Happy 2018, the Year of the Dog

You might also want to check:
2013, the year of the Snake
2016, the year of the Monkey
2017, the year of the Rooster

In Japan, every year starts with a visit to the shrine, in order to get some blessings, buy some lucky charms, or ask what the future might have for you. As per my own little tradition, I headed as usual to the Hie Jinja not far from where I live and work, which hopefully will bring me good luck for the year to come.


Expect to see a lot of people queuing at the most popular shrines during the new year period.

After having prayed, write your wish for the year on a Ema (wooden tablet). As you can see on these Ema, 2018 is the year of the Dog.

Probably the part that Japanese people are looking forward the most is to get their fortune for the year to come be told by an omikuji (fortune-telling paper strip). There are various degrees of luck ranging from great blessing to great curse (although I feel like most of the time you can summarize the message by “work hard if you want to succeed”), but no panic if you had an unlucky pick: just attach it with the other bad fortunes on the shrine ground, and you will be protected from the bad omen.

You can also get a Hamaya (an arrow that will protect you from evil spirits) and get it blessed by a Miko (shrine maiden).

Before you leave, sip a cup of sake, and why not get something to eat from the various stalls around the shrine ground.

And as usual, eating some special new year’s food in the evening to finish the first day of the year:


I hope you all had a good time over the holiday period, and wish you all a happy 2018 🙂

2017, a Year in Review

2107 for the blog

Let’s start with a 2017 retrospective for the blog. Not a great year in terms of number of articles. A question of priorities. My work left me little free time this year, when I was not spending my weekends trying to catch up with some sleep, so I had to prioritize and focused on growing my Instagram account rather than this blog. Not because of any sort of satanic social media grand strategy, but because you only need a few seconds to upload a picture on Instagram. Meanwhile you need to find long blocks of time to write blog articles from start to finish, and in fact I still have several unfinished draft articles that I thought I would have published in 2017 but will only come out next year (if even), once I can allocate the time and concentration they deserve.


I also never got to write about my amazing trip to Tsuwano last summer, although there would be so much to say about the story of the Hidden Christians in Japan. It’s definitively the kind of topic that I keep in the back of my mind for when i can take the time to write about a more complex subject that requires a decent amount of research.

Similarly, on the gear side of things, I never got to edit all the video footages I took during this year’s CP+ camera and photo imaging show in Yokohama, because I am still so little proficient with the video editing tools that I require exponentially more time than what would normally be required.

I feel like video content is more and more expected by the internet audience, so while I am working on mastering the tools I have been shooting more video in the background, and hopefully this content will someday makes its way into more coherent projects.

What we did talk about

While it has been a slow year in terms of number of articles, we did get to talk about a few things.

On the Fujifilm side, we talked in particular about the Fujifilm GFX 50s after I went to Fujikina 2017 in Kyoto.

We also looked at how remote flash can be easy with the Nissin speedlight and remote.

Overall Fujifilm had an amazing year, in terms of products they released (GFX body and lenses, X-E3, 80mm macro) and financial results (Instax prints For The Win). The best part of it was that none of what they released this year was for me, so I did not have to buy anything and just enjoyed another round of free Kaizen firmware update for my X-T2. On the other hand, I found that they released the FUJIFILM X RAW STUDIO application in a buggy  state that should have been a public beta version rather than a final release.

Beyond the gear talk, we had a look at an old tradition in Asakusa involving geishas and hina dolls: Edo Nagashibana. A must-read if you like the japanese culture but missed it.

I also finally got to finish and publish an article on which I had been working for a long time, giving tips about how to differentiate a shinto shrine from a buddhist temple in Japan.

2017, the year of the rooster Instagram

2017 was the year of the rooster in the japanese calendar. For me it was the year I focused on my Instagram account. Through the year, I posted more than 500 times on my Instagram account, and more than quadruple my number of followers compared to the start of the year. What I like about Instagram is that the community is much nicer and positive than on something like Twitter, where snarky comments and political trolls are the norm. Although my number of followers will look tiny to some of you, for me it’s the highest number I have reached on any platform, and the simplicity to upload a picture allow me to be consistent in posting even while not being immersed full-time in the social media sphere.2017 best nine on InstagramAs you can see from my “2017 best nine on Instagram” recap above, 2017 was also the year I fully delved into the Geiko and Maiko world. To some extent, it was a perfect storm, because it is also when I started to post more pictures from my trips to Kyoto that I started to gain more followers. I learned a lot about the lives of Geiko and Maiko this year, a lot of it at the complete opposite of Western pre-/misconceptions, and i was fortunate enough to meet a few of them. Hopefully I get to write about that in 2018.

Business Cards

No doubt in my mind that 2018 will be filled with many trips to Kyoto again for me. Meanwhile, I am going to end 2017 by watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the theater tonight, after having successfully avoided most spoilers over the past couple of weeks. Have fun tonight and talk to you again in 2018 😉

How to make the difference between a shrine and a temple in Japan?


