Tokyo on Foot with an Old Friend
We are now a full week into our time in Japan and myself, family, and camera have been getting quite a workout. The change from summer to winter and wilderness to urban has been an adjustment coming from New Zealand. As much as we all miss the sun, sand and expansive road-trip vibe, that feeling has been replaced by something vastly different and certainly very foreign in comparison to our lives back home.
One immediate impression is that despite the crowds and congestion, Japan has a quiet, understated and artful beauty that draws your attention in a very subtle way. Whether walking through the subway station, throughout the streets, or amid the aisles of a grocery store, there is a pleasing sense of order and design in everyday things. Wabi-sabi is the concept and is described as “rustic elegance, quiet taste, refined beauty and the belief that objects gain value through use and age.”
In addition to this the city is extremely clean and has a sense of order that is unlike any city that I have spent time in. Streets are bustling, but there is a lack of horns or aggression by drivers regardless of the time of day. Pedestrians actually wait for lights to change, patiently adhering to the “don’t walk” signals that we in the U.S. are used to interpreting as mere suggestions.
What really captures my eye is the modern Japanese writing system “Kanji.” The lettering is based or adopted from Chinese characters. Regardless of where or how the lettering appears it seems to compliment whatever is being described. As we walk the city we pass by numerous weathered signs, storefront awnings, and items such as old crates or boxes with stamped lettering. As you’ll see in my photos, even the manhole covers appear as works of art. They would make nice wall-hanging souvenirs, but unfortunately a bit too heavy for Wesley and I to pry off and stuff into our suitcases.
Upon our arrival, my friend Kenei who lives in Tokyo went well out of his way to help us get settled and was a welcomed face as we passed through immigration and customs. Before leaving the airport we had purchased discounted train passes which we use multiple times a day and also secured a sim card for my phone. Both of these tasks would have taken Michelle and I hours to tackle on our own, especially on our first days before we had any real grasp of the language.
Kenei and I met at the University of Minnesota close to 15 years ago when we were students and photographers working at the Minnesota Daily. I, of course, was excited to spend time together – cameras in hand, roaming the streets of Tokyo. We set out on two different days for some street photography, exploring a variety of interesting places that would have been challenging, if not impossible to find and plan for on my own. The Tsukiji Fish Market, Hamarikyu Gardens, and the small, shanty bars of Shinjuku Golden Gai are some highlights that you’ll see images of below.
Kenei was a gracious and patient host as I clicked photos and yapped away, everything so new and foreign to my eyes. He offered numerous explanations to my questions about the people and culture. It was great to hear that our time together opened his eyes a bit, offering a renewed appreciation as well as perspective to the people and places he passes on a daily basis. I guess that’s how it is wherever you live. There’s nothing like showing someone your own city to make you appreciate all it has to offer, especially a city like Tokyo.
We are now well into a daily rhythm of sorts or as much as you can be on a trip like this where we move every 3-5 days to a new city. Next up is Kyoto where we will be exploring gardens, temples, and no doubt many more bowls of the family favorite, ramen!