A Temple with Extra Restrictions on Photography is Now My Favorite Kyoto Temple
Harsh conditions of entry to the Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院) Kyoto Japan -- Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/250 sec, f/2.5, ISO 720 — map & image datanearby photos
Harsh
conditions of entry to the Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院)
Kyoto Japan

This is a followup to yesterday's post with photos from the Hokyo-in Temple in Kyoto, a temple with some of the most harsh, restrictive anti-photography policies I've ever encountered.

On one end of the spectrum are places that allow even tripods, such as the Yoshiminedera temple. Moving along toward more restrictions, the Heian Shrine allows tripods, but only if you pay a ¥2,000 (about US$20) fee. Most places don't allow the use of tripods at all, but the Hokyo-in Temple featured yesterday doesn't even allow you to have a tripod in your possession. Even if securely sequestered in your backpack, you're simply not allowed in.

😍This is my new favorite temple. 😍

But not for the reasons you might think. First, let me go over the rules....

The sign above says:

For the preservation of the temple grounds:

People in possession of a tripod or monopod,
or people whose main intention is photography
are refused entry.

The use of large and medium format cameras is prohibited.

If done without causing a nuisance or destroying the garden,
the use of small cameras (up to 35mm) is permitted.

There were two of these signs at the entrance, the other one being a good 5 feet tall.

If you have a tripod with you, you have to leave it at the entrance with your shoes.

As I wrote in On Photography and Rights six years ago, I'm a strong proponent of owners' rights (if it's yours, you have the right to decide whether to share, and if so, under what conditions). It's nice that on their web site they take the time to describe exactly why they have these rules. As you might imagine, it can be summarized as because in the past, cameramen were rude, selfish assholes. (Pardon my spicy, but appropriate, English)

The Calm -- Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/125 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
The Calm
The Storm Behind the Calm showing where I was when I took the “ calm ” photo -- Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/50 sec, f/1.4, ISO 180 — map & image datanearby photos
The Storm Behind the Calm
showing where I was when I took the calm photo

The photo above, showing a few folks taking pictures at the end of the path, was probably the most calm that storm was all day, because the garden had just opened and the crowds had not yet gotten oppressive.

Can you imagine a half a dozen folks with tripods vying for position, yelling at temple visitors — some of which may have the audacity to consider the temple visit an actual religious experience — to get out of the way? Nobody that I would visit with would ever act that way, but I can certainly imagine it.

Heck, just a couple of weeks ago at the Honen'in Temple I was shocked to see a photographer with a tripod yelling down a path at someone to please get out of the way. I was doubly mortified for fear I'd be lumped in with him because like me, he had a camera and was Caucasian. I made sure to stay away from him.

Whether the selfish jerk is wielding a tripod or a cigarette or a too-loud iPod or boorish manners, it takes only a few bad apples to ruin the experience for everyone, both in the short run, and, as we'll see, in the long run.

Going back to this temple's web page, they explain that prior to 1989 there were no restrictions on tripods or large-format cameras, but they had increasing troubles with photographers causing a nuisance, and actually causing damage to the temple grounds. It got so bad, they explain, that they started to hear from their true target demographics (Buddhists who want to visit the temple for its religious significance) that this temple was to be avoided due to the rude cameramen.

So, eventually they prohibited tripods, and relied on the honor system for them to not be used. They write:

People would say I won't use the tripod, I promise and we'd let them bring it in with them, but while viewing the garden their feelings would change and they'd forget their promise and whip out their tripod. This happened all the time.

So, they eventually had to ban the tripods altogether.

And remember, this was back leading up to 1989, in the purely film era. Just imagine how bad it'd be now in the digital era, at an easily-accessible photogenic-but-cramped place like this.

So, despite the harshness of the signs, the jerks in this case are those photographers 25-35 years ago.

I wish the restrictions weren't there, but I can understand why without being told, but I really appreciate the long thoughtful explanation on their web site, so it's now one of my favorite temples.

As a bonus, they even have the foliage-color timeline history on their site, so you can know when the colors have traditionally been best. There's quite a range, from the peak falling on a November 15th (1997) to a December 4th (1994). The median looks to be about November 27.

