Oops. I kind of forgot that I put up these photos last week. It has been a busy week after all (and they just keep coming!).
So, in case you haven’t already seen my photos of Harajuku, wander on over and have a look.
This Tokyo district is home to the majority of Japan’s weird trend setters. Scores of boutiques serve up every kind of fashion imaginable. Bands line up on the sidewalks and blast their music into the streets. Flea markets cover the ground with clothes of all types. Pompadoured, leather-pant clad rockabilly dancers do the twist in the park. Goth teens feign indifference to the photographers that give them the attention they crave.
Harajuku is a cornucopia of people watching delights, but if you tire of the weird and wild, nearby Yoyogi Park offers tranquility and respite with quiet lakes and lovely picnic spots in the woods.
But it’s hard to get tired of the vibrance of Tokyo’s youth showing off their creativity and earnest yearning for individuality in an frequently conformist society.
Check out the photos here.
I’ve been homesick lately, but strangely, not for my actual hometown of Calgary. Instead, I’ve been longing for some time spent in one of my second homes: Japan. I think it may just be itchy feet longing for someplace exotic.
To scratch that itch, I have just uploaded a gallery of photos of the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo. Surrounded by the modern weirdness and teen-oriented shopping of the Harajuku district, this temple is an oasis of traditional Japan.
The shrine is reached by walking a long, wide path through the perpetually-green Yoyogi park. Enormous torii gates signal your imminent arrival to the shrine but suggest a building far more grand than the austere and low shrine. These torii gates are absolutely huge and their scale suggests something equally large awaits.
Though this isn’t the case, the shrine isn’t a disappointment. Though it isn’t an old building, it successfully pretends to be. It was built with traditional techniques and materials that make it fit in with any of Japan’s ancient temples.
Being Tokyo, you can’t expect to find it vacant of visitors, but part of the charm lies in the people watching that can be done there. On weekends, the Meiji Shrine is a popular location for weddings and if you visit, you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of a couple in traditional dress tying the knot.
The photo processing machine keeps rolling on here in Bangkok. I have again opted for some images from Japan with some photos of the Odaiba district. This series of man-made islands in Tokyo bay features futuristic architecture that will make you feel like you are in a video game while the Rainbow Bridge arcs across the horizon back to Tokyo’s the glow of distant Tokyo. I only visited during the evening, but that is when I imagine Odaiba is at its most futuristically surreal.
Just as with my photos of the Petronas Towers, I noticed that my photos of Tokyo’s Sensoji temple were not representative of a few visits I had made there. I’ve stayed in the Asakusa area and walking over to the temple with camera in hand is a great way to spend an evening. It may not be the most architecturally ornate or elegant of Japan’s temples, but the size of the gates, the iconic, five-story pagoda, and the active visitors of the temple make it a great shooting location.
I think I want to live in Tokyo. At least for a while. Until my money runs out.
I have to try to sum up everything I did in five days there. Unfortunately, my sister’s knee problem prevented her from joining me, but since I had the time booked off from work, I decided to make the most of it and venture sSouth on my own.
Wednesday, October 13
- Woke early to catch the shinkansen. Happily I was able to nap a bit. Then I was joined by a man named Kei, a Japanese tour guide whose English was impeccable. We talked about travel and his job and he made a few recommendations for things to do and see in Tokyo.
- It was raining when I arrived, so I decided to get off at Ueno station and go to the museum until the rain relented. The museum was interesting enough. I was a little tired and anticipated a busy schedule, so I hurried and didn’t retain as much as I could have.
- I wandered quickly through the other building that housed the Gallery of Eastern Antiquities then went back into the gardens behind the museum.’
- It turns out, I wasn’t supposed to be there. After about ten minutes, a security guard came and escorted me out.
- I took some photos in Rinno-ji where the groundskeeper had a bunch of small porcelain statues of puppies and such lurking in his garden. The grounds were beautiful and a nice introduction to the temples of Tokyo.
- The next stop was the Tokugawa Shogun cemetery. A gorgeous place with a myriad of hidden visual treasures. I think it may have been at this point where I started thinking I wanted to move to Tokyo. There are just so many places to explore – you’d never get bored. I started thinking that if you’re bored in Tokyo, you’re probably dead.
