This photo trip is a special one. It's a place I had been dying to visit for years. It is a place 12 hours away by plane and one day ahead on the world clock. It's East meets West, modernity mixed with ancient, future blended with nostalgia - all rolled into one exquisite city with some of the most polite, respectful, and resilient people. Welcome to.... Japan!
For this trip, I visited 5 cities total. This post will cover Tokyo.
View the behind the scenes video of Japan here:
Music Credit: Deadmau5 feat Chris James "The Veldt" | All videos shot with iPhone 5 | Editing: iMovie & Hyperlapse
Tokyo is a city that draws all kinds of opinions from Westerners. Travel writer, Anthony Bourdain describes Tokyo in his "Parts Unknown" show as being an acid trip and a "transformative experience". Musician and producer Pharrell Williams describes Tokyo as one of his main sources of fascination and as his second home. It was described by author Tim Ferris as being either a "vast exaggeration or massive understatement". It has been described by others as "Disneyland minus the kids plus seaweed". From my experience, Japan is a country that will blow my mind for years to come.
Day 1: Tokyo: Arrival
Twelve hours of Economy Class Syndrome and two Singapore Slings later, I arrived in Narita. My first impressions of Japan happened when I entered Tokyo Station at 7pm, the height of rush hour in Tokyo, and about 3am California time. I wandered through the station which was swarmed with salarymen, who rushed at a pace much faster than New Yorkers, yet managed to never bump into you. I was humbled by the immediately apparent courteousness of the people. On the escalator, for example, there is a silent rule that states if you want to stand, you move over to the left so that others can walk past you on the right. I wondered why this never seemed to play out in the US. Must be the individuality vs. collectivism thing. After a short taxi ride, I arrived at the Imperial Hotel. Our room revealed a jaw-dropping, sprawling city of neon and concrete that looked like the set of Bladerunner. The bellboy pointed out the sights, which were hidden by rain: the Tokyo Tower, the Skytree, the Ginza, and I could almost see the flying cars.
Meiji Shrine - or not
Since this was the only day I had in Tokyo, I decided to power through the pneumonia-inducing rain and wind. I grabbed a subway map, which was in English and kanji, and went down into the subway, headed for the train to the Meiji Shrine. The train was filled with the most reserved crowd of people, some of whom had a great knack for sleeping in an upright position. Some were masked, others were suited up for work. About 15 minutes later, we walked outside and spotted the wooden torii at the entrance of the Meiji Shrine. However, the sky was hopelessly grey and filled with rain that we could barely see it. I knew I wouldn't be able to get good photos of the Meiji Shrine, let alone walk much through the puddles. I walked back into the train station where I knew of the perfect place to photograph indoors.
Shibuya - the Haven for Time-Lapse Videos
We proceeded to the Shibuya, the famous crosswalk. From what I read, the Shibuya is the single attraction that one should visit while in Tokyo. Upon getting out of the subway, there were even more people than the last stop and more exits. With help from the lady at the information both, I found the right exit and, bam - we were in the middle of the Shibuya. I expected it to be like Times Square only more overwhelming, however it was quite the opposite. The streets were narrower, and it was orderly, organized, and relatively quiet.
Now I know what you're thinking- Shibuya is not indoors. It is, however, surrounded by large buildings which are perfect for shooting aerial and time-lapse photography from inside. I hurried across the street and sought refuse from the rain in the Starbucks across the street. It was two stories tall with large windows for photographing. I ordered a green tea, which came in a cup much smaller than American cups, and took a seat on the second floor with a prime view of the crosswalk. I noticed there were other people who had our same idea- they all had their cameras out to film the pedestrians. I watched out the window mesmerized by the crossing. Time after time, swarms of pedestrians would cross, scatter, and empty out the crosswalk followed by a blur of passing cars. Repeat. It was like a performance. Everyone was on cue with their entrances and exits. For a city with over 13 million people, it was remarkable to see virtually no jaywalking, pushing, shoving, honking, blocking the street, shouting, or trash on the sidewalk. It was hypnotic to see the colors of all the umbrellas, the amount of hybrid cars of all kinds, and the mind boggling amounts of people. I wanted to clap at the end.
To purchase the photography of Tokyo including the Shibuya, click here.
After seeing Shibuya, I felt like I could leave Tokyo happy. However we had time for one more stop- Ueno Park. The metro ride this time was even more full at 3pm since we were getting close to rush hour. Yet, it was quiet as ever. Everyone minded their own business. I didn't even see one person talk, not even on their cell phone, and not even when the train randomly stopped for 10 minutes to let another train pass.
We de-boarded the train, ready to explore the Museum of Western Art. Just as we were about to roll the dice as to which exit to take, a Japanese woman approached us noticing we were lost, and in perfect English asked "Can I help you?". She gave us the exact directions to the museum. We encountered many people who were eager to give directions. I was really impressed at how the locals seemed to have a sense of "getting along-ness" that I have never experienced to this degree.
We proceeded to the park, where we walked through numerous puddles in search of the museum. The park was almost empty and filled with beautiful vibrant red and yellow trees. The rain was dripping like a tropical mist and I could hear exotic calls from birds (the zoo was nearby). Finally we arrived at the museum, designed by architect Le Corbusier and done in modern style with floor to ceiling windows and large round pillars. The art was mostly impressionist, which I love, although I was more in the mood for Samurai swords or anime exhibits. However, there was one painting that particularly stood out - a portrait of a woman in kimono from ancient day Japan. I noticed a salaryman also staring at the painting. The juxtaposition of the old and new Japan was extraordinary.
Shabu Shabu Extravaganza
Of course, I cannot mention Japan without talking about the food. First stop after our train adventures was Lawsons (similar to 7-11). Unlike in the US, the Japanese 7-11's are fully stocked with some of the most unique and delicious on-the-go foods. I picked up a fully pre-packaged salmon bento box and onigiri (savory rice with meat or fish inside wrapped in seaweed). For dinner, we met up with our tour guide who led us to an underground restaurant that put all shabu shabu restaurants to shame. First off, the seating booths were partitioned with curtains for extra privacy. Then, it was time to pick our vegetables from an organic salad bar complete with pictures of the farmers that grew them. Next, the waitress poured about 30 different mushrooms into the broth. She poured each individual dish of raw mushrooms into the broth, and just when I thought there couldn't be any more unique mushrooms, there were more. They were from all regions of Japan, some of which had names that could not be translated to English, in all shapes and sizes including ones that looked like moss. It was so healthy and delicious that it seemed to cure me of the pneumonia that I probably would have otherwise gotten from walking a full day in the rain. After dinner, it was time to put my jet lag to bed and get ready for another exciting photo location. Next stop Kyoto.
To purchase the photography from this trip, click here.
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