Does it spark joy?


There are times when I took a picture, and then edit them in Lightroom, when everything seems well executed from composition to other technical aspect. But as I stared at the final picture… I tend to feel… empty. Something is lacking, and I wonder what it is.

Some said there needs to be a story, some said there needs to be “soul” in your picture. I think ultimately, the important factor of whether a picture will be included in your collection is: “Does it spark joy?”

There are times when we have some very ordinary pictures, but because it brought us some sentimental values, it carries a meaning, it “sparks joy”, hence it became a keeper for us in the years to come. The same goes to every other aspects in life, if what you are doing at the moment does not spark joy in you, you can hardly deliver a good result. If an item does not spark joy in you, no matter how well made it is, you wouldn’t buy it and bring it home.

I believe the same can be said to photography, and this has become one of the aspect I look into when I’m shortlisting pictures from my pile of collections. Not just the technical aspect, but also the feeling it gives me. Well, everyone has their own selection criteria, so what’s yours?

Camera technology… what’s next?

In recent years, traditional camera technology has not changed much. You get better sensor performance with better noise control, you get higher speed performance that allows blackout-free shooting through EVF, you get better auto focus performance in the form of eye and animal eye AF… other than that, there seems to be not much going on.

Whereas for smartphone camera technology, computational photography has evolved and allows user to capture HDR image and video with live view, night mode that allows handheld low light photography to be possible, blurring background without the need of large aperture lens, creating lighting effect without the need of studio light and so on.

It’s an obvious threat for sure to the traditional photography industry, smartphones have been eating their piece of pie ever since they were introduced. To photography geek like us, we jolly know the difference between the two in terms of what each can achieve and their limitations. However, for the vast majority of average consumers, it simply doesn’t make sense to buy a camera anymore.

So, can traditional photography platform catch up and make a come back? Or it will slowly fall into a niche? I wonder. Maybe they can add computational photography into traditional cameras, but that would require a crazy amount of processing power that current technology simply couldn’t deliver. Maybe they can innovate by adding internet connectivity and adding apps on their camera to ease content sharing, but that would probably eats in their battery life and annoy some purist along the way.

We are already seeing camera sales dropping year over year, it would be interesting to see how one would react to stay relevant in the business. What do you think is necessary for traditional camera brands to survive the storm?

Innovation?


What is innovation? This word has been used so loosely that every single thing that appears in front of us nowadays need to tie themselves to it.

“This is an innovative solution!”
“This is an innovative design!”

For example, people hyped about curve edge on phone screen, but is that innovation? How about foldable screen? More megapixels on your camera? A camera with no LCD screen or one that folds inward? My personal point of view is that innovation can only be “innovation” when it brings value to users and solves problem.

Take the very first iPhone as an example, it was an engineering marvel back then, and I think all of us would agree that it is innovative. It solved the problem of clunky user interface, putting a computer and browsers on your palm, allowing you to be always connected to the internet and ultimately blurs the line between a smartphone and computer.

As Xiaomi unveiled the Mi Mix Alpha (the all screen phone from front all the way to the back) and calling it innovation, I can’t help but to wonder what innovation is there. Maybe from engineering point of view there’s a breakthrough in developing such screen. But from a user point of view, such design will only generates more problems than what it could potentially solves. Foldable screen on the other hand, is something I felt is legit innovation. However, the current implementation by both Huawei and Samsung are just lack lustre, as both device companies are just trying to be “the first” and didn’t spend time to refine and wait for the technology to mature.


In the case of camera, mirrorless system was innovative when it first launched. It brings in features which were not available on DSLR during that era, great live view experience, electronic viewfinder that enables “what you see is what you get” and so on. It solves the weakness of videography on DSLR, and had now blurred the line between still and video camera. However, there seems to be little innovation breakthrough (at least meaningful innovation) thereafter. There was in-body image stabilization, some improvement on sensor technology (stacked sensors, backside illuminated sensors etc.) and that’s about it. In fact, most of the innovation in photography came from the smartphone space, namely “computational photography”. I wonder if traditional camera manufacturers are able to adopt some of those technologies into their camera?