- I Walked back through Ueno park and fought the temptation to go to the zoo. If I had more time, I would have taken a look. Instead, I walked past the five storey pagoda and headed for Tosho-gu – another lovely temple. I also strolled past the blue tents of the homeless that had taken over the empty spaces between the trees of the park.
- With much of Ueno still unexplored, I headed back for the train station where I soon figured out the difference between the JR stations and the metro stations. I eventually found the station I needed and headed for my hotel. After getting lost in Jimbocho, I got to the Sakura hotel and checked in.
- The hotel was a little dingy in places, but it got the job done. The room was minuscule, but adequate. I couldn’t have slept on the floor if I wanted to. I was bothered by the fact that my booking said en-suite and that was nowhere to be found, but so be it. The actual commode areas were close at hand and their only fault was an inadequately removed vomit stain on the wall near the light switch. In both toilet rooms. Not sure how that happened.
- Once settled, I headed for the bright lights if Ginza. What a place. A neon marvel. I gawked at buildings and the hurried shoppers. I salivated at the electronics. I got lost looking for specific shops. I then found the Apple store and I was in heaven. After that, I went for Indian food and heaven continued.
- I wandered back in the direction of my hotel and past Bic Camera, which I noted for a later visit when it was open. Then I walked through the soaring International forum building.
- Back onto the subway and I was headed home where I began my nightly ritual of transferring photos to my hard drive and cursing the dripping air conditioner behind my head. I don’t know what it was that was dripping inside, but it was mighty irritating – I went so far as to try to disassemble the thing, but I couldn’t get to a crucial screw to do it. Earplugs in, I drifted off to sleep.
Thursday, October 14
- With an early start and some free toast under my belt, I made the early morning trip to Asakusa. The avenue leading to the shrine was not yet hopping with its vendors. I reached the shrine and started snapping away while trying not to inhale all the incense smoke and joking with a nearby information guide about not being able to breathe. Schoolchildren a plenty piled by and some were happy enough to have their photo taken in front of the shrine or pagoda.
- I also explored the nearby garden, but I couldn’t get inside the usually-closed larger gardens. Instead, I wandered the shopping avenue and went to find some food for myself. I ended up in a little place that happened to sell pancakes. That sounded like an appealing second breakfast, so I deciphered the katakana and made my order. They turned out to be only okay, but the kept me going for a while, so they served their purpose.
- With excellent timing, I caught the sea bus to the Hamarikyu teien gardens. The boat ride was fun and let me relax my already aching feet for a while.
- The gardens were lovely. They were overlooked by some rather modern skyscrapers which made for a striking contrast of old and new Japan. A hilarious goose followed me (rather, I followed it) along the paths for a while. It was quite acclimatized to humans and made for a good walking companion. I also attempted to have a conversation with a painter, but that, predictably, fell a bit flat.
- I think it was those pancakes that disagreed with my stomach, but something prompted me to tour that area of Tokyo from toilet to toilet. I actually ended up at Tokyo’s world trade center and then found my way to the subway to go to Roppongi.
- Aya recommended that I go to Roppongi Hills, so that was my destination once I got there. I wasn’t sure I was headed the right way since I couldn’t see any tall buildings, but it eventually popped out from nowhere.
- It’s a wonderful bit of architecture. It’s truly modern, but has an organic feel to it all the same. I headed up to the observation deck to go to the gallery and see the city view.
- The gallery was all about fashion, so it didn’t hold my interest that much, but at least the rooms were extremely well designed.
- The city view was spectacular and I wandered around the circuit a number of times. The only problem with the place was its no-tripod policy. After taking photos of a couple people, I got one to translate why I couldn’t use my tripod – it is a blanket policy because they are afraid people will damage the windows. With an eye roll, I went and propped my camera on my bag to take some shots. A silly no tripod rule isn’t going to keep me from getting the shots I want, damn it.
- Once I had my fill of the view, I went back downstairs and wandered around the building and its many nooks and crannies. The theatre, gardens and mall were all noteworthy.
- I headed home exhausted once again.
Friday, October 15
- Today was my trip to Kamakura, the former capital of Japan that now houses an impressive collection of shrines and temples. I took the JR line in that direction (and without much hassle even) and an hour later, I was ready to hop to it.
