Ok, first off, I’m a bit embarrassed about how long it’s been since my last post. I’ve said it before (and will likely say it again), I can’t believe how time just seems to get away from you when you’re not paying attention.
Before the summer break, I realized it had been seven years since visiting Tokyo. This, despite several trips a year back to Japan. Normally I go back to visit friends in Kansai. I figured it was time to reacquaint myself with the megalopolis.
If you’ve been to Tokyo in the summertime, you know it’s hot and humid. Not as humid as Hong Kong, but the temperature still gets right up there in the low-to-mid thirties. A big difference from the December/January temps that I experienced previously. Also, when you visit Japan around Christmas/ New Year, even in a city like Tokyo, places tend to close down and people head back to home towns for nenmatsu (year end). Not so at the tail-end of August. The place is jumping. That being said, despite the size of the populace, it feels less claustrophobic than Hong Kong. A large part of it has to do with the attitudes of the people (which I won’t bother to rant about here) but also, there is room to spread out. Even walking in areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku, the crush of people still feels more manageable. Or it could be all in my head.
The amazing thing about Tokyo is how much the city has to offer. There’s no shortage of things to see and do for a week or ten-day trip. I made an effort to see the many galleries and museums that I missed out on last time because they were closed for the holidays. Even then, I didn’t come close to seeing all the museums and galleries in Tokyo. Sadly, a few of the ones I wanted to visit were closed for renovations, most notably the Bridgestone Museum of Art (closed “for several years”) and the Metropolitan Museum of Photography (closed until late 2016). Of the ones I did see, my recommendations would be the following:
If you’re a book lover, you must also head to Jimbocho. Granted, most of the shops specialize in Japanese books but there are a few that have great English language selections. Don’t be put off by Japanese books. A lot of the antique ones are fantastic for the artwork and the calligraphy alone. If you’re looking for photobooks, try Komiya. A great many hard to find first editions were on display when I was there.
I could go on. There would certainly be enough minutia for several more paragraphs, but I’ll let the photos continue the explanation. I’ll try to have something else before too long.
Here are a few from Kyoto and Osaka that don’t really have their own overall theme. They include kimonos, gardens, art galleries, neon and okonomiyaki. I told you there’s no real theme.
During this year’s trip, I had a sudden gap in my schedule. The friends I intended to stay with over the weekend had an unexpected development that would make it inconvenient for me to visit. As the Easter break typically falls during peak cherry blossom season for Kansai, there were no hotel vacancies (in my price range) for those few days in any of the usual places. Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, even Nara hotels were booked up. What to do? Then it hit me; who said I need to stay in Kansai? I’d been to Kanazawa before, but only as a day trip from Osaka. I knew it had far more to offer so I figured this would be an excellent opportunity. Besides, like in Europe, I’m always up for a nice train journey to see different parts of the countryside. And it is a very nice journey, through areas of rice fields as far as the eye can see, with snow-capped mountains in the background.
Kanazawa is north-east of Kansai, in Ishikawa prefecture, on the Japan Sea coast. It’s often referred to as “Little Kyoto”, and indeed, it does have some of Kyoto’s ambiance. As with Kyoto, Kanazawa has geisha districts in the three ‘chaya’ districts – Nishi Chaya, Higashi Chaya and Kazue-machi Chaya. Unlike Kyoto, you’re unlikely to see the fake dress-up geisha in these districts. There are also old Samurai areas. Naga-machi in particular, is where the streets and houses have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. It’s definitely a great place for a wander.
The jewel in the crown of Kanazawa is the 17th century garden, Kenrokuen. It is recognized as one of the three most famous gardens in Japan (the Japanese love their ‘best of’ lists) and is well worth the visit. Be warned though, it will most likely be swarming with tourists! You could spend the better part of the day in this part of Kanazawa as other sights of note are Kanazawa Castle Park (right across the street) and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (just down the street). You could even venture to the west as Higashi-chaya is only about a 20 minute walk away.
I fully recommend visiting Kanazawa not only for what it has to offer, but also what it hasn’t: the crowds of the more prominent cities like Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo.
Tokyo has the Yamanote line, Osaka has the JR Loop line. Both are essentially circular train routes around the central parts of the respective cities. I had been thinking of this little project for a few years and finally had the time (and the wherewithal) to do it during my time back in Osaka over Easter break. The plan was to hop on the inner loop line (since it’s a loop, it runs either clock-wise (outer) or counter-clockwise (inner)) at Umeda and then hop off at every station, shoot the name of the station and try to photograph something of interest in the immediate location. In some cases, this was far more difficult than I thought it would be.
The first section of the line actually began service in 1898, with the entire line being completed in 1961. There are 19 stations and the distance of the circuit is just a shade under 22 km long (21.7 km, to be exact). This little project actually took me two days to complete. I initially thought that I’d be able to finish in one, but after 5 hours it was time for me to meet up with friends and I still hadn’t gone all the way around. I had to finish, or it would be all for naught, so I needed to go back the following day to get through the last five stations.
I’m not entirely sure if this was an overly unique, or even a successful project or not. I suppose you, the viewers, will be the judges of that. What was interesting for me, despite knowing Osaka quite well, was to see areas of the city that I hadn’t had reason to go to before. There are some very drastic changes as you go from certain areas to others. South Osaka in particular is noticeably less affluent. For my Vancouver folks, you could equate it to the lower East-side, minus the overt drug problem.
The other thing a bit unusual for me is that I shot all these digitally. Normally I shoot film, but I had planned on doing some night photography this trip (which didn’t happen) so brought along my DSLR. I also ended up applying various filters to these images. Mostly just for film types that I like because I find digital images to be “too perfect”. You’ll notice a few others have more significant filters applied. I figured if this was going to be an experiment, I may as well do a bit more to make things interesting.
