I rarely go out to shoot in the rain. All too often the rain back home comes down in torrents and it floods, so I pass. But I noticed that in Japan, there are often soft rains that create this beautiful subdued light and give the streets and tile roofs a slick glossiness. So one rainy December morning I stepped out with just my camera, tripod and rain cover to see what I could get.
First I climbed up to Munetada Jinja, on the flank of Mount Yoshida. From there I checked out nearby Takenaka Inari Jinja, which like other Inari shrines is marked by a path lined with vermilion torii. Takenaka Inari did not offer much opportunity this time, though, as its maples were already shedding heavily, and the cherry trees lining the torii path were all bare. However, I was also looking for a view of Daimonjiyama to the east, and found it in Takenaka Inari Jinja’s parking lot.
From there I went back down and into Shinnyodo, which happens to be my personal favorite temple in Kyoto, and is right across from Munetada Jinja’s stairway. It’s a quiet, lovely old temple that’s rarely visited by foreign tourists, though quite a few Japanese who kow of its autumn splendor walk through it. There was a special event here in November, when the statue of the temple’s chief protector deity Amitabha Tathagata was displayed; it brought in flocks of worshippers and even some food stalls, but otherwise this is a really welcome break from the crowds in Gion. But this early, rainy morning I had the temple to myself. There was only a local grandpa walking his dog, and he was already on his way out.
Here I positioned myself under the cherry trees in front of the main hall to get shots of the pagoda through a veil of rain, with some dripping cherry blossom buds as my foreground. I like the sombre mood I got here, with the almost monochrome palette just touched with a few areas of orange maple. I had the 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 lens on, but zooming in with my foreground focus up close gave enough bokeh for what I wanted.
[I tried to repeat this very shot for spring, with these very same buds in bloom, but unfortunately repair work on the pagoda had sheathed it entirely behind scaffolding and protective nets.]
At this point I was starting to think about breakfast, so from Shinnyodo I began walking back to our guesthouse. I made one more stop along the way to get a shot of Daimonjiyama from across a Buddhist cemetery. I was hoping to go in, but the gate was locked so I just set up the tripod beside the wall and elevated the center column.
One lesson learned from this photowalk: use a lens hood when taking pics in the rain. I had a plastic rain jacket for my camera, but without a lens hood I found myself frequently wiping drops off my lens. My appetite’s been whetted for rainscapes, though, so I think I’ll be going out in the rain again more often.
The entrances of Shinnyodo Temple and the Munetada Jinja are directly opposite each other. To get to Shinnyodo from Kyoto Station or downtown Kyoto, take the City Bus #5 to Shinnyodo-mae bus stop. From the bus stop, head up the sloping, narrow asphalt road then go left when you see the stairs to the temple.
Carry a rain cover for your camera so you can continue shooting even in the rain. Put on a lens hood to shield the front element from raindrops. Make sure your cable release jack doesn’t get wet. Mine did midway through the walk, so I stopped using it until it could dry out; in the meantime I resorted to mirror lockup and a delayed release with the self-timer.
Use a lens hood!