I try to always be respectful when in a temple or shrine or other religious place, but that goes double when I have a camera. Whether I like it or not I'm representing all photographers, and all foreigners, and all Americans, so I try to act accordingly. But mostly it's just because (I think) I'm a considerate person, thanks to how my parents raised me.

In my experiences out and about with the camera in Japan, I find that most people are pretty reasonable, which is why the tripod-yeller mentioned above was such a shock.

From a Respectful Distance -- Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/50 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1000 — map & image datanearby photos
From a Respectful Distance
Short Fully-Appropriate Pause -- Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/80 sec, f/1.6, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Short Fully-Appropriate Pause
desktop background image of a rickshaw driver taking a photo for his customers, at the main building of the Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院), Kyoto Japan -- With Overt Politeness ( that's a rickshaw driver taking a photograph for his customers ) -- Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院) -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/50 sec, f/1.6, ISO 125 — map & image datanearby photos
With Overt Politeness
( that's a rickshaw driver taking a photograph for his customers )
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Temple Visitors did not come to watch you take pictures -- Hokyo-in Temple (宝筐院) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2013 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/ -- This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/80 sec, f/1.6, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Temple Visitors
did not come to watch you take pictures

Sometimes I run across very strange warnings or prohibitions, and wonder what set of circumstances lead to the need to warn or prohibit the seemingly-innocuous thing in question. I wish I could remember some of the examples I've run into recently...there have been some doozies.


All 7 comments so far, oldest first...

I can see the temple’s point of view.

First in terms of crowd control and knowing myself how packed famous attractions in Japan (and Kyoto) can become, photographers standing in the flow with cameras mounted on tripods can be problematic (though the Heian Jingu fee is a surprise and sounds like a money grab). But more importantly, while a temple such as this may be visually appealing, it is in the end a place of worship , just like for example, St. Pauls in London, where I remember signs advising visitors that it is foremost a place of worship and conduct inside should reflect that.

— comment by An Expat on November 25th, 2013 at 8:28pm JST (3 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

I certainly side with the temple on this one, but to describe them as “places of worship” is pretty inaccurate, I think. The gardens especially are primarily tourist attractions that make money for the organization. In all your temple wanderings, Jeffrey, how many Buddhist monks have you seen trying to use the zen gardens for meditation or worship? I’m not nearly the temple-goer you are, but in my 15 or so years in Japan the number is exactly zero.

That’s one reason why going to small to mid-size shrines is so much more fun, in my opinion. You see people incorporating the place in their real daily lives, from a little worship on the way to work, to wishing for a good grade on an exam, etc.

Who mentioned “places of worship” (besides you)? I said “religious experience”, which is exactly what it is for some. For many (most?) Japanese it’s a “cultural experience with pseudo-religious overtones”. But for folks like me it is a tourist attraction, but even then, when I visit a tourist attraction like Notre Dame in Paris, it’s certainly somehow more for me as a Catholic than it is for a non-Catholic, so it’s totally disingenuous to treat these places on par with Disneyland or Kidzania. —Jeffrey

Oops, my brother points out that “places of worship” was mentioned by the previous commenter, sorry. In any case, even though not everyone visits them for religious reasons and even though they are often overtly for-profit operations, they are clearly “religious places”… —Jeffrey

— comment by Zak on November 26th, 2013 at 12:00am JST (3 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

I can commiserate with your mention of rude photographers, and then worrying about being lumped in with them simply for carrying a [large] camera.

It’s not private property, but Central Park in New York City is a hotspot for birders. It’s surprising, considering that it’s in the middle of a large city, but all sorts of interesting bird species can be spotted there. I engaged in bird photography there for about a year, and came into contact with many birders (not photographers) during the warmer months. That’s when I discovered some interesting resentment against photographers.

While I was there to take photos of birds, I delighted in learning species names, identifying factors, and various other bird facts. (Side note for those who are interestted: the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a fantastic website for this purpose, although the species emphasis seems to be around birds of the Northeast USA.) This allowed me to chat evenly with the birders. This led them to open up to me, and occasionally express confusion.

“Are you a birder, or a photographer?” was a question I received from one elderly birder, who noted my DSLR and proceeded to look me over skeptically before asking, “where are your binoculars?” (“I guess I’m a photographer,” I answered sheepishly.)

