Japan, We are back!.

We have been waiting for this trip for quite sometimes now. In fact, since leaving Japan the last time. What a beautiful, photogenic, culturally rich and friendly country. We didn’t have time to plan the trip as thoroughly as last year so part of the schedule is kind of made up on the spot and not as tightly packed as before. That’s the spirit of this trip.

 

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Japan is quite opposite to where we are in Shanghai in many ways. Most importantly, everything in Japan has order – actually it is highly ordered. But I’m not talking about the extra level like trains and buses arriving at the exact minutes of the schedule. I’m talking about simple thing like Things are where they expected to be. For example,  car should be driven on the road, people would queue and wait in line. You might think “Well, what’s the big deal, that’s how things normally are anyway”. Haha, no so in China. Lemme tell you my friend, in china pavement is merely just raised road where car or motorbike still have the right of way…. and it has multiple uses as toilet, and as a place to sell food, …and as garbage bin, …and dance floor and many more. Anything but path for people to walk on. I do get stress out when things are not in order. So coming here give me a lot of peace.

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Tokyo

We decided to fly into Tokyo instead of Nagoya as I have not been here for some 15 years. It would be nice to see how it has change. The bags are packed. This time I probably over packed the gear as it was 18kg for the rug sack and 10kg for the camera gear bag.

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The plane landed about 7pm and by the time we went to pick up our JR rail passes and made our way to Hamamatsu station, it’s already 9pm. Tokyo tower is not too far away and can be seen from Hamamatsu-Daimon station. The hotel is just a 10 minutes walk from the station but I started to feel regretting carrying such a heavy luggages.

 

 Day 1 Yoyogi, Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya

The next morning, we left the hotel quite early heading to Meiji Shrine. It is a national day in Japan so the street is rather quiet.

 

 

 

Meiji Shrine (明治神宮) is just a short walk from Yoyogi station hidden deep inside the park. As soon as you enter the park, you are surrounded by dense massive mature trees and it does not feel like central Tokyo. It is a good transitional space to enter into a serene world.

 

 

When we arrived, a procession has just started and Shinto priests were heading towards the shrine. Without saying, I followed them.

 

 

 

I was really nice feeling standing there watching the ceremony in the breeze with birds singing in the background. An old japanese lady next to me showed her respect to the priests by occasional bowing.The scene was nice and peaceful but occasionally the tranquillity was broken by loud chattering and hawking, spitting sounds from a group of tourists from (you guess).

 

 

 

Worshippers stop at the fountain to purify themselves with water before entering the shrine.

 

 

Meiji Shrine is also known to host Shinto wedding ceremony. If you wish to witness one, generally Sunday morning offers the best chance. However in Japan, there are days that deem lucky and unlucky. You are likely to see more wedding procession on an auspicious day especially if Taian happen to land on Saturday or sunday.

Days of 六曜 (Rokuyo) Significance
先勝 – Sakigachi (also known as Senkachi orSensho) Good luck in the morning, bad luck in the afternoon
友引 – Tomobiki Good luck all day, except at noon
先負 – Sakimake, (also known as Senmake orSenbu) Bad luck in the morning, good luck in the afternoon
仏滅 – Butsumetsu Unlucky all day, as it is the day Buddha died
大安 – Taian ‘The day of great peace’, the finest day for ceremonies
赤口 – Shakku, (also known as Shakko or Jakko) Bad luck all day, except at noon

I did my home work and check this website to find out that I will be visiting the shrine on Tomobiki day which is the second best day after Taian. It is also a national holiday monday so my chance of seeing a wedding should be quite high.
Inside the shrine main gate, there are indeed 3-4 couples preparing for the traditional Shinto wedding. The bride and groom are surrounded at least by 4-5 assistants. When I did  wedding photo shoot elsewhere, I would be running around covered in sweat. I would be lucky to get 1 helper, but there you go. Japanese does thing with grace.

 

 

With such a rich culture and tradition, I have to say I really would like to be a photographer for a Japanese wedding once. I keep persuading my friend who has already married in the UK to do another ceremony back here. He never reply back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shinto priests leading the wedding procession out into the courtyard.

 

 

 

Afterward, we walked through Yoyogi park and exit on the other side at Harajuku. Here, I have a little treat for myself going through the work of starchitects that lined both sides of the street.

Dior shop by SANAA.

 

 

 

Omotesando Hills. Contrasting to the other development where each retail brands have their own theme, hence each one want to build a different shopfront. Here, the shopfront is all controlled. It is certainly looks more organised.

 

 

Prada shop by Herzon de Meuron with distinctive bubbled glass.

 

 

After that we headed back to Yoyogi.

The idea of this trip is not to eat posh. We discovered that we can have a very good Japanese meal in Shanghai for half a price. So it is more down to earth approach – elect at random whichever shop looks popular or interesting, no english if possible.

We stumble upon this small cafe in an alley way between Yoyogi and Shinjuku station. It’s called 米のちアンコ (Menochianko) which mainly sells Taiyaki but also you can also order any popular japanese dishes.

When we stepped in, we realised ordering is going to be challanging. There is no English or picture menu. Master is very chatty, he does not speak english but he asked one of his customers, a young chap university student, to help translate the conversation.

That lunch was probably one the most memorable moments of the trip (there are many but each for a different reason). Everyone was friendly, polite and curious about us. One very nice thing about Japan is people will still want to talk to you eventhough we can’t communicate through a common language. It’s the tone of the voice and facial expression that makes the connection.

