I was born and grew up in Osaka. Osaka is the 2nd largest city in this country, and often Osakan people talk proudly of themselves, comparing its culture, food, comedy, baseball team, et cetra, against the bigger eastern counterpart. But the reality is, Tokyo is a huge metropolis, dotted with pretty parks and promenade, real stylish cafes and fancy restaurants, main street lined with international boutiques, or a real old temple and old-school tea house hundreds of years old.
Coming from Melbourne, which I now call home, to me, what strikes me when I come here, and I’ve never before stayed in Tokyo as long as I have this time – a whole week – is the wide road (Osaka is messy and crowded by comparison), lots of green (small parks here and there, tree lined streets), lots of people (obviously) and the lighting. The way they light buildings with shades of delicate in-direct lighting is just amazing. It reminds me of how the interior of zen temples are lit by, no direct lighting window but reflection on the pale wall, shiny tatami mats, and polished timber floor boards.
The first commercial building I encountered this experience was Tokyo Mid Town, when I went across it on my way after a job interview or meeting with a recruitment agency years ago (the last time I was in Tokyo).
Jin’s is well known now for their specs with lens that ‘Protect eyes from harmful blue rays while working on a computer’.
And of course, lights… Lights everywhere…
Then the culture… Traditional culture, religion, street, sub-culture and pop… All the energy squeezed into one place.
On the street near the largest terminal of Shinjuku, a vendor spreads porn magazines and manga (comics). Some are casual shoppers buying on discount prices, other uncles clearly know the vendor well – so regular customer – talking into their mobile phones and asking the shop around the corner which weekly comic they want to be delivered… You can see the network of logistics happening right there. Girls in their school uniform and short skirts walk past as if it is a perfectly normal day.
Harajuku is a place for young teenage girls to satisfy their shopping needs and sweet craving.
And neighbouring to Harajuku is Aoyama/Omotesando street area, full of yuppies, looking for a pretty jewellery for their boyfriend to put on their credit card, fancy paticier cafe with some french name, and even more up-market cafe that is branded with some of the well known European fashion brands.
Traditional… We took a train journey out of Tokyo to Nikko, the site of Tokugawa Shogunate’s guardian shrine. I still think Koyasan, a day trip out of Osaka, is one of the most exotic, authentic temple visit experience. But this one was also interesting. The generous use of gold plating and lackered floor show the power Tokugawa clan had as the ruler samurai family that managed this country for 260 years from 1600 to 1886, when people finally stopped letting the sword-bearing shaved head guys to lead but started wearing leather shoes, hat and suits…
Travelling in Japan is always accompanied by those can of coffee and variety of snacks you can get from convenience stores everywhere. My choice for the day – main stream stuff: Pocky choc-coated snacks with Georgia light-flavoured coffee.
Sushi, tempura, pork cutlet. It’s all good. But what does me is the common people’s working-class food. Noodle from a standing noodle bar, okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake with pork and seafood) and those simple lunch joint where you can pick and mix the side dishes to go with the grilled fish, rice and miso soup.
Japan is not all high tech and automation. Many shops do not take plastic payment. Often you have to carry your bag up the steps where there is no escalator. But people can be generous and kind. Food can be good and warming, if you chose the place carefully. And it doesn’t have to be overly expensive, or you can go crazy and Tokyo, of all cities in Japan, would have the finest restaurants in French, Italian, Indian or whatever cuisine you are after…
I photographed this trip using my new equipment:
Fujifilm X-E1 + XF18mm F2
(Except iPhone photo of the Conrad Hotel lounge)