According to estimates from the CIA World Factbook, the religious composition of the Japanese society is the following:

  • Shintoism 79.2%
  • Buddhism 66.8%
  • Christianity 1.5%
  • other 7.1%

Yes, the total is above 100% but it is not a typo, as many people will be categorized as both Shintoist and Buddhist.

2013 Year of the Snake-2

Let’s start with a (very tiny) bit of History…

Historically, from the 6th century when Buddhism was imported into the country, until the end of the Edo period, Shintoism and Buddhism remained intimately entwined, during a period of syncretism referred to as shinbutsu-shūgō. During these many centuries, both religions influenced each other, and shrines were built to warehouse the shinto spirits (Kami) the same way that buddhist temples protect Buddha images. The syncretism went so far that you could find shrines-part in temples, while some shrines would warehouse Buddha images, with bettō monks performing buddhist rituals at the shrines. In 1868 the new Meiji government attempted to name Shintoism the “true religion” of Japan, in order to orchestrate a cult of the Emperor, with the shinbutsu bunri law proclaiming the separation between Shintoism and Buddhism. Looking at the statistics above, one quickly realizes that even the imperial law cannot undo centuries of History, but this is a discussion that would deserve its own separate post(s)…


Given the deeply-rooted connection between Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan, it is not surprising to find many similarities between shrines and temples. This will often confuse non-Japanese, and brings this question: how to easily make the difference between a (Shinto) shrine and a (Buddhist) temple without being an expert on religions? This is actually easier than you think, if you know where to look.

1) The name

Shrine or temple? The answer is usually easily found in the name.

Jinja (神社) is the most common Japanese word for shrine. However, other names or suffixes can indicate that you are in a shrine, including: jinja, jingu, taisha, myojin, gongen, -gu, -sha.

Similarly for temples, look for names ending in -ji, -dera or -in.

2) The Entrance Gate

If you don’t know the exact name of the place where you are, no panic. There are many other signs, starting with the entrance gate.

A torii gate (if not many) stands at the front of every shrine. It is the easiest way to identify that you are at a shrine. Torii gates are commonly made of 2 vertical posts with 2 horizontal posts at the top , though they can be as simple as 2 vertical posts with a (sacred) rope inbetween. Having said that, torii gates can come under many shapes and sizes. Here are a few examples:

The entrance gates of Buddhist temples almost look like buildings of their own. The most important gate is called the Sanmon, even though it usually not the first gate at the entrance of the temple. Here are a few examples:

If there is a building shaped as a pagoda, it is also a good indication that you are in a temple.

3) The guardians

In the case of a Shinto shrine, you will most of the time find a pair of statues of lion-dogs, guarding the entrance, called komainu. Fox statues (instead of lion-dogs) guarding inari shrines are also very common, but other less common variants such as turtles or wolves for example are also possible.

On the other hand, temples will be protected by a pair of Niō guardians. They usually look like wrathful and muscular demons. The one with the mouth open is called Agyō, while the one with the mouth closed is called Ungyō.

4) The purification ritual before praying

Each visit to a shrine starts with a purification ritual using the water fr the temizuya (small fountain): you rinse your left hand, then the right, and finally your mouth (this water is there to cleanse, not to be drunk).

While you will also find temizuya near many temples, the purification process when arriving at a temple is usually done by burning some incense in a large burner, and fanning the smoke towards you. The smoke is thought to have healing power.

5) Kami or Buddha

An obvious one, but if you see an image of Buddha… then you are in Buddhist territory, meaning you are in a temple.

In most cases, the kami (god/spirit) enshrined in a shinto shrine, is said to reside in a physical object (often a mirror, but could be a sword, a rock or else) called the shintai, stored in the honden (in a few exceptional cases, the shintai could also be a natural phenomenon, such as a peculiar tree, rock or waterfall…). The honden is the most sacred building of the shrine and is not accessible to the public.

6) How to pray

In a Shinto shrine: after you have thrown your coin into the offerings box and rung the suzu bell (if there is one), bow twice, clap your hands twice, and bow once more once you have finished your prayer.

Prayer at the shrine

In a Buddhist temple: the prayer is silent, do NOT clap your hands at the altar like you would in a Shinto shrine.


With just a few handy tips, it is easy to make the difference between a shrine and a temple. Being able to make the distinction is not only important to know how to pray and to whom address your prayer, but it is also a first step in being able to recognize how Shintoism and Buddhism can be entwined in the Japanese society. The first step on a long but fascinating (some would say enlightening 🙂 ) path.




Geishas and Floating Hina Dolls in Tokyo: Edo Nagashibina

When people think about seeing geishas in Japan, the first thing that come to their mind is probably Kyoto (where geishas are called geikos and their apprentices maikos) with the Gion district or Pontocho. However, that does not mean you cannot be entertained by authentic geishas in other cities. In Tokyo, the main geisha area is the Kannonura street in the Asakusa district. One way to maximize your chances to see them from up close, is to find out the public events or festivals in which they participate. One of this events is Edo Nagashibina, a  ceremony during which children and their parents send into the Sumida river floating Hina dolls made with paper to dispel any potential misfortune waiting for them in the year ahead.

Again this year, 3 geishas from Asakusa were taking part in the official ceremony, and sent their own wishes into the river.

