JAPAN 2005-2006



A land filled with ancient traditions . . .









Or a Land filled with modern conveniences?






A fellow photographer used the phrase Japan the Land of Contrasts

to describe his impressions . . .




And I couldn't agree more!


Whether it's an ancient Edo Period shrine adjacent to a new modern building

or highly efficient gadgets and machines sharing the walkways and roads with

bicycles and hand pulled carts, Japan is The Land of Contrasts.




The streets are filled with millions of cars, but the mail delivery is still by bicycle




And the cars must also share the road with a hand card



Edo temples adjacent to new modern high rises












A few of the things Hiromi and I have done so far and their high lights:




Tsukiji Market


The majority of Tokyo's fish, which is a lot, comes through the Tsukiji Fish and

Produce Market.  After walking through the market for an hour of so we talked to

the local merchants to be pointed in the direction of the best sushi house.  Adjacent to

the heart of the market, we saw a long line coming from a very small 15 seat counter

restaurant.  It did take 20 minutes or so to get through the line, but once inside we sat

down to the best sashimi available in the world.


Typical fish at the market


The crowds at the Tsukiji Market


One of my personal favorites, Tako (octopus).  This is marinated, hence the redness.



Some of the other interesting items available in the Market



Fresh hotate (scallops) on the grill.  Those very same scallops now being enjoyed J



If you encounter one of these electric carts and live to tell about it, consider yourself lucky.  They make NY cab drivers

appear tame and patient.  On the right are locals enjoying a quick ramen meal right in the middle of the madness.








Ginza, the famous shopping district of Tokyo.  Ginza is filled with the high end stores

where prime real estate can go for $12,000 per square foot.  With this level of real estate

pricing you find amazing architecture, fancy window displays, upscale pastry shops,

and everyone is sporting their newest $3K Louis Vuitton bags.






Window shopping in Ginza                               Hiromi eyeing the goods at the local patisserie











Temples, Shrines, and Statues


Some dating back to 1651 not only do they hold lots of character, but they also have great

traditions with in each one.  One block form our hotel in the middle of Tokyo was Atago

Temple which led to a wonderful garden with hidden jewels of ancient statues buried within the

plants.  This location is the home of a temple since the 1600's, but the current structure

was rebuilt after many tragedies.  Then in Ueno Park we went to Kiyomizu Kannondo, a

"doll temple" where young women come to leave a doll which is believed to help them

conceive a child.  In the same park we also saw  visited the temple Tosho-gu jinja which

dates back to 1651.




















The god of domesticated

House Cleaning ???







Tokyo and Nagano


December 31st through January 4th



New Years Eve and New Years Day


The trip is winding down and I have been enjoying it here.  Hiromi's family has been VERY kind.

The Japanese have a different view on many things in life.  Many, especially the older generations, are very

thankful for what they have and actually feel obligated to thank and return a favor to others whether it be

family or friends.  In the states it seems nearly the opposite.  So many people I have run into feel their

family or friends owe them something.  So when meeting or getting to now one of Japanese decent you

may find them to be unusually kind and friendly, I know I have.


Another cultural difference is how Japanese view the changing of the calendar year.  Rather than another

drunken slur of I'm not going to drink as much next year, I'm going to loose weight in the new year, or

some other vanity laced promise soon to be broken.  In Japan most spend New Years Eve with family.

A quiet night home and a nice bowl of miso soup come midnight.  Then after a good night's rest, back to

the table with family for more food at breakfast time.  After cleaning up, people dress in their finest and

head out to the temples to pray for good fortune in the coming year.


We went to Senso Ji, the main temple in Tokyo, which dates back to 628 AD.  Due to the crowds we

couldn't get near the temple itself, but had fun walking the grounds and people watching.




Despite the 35 degree F temperatures, families are still out in masses.  Many are in line to enter the temple,

a few are strolling the sides streets, and fewer still are enjoying rides on the classic rickshaws.




The young are always willing to flash the trendy Peace symbol for the camera




Here we found a few women, children, and others who have gone through the pain staking hours

involved to properly dress up in their kimonos.  You would wear these tradition outfits to occasions

suitable for a tuxedo.  Weddings, New Years, etc . . .










Strolling the side streets brought back fond memories of the county fair.  Tent like structures with vendors

selling cotton candy  and hot dogs on a stick.  Except items you'd find here are whole BBQed fish on a stick.







After a fun day we slowed down a bit with a nice dinner with Hiromi's sister, Naomi, and her boyfriend.

Then we headed home to rest up for our trip up north to Nagano.  Nagano was a small countryside town

of many traditions.  Much of these ancient traditions are struggling to resume as they clash up against the

modernizations which have been occurring ever since the changes due to their preparations for the 1998

winter Olympics.


Our main reason for heading to Nagano is to visit Masafumi, Hiromi's father.  He moved up north in 1992

as a civil engineer to work on the bullet train (shinkansen) extension.  Being on of the lead engineers, he

has stayed  to continue with future expansions after the Olympics.  From Tokyo it would be a 5 hour drive,

but by shikansen it is a 1.5 hour ride.  Allowing for the possibilities of distant commutes, small towns are

eager to have the shikansen come through.


Approaching Nagano which has a current high temperature of 32 degrees F and going through the biggest

storm on record we are in for some interesting weather.  We passed a few everyday scenes, but some not

so recognizable since they are covered in snow.  A cemetery, a Suzuki dealership,  a local hotel,  locals in

the street, and a more traditional looking home among others.











Home of the 1998 Winter Olympics


Hiromi and Naomi encountering the snow after getting off the shinkansen



After meeting Matafumi at the train station he led us to local temple given that it was still the beginning

of the new year.  This traditional walk is called the hatsumode or first visit.






Since the Olympics Nagano has become an upscale ski resort town.  If you are not on the slopes here, the

number one past time is shopping, despite the fact that in our few days here a high of 32 degrees was




We too took part in some shopping, but I had my eyes set on other things.  The snow monkeys which

were brought worldwide stardom in the 70s when published in Life Magazine live about 15 minutes

from town J





Barely a week into our trip and we are now headed to my highlight of the trip.  Being an unusually cold

day, Masafumi decided to stay in town as the girls and I hopped on a bus (mini van) to head up to the monkey's

hot springs.  Winding our way up the snow covered hillside, we finally reached  the parking lot that is a half mile

walk from the monkeys.  Heavily snowing and only 10 degrees F, made for a challenging half mile hike. 


Finally a sign that we are heading in the right direction


Almost there


At the entrance gate they had a much needed little warming hut.  In fear of

condensation forming on my lenses, I stayed out in the cold, but under the awning's shelter to get my camera

gear ready, as the girls stepped inside to warm up a touch before walking to the hot baths. As we approached the

bridge, I looked over to the left down by the creek and my jaw dropped as we saw 70 monkeys playing in the

snow. We stopped for a bit, then moved on.  As the steam from the bath's slowing came into view my heart

began pounding with excitement.  Then 3 monkeys came running up from the creek toward the baths and actually

ran right between us, as their fur brushed up against our jeans my heart nearly stopped.  My fears of this

journey not meeting the overly anticipated expectations quickly subsided.  This was amazing and the best is

yet to come.  Finally at the baths I was grinning like a little boy on Christmas morning.


Coming down from the cold hills to enjoy the warmth of the 105 degree hot springs, twenty or more monkeys

were in or around the baths.  Adults busy grooming each other while the young at play, their little red faces

with such human like expressions rest just above the water line.  The heavy snowfall made photography

quite a challenge, but we were told it was a very rare occasion; so many photographers were eager to capture

it.  Many being only about 15 visitors with 6 of those being fairly serious photographers.


Tickets please!


Join us won't you?

Apparently they don't see me because I'm so well camouflaged.


More of my great camo



Looks like a little kid wearing a fur coat







Found something to eat


Grooming eachother

Remember this guy next time you think you are having a bad hair day.....





Harajuku Girls


Last few days in Japan.  We are getting on the plane tomorrow to do some time

traveling.  We'll be boarding our flight in Tokyo at 5PM Sunday night, and arriving

in SFO Sunday morning at 9AM.  Pretty cool huh?


On our last day we finally made it to Harajuku to observe the outcasts and misfits of

society who have become infamously  known as the  Harajuku Girls.  Goths, Lolitas,

Nurses, and  many other outfits worn by the subculture of Cosplayzoku (Costume

Play Gang).  Much would fit into the gothic scene in SF, but then again when the

Japanese borrow, mimic, duplicate, or copy anything they always seem to bring it to

a level of perfection.  Or in this case to a level of oddity.


The teenage girls would sit in groups, about four or five main groups were here today.

When we would talk to them and ask if we could photograph them, they were very

excited.  They were eager to be in front of the camera and again flashing a peace

sign.  Many would only want to be photographed with certain other girls.  Even though

they were socializing, a couple would step out of the photo and say Oh I am not part

of that group/tribe.








Then in the evening we made it to the neon lit area of Shabuya.  The TV screens lighting

up the side of a building and the level of neon signage puts Time Square to shame.





If you ever happen to make it out to Japan, which I do highly

recommend, I would suggest a few things.


One:  You really should try some of the unique cuisine, you just might be surprised.

raw jelly fish was surprisingly good (maybe it was just the taste of revenge after the

stings in Puerto last summer?).  I did have to pass up the shashimi whale though.

I just could not do that one.



Two: You may want to learn these two phrases among others.


OK.  Jodan wa omoshiro katta kedo.  Mo iikara foku kurenai?

(OK it was funny, but the joke is over now.  Can I please have a fork?)


Shippo, me, atama no tsuite ihai mono wo chumon shitai

to omotmasu.  Ryori shitearu to iino desuga.

(I'd like to order something that does not have the tail, eyes, or head still attached.

And cooked might be a nice touch too.)



Hope you enjoyed our trip too


Aaron & Hiromi