› Tue, 15 Jan 2013
Shinjuku: Kabukicho and Piss Alley
I arrived at Shinjuku Station tired, but in no way ready to go back to my hotel. I exited the station and decided to head towards the Kabukicho area, just to the north of station, with the hope of finding something interesting.
Emerging from the station, I found myself on Shinjuku-dori (Shinjuku Street) facing the local landmark, Studio Alta. (Studio Alta is mostly know for the massive TV screen that adorns the front of the building. But it’s also a shopping center with a TV station located on the top floor. I’ve never actually gone inside Studio Alta in all the times I’ve been in Shinjuku, not sure why. Next time I suppose.)
After a short wait for the light to change at the crosswalk, I made my way further north, walking through the small streets and alleys packed with restaurants and arcades until I reached Yasukuni-dori where, on the opposite side of the street, resided the famed Kabukicho area. And marking the entrance to it, was the familiar (to me) big, red illuminated gate.
I walked up and down the streets for a good while, passing the many bars and clubs crammed into the surrounding buildings. There were so many people out having a good time, the streets were packed. I found myself deeply missing one of my favorite ramen restaurants that used to be located on one of the corners a couple blocks back from the main street.
When I finally decided it was time to go, I headed out of Kabukicho the way I came in, through the illuminated gate and back onto Yasukuni-dori. However, instead of crossing back towards Shinjuku Station, I made a right turn and headed west, on a route that took me under the overhead JR Line tracks and in the general direction of my hotel. I went this way so that I could take a walk through the small alleys of Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane) or ”Piss Alley” as it’s also called. (That quaint nickname comes from the old days when it had no bathrooms inside its tight quarters- it has toilets now).
However before I got there I stopped just outside of it to watch the local JR trains pass by on the tracks that I just crossed beneath.
As I stood there watching trains go by, sounds of drumming started emanating from somewhere underneath the same tracks I had just walked under. At first I wasn’t sure exactly where it was coming from but then realized that it was just maybe 25 yards away to my right. It turned out to be a guy who had set himself up in the perfect place to amplify his music to the world. I walked over to have a closer listen.
I don’t think he was at all aware of the five or so of us who had gathered around him to listen. And it was probably 10 minutes before he finally ended what he was playing and looked up to see us standing there. He was very gracious and appreciative of the fact that we stopped and I did my best to communicate in my terrible Japanese how much I enjoyed his performance. Definitely one of those moments where I feel I lost out an a great chance to have a more meaningful experience due to my lack of language skills.
He started playing again, and after a minute or so more of listening, I moved on and made my way over Omoide Yokocho.
The two alleys that comprise Omoide Yokocho are packed full of cramped little eating establishments that are mainly known for yakitori, but also noodles of various kinds among other things. Most of the places are simply a counter with a few stools, very quaint and inviting.
As I was preparing to leave the alley, I happened to photograph a young couple as they were coming out of one of the restaurants. I didn’t think they saw me at first, but they did- which was fine. They approached me with the biggest smiles, and were most definitely a little, shall we say, “tipsy” from all their evening’s fun. (The guy was quite tall, 6 foot something and she was my height. My guess was that they were on a date after a Saturday workday.) They asked me where I was from and and if I had eaten, and if I would take their picture (to which I said sure). They were very cool.
They posed for me and were having the best time doing so. Unfortunately though, they had backed me into an area where the light was terrible, and even pushing the ISO to the maximum and the aperture wide open, I couldn’t get a shot of them that wasn’t totally blurry and useless. They were also having a very hard time standing anything close to still due to there “tipsiness”. They had no idea though and loved the blurry images on the back of my camera. In fact, after seeing them they thanked me and went merrily on their way. (I was disappointed that none of their photos turned out.)
So, feeling that was my cue to finally head back in, I set forth out onto the street that took me south along the outside of Shinjuku station and in the general direction of the hotel. I passed another stall belonging to the ramen business that I enjoyed my first night in Tokyo.
Then passed a line of waiting taxi’s.
Then passed the ramen stand I did eat at the other night before coming to the final few blocks of stores and restaurants that lay between the station and my hotel.
Yodobashi Camera was long closed. The night was winding down here and the crowds were thinning.
I was in a strange mood at this point. I wanted to stay out all night as I wasn’t ready for my trip to end, but I was exhausted from the day and needed some sleep. The whole trip had been just go go go, never really stopping to rest except when I was on the train.
