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.
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.
Patience 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.
And 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!