Bit by bit I’m uploading my holiday snaps to Flickr (a job that’s a bit more complicated since I bought a new camera partway through the stay) so full sized versions of the first few are now available to view over there.
Photography inside the museum itself is prohibited though, so my shots were limited to the roof area and those surrounding the site. In a way it takes a bit of pressure off you as a tourist because you instead focus on simply walking around the place without the concern of “…I ought to take a shot of this…” so I can see why such a rule is in place. Anyhow, it’s a perfect place to rediscover your inner child.
The weeks following my return to the UK have been a little bit blurred (the first couple of days were blighted by the inevitable jet lag and family-related stuffs have cropped up too) so trying to get my final thoughts on my stay in order took longer than hoped. It’s a bit tricky trying to be objective when this has been my first proper trip abroad – I’ve never been exposed to anything other than a North-European climate for instance, and strongly believe that mastering the language would’ve made things easier. You can get by in Japan if you only speak English but it’s a lot more straightforward – and rewarding in some ways – to converse with people in the language they’re more fluent in.
Culture shock is a funny thing; in this case it was doubly shocking in that, for all the things that took me off-balance, there was quite a lot that I found to be pretty intuitive and easy to adjust to. If you’re too lazy to read what follows after the jump, I found that the society is very different from the one I grew up in but in terms of individual people there aren’t many differences at all. I also didn’t want to come home…as in, apart from seeing my family and friends again, I really didn’t look forward to coming back.
This is the first half of my Tokyo retrospective (which I can do properly now the damned jet lag has worn off); I want to give an intelligent and balanced view of the place from a more personal and tourist-y perspective but a common view of Tokyo is that of a paradise for otaku, gadget freaks and lovers of Weird Stuff. While it’s indeed common to see people reading manga on the train (assuming there’s enough room to do so) the anime industry is still a niche interest next to the usual mainstream media, although it still enjoys a higher profile than in the West. The aesthetic is common and one or two titles are household names but it’s very dependent on where you choose to look. Wall of text punctuated by my favourite pieces of Engrish BTW.
A security barrier near the entrance to a shop in Akihabara
If it’s anime/manga stuff you’re after, or just anything electrical, Akihabara is the most obvious place to go. Elsewhere there are the chain stores: Tower Records and HMV are good for CDs, while Book-Off stock DVDs and graphic novels. My favourite spot is Yodobashi Camera which, as its name suggests, is an epic camera shop but is also a full-on department store for all things electrical, be it DVDs and CDs, toys, household appliances or computer parts. There are plenty of comic book shops that sell both new and used (the used stuff is actually very good value for money since it’s a lot cheaper but is in my experience in very good condition). Oh yeah, I’ll list the results of my shopping to prove that it’s easy to visit Japan on a budget but it’s also easy to spend a lot of money if there’s stuff you want to buy.
Eh, so my shopping list is pretty much done and at this point (almost going home, sadly) I have bought all the souvenirs I need for my family and have seen plenty of the city sights too. The second week was therefore comprised mostly of sightseeing; the idea of going to Kyoto via shinkansen was sadly shelved for financial reasons but fortunately Plan B turned out to be a good one. Actually this has been a holiday full of very successful Plan Bs that have been nearly as fun as the ideas they replaced: it leaves a few things yet-to-do for the next trip as and when I’ve saved up for it, if nothing else.
One case in point was the Edo palace and the surrounding gardens, which are closed on certain days of the week (some areas are off-limits to visitors anyway). Last week we went to the Shinjuku gardens instead but this time the Imperial Gardens were open…and the weather was scorching! Tokyo Tower is also well worth a visit in my opinion, especially if you get there late afternoon in time for the sunset…speaking of high-up places, it’s possible to see the one and only Mount Fuji in a day trip from Shinjuku. Really. I have pics to prove it. ^_^
I must admit I was a bit disappointed that the weirdness and wonderfulness that is Harajuku’s fashion and cosplay scene was dampened by the rain (that infamous bridge was pretty short on photo opportunities) but the surrounding area is still worth wandering around. It made for an enjoyable afternoon, not least because I walked back into Shibuya to sample the Tokyu Food Court again and discover how certain things are cheaper here than back home. It plays into my guitaku tendancies if nothing else.