The world is flooded with yearly refreshed gadgets, where most of them didn’t have much of a leap in innovation to begin with. I do know that companies need to survive by selling us stuffs, and sometimes stuffs that we don’t need. But I can’t help but to think that such frequent and minor refresh had killed our sense towards “innovation” and diluted the excitement of some real innovations. Anyway, I do hope companies can bring in true innovations that enrich our life, solve our pain points, and allow us to truly enjoy technologies in the days to come.

Make it stick

Been reading quite a lot of books lately, I’m on book no. 35 as of writing to be exact. That brings me to the thought of… for so much books that I read, information that I absorbed, things that I learned, how much of it I am actually able to recall and make use of in the days to come?

The challenge has always been this. Just like how you see supposedly “educated” people graduated from famous university, but still performing uneducated act like littering everywhere. Ultimately, all that matters is not how much input you received, is how much output you produce out of it.

The same goes to photography. You can talk all day about “how to take a good photo”, but if you didn’t deliver a good photo in the end… what’s the point, right?

Of course my argument here is based upon a “result-based” approach, by ignoring the fact on the process. One may argue that this is part of the process, where failing to achieve what you have learned is also a learning point for you, making you aware and hence be more cautious in the future. Well, I kinda agree with that, but still, many may not even realized that in the end, and that’s a problem.

So, for so much I have read for the past years, did I made any changes and put any meaningful learning into practice? Well… yes and no. Conservatively, I would estimate only like 20% of what I learned has been put into good use. That’s quite little indeed. That’s something I’m aware of and trying to fix.

Of course not everything can be of good use immediately, some takes time to materialize, some require additional skills beforehand, some I just can’t… make it stick. It’s a long way to go and to change. Let’s see if things will turn better in the future. Till then.

Climbing Mount Fuji

During my trip to Japan in early August, I climbed Mount Fuji and managed to reach the peak of the mountain. I do faced some difficulties during my planning, and now I would like to share some information and things that I wished I knew earlier. Please note that for what I shared, it’s based on my personal experience and your milage of course will vary, and information presented is accurate at this point of time.

Basic Information

Mount Fuji is measured at 3,776m tall. Official climbing season usually begins around early July and ends in early September. It is not advisable to climb Mount Fuji outside of the recommended period. You may check the official website for necessary information and latest update on weather, local condition and any emergency alert.

Climbing Route

One of the building located at Subaru Line 5th Station, providing souvenir, gear rental, food, toilet and overnight stay.

There are all together 4 routes to ascend Mount Fuji. The route I took was Yoshida Trail. Hence, my sharing will mainly based on this trail. The other routes are Subashiri Trail, Gotemba Trail and Fujinomiya Trail. Each trail will have different starting point, although they are all being named similarly as “5th Station”. As you climb up the mountain, you will pass by “6th Station”, follow by “7th Station”, “8th Station” and “9th Station” before you reach the peak. Each “Station” is basically an area with amenities, such as small hut for you to stay overnight, shops selling food and necessities and toilet. 5th Station will have better amenities and facilities, as you climb up the mountain, each station facilities will become more and more basic.

The consideration for which route you should take boils down to which starting point is easier to access by you. Also, different route has different level of difficulties and will require different physical abilities. The total time consumed to reach to the top will be different for each route too.

One of the hut located at 6th Station, providing basic needs for climbers.

When is the best time to climb?

The best time to climb is when the weather is fair and dry. Generally, July will still have high chance of rain throughout the day. Best window is somewhere around last week of July to first week of August, where weather should start to turn dry. Do note that typhoon can strike during summer in Japan, and all trail will close under such weather condition. Also, avoid dates around Mountain Day (usually is somewhere around 10 August, will change every year) as a lot of locals will come and climb Mount Fuji (or any other mountain) during that festive period.

