Turning Japanese 2013: Let’s Go Tokyo!


I’d like to thank everyone for their kind comments regarding the photo of the Japanese lanterns I posted as part of last week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. That picture really takes me back to my awesome trip to Japan back in September … and it also jarred my memory that I have yet to post pics I took during that trip!

It seems that time has really flown since then, and I can’t believe I let it slip on by like that. Granted, it took a little while to sift through the 7889 pics I took during my two weeks in Tokyo and Kyoto (impulse control problems … anyone?), and even more time to select the best of them. Toss in a near-pathological inability to self-edit, a penchant for procrastination and an actual life to live … well, you see where I’m going with this.

Astro Boy in Odaiba

Anyhow, I was going to write some florid copy describing my experiences in Japan, because they were many and they were amazing. But with the way my time is these days, writing down the details could prolong the posting of the pics even further, and that’s become something that’s been hanging over my head like a guillotine — get on with it already!

Suffice to say, visiting Japan is a trip and a half … a true mind-blowing experience! Tokyo in particular is a place like no other. Take everything you’ve heard about Tokyo and crank it up to 11. It’s a complex, multi-layered, intensely interesting mash-up of colors and sounds and lights and people. Don’t even get me started on the food!

It’s at once space-age modern and deeply traditional. It’s frenetic, and it’s Zen simplicity. It’s people are friendly yet reserved, but when socializing together, like in restaurants, stores or the tiny bars of Golden Gai, Tokyoites seem like a raucous, fun-loving bunch who like good music, good food, good beer and good Scotch, all of which are in abundance in Tokyo.

People who have never before been to Tokyo are often intimidated by the pace and the obvious language/communication problems … I know I was my first time around. But on this second trip I felt more comfortable with the sudden bombardment on the senses that is Tokyo. In fact, I welcomed it. Just being a little more familiar with the complex subway system was comforting, even if it didn’t make it any less confusing. Still, if you’re well-researched, you can always get to where you are going, and a little subway confusion makes exploring Tokyo even more of an adventure.

The Lights of ShinjukuPatience is definitely a virtue, though, because the pay-off is magnificent! A city slicker like me just loved visiting the bustling, exciting districts of Shibuya, Harajuku, Akihabara and Shinjuku, especially in a summer heat that made everything seem even more vibrant and alive. As this native Philadelphian knows, sometimes there’s nothing better than summer in the city! I just reveled in the lights and the food and the people and all those amazing sights. With camera always in tow, I was like a kid in a candy store. Hence perhaps, the 7889 pics!

This time around, though, I also visited some of the smaller, quieter parts of Tokyo, places with names like Niporri (or “Cat Town”), Shimokitazawa, Sugamo, and Kichijoji that evoked a more laid-back, traditional Tokyo. Artists and musicians populate many of these neighborhoods, so they have a funky retro, sometimes slightly wacky, feel (the Japanese love their cutesy stuff!). Not surprisingly, these districts are also packed with some of Tokyo’s coolest shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee houses (the Japanese also really, really love their coffee). At night, live music can be heard everywhere! So remember those name should you visit Tokyo, because they’re a different part of the city that’s off the beaten path. Just don’t ask me how to get there. When it comes to the subway, you’re on your own.

Speaking of which, there are three words you should know if you’re thinking of visiting Tokyo: research, research, research! As I said before, Tokyo can be intimidating, especially when it comes to things like navigating the subway and getting around in a culture where language differences can make communicating difficult. The answer to this is to really do your research well before leaving on your trip. Learn key phrases. Use the Internet to become familiar with subway routes and how to get from one place to another. Check out a map of Tokyo to get a feel for the lay of the city and how the different districts relate to each other in terms of proximity.

_ASC2165And learn the niceties of the Japanese culture. Don’t blow your nose in public. Don’t speak loudly on subway trains. Be polite and respectful. In the smaller neighborhoods, be mindful of a lot of people on bikes. Don’t stick your chopsticks straight down into your bowl of rice. Always walk on the left side. And Americans: tipping can actually be seen as an insult, so don’t bother.

In short, be cool. Represent yourself and where you come from in the best light. As I always like to say, be a traveler, not a tourist.

Well, look at that: I actually managed to pound out some thoughts and musings from my recent trip to Tokyo, but as I said earlier, get on with it already! Still, it’s hard for me not to gush about this amazing city and it’s amazing culture and people. I hope I’m able to show you a little bit of all of that with this photo gallery.

Next stop: Kyoto!



About Stephen Kelly Creative

Hi, I'm Stephen Kelly, a writer, editor, photographer and graphic designer living in beautiful San Francisco, CA, USA. Amongst the things I love are writing, photography, movies, music, fitness, travel, Batman, all things Australian, food and fun, all of which I hope to reflect in this here blog. Welcome aboard ... now let's get busy!
This entry was posted in Japan, Photo Essay, Photo Gallery, Photography, Stephen Kelly Photography, Tokyo, Travel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Turning Japanese 2013: Let’s Go Tokyo!