Edo Nagashibina 2017

In a red kimono, we had Rei-san:

In a dark green kimono, Tsugumi-san:

And in a blue kimono, Akane-san:

When you see geishas in the street, they are usually on their way to (or from) a work appointment, so they usually don’t have time to stop and talk to you. However, when they are on “official public duty”, they will let you take all the pictures you want as long as you don’t disturb the overall organization of the event.

Once the usual preliminary speeches are over, the geishas and the city officials joined the rest of the crowd on the Sumida river bank, where they release a flurry of balloons shaped like doves. Everyone can then let go his/her paper hina doll into the water.  Children from the Taito City “Ishihama Hachiba Children’s Center” have the extra privilege to do it from a boat especially decorated for the occasion.

If you enjoyed this article, share the love of Japan with your friends on your favorite social networks. You can also keep in touch with me on Twitter or Instagram if you have any question.

Field test: X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 – Birdwatching in Tokyo

For my second visit to the bird sanctuary of the Kasai Rinkai park in Eastern Tokyo, I brought with me an X-Pro2with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 “super telephoto zoom lens” to put them to the test. Below is a summary of my thoughts on the newest and most expensive lens for X-mount cameras. All the sample images used in this post are straight-out-of-the-camera JPEGs (Velvia film simulation), without any additional processing. You can click on them for full size images.

The FUJINON XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is the long awaited super telephoto zoom lens for X-Series cameras. One of the reason behind the delay of the release of this lens, compared to its first appareance on the official Fuji roadmap, seems to have been a complete redesign of the lens somewhere along the development cycle. As a reminder, the first time I saw a prototype of the “super telephoto zoom lens”, as it was dubbed on the roadmap, it was supposed to be a XF140-400mm f4-5.6 lens, with a shorter size but a wider diameter (86mm). It looked like that (the lens on the right side):

The final design is slimmer but longer, and covers a longer focal range but is slightly slower when zoomed out. I cannot know for sure, but I would bet that the final design is probably lighter than the initial version too.

While the lens got longer, the tripod foot that comes with it became shorter, which seems like a odd decision to me, although arguably I am no lens engineer, as one would think that  a bigger tripod foot would offer a better stabilization once attached to a tripod head. If you don’t have any, Fujifilm sells a lens plate (MLP-75XF) that you can attach to the tripod foot to make it compatible with ARCA SWISS tripods. Personally, I also don’t see the point of having included the 100-140mm focal range compared to the initial design, as this part of the focal range is already covered by so many XF lenses.

Beyond those small reservations, there are mostly positive things to say in terms of design and handling. The smaller filter thread of the final version (77mm) will enable you to use common filters you might already own (I personally buy all my filters in the 77mm size, with a set of cheap step-up rings to use them on smaller lenses). The built quality feels good, with attention to details. There is a lock button to avoid any zoom creep, but the small feature that makes a big difference to me is the lens hood that clips on the lens. The last thing you want when you are on the side of a race track or a football field is for your lens hood to fall over every time you knock something or someone runs into you.

Coupled with the XF 1.4x teleconverter, the lens become a 140-560mm f8 equivalent lens. I shot the sample pictures in this post using an X-Pro2, with the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 mounted on the 1.4x teleconverter, as I was trying to get as tight and as far as possible. All these shots were taken in very good lighting conditions (although between 6-9AM, so still in somewhat soft light), and in these ideal conditions the combo camera + teleconverter + lens was very responsive. The autofocus in particular did a perfect job on relatively still or slow moving subjects, despite of the addition of the teleconverter theoretically making it harder for the autofocus to work (it was much slower and hunted back and forth when I tested it indoor in poor lighting conditions, which is a totally normal thing). The autofocus struggled much more on flying birds, which was mainly due to my sheer inability to keep flying birds for an extended period of time in a tight composition when using such a long lens.

Here is what both extremes of the focal range look like when using the X-Pro2 + XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 + XF1.4x teleconverter:

Zoomed out:


When shooting at 560mm with f8 maximum aperture, it can be difficult to obtain a shutter speed fast enough for handholding without raising the ISO setting higher than one might want to. This is when the image stabilisation of the lens kicks in. The image stabilisation of the XF 100-400mmF4.5-5.6 is to be commended for its effiency, in effect improving the quality of the images by allowing to use lower ISOs while still taking sharp pictures. The quality of the image stabilisation can also be seen in action in the video clips included in the video at the top of this post, inbetween still samples.

Additional samples gallery:

In conclusion, I really enjoyed my time with this lens. I usually don’t go birdwatching, so it gave me a good excuse to do so. With the addition of the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6, X-mount lenses can now cover a huge focal length, and even more when you add the 1.4x teleconverter. It’s a great lens to handle with efficient image stabilisation for handholding and nice finishing touches such as the clipping hood with a small trap to adjust your filter if you are using a polariser. I personally don’t need to own such a long lens for 99% of what I shoot, but for the few times I would need it I will be absolutely confident to rent it – apart for indoor sports for which the faster XF50-140mmF2.8 will be a better option if you don’t want to focus manually.