In terms of timing, it really depends on what you want to achieve. If you want to witness sunrise at the peak, you can start climbing during the day and stop at one of the station to rest for the night. Then, start climbing again in the midnight in order to reach the summit by dawn. Sunrise timing varies but it should be somewhere around 4:30am to 5am in the summer. For my trip, the hike started at around 11:30am from 5th Station. I ended my day at 8th Station somewhere around 6:30pm in the evening. Had my dinner, took a nap and woke up for the final climb at 1.30am, and reaching the top at 4:30a, just in time for sunrise.

The crowd ascending Mount Fuji in the midnight

Generally, most people will follow the timing above to catch the sunrise. If you want to avoid the crowd, the easiest way is to do the complete opposite of the schedule above. I have read some people will arrive at 5th Station for the night, and start climbing early in the morning, reaching the summit by noon, then descend and arrive back at 5th Station by evening. I personally prefer the “catch sunrise” schedule because you will get to catch a break and rest for a night. So if you do not wish to view the sunrise, just continue your sleep until say 6:00am or 7:00am, then only you start to climb up to the summit.

Also, do note that my timing is most likely only be applicable only if you are staying a night at 8th Station… which is closer to the peak. If you stay a night at 7th Station, you will surely reach your hut earlier, rest earlier, and probably will need to wake up earlier in the night and start climbing to the top.

So, in short, for a normal person, you can expect around 9 hours of climb (include resting time) in total from 5th Station to the summit. As for descending from summit back to 5th Station, you can expect somewhere around 4 hours (include a little resting time). If you are physically fit, of course both timing will be shorter.

How do I get to 5th Station?

Generally, you can reach any of the 5th Station by a combination of train and bus ride, or just by bus. It really depends on where is your starting point, so it is a little hard to tell you the exact way to arrive at 5th Station. For more information, you may refer to here and here.

What should I prepare for the climb?

First off, if you plan to stay overnight in one of the hut, you will need to book with them in advance as it can get pretty crowded during the climbing season. You can check here for some lists of the mountain hut available. Most sites are in Japanese, but a little help from Google translate should get you going. The mountain hut is nothing to shout about. Basically it’s just an open area where people are lying shoulder to shoulder for a night… at least that’s the case for the one I stayed in. Maybe there are other packages and better hut, so you will need to explore a little.

You see the lady in red lying there… along that stretch there will be around 6 person lying just like her for the night…

Next, you will need to prepare a lot of 100 yen coins. Each toilet visit will cost you somewhere around 100 yen to 300 yen, price increases with elevation. As the toilet are not manned, there is no way for you to get change. You just drop the coins into the coin box located outside of the toilet. To be safe, do prepare around 2,000 yen of 100 yen coins at least. On top of that, keep some spare cash (bank notes are okay) for food and souvenir. As a reference, food (such as cup noodle and bread) cost somewhere from 500 yen to 1,500 yen each, so plan accordingly and make sure you have enough cash for it. Credit card or any other card payment methods are not accepted.

In terms of climbing needs, here’s a list of items that you will find useful during your climb. Do note that some items are essentials, while others may or may not be required by you, so your own judgement is required. Do note that whatever you decided to carry, it will be extra weight on your shoulder for the climb.

  • Hiking boots with hiking socks (Must)
  • Hiking stocks (Highly recommended)
  • Headlamp (Must if you plan to climb in the dark)
  • Rain gear (Must, both jacket and pants)
  • Thermal wear (Must, temperature at the peak can drop to 2-6 degrees celcius)
  • Hard helmet (Recommended)
  • Hiking backpack (Highly recommended)
  • Sunglasses and cap (Highly recommended)
  • Sunscreen (Highly recommended)
  • Face mask (Highly recommended, to filter off sand and dust blew off by wind)
  • High energy/calories snack (Must, I brought along 2 energy bars and 6 kit kat chunky)
  • Water (Must, 1.5-2 litre should be sufficient. If not enough, you can purchase along your way although it will be expensive)
  • Oxygen, first aid kit, medication related items (Good to have some basic items)
  • Extra clothing (Good to have, can wear on Day 2 or after get wet from rain)
  • Wet tissues / hand sanitiser (Must, no water along the climb, use them after your toilet break)
  • Extra plastic bag (Highly recommended. Carry a few for storing rubbish, wet stuff etc. You must carry all the rubbish you produced with you as there’s no where to throw)

I think I had covered most, if not all of the stuff. Another concern is probably what to wear along the hike. For me, I start off the hike with: Uniqlo Airism inner wear + Dry-Fit short sleeve T-shirt, compression legging + short cargo pants + Airism underwear, cap + sunglasses. If you can wear a long sleeve quick dry inner shirt will be better as it will block off some sunlight. When getting close to 7th Station, the temperature drops and wind started to picked up. Hence, I added a rain jacket which blocks both wind and water. That keeps me warm until I arrived at 8th Station.

At night, I wear Heattech long sleeve inner wear + Dry-fit short sleeve T-shirt + Uniqlo Ultra light down + rain jacket, compression legging + Uniqlo blocktech fleece lined long pants to keep myself warm. The same clothing was worn for the final ascend as well, adding headlamp + hard helmet + glove. When I descend back to 8th Station from the summit, I changed back to similar clothing as how I started.

Man with the wooden hiking stick bought from 5th Station. This is the long version, there are shorter version which is about 1/3 of the length.

Extra info:

  • You can purchase a wooden hiking stick from 5th Station if you wish. When you visit a hut at any of the station, you can get them to stamp on your wooden stick (with a fee of course) as a memorial that you have visited this place. If you worried that a long wooden stick is troublesome to bring back by flight, you can purchase a shorter version instead.
  • Technically speaking, it is “free” to climb Mount Fuji. But as you leave 5th Station, there will be a conservation centre at the beginning of the trail. They will ask you for a donation of 1,000 yen, in exchange they will provide you with a wooden plate as souvenir. I would encourage you to donate as all fund will channel back into the conservation and maintenance of Mount Fuji.
  • There is a “post office” on top of Mount Fuji, and you can get a special postage mark noting the item was delivered from the top of Mount Fuji. So to save you some trouble, you can prepare a postcard before the climb, bring it with you and just dump it into the postbox when you arrived at the summit.
  • If you really can’t continue anymore (due to emergency situation, fatigue, illness, accident etc.), there’s always a Plan B. Contact the emergency centre / any climbing guide that passes by and get their help to arrange for carriage service. There are horses on standby for situation like this, of course the carriage service is not free. Last I recall it can cost somewhere around 30,000 yen.
Hut owner burning a stamp on the wooden stick.

I do not have all the gears… do you mean I need to buy them all?

Not everyone owns mountain climbing gears. I don’t either, and I did not purchase any new one for this climb. In fact, I rented most of the stuffs from this rental shop. They operate their shops in a few locations, including 5th Station for Yoshida Trail and Fujinomiya Trail, and even at Shinjuku. You can rent almost everything from them, rain gear, thermal wear, hiking shoes, headlamp, hiking stocks, backpack and so on. You can collect the rental items from any locations, and then get them returned at 5th Station after your climb.

Anyone can reach the summit? Like anyone?

To be super honest, I believe it is possible for everyone to reach the top. But that doesn’t mean the climb is going to be easy (but it is not super hard like some other mountain climb either). You will need some physical training for sure prior to the climb. Plan your climb according to your ability and don’t rush. The general rule of thumb is that for every 30 to 40 minutes climb, take a 5 to 10 minutes break. This is not just for you to recover your energy, eat some snack and drink some water, it is also important to let your body to adapt to the elevation and avoid altitude sickness. Pacing yourself accordingly also avoids unnecessary injuries, which is definitely something you don’t want to happen!

Young and old, Man and women, it’s possible to reach the summit if you plan and prepared for it.

Based on my experience, first part of the climb will challenge a lot of your physical strength, while the second part of climb (last stretch to the summit) will challenge a lot on mental strength. There are times when you will question yourself, thinking of giving up. You’ll need to identify whether it’s a signal from “physical” or “mental” tiredness. “Physical” can be cured by a small break, if it’s all “mental”, just continue and push on, you will get over it.