  1. Stephen, it occurred to me to wonder, looking at all of your fantastic Japanese photos this time, whether San Francisco came first for you historically as a new location to visit or Japan. I mean, I know there’s a large Asian community in San Francisco, and I’ve heard that parts of it are quite like parts of Japan and China, and I just wondered where you got on the loop of travel between them, so to speak. Which came first, the chicken or the egg drop soup? (Yes, I know, egg drop soup is Chinese, not Japanese, but you get my point….)

    • HI Victoria … actually, I think San Francisco came first for me. I moved here immediately after graduating from college (I’m originally from Philadelphia), mainly because I always wanted to live here and I got a great opportunity to move here. I think I started traveling to Asia and Australia because both of those places are closer to California, and therefore they’re also cheaper.
      Also, as you said, SF has a very large Asian population, and you hear a lot about those places from friends who were born there. They also give you tips on who to get around and the cool things to do. I’d love to visit many places in Europe as well (Ireland, Sweden, Germany), but I keep getting drawn back to Asia and Australia. As you can see, it’s hard not to.

  2. cyardin says:

    Great post Stephen! I love Tokyo and have been three times, but you have opened my eyes to a couple of hidden suburbs to discover the next time around. It is such an alien yet Western place, and definitely my favourite city in Asia. I like it better than New York. Love some of the street photos and the shot you took of the billboard with TLJ in it. Japanese graphical design is really at a pointy end of world design.

    • Thanks, Chris … I had a feeling you’d like this one since you’ve expressed your admiration for Japan in the past. Gotta agree with you … I like it so much more than New York.
      Yes, keep those names in mind should be visit Tokyo again. I especially liked Kichijoji and Shimokitazawa … lots of fun. I’m a spicy ramen freak, and I found a restaurant in Shimokitazawa that knocked my sokcs off … it hurt so good!
      Also gotta agree with you … seeing all the cool graphic design is a really big part of the trip for me. The Japanese really do visuals really well!

  3. Jane says:

    Your comments about the subway made me laugh. My colleagues always assure each other that when getting around Japan “If you stand around looking lost long enough, someone will pity you and help.” It’s mostly true! They have hilarious stories of Japanese grandmas leading them by the hand to the platform or kindergartners using their surprisingly good English to explain they have the wrong ticket. That is, unless you’re ethnic Asian like me, than you would be standing around for a good 45 minutes before you realise you are SOL and on your own!

    • HI Jane, and thanks for dropping by!
      OMG … I know exactly what you mean. On my first trip to Tokyo my friend and I were trying to figure out the subway Suica card machine, obviously looking confused, and this Japanese guy next to us said, in perfect English, “You guys look like you need help. Let me show you how this is done.”
      This time around, we had to get to the office in the Shinjuku subway where we could buy tickets for the bullet train (we were heading to Kyoto after our week in Tokyo). The gal at the information booth said something about going up one flight of steps followed by another, and of course, we got totally lost. I mean, there’s only about 3000 flights of steps in the Shinjuku station! Somehow, we happened to pass the same info booth, and I asked the gal to specify. Instead, she told her workmate she was taking a little break, and she took us there herself!
      It must of been me who was looking hopelessly lost and confused, because my travel companion is Chinese (which came in really handy, since he can at least read characters on signs and such). Your comment about going SOL was hilarious!

  4. VisitSiena says:

    Japan my dream 🙂 !!!

  5. Amy says:

    Really enjoy the grand tour. Thank you, Stephen

  6. Madhu says:

    A fantastic gallery Stephen! Brought back memories of my visit last year. My photos are not quite as good though 🙂

  7. viveka says:

    Stephen, what an amazing gallery – and the whole post is just superb. So many years since I was in Japan 1978 – and I was just floored by Tokyo – very mixed feeling about the city – it was just one massive Time Sq at that time already, the contrasts of the ultra modern and their strong heritage is fascinating. Have looked through you gallery and my favorite shot beside the lanterns – is
    Buddha In The Rain, Sugamo. Fantastic post, Stephen. Looking forward to be back in Kyoto.

    • Hi Viveka! So good have you back visiting my blog again. As I’ve said before, you’ve been missed!
      Yes, Tokyo can be challenging … the pace can be intimidating. I’d say the city has gotten even bigger and busier since your last visit, and that’s why it was nice finding and exploring some of the quieter, less hectic, but no less colorful part of town.
      Stay tun3ed for Kyoto … I’m hoping to get that one up next week.

      • viveka says:

        Stephen, I had a rough time lately and still have… problems to sit for a longer period, so visiting blogs has been so hard for me … can only do that when I have a day without pain.
        So that’s why I haven’t been around.
        I will be around so soon .. my “sorry ass” gives me a break.
        Looking forward to Kyoto. So fantastic so see what others picture of the places I been. You’re brilliant on the details.

  8. The Hook says:

    Astro Boy is as corny all get-up, but he rules!

  9. arihoma says:

    How great to read such a nice travel report about my favourite place on earth. It made me remember my Japan trip and makes me wanna go back so badly. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Hi Ariane … and thanks you for visiting my blog. I’m really glad my gallery could take you back to the place you love. I love it, too. Stay tuned, as I have a really excellent gallery of my pics from Kyoto coming up soon!

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