Seriously?! My last post was in November? That’s a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? Well, hopefully what I lack in quantity, I at least make amends for in quality.
So yeah, the end of Feb. had me spending CNY in the UK, primarily in London but with the odd day trip thrown in. Last time I was in London was summer 2010 and as usual, I was flying completely solo. This time around, I had the fortune of not only staying with friends, but having a few others to hang out with as well since over the last year, several friends have moved to London for various reasons. It was a nice change and made for a great trip.
London at that time of year isn’t exactly stellar in terms of weather, but I hardly cared about getting drizzled upon; I am from the “Wet Coast” of Canada after all. On the other hand, getting hailed upon down on the south coast during a visit to my friend’s parents’ place was something I hadn’t experienced in a hell of a long time.
London is truly one of the world’s first-class cities. You would have to be incredibly unmotivated to not find something to do in this city. During the planning stages for my trip, I did a lot of online researching trying to find places and things to do that were outside of the regular tourist traps. I also consulted friends who know London well and ended up with a long list of bookstores (Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street is a new fave), shopping venues (markets!) and eating/drinking hotspots (craft brews are thankfully becoming a big deal in most pubs). I barely scratched the surface of the list during my ten day trip. I guess that leaves something more for next time! Of course, there were certain touristy things that I needed to do, like taking in Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market on the weekend (crazy busy!), and visiting some of the various galleries and museums dotting the city (because I’m starved for culture in HK). I also fit a couple of day trips into the itinerary: one down to Bognor Regis on the south coast and another to the ancient city of Bath in order to see both the Roman-era baths as well as the Georgian architecture. There’s another story to Bath, but that one is still in the making.
That about sums it up for now. Thanks for your patience. Hopefully it won’t be too long before my next post.
I was going through my back catalogue of images the other day and realized that I’ve got a good deal of images taken in Hong Kong this year that haven’t seen the light of day. Most of these have been taken on my typical weekend walkabouts, so there’s not much of an overlying theme. Pictures include those from a street festival in Wan Chai to Hong Kong cemetery, the ongoing Umbrella Movement and random bits in between.
Hopefully something with more of a theme soon.
Ah, Berlin. Now I know what all the fuss is about. Have you been? If not, I highly recommend going. I went in the middle of August and absolutely loved the place. Several people assured me that I would, but I didn’t think I would be as enamoured with the city as I ended up being. I found myself feeling that I could quite happily live in Berlin. In no particular order, it has culture, acres of green space, a long and complicated history, an educated populace, and an intrinsic appreciation of art. Combine that with a fantastic transit system and a location that makes it easy to get to other parts of Europe and you’ve got a winning combination. Oh, and let’s not forget one of the most stable economies in the E.U.
I stayed at The Circus Hotel at Rosenthaler Platz in Mitte. It’s a marvelous hotel in a grand historical building. The location is fantastically convenient for transit and also close to many sites, yet outside of the hustle and bustle of the main part of the city. Head up Brunnenstrasse for great restaurants and funky shops. On Sundays, keep going up to Mauer Park for the flea market and music extravaganza. In the other direction down Rosenthaler Strasse, you’ll come to Auguststrasse, again with quiet cafes and interesting shops, as well as art galleries by the score. Make sure you stop in at Do You Read Me? if you like good magazine shops. Interested in absinthe? On Weinmeisterstrasse is the Absinth Depot. Who knew there were so many varieties? Keep walking down Rosenthaler Strasse to Hackescher Markt. Make sure you wander through the beautiful Art Nouveau-style Hackeshe Höfe with its interconnected courtyards and small shops. If you keep walking and you’re so inclined, you’ll eventually make it to Alexander Platz. It’s great to say you’ve seen it, but I wasn’t overly impressed. Far too touristy for me.
The Circus Hotelで泊まりました。素敵なホテルです。たくさん面白い所が近くにあります。地下鉄とトラムもホテル前に止まります。そのあたりにたくさんレストランや面白い店があります。たとえば、Do you read me?の雑誌屋とAbsinth Depotのお酒屋よく行きました。Hackeshe Höfeも面白かったです。アールヌーボーの旧館です。日曜日、マウアーパークに行ったほうがいい。大きい蚤の市があります。多い演奏家もいました。本当にお祭り感じがあります。
All of that and more in one small area of Berlin. That doesn’t even begin to take in the typical fare of museums, the various remaining parts of the Berlin wall, and other spots of interest. Being summer, outdoor markets were happening on weekends. I went to one at Boxhagener Platz in Friedrichshain that was one part craft fair, one part farmer’s market. The atmosphere was fantastic. So too was the huge Sunday flea market in Mauer Park, though I was more interested in the vast array of musical talent on display outside the market area. There were some seriously good musicians out there. And oh, the Bear-pit karaoke is an absolute must-see (and do if you’ve got the cahones to sing in front of hundreds of people).
On the downside, it wasn’t a very good summer for me photographically. As with the photos I took in Vancouver, I evidently had a bad roll in Berlin that I tried to salvage in post-processing. You can probably tell which photos are from that particular roll. To add insult to injury, I somehow managed to delete an entire folder of digital images and video I had taken, primarily of street art and night shots. There were in excess of 100 images I lost with the press of a button. I’m not impressed with myself and I still have no idea how I managed to do it. Evidently I need to re-evaluate how I archive files. At least with film, I still have a hard copy.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip and I can’t recommend visiting enough. Now I just need to decide when to go back.