#1343. Finding My Flow

By Nancee Rostad | Travel Photography

Jan 28

From rain to temizuya to wa.


During my trip to Japan in February 2023 our photography group journeyed to the countryside to explore the historic station town of Narai-juku. During the Edo period, travelers stopped here for lodging and restaurants since it was at the halfway point between Tokyo and Kyoto.


It had been raining, but as soon as we exited the bus, the wind was blowing an absolute gale and the rain was bucketing down furiously. My umbrella immediately turned inside out, which was not exactly unexpected, but was quite unwelcome. I hoped that my broken umbrella wouldn’t symbolize how our time in the town would pan out.


The plan to explore the center of town on the historic Nakasendo Road became an exercise in walking (more or less wading) the very narrow boardwalks while hugging the period buildings in the hopes of staying somewhat dry. If I’m making this sound particularly awful, then I’m doing a good job!


We had scheduled an hour and a half for exploration of a five block long road which, even in good weather, was about an hour too long for me. So I broke off from the group and skulked along under the skimpy overhangs wondering what I was going to do with all that time. In typical Japanese custom, there were no handy benches on which to wait and daydream. However, I did find a narrow window ledge to lean against at one point so that I could adjust my coat zipper when, out of nowhere, an elderly Japanese gentleman appeared and held his umbrella protectively over my head. I thanked him with my best dōmo arigatōgozaimasu, which seemed to surprise him in a good way.


Sloshing up and down the street finally brought me to a temizuya which is a small open-sided covered pavilion where one can perform a symbolic purification before entering a Shinto shrine. In the center of this pavilion was a raised stone water pool, where visitors to the shrine could use wooden ladles to rinse their mouths and hands. Since the weather was so bad, I was the only one standing under the protective roof, which suited me just fine. Thankfully there was a wide flat stone edge around the pool at the perfect height for perching.


At this point, I hadn’t taken one photo in the town – not one! I could see the other photographers scurrying around trying to get some shots in the rain, but I had no desire to join them. Instead I started looking at the water in the pool. Then I noticed that the water was flowing from a spout. Then I saw that even though the water wasn’t flowing very hard, it was disturbing the surface of the pool. At that aha moment I pulled out my phone and started to take quick shots as the water hit the surface. Within 30 seconds I realized I was onto something. Interestingly, the images looked like charcoal drawings, not photos. The stream of water appeared to be quite strong and forceful in the images, splashing water and creating bubbles and other beautiful patterns. It was a sublime moment that deserved my full attention and made me sigh with pleasure – or as the Japanese say: mono no aware.


Within fifteen minutes or so, one-by-one, other group members joined me briefly under the pavilion roof. Of course, I quit shooting as soon as they showed up. They all looked at the pool, but not one of them took a photo, which seemed both strange and lucky at the same time. I had achieved wa (harmony) for the first time all day.


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  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    a great series!

    ( I think there are two things we can look at looong – a small fire, and moving water. It seems to be ingrained in us.)
    – * –

    A small experiment with a lively outcome:
    Look for some time on a favourite of these. First the water flows, but after a while the movement slows or fades.
    Now turn it upside down to make it a pure abstract, and when you’ve “got it” turn it the right way up again – and the water flows faster than ever!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for the great idea, Kristian! Our perspective when viewing an image can really influence what we see. It might be hard to do in a museum or art gallery, but with our devices we can give it a go. Your “experiment” would be interesting to try with children.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Come to think of it,
        would it work also with the water stream “frozen” by a very fast exposure or with one so slow that the stream is smooth all the way?
        Depends on the viewer’s imagination, I guess.

        Another thing, turning sideways didn’t make an abstract for me.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    LOL – at least you had plenty to photograph, Nancee, and more to spare, even if it was all water!

    I would have loved to have gone to Kyoto – BEFORE tourists like me swamped the place and startled all the locals! Unhappily I’m now grounded – too old for any more travel – so I have to depend on you younger people. Such is life!

    Water is one of those things like “lens protectors” (UV filters or otherwise), and “primes vs zooms” – how you take the photo amuses some and enrages others. The key is to exterminate “opinions” – and leave everyone to make their own choices, without the self-important hyenas in the background spraying nonsense all over the pages of every photography article you come across. Then we’d all be able to relax and enjoy ourselves, and each other – and maybe learn something different, instead of “more of the same”, like having a 14-year old teenager in a bedroom upstairs, learning to play drums in the hope of “making it”, but just making lots too much noise, instead.