- I rented a meager bike from near the station. It was to be my transport for the day. If nothing else, it gave my feet a bit of a rest. Even though it only had one gear and the lock was, well, a piece of crap really, it still got me from A to B a bit faster than my weary feet would have.
- The first shrine I visited was Tsurogaoka Hachinan-gu. Over the bridge and up the path, the hillside shrine revealed itself. It made for a lovely scene in the clear blue sky. Once inside, the monks of the temple began chanting accompanied by a flute, a drum and an instrument I can’t for the life of me name. I’ve never seen it before and I only got to see it from behind so I can’t even describe it. It sounded almost synthetic though. Either way, the whole experience was great. A group of monks filed into the main temple area and did some chanting while school children crammed into the area nearby.
- I returned to my bike and attempted to tackle the hill leading to another group of shrines. I couldn’t quite make it all the way to the top without disembarking and walking up. Oh the shame. I blame the single-gear bike. The downhill ride was nice and quick though.
- Engaku-ji was the first stop. An enormous gate lead up to a good sized temple where zen monks did some incredible chanting. It was completely monotone and the monks chanted as many rhythmic syllables as they could until they ran out of breath. While they recovered, there was always someone else chanting in their place, so it became one unbroken string of the single-toned syllables. I felt so privileged to witness it. I also climbed to the top of the hill where a huge bell hangs and took in the view of the valley.
- Tokei-ji was next. The grounds of this temple were being maintained, so there wasn’t that much to see, but it was a nice, peaceful place nonetheless. There was a museum, but I didn’t enter. I don’t know if there was anything past that. It looked like there may have been more to the grounds, but I didn’t bother to check through the museum.
- Just up the road, I stopped at Jochi-ji, another small temple with peaceful grounds. This time, however, the highlight was the cemetery that hid behind the temples. Bamboo grew next to cliff faces, some of them with tunnels and shaded the tombs that stepped up the hillside. As with most of these temples, I wanted to stay longer, but I wanted to see as many as I could, so I pressed on.
- I went to Kencho-ji next and marveled at the vast, open grounds. The wide space was complemented by oversized buildings that were a spectacular sight.
- I cycled back down the hill and made my way to the giant Bronze casting of the Buddha. It’s a damn big Buddha. What more can you say really?
- The last stop in Kamakura was Hase-dera, a shrine well known for its jizo statues that are meant to protect the souls unborn children. I saw a mother place flowers with one of the statues and weep. A sad place. I actually missed the large kannon statue as time was running out on my bike rental and the gardens were closing. I good excuse to go back I guess.
- After the train ride back to Tokyo, I wandered through Ginza a little more and eventually found myself at the technological showcase that is the Sony building. They had some fun stuff there, but the Aibo dogs were the most entertaining by far. I had dinner at a spaghetti place where everything was cooked right in front of you.
- After a little more wandering and a stop in Bic Camera to play the seriously fun driving game, I stumbled home on those feet of mine that were rapidly turning to bloody stumps.
Saturday, October 16
- I meant to wake up much earlier than I did, but my body rebelled against the punishment I was giving it and slept through my alarm. The fish market’s ridiculously early schedule was too much to ask of my weary bones.
- But, even thought I woke later, the market was still buzzing when I arrived. Actually, it’s probably just as well. Any busier and it might have been too much (or I would have been run over by one of those fish-carrying carts). The sights, sounds, of the place were powerful, but I thought the smells would be more overpowering than they were. The sound of a saw cutting through a frozen fish, however, is a little grating – like a dentist’s drill. It was difficult to get any good shots because the lighting was so bad and I could not set up my tripod – I would have been far too in the way. Not to mention, being a tourist bothering folks who were busy trying to make a living was not that appealing – I tried to let people go about their business.
- There was also another section of the market more devoted to vegetables. It was a little less hectic and jarring. Near the wholesale market, I found where a lot of the sold fish was headed – to the regular market. People were flocking there and lining up for ages to get to their favourite vendor. I elbowed my way through the crowds and checked out more of the hubbub.