So it was with great reluctance then, that I went back to my room (with a quick stop at Lawson for orange juice, water and yogurt to eat with the last of my Frosties), packed my stuff and downloaded the days photographs before finally climbing into bed.
My alarm was set for an early-ish morning. The plan was to be out of the room by 9am or so with my bags delivered to the bell captain to be stored for the day. And since tomorrow was Sunday, that meant that I could go catch the Rockabilly dancers down in Yoyogi park.
One day left!
› Sat, 29 Dec 2012
Riding the Yamanote line train to Shibuya (from Tokyo Tower), gave me a chance to rest my feet and let my mind wander. I started thinking maybe I should go back to my hotel and drop off some unnecessary gear, but quickly dismissed the idea, as going all the way back to Shinjuku just to turn around and come back to Shibuya (which I was going to be passing right through) would’ve been a waste of time on the final night of this trip.
Nonstop to Shibuya it would be.
The ride was quick and I exited out of Shibuya station via the entrance near the statue of Hachiko the dog, adjacent to the huge (and famous) intersection known as “Hachiko Crossing”. I was surprised to see that it had again been raining while I was on the train (like it had earlier on my way to Ueno.) The ground was now nice and shiny, and wet. It was going to be raining again soon, that was for sure.
This intersection (Hachiko Crossing) is an iconic place, instantly recognizable from travel books and movies. It’s in “Lost in Translation” for instance. Lots of lights at night and it’s designed so that when people cross, everyone crosses at the same time, from all directions.
Instead of immediately crossing the crazy intersection, I turned left and made my way over to, and across, a pedestrian bridge to that took me slightly away from the action. I wanted to see if I could get a different vantage point for perhaps some more interesting images.
I eventually made it back around to the main crossing and settled on a spot near the station side of the intersection. There was a short, barricade-ish column that made for a perfect makeshift tripod- allowing me to play around with some longer exposures. Motion of the people against the non-moving structures.
I was there maybe 5 minutes before I was “ambushed” by a young street photographer who popped up right next to me and took my photo. He was decked out in a cardigan and skinny jeans, topped of by the classic 1950’s style black eyeglass frames without the lenses’. Photographically, he was equipped with a nice Leica M6 and 35mm lens.
I appreciated that he took a shot of me, the foreigner with the camera shooting the slightly stereotypical spot of Hachiko crossing. At the time he spotted me, I had the 70-200 on the camera which is a bit large and not at all discreet. We ended up having a nice conversation. Turns out he was 22, born in Japan (but grew up outside of NYC in Connecticut) and now lives in Nagoya. He was out for the weekend visiting Tokyo to do some photography and he said that he loves coming to Hachiko Crossing when he’s in Tokyo because of all the foreigners like me. Haha, glad I could be so typical. I gave him a card and we parted ways. At that point, I decided that it was time to move to a new spot. Rain was starting to fall and umbrellas were going up so, I put the 50mm back on the camera, pulled the rain cover over my camera bag and started meandering around the sidewalk.
It wasn’t more than maybe another 5 minutes before I ended up meeting another photographer. His day job was in IT (information technologies) but his passion he said was photography. (I found him interesting in that he had his fully packed camera backpack, with tripod attached, and was dressed in a suit- he was coming from work.) We chatted for a few minutes, and it turned out that he was originally from India but had been transferred to Tokyo, which he loved. We exchanged business cards and got back to our respective work. By now the rain was starting to come down hard enough that I pulled out my umbrella. It made for such a beautiful sight with the lights of the busy city reflecting off the ground and the many umbrellas creating these little floating tents.
I finally decided it was time to cross over to the other side and wandered into Starbucks in the Tsutaya bookstore. I ordered a coffee (even though it was hot and humid) and then headed to the second floor to try and get a seat that looked out over the crossing. Unfortunately, it was jammed packed so I was relegated to drinking my coffee standing up. I drank it pretty fast and then took some time to enjoy the air conditioning by looking through the music, you never know if you’re going to find something good and unavailable elsewhere.
I spent about a half hour looking at CD’s and listening to tracks. by that point that though, I was starting to get hungry. However, had no idea what I wanted to eat. I left Tsutaya and ended up out on on the street across from a McDonalds. As sad as It makes me to admit it, I gave in and headed into the Golden Arches to grab a quick dinner. My dining experience in McDonald’s that night was the worst I have ever had.
