Category Archives: Japan

Water lilies in mid-September

In the middle of September some Water lilies (Nymphaea, スイレン) and other aquatic plants are blooming at the Kusatsu City Aquatic Botanical Gardens (草津市立水生植物公園みずの森). Many of the flowers look a bit tired and wilted, but a few continue to stun visitors with their beauty.

Water lilies (Nymphaea, スイレン) and other aquatic plants

Water lilies (Nymphaea, スイレン) and other aquatic plants at the Kusatsu City Aquatic Botanical Gardens (草津市立水生植物公園みずの森)

Water lilies (スイレン) and Victoria cruziana (パラグアイオニバス)

Water lilies (Nymphaea, スイレン) and huge Victoria cruziana (Santa Cruz water lily, パラグアイオニバス) leaves at the Kusatsu City Aquatic Botanical Gardens (草津市立水生植物公園みずの森)

Water lilies (Nymphaea, スイレン)

Water lilies (Nymphaea, スイレン) at the Kusatsu City Aquatic Botanical Gardens (草津市立水生植物公園みずの森)

Water lily (Nymphaea, スイレン)

Water lily (Nymphaea, スイレン) at the Kusatsu City Aquatic Botanical Gardens (草津市立水生植物公園みずの森)

Water lilies (Nymphaea, スイレン)

Water lilies (Nymphaea, スイレン) at the Kusatsu City Aquatic Botanical Gardens (草津市立水生植物公園みずの森)

Water lily (Nymphaea, スイレン)

Water lily (Nymphaea, スイレン) at the Kusatsu City Aquatic Botanical Gardens (草津市立水生植物公園みずの森)

Kusatsu City Aquatic Botanical Gardens (草津市立水生植物公園みずの森

I feel very fortunate to live near the Kusatsu City Aquatic Botanical Gardens (草津市立水生植物公園みずの森).

From my home it is only a 25-minute drive. Since I am over 65 and a local resident, it costs only ¥150 to see such beauty in a well-maintained environment.

Sounds of cicadas at the end of summer

Along Oyamakawa in Omifuji, Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture, cicadas dominate the soundscape in summer. In mid-September, before autumnal equinox, smaller insects join the chorus.

On 2017-09-15 the cicadas were very loud as I rode my mountain bike on a path through a grove of ornamental cherry trees between a small river and a residential neighborhood (radio aporee ::: maps – Omifuji, Yasu-shi, Shiga-ken, Japan).

Araya Muddy Fox mountain bike

Araya Muddy Fox mountain bike near the path along Oyamakawa in Omifuji, Yasu City.

Audio recorder and microphones

Audio recorder and microphones on a cherry tree in the woods along Oyamakawa in Omifuji, Yasu City

A little before 13:00 I mounted a Sony PCM-M10 recorder and FEL Clippy EM172 mics on a tree trunk for quasi-binaural recording. The mics face northwest toward a busy two-lane road, Japan national route 8, with the river and farms to the right and a residential neighborhood to the left.

Audio recorder and microphones

Audio recorder and microphones on a cherry tree in the woods along Oyamakawa in Omifuji, Yasu City

We can hear cars, trucks, agricultural machinery (rice harvester), and other human sounds, but the cicadas compete well and nearly drown out the songs of smaller insects. Soon the cicadas will fall silent, and we’ll wonder how another summer passed so quickly.

Red spider lilies (lycoris radiata, 彼岸花)

Red spider lilies (lycoris radiata, 彼岸花) along an irrigation canal in Mikami, Yasu City, Mikamiyama (三上山) in the background.

Videos of small creatures with a compact camera

At the beginning of summer, 2017, I bought a little Panasonc LUMIX DMC-LX9 compact digital camera. This model has a flip-up LCD screen and enables extreme closeups with a large aperture and a wide-angle view. I have using it mostly for general photography, especially while cycling. As I had hoped when I bought it, works very well for closeup shots of small creatures.

