Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Intense


It’s full-on autumn here in San Francisco, and typical of early October, our sunsets are like classical works of art. Each night it’s a different show as the low-setting sun turns the clouds and city all kinds of vibrant colors. The shot above was taken last Wednesday evening, while the shot below was taken the night after. It’s a nightly occurrence and, as you can see, quite intense.


In the meantime, the sunrises have their own intensity thing going on:



Things are even more intense over at Ailsa’s Travel Theme … check it out!

Posted in Ailsa’s Travel Theme, Photo Essay, Photo Gallery, Photography, San Francisco, Stephen Kelly Creative, Stephen Kelly Photography, Travel Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tokyo On The Go: Street Art


Regular followers to my blog know that I love street art, and wherever I go I always have my eyes (and camera) peeled for interesting street, especially in the cities that I visit. And Tokyo, of course, is no exception.


Pretty much anywhere you go in Tokyo you’ll see some seriously creative examples of street art, like the long mural on Takeshita Street in Harajuku, above, or the playful mid-size mural seen in Shinjuku, below.


Now, one might expect a lot from such a cleverly creative city like Tokyo, but in contrast to the sprawling murals I see regularly here in San Francisco, the street art in Tokyo skews decidedly smaller, if not a bit more subversive. They are often darker in tone and theme, although you also see many examples of Tokyo cutesy.


The Japanese are very much into stickers and you see them plastered on light poles, billboards, vending boxes and machines, sidewalks, seemingly any empty space.



Stark in both design and imagery, usually colored in bold black, white or red, some are making a statement, some are selling things, some are notices for parties, while some may be the work of industrious art or design students, such as the sensitive, finely rendered piece found in Harajuku below.


And, of course, many had something to say about society and social matters, like the two below.



Still, interesting murals were easy to find, and even though they too were smaller in scale, they were no less impressive:

IMG_2661A dragon in Shinjuku.

IMG_3225A mysterious lady in Akihabara.

_ASC1092Whatever this is in Shinkuku.


Interestingly enough, some of the more interesting examples of street art might not be considered “traditional” street art at all, and I found most of them in the old school area of Asakusa, home of some of Japan’s most sacred sites.

As you can see in the photo above, as well as the three to follow, in Asakusa the artwork is revealed after businesses have closed, as the protective front grates are often alive with colorful murals, presumably depicting life in Asakusa during the Meiji period.




And while I said earlier that street art is on the smaller, more guerilla run and gun variety with the smaller stickers, I still found a few examples of large wall murals, like the impressive piece in Kichijoji seen below:


And this dark, intricate Harajuku mural:


If you’re looking for great street art in Tokyo, and you can only visit one section of the city to find it, then make a path directly for Harajuku. With it’s large, vibrant artistic community it’s no surprise that some of Tokyo’s more creative street art is found here. Still, you’ll have no trouble finding interesting, sometimes challenging work all around the city,  particularly in areas like Shinjuku, Shimokitazawa, and Shibuya.


And, as is often the way in Tokyo, you’re sure to find the most interesting street art in the city’s many backstreets and alleys. Veering from the main streets can be rewarding, so don’t be afraid to go exploring.

In case you want to see more, here’s a gallery of street art I’ve found in my visits to Tokyo. The city’s street art may not be as prolific as places like San Francisco, Barcelona or Berlin, but what’s there is choice! Happy hunting!

Posted in Japan, Let's Go Japan!, Photo Essay, Photo Gallery, Photography, Stephen Kelly Creative, Stephen Kelly Photography, Street Art, Tokyo, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Grid


I’m in Japan again for this week’s Photo Challenge, because when I think of grid I think of the amazing train station in Kyoto, Japan, which is one massive collection of architectural grids. As you can see from the pics, Kyoto Station is a daringly modern piece of architecture in the middle of one of Japan’s more traditional cities. It’s an exciting structure, and its irregular cubic facade of plate glass over a steel frame gives it an a spiraling, expansive feel. The prodigious use of glass in its facade fills the interior of the structure with natural light.


As well as being one of the more beautiful cities in Japan, or on earth for that matter, Kyoto is also a major travel hub, and trains and buses of all manner from different parts of Japan will eventually stop at the station. Even the Shinkansen bullet train makes a stop at Kyoto Station as it travels between Tokyo and Osaka. The station also serves as a key stopping point for city taxis, and taxi after taxi rolls through the circular driveway at the cab stand out front. This is significant because taxis in Kyoto are cheap and plentiful and a great way to travel from place to place within the city.


The station also houses restaurants, shopping areas, a major hotel and the ubiquitous hundred coffee shops (the Japanese LOVE coffee!). But just strolling through and around the station and marveling at it’s vast expanse and effusive light is a treat in itself.

If you’d like see more pics of Kyoto Station, and learn a little bit about its history and construction, visit my blog post from 2013 that came as part of my Cool Architecture series. As I stated about the Cocoon Tower in Tokyo a few weeks ago, if you’re into architecture, then the intriguing Kyoto Station is a must see.


Check out this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge to see some interesting takes on this week’s Grid Challenge.

Posted in Japan, Kyoto, Let's Go Japan!, Photo Essay, Photography, Stephen Kelly Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Angles


Residential apartment buildings in San Francisco’s Financial District may all look the same, but once you look up, you see the radical, almost harsh angles the seem to scrape the sky. Of course, the clever photographer would know to shoot these buildings at many different perspectives, which lends a deeper dimension to this week’s Angles theme.


