Usually Jack-O'-Lanterns and Halloween don't have much to do with my field of photography, but this year my interest in nature came in handy.
I needed some scary images for a wall display at school, and I knew straight away where to go to find a dark Halloween like location. I took some Jack-O'-Lanterns that my students carved down into the sacred forest behind an old shrine.
In Japan, the biggest, oldest, gnarliest trees, are always found in the sacred forests that surround shrines.
These sacred groves are called chinju-no-mori 鎮守の森 in Japanese. Most large trees in other places in Japan were felled centuries ago for lumber and fuel, and the remaining old trees in parks, gardens and satoyama are usually pruned annually. Unless you get along way away from the cities, there aren't many big trees outside of sacred forests. That's amazing considering that more than 60% of Japan is forests.
The trees in shrine grounds are regarded as sacred and so are left to grow naturally. They are only ever pruned if they are a danger to nearby homes or if they fall over in storms.
When branches break off, huge hollows are left in the trunks. These hollows are called hora 洞 in Japanese.
Hora like these, in large shrine trees are now important habitats for native fauna like bats, owls and mandarin-ducks, that need large holes for nesting and roosting. They can't find large hora anywhere else. There good places to find ghosts and and Jack-O'-Lanterns too of course!
An Ural Owl. These owls are massive and have trouble finding big enough holes to nest in. Check out the size of the talons. This photo was taken at night, so it may be hard to see the owl depending on your computer. Don't worry, if you can't see it you're not going blind.
Owls are awesome, and over the last few years I've spent lots of time searching for them so I've deveoped a good mental map of where the oldest and gnarliest forests are now.
I never thought it would come in handy for creating Halloween images though.
Happy Halloween, and I hope your job and play comes together sometimes too.
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