The best thing of the past couple of days is the fact that it’s the Sanja Matsuri festival, one of the annual events that are held in the local area. I mentioned previously that Taito City, and Asakusa in particular, are pretty quiet and laid-back but in the last couple of days it’s become much, much livelier.
After the epic shopping spree in Akihabara (my OST and Jpop/Jrock album collection is mushrooming) I decided to do a bit of conventional sightseeing in the areas of the city that are more (in)famous among ordinary tourists. This involves more walking and photography and less spending of money, and helped give me a clearer impression of the place. Two of the most well-known names are Shibuya, a lively shopping district with the enormous pedestrian crossing and Shinjuku, which has a nice contrast between insane public transport mayhem in the railway station and a stunning public garden that sits in the middle of the urban sprawl.
Away from Shinjuku is the even trendier district of Ginza, which is where you’ll find high-rise office blocks and high-price department stores. This time around we decided to walk from Ginza through Ueno to get to Asakusa, just in time to see the Taito city festival processions. As I type this the usual sleepy, small-town feel of Asakusa has turned into a crowded festival atmosphere with (so I’m told) three million locals and tourists descending on the area.
The humidity has dropped a bit but the whole timezone thing is still messing with me in a number of areas (don’t ask). If nothing else I’ve had my first taste of the notorious Akihabara (advice #1: take money) and took the train out to Machida. A severely pic-heavy post follows but to kick things off here’s the sight that greets me in the morning.
Asakusa with the temple (hopefully visiting tomorrow) and a peculiar little kids’ theme park.
For those who are waiting for me to reply to their comments on recent posts I’ll get around to it as soon as I can, which will be…I’m not sure I’m afraid. I’m currently sitting half-drunk and shockingly jet-lagged in a Tokyo hostel’s internet lounge with a to-do list as long as my arm. Until my sleep patterns recover then, expect much quietness here in the meantime. I’ll hopefully be able to hop online and share some pics or give the occasional on-location update though since keeping in contact via e-mail makes more sense than sending poscards (which, after all, often take longer to get home than the sender does)…plus the fact that Tokyo is a mindblowing and extremely photogenic place. I can’t NOT share the weird and wonderful things I’ve seen so far, and no doubt there will be a lot more to come.
Sending the Holy Empire of Britannia’s finest: I feel sorry for those poor Elevens already
I don’t have many definite plans but the itinerary so far includes a bullet train trip to Osaka, the gardens of Kyoto, the temples of Asakusa (the area where we’re staying), the inevitable trips to Akihabara for shiny things and in all probability making an idiot of myself with my limited capabilities in being bilingual. Since this is my first proper trip abroad I’ve had to get things like a passport organised which has meant that after the plane tickets, accomodation and travellers’ cheques for food/drink/spending money, my credit card is maxed, the cash I’d saved up for this is all but wiped out and I’m left with a mixture of trepidation and “Hell yeah!” excitement.
As part of the Hidden Japan season of movies and documentaries on BBC4 (which coincidentally is being broadcast a matter of weeks before I fly out there myself. Handy or what?) there was a fascinating piece from writer/journalist Marcel Theroux that examines the concept of 侘寂 (wabi-sabi) in contemporary Japanese culture. It was an excellent documentary for a number of reasons, not just because it connects to the idea that forms the namesake of this very blog, but more importantly because it was explained from the point of view of a curious and relatively impartial outsider who was prepared to speak to a variety of people and visit numerous places along the way with candid commentary and an open mind.
iPlayer sadly doesn’t let me take screenies, which I’m guessing is for copyright reasons. It beats plugging in a TV and having to pay the licence fee though
I’m familiar with his younger brother Louis but Marcel Theroux has a more laid-back and, how shall I say, quintessentially British approach to his work that makes it all come across really well to the viewer; even the Wikipedia entry for wabi-sabi is a bit vague and esoteric to my untrained eyes so it was refreshing to see someone start exploring the idea from scratch. Needless to say there’s plenty of stunning photography on show too but it was also Theroux’s style as a presenter and the context in which he was approaching the subject matter that made it such a winner for me. Sorry if it’s region-locked for you or if the link has already expired but this is the full version.