See more creative takes on this week’s angular theme at Ailsa’s Travel Theme,
found only at Where’s My Backpack?


Posted in Ailsa’s Travel Theme, Photography, San Francisco, Stephen Kelly Photography | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Monochromatic


I’m back in Tokyo for this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge, in which the theme is monochromatic. This statue of Japanese sumo wrestlers is all kinds of shades of grey, with a little black thrown in for good measure. Who needs color when a little touch of grey will suffice? These guys look like they mean business no matter what color they’re in.


These pics were taken just outside of the Sumida, Tokyo train station, which seems to double as a shrine to all things sumo. And that’s no surprise, as Sumida is home to the Ryōgoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall, one of Tokyo’s more famous and storied sumo wrestling halls. It mainly plays host to the sumo wrestling tournaments (honbashu) that occur many times during the year, but it also featuresprofessional boxing and wrestling matches and concerts. Ryōgoku Kokugikan also houses a popular sumo museum and it will host the boxing competitions in the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Posted in Art, Japan, Photography, Stephen Kelly Photography, Tokyo, Tokyo On The Go, Travel, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Connected


Even though it may be an abstract thing, music is perhaps one of the more powerful connectors in life. It can reconnect us with times, people and events from your past. It makes you feel connected to yourself by evoking deep emotions and feelings of all sorts. We sometimes travel to great lengths to see our favorite musicians in live settings, whether in concert halls or on the streets, where we connect with other many other people in a celebration of music. As a once and future Deadhead, I know this last aspect all too well.

Here’s some pics of musicians I’ve encountered, all connecting with other people in a way only they can. As Madonna once said, “Music makes the people come together. Music, mix the bourgeoisie and the rebel.”

Check out this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Connect for some interesting interpretations of the theme.

Posted in Photo Essay, Photo Gallery, Photography, Stephen Kelly Creative, Stephen Kelly Photography, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tokyo On The Go: Excellent Architecture: The Cocoon Tower


One thing I love about Tokyo is its amazing range of interesting and creative architecture. Whether it’s classic, centuries-old temples or sleek, modern high-rises, Tokyo has it all for the architecture buff.

But hands down my favorite building in Tokyo is Cocoon Tower that punctuates the heart of the Nishi-Shinjuku business/skyscraper district in Shinjuku. In fact, it’s right up there with the Sydney Opera House, San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid and the Bank of China tower in Hong Kong as one of my favorite buildings in the world.


Officially known as the Mode Gakuen Coccon Tower, it is a 204-metre-tall (669 ft.), 50-story tower that houses three educational institutions: fashion school Tokyo Mode Gakuen (for which the building is named after), HAL Tokyo, a information technology and design college, and the medical college Shuto Ikō, each operated by Mode Gakuen University. It is the second-tallest educational building in the world (surpassed only by the main building of the Moscow State University) and is the 17th-tallest building in Tokyo.


Literally a vertical campus, the building can accomodate 10,000 students. Each floor of the tower contains three rectangular classrooms that surround an inner core, which consists of an elevator, a staircase and a support shaft. Every three floors, a three-story student lounge is located between the classrooms that face east, southwest and northwest.


Construction of the Cocoon Tower began in May 2006 and was completed in October 2008. Before selecting a design for its new Tokyo location, Mode Gakuen held a competition asking architects to submit design proposals for the building. The only condition was that the building could not be rectangular. Mode Gakuen received more than 150 proposals by approximately 50 architects.

The winning proposal was submitted by Tokyo-baded architecture firm Tange Associates. According to the firm’s designers, the cocoon shape symbolizes a building that nurtures the students inside. White aluminum and dark blue glass exterior form the structure’s curved shell, which is criss-crossed by a web of white diagonal lines that give the structure its cocoon-like appearance.


With its sleek, almost space-age design, the building has been praised for offering a new solution for school architecture in Tokyo’s tightly meshed urban environment. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat had this to say about the Cocoon Tower: “Turning the traditional horizontal configuration for school design literally on its side by projecting it vertically, the Cocoon tower presents an incredible case-study for creating a university in the sky. Not only is the organization of the spaces both radical and logical, the resulting aesthetic is quite startling.  Those charged with creating our cities of the future should stand up and take note.”


Beyond it’s architectural excellence, which I never tire of seeing, the Cocoon Building also acts as a directional beacon of sorts. Because of it’s close proximity to the Shinjuku train station, I always know what part of Shinjuku I’m in by which way the building is facing. If I see the “Mode HAL Iko” wording on the front facade of the building, I know I’m at the station’s west entrance.

On this trip my hotel was in western Shinjuku, so to get back there I just had to head towards the Cocoon Building, which was a block from the hotel. This is very important because the Shinjuku Station is vast, and finding the proper entrance/exits can be confusing. Having the building as a directional marker is a real help in navigating Shinjuku.


As you can see, I’ve photographed the Cocoon Tower many, many times. I even tried to get into the building, but since I’m not a student or staff and I didn’t have a pass of any kind, the front desk attendant would not let me in to see and photograph the interior. Which is okay, because marveling it’s amazing exterior is just fine by me. So when in Shinjuku, be sure to stroll around the grounds of the Mode Gakuen Coccon Tower, especially if, like me, you’re an architecture buff. I’d give you directions, but the building is omnipresent, and you really can’t miss it. If you get confused, just head west.

Posted in Japan, Photo Essay, Photo Gallery, Photography, Stephen Kelly Photography, Tokyo, Tokyo On The Go, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments