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:
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
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 ???
The god of domesticated
House Cleaning ???
Tokyo and Nagano
December 31st through January 4th
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
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
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.
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
Remember this guy next time you think you are having a bad hair day.....
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