One more point of concern is spending all your energy just to reach the summit. Remember, reaching the summit is only half of the game. You will still need to descend back to 5th Station and home! Therefore, planning is important and make sure there are some energy left in you for the descend. I’ll breakdown to you on a few types of trail surface that you will encountered during your hike:

Type 1: Proper stone laid path. You will encounter this path at the very beginning of your hike for a short distance.

Type 2: Solid dirt and tiny stones. This made up most of your hike up until 8th Station. Pretty easy to hike as long as your shoes are grippy enough. Occasionally can be slippery.

Type 3: Medium sized rocky path. Along your way up until 8th Station, you will encountered such path a few times. Just be careful when you climb the rocks. From 8th Station up to summit, most of the path are of this type.

Type 4: Tiny rocks and loose dirt. I’m not sure about you, but I find this type of path to be the hardest to walk on. It’s slippery when the weather is dry, and it’s uneven, it’s loose so your feet may sunk in at times. During ascend, you will only encounter this type of path sparingly. However, almost 95% of the descend consist of this type of path, which makes the descend extremely painful and tiring.

As you can see, the descend will consist of mostly Type 4 path, which isn’t the easiest to walk on. If you are not in a hurry, do take your time and slowly make the descend to avoid injuring your feet. Also, if the weather is dry, a lot of dust will be airborne when wind blew and when your feet are kicking the dust. It is highly recommended to wear a mask just to filter off the dust while you breath.

Other things to take note

  • Weather on the mountain can change quickly and dramatically. Be prepared for rain, drop in temperature, sunshine, strong wind and misty condition along your way.
  • Always be cautious and give way to faster groups or people who are descending.
  • Congestion may happen. Be patient and wait for your turn.
  • Hard helmet is recommended during the climb from 8th Station to the summit and during your descend. This is to protect your head from falling rocks.
  • When you reach the summit, you can continue to hike around the crater of Mount Fuji, which should took you around 1 to 2 hours, depending on your speed. There are shrine, “post office”, some view points for Fuji Five Lakes and a short trail to the highest peak of Mount Fuji along the way. Otherwise, there are a few hut where you can grab some food and souvenirs. Relax yourself before you start your descend.
  • Before the climb, you will need to fill up a “Climbing Plan” and submit to the postbox at the entry of the hiking trail. You may check with the information centre located at 5th Station for more details.
  • Be aware of where you are heading. Always check on the signboard to ensure you are on the right route as routes may intersect at some locations. This is especially true during your descend. Keep looking for the signboard that leads you back to 5th Station, don’t end up heading in the wrong direction.

Is there an easier way without all the hassle of planning?

Yes! In fact that’s what I did. Because I do not have much confidence in my initial planning and I’m traveling alone, on top of that this was my first time doing a major mountain climbing, hence I decided to play safe and joined a guided tour instead. The one I joined was from Willer Express, but there are many other tours out there for you to choose from. For this tour, basically everyone met up at Shinjuku, a bus took us to 5th Station and a guide will follow the group all the way to the top. However, for descend you can go at your own pace as long as you get back to 5th Station by 11:00am or so. And finally, the bus will pick everyone up and send you back to Shinjuku. There are other tour packages offered by them, such as one that doesn’t include the bus transfer between Shinjuku and 5th Station, so you will need to manage your transport yourself. All in all, you will never run short of options when you are looking for guided tour to climb Mount Fuji.

Is it worth it to climb to the top of Mount Fuji?

Well, it really depends on you. For me, I’m glad that I was blessed with fine weather and an epic sunrise, hence it was worth all the sweat and pain. Without that, I would probably still enjoyed the journey because of my love to Japanese culture. So it really is up to you to weight in and decide if this is the thing you want to get yourself into. Anyway, it’s a hell of experience and journey for me, and I really enjoyed it (except for the descend)! I wonder what’s the next adventure I will embark on?