    Locally, we have a couple of pro’ ‘togs, totally unrelated, quite separate businesses, who have become great friends and often head off into the wilds on a photography shoot. Bringing back photos that frankly blow me away, whenever I see them. When they go on a joint shoot, they call themselves “the two Christophers”, because they both have the same first name. First time I saw their work, there was a display of a dozen or so of their photos, taken in the middle of Australia, at a sunken lake left behind after a former Ice Age and now 100 feet below sea level. Usually bone dry, every 10 years or so it floods. And when I came out of the exhibition, I was asked which one I liked best – apart from saying “all of them”, the only other thing I could think to say was “If I was judging them, I’d give at least 6 of them equal first prize!”

    Yours remind me in some ways of theirs – a dream like quality that I don’t put into mine. My shots of water are never “milk”, I like to see the individual droplets glistening in the light. But hey – I’m only one person, mine are probably considered “boring” by the multitude, while yours have a hypnotic charm!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you, Pete for your wonderful comment! You summed it up nicely – one should just use whatever device is handy when the urge to photograph is upon you. I don’t listen to the camera vs. iPhone chatter because it’s who’s behind the camera that matters most. I really didn’t do anything special to capture that painterly effect. The only thing I can think of is that the “live” feature on the phone was on. The “live” button takes a one to 2 second mini-video which resolves automatically into a still image. I usually turn it off because it uses more space in the phone memory and causes my laptop to download both the still and video separately. Anyway, thanks again for checking out my post.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Ha ha – “I don’t listen to the camera vs. iPhone chatter” – came home one night late in 2021 – the scene outside the resto, across the street, looke “interesting” – shot inside and grabbed the first camera I could find, shot outside to grab the shot before the people move off. Posted it on Google Guide, in my review of the resto. Had a look, the other day, and it’s clocked up over one and a quarter million “hits” so far, in little over 2 years. That camera has a tiny sensor, and the controls are so awkward that I use just as a “point and shoot” – all settings on automatic! But the composition of course was mine.

  • pascaljappy says:

    Hi Nancee, these absolutely fantastic. Individually, all are different. As a series, all consistent and vibrant with energy.
    And how fitting that this should be in Japan. The photographs might have looked identical in Milwaukee, I suppose. But I like to tell myself that only in Japan can phone imaging turn into Sumi-e painting.

    A wonderful series, thank you.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thanks for your kind and always encouraging words, Pascal! Japan just seems to have a certain magical atmosphere which makes photography so intriguing there – you never know what you might find around any corner, or on a very rainy day.

  • Jon Maxim says:

    Hi Nancee, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” And your lemonade is delicious! I can relate to your analogy to charcoal drawings because that is exactly what entered my mind before I read your text. I love the fact that you took the time to make a study of the water – kind of like Monet’s Haystacks series.

    Now I wish I could figure out how you got that effect with an iPhone.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thanks for taking the time to check out my new post, and for your kind words, Jon. It’s always the serendipitous subjects that inspire my creativity the most. Although it was simply shooting water, the resulting images were amazingly different! I’ve been trying to figure out why the water looks like it does, since I really just shot in a very straight forward way, and only did minimal post like turn them to B&W, adjust the exposure a bit, and straighten where necessary. There were no special effects used. The only thing I can think of is that the “Live” feature was on. However, I’ve taken many photos with that feature on and none of them turned out like these. Maybe it’s just the magic of Japan!
      So, when are we going to see a post from you? Hopefully soon!

  • Philberphoto says:

    Void brimming. Silence pulsing. In nothing everything.

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      Preoccupied I made my tea –
      Suddenly, I was aware
      of the music around me.

      Now the music is gone
      and the candles flicker
      in the air coming in
      through the opened doors.

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      You’re a poet too, Philippe! It’s a wonderful poem,, haiku in nature, if not in syllables. It’s so very visual – love it! I guess it’s my turn for a haiku:
      Sheltered from storm
      Serendipity flowing
      Still waters run deep

  • Michael Keppler says:

    It is often coincidence and, of course, the talent to discover the special or the beautiful in the simple, the ordinary or the familiar. And the courage to embrace the seemingly strange. When skill is added to this, something wonderful can emerge. Great pictures!

    • Nancee Rostad says:

      Thank you for your lovely words, Michael. It’s always gratifying when someone else gets what you’re trying to convey. My images are often on the strange side, but that’s what makes them different from the norm, I guess.

  • John Wilson says:

    Ahhhh Nancee. You make me jealous. Such beauty and grace from something so simple and mundane.

    Nancee’s lemonade. More Please!

  • Paul Perton says:

    Classic Nancee – love these images, wobbly, hard to focus, visually interesting, challenging even.

    Me being me, I can’t help but ponder how they’d react to being regarded as abstract and wildly colourised?

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