- I stopped briefly at the temple in Tuskiji then walked toward the Imperial Palace (with another stop at Bic Camera for more driving action). I got a bagel on the way and also stopped at the Marounochi building. The ritzy restaurants on the top floors held little interest for me, but the view was nice and there was a wedding party there having their photos taken – a good spectacle.
- Back on street level, I crossed the moat of the Imperial Palace and attempted to tend to a developing blister. I wandered outside the palace for a while and chuckled at the passing tour groups.
- I turned back and went to the East gardens where I wandered some more. I stopped to take some shots of mothers and their young kids playing in the park and later to try to capture some of the gardens.
- I went back to the hotel to pick up my coat since the weather was cooler than the previous day then got back on the train system and ventured out to Odaiba.
- The modern and clean train line dropped me off at a great lookout point for the Rainbow Bridge. I went down to the beach, set up the tripod and started snapping.
- When I felt I had the bridge shots under control, I headed back up to the eclectic malls, where I found some delightful Indian food to pack into my gut. I get hungry thinking about it – so good. Then I washed it down with some delicious gelato. Two of my favourite consumables back to back.
- I wandered a little further along the boardwalk and started to realize that, in Odaiba, you might just be able to get anywhere without touching the ground. Snazzy hotels and modern architecture surrounded me and invited me to stay, but the evening was getting on and I had to go home to rest up for one more day.
Sunday, October 17
- My first stop today was the temple in Akasuka named Hie-jinja, famed for its Tori avenue. I made the most of the vacant early morning and took my photos with little interference.
- I continued on to Harajuku where I was expecting to see freaks galore, but I only saw a few upon arrival. I wandered in the direction I thought would yield the most absurdity and eventually found myself in the middle of a market.
- The main sale item was used clothing, but all kinds of nonsense was on offer there. It seemed anyone could set up a tarp and lay out there wares. Bands played in the background including a nauseatingly genki all-girl group who played Avril Lavigne covers. There was also a band playing pop music, but I think they were guided by their three female singers – the members of the band seemed to want to play some ’80s metal instead. I strolled among the vendors and took some photos while chatting with a few folks.
- I then headed for the NHK building where I dropped the 200 Yen to take a tour. I mean, it was guided by signs featuring domo-kun, so I had to go. It was fun enough and they you can never get too much domo-kun.
- After going back through the vendors, I came to a walkway skirting the park where bands had set up, each about 75 metres apart from each other. They came out to promote their upcoming shows or simply have a good time rockin’ in the park. And they were good. There was one named Gorilla who sounded like a cross between the Chilli Peppers (without the suck) and Skunk Anansie. Then I walked further along and found a band that almost reminded me of a more electronic version of the Appleseed Cast.
- I miss seeing live music so this buffet of bands was such a welcome treat. At that moment, I didn’t want to leave Tokyo. Yeah, I didn’t really want to leave at any point, but this was the culmination. I would be at this place every Sunday. I would be here taking in all the different bands and trying to tell them I wanted to buy their CD (even if they hadn’t recorded one) and taking their photos (and telling the other photographer that his shots are great) and just generally enjoying life. It’s more of the Japan that I wanted to be experiencing. I love living in Ichinoseki and all, but Tokyo is a hundred times more exciting.
- I shouldn’t forget to mention the band called Custom Mummy whose giant costume heads and breakbeats made for good entertainment. While these bands played, a painter bounced manically to the music and slapped paint onto the page with his spastic movements.
- I then headed towards Meiji-jingu, but not without first seeing the freestyle bikers spin in the park and then, possibly the coolest thing I have ever witnessed: a group of seven or eight 40-something greasers dancing in a circle to ’50s rock. Some shirtless, most clad in black leather, they all twisted their hearts out with one occasionally strutting his moves in the centre of the circle. The WTF factor went through the roof.
- The Shrine was lovely, but it was the people and their costumes there that made the (now painful) walk worthwhile. People in all sorts of traditional dress came and went from what event I’m not sure, but they were nice enough to stop for photos. I also saw two wedding parades pass by. I was again forced to go tripodless by security, for what reason I can’t determine this time, but I still had a blast.
- I wanted one more decent Tokyo meal before I left so I managed to find a pizza place near the station where I scarfed down a nice vegetarian delight.
- Back to the station, I got to Tokyo station just in time to make the shinkansen home.