Yet another group angrily told me about an incident with a photographer. The group had spotted a rare bird and was watching it with great interest. A photographer joined the group and then attempted to approach the bird, presumably to get a better shot. The bird was frightened away. Apparently these types of incidents weren’t particularly rare. Many of the birders held the photographers in contempt. They were there to enjoy nature and delight in observing. We photographers, with our clacky cameras and our apparent inability to help ourselves from always trying to get closer, ruined that experience. And worse, the photographers were unapologetic about it. (Perhaps not surprising from New Yorkers, one might think, and yet the people who ventured into Central Park regularly seemed to me a very different breed of New Yorker.)

I suppose the best that we can do is try to set a good example, and be understanding when people who have had bad experiences with photographers want to vent.

— comment by David K. on November 26th, 2013 at 6:40am JST (3 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

I totally agree that places like that should be enjoyed quietly and respectfully. I was just pointing out that, contrary another commenter’s opinion, they are not really actively used for the religious purpose some ascribe to them. It’s not like there are Zen monks fighting for space to meditate with the tourists.

— comment by Zak on November 26th, 2013 at 8:13am JST (3 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

I live in Brookville, Ohio, USA. I lived in Sendai Japan from 1953-1956 (about 2.5 years).

In my experiences and we only had 35mm cameras, nobody used a tripod but some used a monopod. All the film was still black and white and the film speed was then called, “Tri-X” as I recall. I know I tried to take photos in our barracks, with available light from cigarettes and it worked. With the film speed in mind, I suppose we didn’t need tripods and monopods seemed to work best. Mine telescoped down to a baton-size tube and hung from my waist.

I took a lot of photos in shrines and temples and around them. I think all of us were respectful of where we were and of our surroundings — and we had people who were ill-treated by the Japanese having survived prison camps in Japan and the Bataan Death march, and they treated all of the people and places with a great deal of respect. That was my observation.

Times have changed. An American soldier in Japan today would not be accorded the same respect that we got but I am only guessing. I never once felt afraid while I was there and was never threatened by anyone. I spent considerable time in Tokyo, and in Matsushima at the shrines and temples and always enjoyed my visits. I must add, however, that most Japanese in those days, not long after the war, could not afford a camera or film or processing. Most of the cameras they had before the war were confiscated during the war so not many really nice photos were taken until the middle or late 1950s.

I did see a lot of pencil and willow stick charcoal portraits of famous generals and admirals and government officials. These were usually full length and were so realistic that when I passed the studio where they were on display I would stop dead in my tracks and back up and take a closer look to be sure I was not looking at a large photograph. I have often wondered what ever happened to those kinds of portraits?

Thanks so much, Abe, for this insight into a prior Japan. (Much has changed, but I do suspect that if you were to visit today, you’d feel just as safe.) —Jeffrey

— comment by oldmanlincoln on November 28th, 2013 at 6:38am JST (3 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

It was a treat to read your comments of the visit to the Miho Museum. Your photo studies
of the architecture were, as usual, spectacular. I marveled at the silver reflection in the spoon
ready for use in the cafeteria. I have visited Miho twice, but your photos and the verbal backdrop
on the entire experience was the same as a third visit. Thanks. Father Macy in Kyoto

— comment by Anonymous on December 14th, 2013 at 4:35am JST (3 years, 9 months ago) comment permalink

You got this part wrong: “Even if you say “I won’t hold you responsible for it at all, so can I at least leave my tripod somewhere out here and enter?”, we won’t offer you a place.”

ただし「紛失しても責任は一切問わないから、どこかに置かせてほしい(傘や靴と同じ扱いとする)」という方には、置き場所を提供しております。

They say they DO offer you space where you can leave it at your own risk.

Holy cow, you’re right, thanks. I guess the expectations of what came before guided my eye more than the actual words written. (I guess I saw the final 「す」as 「せん」). This is much less hard-line, so I’ve removed the section and replaced it with a simple “you can leave…” note. Thanks(!). —Jeffrey

— comment by Marcus on March 21st, 2014 at 5:22pm JST (3 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink
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