Caterpillar in Hayashi

Closeup of a caterpillar on a sidewalk along a country road in Hayashi, Ritto City (map). Video was shot just before sunset on 6 July 2017. Music: “Before Dawn” by Jason Shaw at AudionatiX Music License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-A) 3.0

Inchworm along a forest road

Closeup of an inchworm at a bridge on a forest forest road in Bodaiji, Konan City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan (map). Video was shot while mountain biking on 15 July 2017.

Shield bug (stinkbug)

Finally, an unpublished clip of a shield bug (カメムシ, 亀虫) at Kashiho Shrine (上葦穂神社) in Kojibukuro, Konan City (map). I discovered the shrine while I was cycling. As was leaving, I noticed this bug in the grass beside the parking lot. I followed it until it flew away. Later I trimmed heavily to remove most of the scene that was out of focus.

Technical notes

This little camera seems to work very well for closeup video of small creatures. To do extreme closeups I zoom out to the widest angle (30mm full-frame equivalent). Depending on the background, I set the aperture somewhere between f5.6 and f1.4. For small insects I must get very close. In fact, the inchworm in the video above actually hit the lens! This camera will not work well with small creatures that are shy. For shy creatures such as butterflies we can get better results with a close focus telephoto lens on a mirrorless or DSLR camera.

I have not done any color grading because I like the natural colors of the raw clips from the camera. I do all post-processing with free/libre and open-source software (FLOSS) on a Fedora GNU/Linux workstation. I trim some clips with FFmpeg and edit with Kdenlive. I use the video editor to trim and join clips and to add titles and sound (music for the caterpillar video).

This little camera has features that I have not yet exploited. I have been shooting full HD (1920×1080) in aperture priority mode and continuous focus tracking. In the future I may shoot 4K video and try various settings; however, my present point-and-shoot style seems to work well. I have to hold the camera very close the the ground, which become difficult, so I may add a bracket or a cage to hold the camera. For more sophisticated editing and color grading I can use professional software such as Da Vinci Resolve by Blackmagic Design.

Uguisu (鶯)

On June 4, 2017, a quiet Sunday, I took a bike ride in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. On the way home I heard a Japanese bush warbler (uguisu, ウグイス, or 鶯).

I always carry a small audio recorder and a pair of Primo EM172 mics in my touring bike handlebar bag. The bird began was sing loudly as I rode into a wooded area, so I quickly leaned my bike against a small tree, attached the mics, and began to record.

Bike is parked in foliage along road in abandoned park in Ichimiyake, Yasu City. Audio recording of bird calls with Clippy EM172 mics and Sony PCM-M10 recorder.

Trek 520 touring bike along road in abandoned park in Ichimiyake, Yasu City

The uguisu (Japanese bush warbler) remained in dense foliage, and I never saw any of the birds we hear in this recording. (The photo at the top was taken in 2016.)

Foliage along road in abandoned park in Ichimiyake, Yasu City

This area was once a park. On weekdays dump trucks haul dirt and gravel nearby along the riverbank, but on weekends it’s very quiet, a nice place for leisurely cycling.

Foliage along road in abandoned park in Ichimiyake, Yasu City

Foliage along road in abandoned park in Ichimiyake, Yasu City

Location

The Compass app on my phone shows the direction and location of the stereo recording, but it is not accurate. The mics were aimed south, but the city is Yasu, not Moriyama, and maps coordinates were off by several hundred meters. An annotated paper map or an online map with a satellite image would be more accurate and useful.

Trek 520 touring bike parked in foliage along road in abandoned park in Ichimiyake, Yasu City. Audio recording of bird calls with Clippy EM172 mics and Sony PCM-M10 recorder.

This shows the location within the abandoned park.

Recording and post-processing

This method of quasi-binaural recording attempts to emulate human perception by placing the left and right mics on either side of a bicycle handlebar bag. It is not ideal, of course, but setup can be done very quickly. This recording was made with a Sony PCM-M10 recorder and FEL Communications Clippy Stereo EM172 Microphone.

