir in the northern Tohoku region. The Rakuten golden Eagles, based out of Sendai,  made their way into second place in their league and got themselves into the second round of the Climax series. With ace pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka on the mound, and lead by the experienced Katsuya Nomura(a man famous for turning faltering teams into champions), they also had strong batting and solid fielding to carry them through the season.

Of course last, but certainly not least came the dream run of the New York Yankees, lead by their series MVP, Hideki Matsui and his amazing 6 RBIs during the final game, and three home runs over the series. Matsui helped the Yankees win the world series and became the first Japanese born player to earn the MVP.

I’m sure there are smaller stories from this year that I am missing, but I wanted to emphasize the biggest of all of these amazing feats. Japan is now a major force in the highest levels of baseball, and anyone who took Japan less then seriously before in terms of talent had better open their eyes.  Their wave of winning and exciting play has stirred up a lot of passion in  baseball fans all over Japan and the world. I played ball for eight years when I was younger and now, thank to Japanese baseball, I am starting to rekindle my love of the sport.  Kudos to you Japan on giving us all another reason to love baseball.

Happy Birthday Kenji

Kenj If you visit Google today in Japan you’ll see they are honouring Kenji Miyazawa. He was a famous Japanese author. He wrote amazing  stories for children and poetry. He was also born and raised in Iwate. The very place I live in Japan. Happy birthday Kenji.

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.

Spring is Around us

Table for two, originally uploaded by jasohill.

Spring has finally come to Japan. It was a long winter with a lot of snow, but it’s now just starting to pay off. The flowers started coming out today and that means the cherry blossoms aren’t far behind.

I went out after work to find some nice flowers that would work well with the setting sun. There was a lot of haze in the air, so I took this set of daffodils and flowers that haven’t even bloomed yet. The haze gave a nice diffusion. It’s difficult to shoot daffodils. They are a bright yellow that doesn’t expose well. What I did hear was turn down the brightness in Aperture and increase the black point until I had the contrast I was looking for. I never actually use the contrast lever in Aperture. It’s just too hard. Happy spring everyone.