Prose by Photography: A Stir in the Shrine

I stood on the gravel, staring at the textured bark of one of the tall, lean trees in the middle of the Hokkaido Jingu Shrine – like wrinkles of the wise, and as if possessing a knowledge that the rest of us were still lost in seeking to discover. Just a moment before that, I’d been standing on the steps of the main building, quietly and respectfully watching from the side as the locals went up to what looked like wooden kneelers and knelt, looking straight ahead at the altar through the glass, bowing piously.

Suddenly- there was movement to the right side of the shrine. A door opened, and a man dressed in pine-green-coloured robes wearing a black headpiece tied with a skinny white rope around his face and under his chin stepped out, holding a small bell. Ring, ring, ring.

Two ladies stepped out with him, hair neatly and tightly pulled back into a ponytail around which a cream-coloured cloth was wrapped and bound with red ribbon, both clad in long white blouses with slits and big boxy sleeves, under which they wore full-length bright red skirts. Ring, ring, ring.

They promptly bowed low to each other, and one of the ladies spun on her heel and departed briskly, as if on a mission, her feet shuffling quickly in matching red geta slippers and I watched as she navigated the peripheral pathways of the shrine, rounded a bend and vanished, her red skirt previously trailing with movement, going with her.

June 2014, Hokkaidō Shrine (Hokkaido-Jingu Shrine), Maruyama Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Rule of Thirds.”

Travel Diary: Takinoue Pink Moss Park, Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan (Gallery)

We followed the signs featuring a little cartoon character holding pink moss up a hill. As we curved around the last bend and approached the carpark, the Takinoue Pink Moss Park revealed itself to us – an entire undulating sea of pink, spotted with the contrasting green of the trees – a sight to behold.

On closer inspection, the pink “moss” was not any sort of moss at all, but rather tiny flowers, layer upon layer of it in such density which lent the landscape a bold colour, coming in full force as if knowing that each of them couldn’t have evoked the same response on their own.

Takinoue Pink Moss Park Hokkaido Japan Travel Blog Top Sights Takinoue Pink Moss Park Hokkaido Japan Travel Blog Takinoue Pink Moss Park Hokkaido Asahikawa Japan Travel Blog Sights

Photography: The Meaning of 平 (Píng)

平. A simple, symmetrical word. Pronounced píng, it means “balance”.

Today marks the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year calendar, triggering the age-old tradition and flurry of visiting of the Elders, extended family, and sometimes friends. I’d start the day by visiting my grandmother, handing her a pair of oranges and wishing her good health and other blessings, followed by spending the rest of the day with my immediate family and relatives moving from house to house.

Over the years, the list of places to visit has gotten shorter and shorter that now for most people, it’s practically a cheatsheet of one-stop-multiple-hits (i.e. where everyone just agrees to congregate at one place). As the Elders move on, some of the tradition is lost and the generations no longer see value in (and in fact, dread) meeting people they mostly only see once a year. As a kid, it was all fine and dandy receiving hong baos (red packets containing money), but as we moved beyond childhood, we realised that we now have to make small talk with relatives, deal with never-ending questions about non-existent boyfriends and girlfriends, much less marriage, and have to actually appear interested in whatever conversations there are over the span of many hours.

But 平 – this simple, balanced, symmetrical word, has far deeper meaning in the Chinese language when used in conjunction with other words, and which possibly unlocks the secrets of the essence of harmony; if I were to attempt to string its range of meanings together into a mosiac, it is akin to a beautiful 平旦 (dawn) where everything is 平顺 (smooth-sailing), 公平 (fair; there is equality), and where there is 康平 (good health) and the ones you love are 平安 (safe).

This Lunar New Year, I wish you the same balance and harmony in the many aspects of life in which 平 remains relevant and rings true. As conveyed in the clean, simple strokes of the character itself, perhaps we could realise that, indeed, achieving a balance is far simpler than we think. And perhaps, we would also find 喜 (yet another word resonating in symmetry and balance; pronounced , meaning “happiness”) in the process, just as I had a few hours ago tossing yu sheng (an oriental salad) and cheering the full suite of blessings with my family in a team effort to fondly usher in the new year over reunion dinner.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symmetry.”

Prose by Photography: The Key to the Golden Gate

I stood at the entrance, staring up the structure towering over me, floral motifs written into its white face. It beamed down at me; a mere smallish figure, wearing the hood of a borrowed black abaya, dwarfed in comparison.

From here, I could not yet see clearly what lay beyond, for the view was obstructed by a second archway; a seeming reflection of the first. The gate in itself was huge, but the line of sight- narrow.

And- as if reading my mind, it said I can show you a glimpse, but you would need to journey farther to see it. And before my eyes unveiled dome on dome, in perfect symmetry- echoes of balance and harmony.

With a gentle crinkle of a smile, it gave a gentle nod- and whispered, Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth onto life, and few there be that find it.

March 2014, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symmetry.”

Personal: The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I couldn’t travel both, and be one traveler, long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.


I encountered this poem titled “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost for the first time while doing English Literature in High school and it has been my favourite ever since. When I prepared this post, I looked at the photograph and immediately thought this was the perfect accompaniment and wanted to share it with you.

The story behind this picture is a long and tedious one which involves us trying to look for the entrance to Hiraoka Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido, to catch the last of a festival of Plum Blooms in late May. The GPS kept sending us in circles around the park, redirecting us this way and that onto expressways which led away or onto quiet dirt roads, or to the wrong side of the park from which we could not enter. I thought it made sense to enter from the other direction, but the GPS kept debating with my instinct.

After being lost for over an hour and with each minute taking us closer to the end of the festival, I maintained a cheerful face but was increasingly frustrated as I saw my meticulous plans going awry. We eventually ignored the GPS and took a chance, and finally found the park’s entrance. I ran down the steps and went quickly on ahead to look for the festival, only to run into a group of five Japanese teenagers who responded to me in halting English that the festival had ended. We made it- only too late- but it helped me realise that sometimes your instinct may just be right. And although you can never be fully certain about most things in life, sometimes some things are worth taking a chance, and the “best” path is often not the straight, symmetrical, balanced-looking one.

When I finally emerge at the end of life’s journey, I would like to be able to say that two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

May 2014, Hiraoka Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symmetry.”

Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park, Yubetsu, Hokkaido, Japan (Gallery)

The Kamiyubetu Tulip Park is situated in Yubetsu town on the Northeast front of Hokkaido, facing the Okhotsk sea. We were driving in the area keeping our eyes peeled for the place, but really we didn’t have to- because it was a huge 7-hectare garden flooded in rows on rows of colours and windmill features- and that, is pretty darn hard to miss.

During Springtime, from May to early June, the garden is covered in over a million tulips of 120 varieties, and with flowers stretching to as far as the eyes can see, I wouldn’t say it’s all that hard to believe.

Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park Mombetsu Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary

Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park Yubetsu Hokkaido Japan Travel Blog

Kamiyubetsu Tulip Flower Park Hokkaido Japan Travel Blog

Running through the flower field Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park Japan Travel blog

Poetry by Photography: Whispers on the Mountainside

I knelt to look at a tuft of white, leaning from the wind’s strong might. Parachuters airdropped from up above, sailing on their wings like doves.

And then- with sudden epiphany, I understood how the mountainside came to be. For every few who downward fell, rather more, flew up as well.

I looked on up to the summit top, which I hastened to reach without a stop. For I realised what might’ve seemed colossal at first, was nothing more than life’s tiny verse.

June 2014, Mt Moere covered in dandelions, Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Scale.”