People use the word magical too much, especially in reference to Tokyo.
But I now get it because I did have several moments when wandering and looking and searching in solitude that I felt myself transported from this world into another place of waking dreams, a state of mind where anything felt possible, where the air felt pregnant, moments where anything could happen, intersections where I could choose a direction and never return to the life I’ve lived and known.
It was like walking through the gauzy cloth of a Murakami story, a Miyazaki film, a ukiyo-e woodblock print made manifest and real.
This one night I paused by this subway station and its few passengers and watched the trains come and go, the still water reflections confusing my senses, the music of the city lulling me into a trance. Time was not moving. Or it was racing ahead. It did not matter. There would be another train soon.
In Tokyo, you can find all sorts of wild and deep holes to dive deeply into, places where specific flavors are nurtured and taken to their fullest.
One such place is Nelken (German for carnation) in Koenji. A simple small cafe full of warmth, oil paintings and an astounding sound system. Dark wood, crushed red velvet chairs and a brandy coffee. Sit back and close your eyes and the wall of sound embraces you, selections from the vinyl collection and the occasional CD are all classical. The day I visited it was Brahms, a violin concerto played in it’s entirety. An older gentlemen customer in front of me sat with his head bowed, eyes closed, posture relaxed and slack.
He only opened his eyes when the last movement concluded.
A subway ride west from downtown Tokyo, Nelken is a place to sit and drink and enjoy a private concert with the masters.
I don’t know why, but I cannot stop shooting crosswalks. I think it is just the collision of humanity and the geometric and graphical nature of the crosswalk. People are also a bit captive and can’t escape my lens. My shots are not always successful and I do catch myself repeating myself, taking similar shots in crosswalks around the world.
But I do like this one.
Tokyo is a city that richly rewards those who wander.
I did not step inside but was content to watch the customers leave from one of the holes of this store / amusement park.
To find out more, read the TimeOut Japan blog about this destination.
I have a simple rule when I am traveling or doing my wandering thing: when I see a line of locals waiting for a restaurant, I must abandon my plans and also get in line. Even if I have just eaten, it does not matter, because this has nothing to do with hunger. Traveling is about experience and if you can, experiencing a place like a local as much as you can. I know that the chance that I will ever return to a place I have visited is very low, so these are always once a lifetime opportunities.
My cousin who lives in Tokyo took me to this soba place in Chiyoda and the day was sunny and hot and the line was long, wrapping around the corner. She apologized profusely and suggested that we go someplace else. I told her I was fine with waiting because the long line of locals was very enticing. We waited about 45 minutes to get a table.
My God, that is some soba. One of the best meals I had in Japan and there were many exceptional meals.
To read more about this restaurant, read this article from The Japan Times.
When I am traveling and wandering, I have a simple rule: if I see a crowd or a line, I must go investigate. If it is a restaurant, I will likely eat regardless of my level of hunger. I know I’ll likely never return so might as well take advantage.
One day I was browsing the Tower Records in Shibuya when I saw the crowds of people waiting for some event for unfold. There were many kids but there were also people of all ages waiting in an orderly mass. I decided to stick around to see what would be unveiled.
It was some mascot for some fucking thing. I stayed long enough to expose a few frames because after all, I had waited for a while.
One of the most photographed intersections in the world, I went there a few times, trying to capture something that was different.
Sometimes when I am shooting, I am aware of all those who have tread before me. I can sometimes sense that I am doing nothing new, just rehashing ideas that others did better before me. I put the camera up to the eye and in the viewfinder, I see the same image that others or myself have shot before.
The world is rife with cliches and if you are lazy, you will just add another version of an idea that has been done thousands of times.
The downside of this awareness is thinking too much. Shooting should be about reflexes and instinct, all technique subsumed down to the unconscious level.
I was lucky on this day as the clouds came in and a late afternoon shower descended on Tokyo. I played with the shapes of the crosswalk lines and the umbrellas but those were unsuccessful. Then I saw the lone pedestrian scurrying across the wide swath before the lights changed. The crossing suddenly became about light and movement and the negative is very dark.
I was leaving Sensoji, walked to Ueno and was on the way back to Shinjuku and back to my hotel. If you know Tokyo, that is a long walk and it had taken most of the day.
This was one of those days where I had exposed only a handful of frames. It happens. Some days are full of magic and I bang out roll after roll of film. Other days, it is more of a hunt, searching for those elusive bits of life to focus on. It’s not a bad thing at all. These days are just a reminder that the process of wandering and exploring is the whole point, the journey over the results.
I was nearing the end of the day. The sun had already set, the city was dark and I found myself in a deserted part of Chiyoda. I roamed the streets, generally heading southwest back towards Shinjuku and where I was staying. I did not know where I was exactly nor where my hotel was, but I generally find my way. Southwest then.
Along a narrow side street, I passed windows with a warm light streaming out and I could just see the top of this guy’s hair. I knocked on the door and walked in tentatively. The guy was there, still working and crunching his numbers. Some small office for a small design firm perhaps? He did not speak English and I had no Japanese. I very much liked his style.
For a moment, I was in the warmth of his presence and the coziness of his well-designed place.
I took two photos and thanked him and left.
I am one for gardens. But I do not garden as a verb. I do not dream of owning some plot and working on weekends with a trowel and peat moss. I like other people’s gardens and I am always ready to appreciate someone else’s effort, to sit down on a bench and to contemplate the light through the trees, to wonder what the names of those flowers are, to think about shit and to sit for hours.
In Tokyo and Kyoto, there are gardens that reach a perfection of form and function, such places that are the ultimate in designed spaces. I was with my family on this trip and had a full itinerary, so I did not have time to sit and savor the day and the sun dappled air.
There is much to comment and remark upon in these gardens but one thing that continually struck me was the beauty of the Japanese Black Pine Trees, these elegantly tufted trees, trimmed and trained into rhythmic shapes undulating like a Calder, like a blossoming stack of clouds.
These shots were from the Kokyo Gaien National Garden in downtown Tokyo, in the Chiyoda neighborhood.