Trek 520 touring bike parked in foliage along road in abandoned park in Ichimiyake, Yasu City. Audio recording of bird calls with Clippy EM172 mics and Sony PCM-M10 recorder.

Trek 520 touring bike parked in foliage along road in abandoned park in Ichimiyake, Yasu City. Audio recording of bird calls with Clippy EM172 mics and Sony PCM-M10 recorder.

Audio post-processing was done with Audacity on Fedora Workstation, a GNU/Linux system running on a Lenovo ThinkStation 20 computer. I trimmed the recording from more than 20 minutes to 5:19 and normalized the gain. I did not add any filters, EQ, or compression.

This recording is also available on radio aproree ::: maps – sounds of the world.

Snow scenes

Ritto City in southern Shiga Prefecture, Japan, was covered with snow for a few days in January, 2017.

January 15th

On January 15th heavy snow covered Takano Park near my home.

Snow at Takano Shrine in Ritto City on January 15, 2017

Snow at Takano Shrine in Ritto City on January 15, 2017

Snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

Snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

Snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

Snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

As usual on Sunday, local children were playing at Takano Park. They seemed delighted by the rare chance to play in a snowstorm.

Children playing in snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

Children playing in snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

Children playing in snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

Children playing in snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

Children playing in snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

Children playing in snow in Takano Park, Ritto City

January 16th

On January 16th more snow was followed by patches of blue sky.

Eurasian tree sparrows (Passer montanus, スズメ) in a snow-covered field in Hayashi, Ritto City

Eurasian tree sparrows (Passer montanus, スズメ) in a snow-covered field in Hayashi, Ritto City

Tree at the end of the ground golf course in Deba, RItto City, during a snow storm

Tree at the end of the ground golf course in Deba, RItto City, during a snow storm

Two spring riders near the tennis courts in Deba, Ritto City, with Yasugawa Ohashi (野洲川大橋) and Mikamiyama (三上山) in the background

Two spring riders near the tennis courts in Deba, Ritto City, with Yasugawa Ohashi (野洲川大橋) and Mikamiyama (三上山) in the background

Snow-covered field in Tsuji, Ritto City, with Mikamiyama in the background

Snow-covered field in Tsuji, Ritto City, with Mikamiyama in the background

Snow-covered field in Tsuji, Ritto City

Snow-covered field in Tsuji, Ritto City

Pink rose in Tsuji, Ritto City

Pink rose in Tsuji, Ritto City

January 24th

We had a bit more snow on January 24th. By noon it was melting.

Snow-covered fields in Hayashi, Ritto City

Snow-covered fields in Hayashi, Ritto City

Mikamiyama (三上山) and the upper ground golf course in Deba, Ritto City

Mikamiyama (三上山) and the upper ground golf course in Deba, RItto City

Bodaijisan (菩提寺山) and the upper ground golf course in Deba, Ritto City

Bodaijisan (菩提寺山) and the upper ground golf course in Deba, RItto City

Mikamiyama (三上山) and Bodaijisan (菩提寺山) seen from Yasugawa Sports Park in Deba, Ritto City

Mikamiyama (三上山) and Bodaijisan (菩提寺山) seen from Yasugawa Sports Park in Deba, RItto City

Mikamiyama (三上山) seen from the woods at Yasugawa Sports Park in Deba, Ritto City

Mikamiyama (三上山) seen from the woods at Yasugawa Sports Park in Deba, RItto City

Yasugawa Sports Park on a winter afternoon

Yasugawa Sports Park on a winter afternoon

Appreciating wider angles

This January a few days of snow reminded me to appreciate a wider view of the environment. Most of my photographs have been portraits of birds or closeups of bugs or flowers. I enjoy watching living creatures up close through a telephoto lens, but I don’t want to become too absorbed in such a narrow view of life. I think it’s wise to also see and photograph the world from a broader and more natural perspective.