 

We ordered Katsudon which arrived in a big bowl together with miso and pickles as a set – all for 600yen. Very reasonable price considering the shop’s location. The shop on the opposite side is charging around 800Yen a dish for miso or shoyu Ramen.

 

When we told them we are from Thailand, Master actually explained to the other customer that he remembered after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake that damaged the Fukushima Nuclear plant, Thailand contributes a singnificant amount towards humanitarian relief to help Japan.  This is partly

He began thank you to us and so do the other customers in the shop. We felt quite embrass at this point (as if we were ambassador representing the country) but was glad to hear there are people who appreciate it.

Before, we left we asked for the permission to take a photo of master. He gingerly agreed.

 

With stomaches filled and energy regained, we set off to Shinjuku.

Shinjuku station is probably one of the busiest station is Tokyo. Luckily this is not the peak time yet but you can already see the amount of traffic through the hall.

 

We decided to go to the observation deck on top of Tokyo Metropolitant Government Office. It was the weekday and there was hardly any queue at all.

 

 

It had been very afternoon but luckily the sky became clearer when we went up. Below is the view looking south east over Yoyogi Park.

 

South view with Park Hyatt hotel in the foreground.

 

 

We strolled around Nishi-Shinjuku area for a little bit and headed back to streets around Shinjuku station, we made a quick recce to a few camera shops, checking the price of Fuji X100. More on this later.


Another spot I would like to cram in our already tight schedule is Shibuya to, of course, see the famous crossing and the character of the area.

 

 

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It has been a quite long day. We headed back to Ginza area for dinner. Remembering Yakitori sounds very appealing after a long day of walking. We spotted this shop the day before Matsuka ます家 near Daimon station.

 

 

The atmosphere was great, the food was even better.

 

 

 

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Day 2 Tuna and Sumo

The next morning we woke up at 4:30ma to go to Tsukiji Market. The Tuna auction started quite early and there is a limits access of 120people per day. This is based on first come first serve. Once the quota runs out, you will not e allowed in. However, you can still go to the market area which opens at 9am.

We looked up in the internet. One website suggests if you turn up before 5am, you should be able to get in. When we arrived at 4:45am, the limits has already been reached. So much for the early morning.

We managed to walk around the area as the market will not be accessible until 9am.

 

 

 

We did queue for Sushi Dai but at 6am the queue was already long. We eatimated it will probably take 1:30-2 hours for it. So we regrettably decided to give it a skip and

would rather go and see the Sumo tournament.

 

I booked the ticket for this on the 1st day of the online ticket release (Internet booking begins 2 days after tickets go on sale) and most of the key matches are already sold out. Proof that it is quite a popular event. The match is held at Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium which started from 9:00am to about 6pm.

 

 

 

The morning matches are of more junior ranking and as you can see are not as well attended. Our seating were box seat for two which is at the back of lower floor. The rows in front are box of four people. You can only buy the whole box so you would have to pay approximately 40,000Yen even for 2 people (unless you know someone who want to join).

 

 

 

The morning is very good for us because it is so empty that we can come to the front row and have a really close up watch of the match. The fight is actually more intense and feel more physical when you can see the facial expression and hear the slapping sounds. I am sure it is also very tiring for person with such weight to move with such speed and ferocity.

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Each match was quite short, lasting from 10 seconds to 2 minutes at most. The next match begin almost as soon after the last one ended. The Sumo’s names were called by Yobidashi 呼び出し (in white in picture below), both sides take the position, the ring is swept and the match can begin in about 2 minutes.  So you never quite feel bored of waiting.

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Over lunch break, we walked down to sit by Sumida river eating Takoyaki bought by the stadium while enjoying the view. This reminds me a lot of London time, sitting by the Thames

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Anyway, four Takoyakis were barely enough. So we headed over to the side street looking for more substantial meal to fill us up.

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Two Yobidashi also came out for lunch in the outfit. Very cool.

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Just in case we are going to sitting in the stadium for the rest of the afternoon. We decided to carb load ourselves with Soba and curry rice.  Meat and veg are not necessary.

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The afternoon session began with Dohyō-iri (土俵入り) which is ring entering ceremony performed by wrestlers from each side – east and west. Then, the Yokozuna also perform a separate ceremony with two attendants.  We were back at our seats but I have the 70-200mm lens with me so I can use it as a binocular.

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The match was more exciting in the afternoon when the stadium was packed with people cheering and shouting support to their favourite wrestlers. There are 3-4 western wrestlers and it seems they had all the support from the Japanese audience.

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At the end of an exciting match (apparently if a yokozuna is defeated by a lower ranked wrestler), the audience would throw their cushions onto the ring. it was really nice light hearted atmosphere.

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Finally, the yumitori-shiki (弓取り式) dance was performed at the end of the match as a conclusion of the day.

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Not satisfying with the Yakitori  from the day before (quantity wise), we decided to head over to the Yurakucho also know as Yakitori Alley near Yurakucho station/ Hibiya station under the train tracks. The scene is rustic, smoke filled,  dark and narrow alley ways. It is very photogenic. Night lighting scene in Japan is very beautiful. Elsewhere, the sodium street lamps tend to give a strong orange colour cast to the photos. However, in Japan, the lights from signage are much much brighter and so overpowering the street lamps. It makes taking pictures at night a very easy job.

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The customers are mainly office workers coming out with their colleague after work. Eating is not really the main purpose here. it’s more like drinking with Yakitori as side snacks. Everyone seems enjoying their night out and it’s only Tuesday.

 

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This are our orders. I can assure you they are very tender and delicious!

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To be continued.