From the moment I stepped into the restaurant, I just could not cool off. I ordered the basic two cheeseburgers meal, and instead of waiting for them at the counter, they had me take my fries and drink and go sit down as the burgers needed to be cooked (they were pretty busy). So I went up to the second floor and found the only open single seat, at the counter looking out the window.
I sat down and set down my camera on he floor under my feet. Then, I immediately just started sweating, in a way reminisnet of my hike in Kurama. And as I tried to cool off, by either fanning myself or wiping my brow, I seemed to just draw more attention to myself. The young woman sitting to my right seemed to especially take note of my sad state. My meal ended being inhaled as I wanted to get out as fast as I could!
So, as soon as it was gone, I threw away my trash I got out of that McDonald’s as fast as I could and swore that it would a long time before I ever set foot in one again.
Back out on the street I made my way back to Hachiko Crossing. The rain had stopped for now and I was trying to decide if I was going to explore Shibuya any more or head back towards Shinjuku. Shibuya is a fun area, but I was getting tired and wanted to get myself packed before I went to bed so that I could get up early and just get out on the streets for my last day in Tokyo.
With my decision made to head back to Shinjuku, I crossed with the masses when the signal changed and headed for the station entrance. As I stepped back onto the sidewalk, I turned to look back one more time. The rain was starting to fall again and umbrellas were going back up. I paused to watch and take a few more photos. The colors of the reflected lights on the wet ground look so nice and everyone seemed to be just having a good time.
I spent 20 minutes watching and photographing before I finally made my way back into Shibuya Station. I caught the Yamanote line and was back in Shinjuku before I knew it.
› Wed, 19 Dec 2012
Morning had arrived and I was dragging a bit waking up. I was definitely missing the first few days after arriving in Japan, where I could easily wake up at 6am and go all day. I was officially on Japan time just as my trip was wrapping up- perfect.
I got up and did my normal routine- ate my yogurt with Frosties, had some coffee, showered, gathered my gear then called home. While I was Facetime’ing with home, I began to notice balloons floating up past my window on the 26th floor. It was amusing to watch them float higher and higher, up past the top of the Tokyo Government Building (and its’ 48 floors) and then off into the far distant blue. Curious as to where the balloons came from, I peered out my window down to the street far below and saw some sort of celebration coming to an end. To mark the end of it, they released the balloons. Definitely a fun sight the to start the day with.
After hanging up with home, I finished my coffee and decided upon my first destination of the day, Ueno, and the open air alley market next to Ueno Station called Ameya-yokocho, or Ameyoko as it’s referred to these days. (The name “Ameya-yokocho” I guess means “candy alley” or something like that. And not to give anything away now, but I didn’t really see too much candy there. Guess I should have looked harder).
From Shinjuku Station, I caught the Chuo Rapid to Tokyo Station where I transferred to the Yamanote line heading north. (This might not really have been the fastest way there but it seemed like it on the map.) I got off the train at the south end of the market, at Okachimachi Station. The next stop, Ueno Station, would have put me at what I guess is the official entrance to Ameyoko, but I decided to be crazy and do it backwards.
(Side Note: Most of Tokyo is still fairly unknown to me. In all my trips to Tokyo I really haven’t been able to spend the amount of time I’d like to exploring it, the city is just too big. It would require living there and that just hasn’t worked out… yet. So today, I knew I wouldn’t get to see very much of the mega-city but I at least I would finally get to a couple spots I hadn’t yet been to.)
After exiting Okachimachi station, I was a little disoriented but quickly got myself pointed in the right direction. The streets here were wet, which surprised me. It must have rained in Ueno while I was enroute. The strange thing was, the trains that I rode to to Ueno were all above ground and I never saw it rain. In any case, it was crazy humid and seemed like it would start raining again soon.
The walk up from the station was short and I had to stop and wait at the stoplight before crossing to the south entrance of Ameyoko. There were a few people out but it wasn’t crowded by any means, much less crowded than I was expecting it to be.
Once the light changed, I crossed and entered into the market. All in all, I found it to be alright. I guess I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, maybe something more like Nishiki Market? As I walked along, I thought about the ongoing conversation my wife and I have about what tourist do when they come to Los Angeles, what makes something worth seeing.
Historically, Ameyoko was a black market after World War II but walking through it now, I didn’t really get any sense of that history. I will say though that it has a charm that made me glad I was there. We definitely don’t have anything like it back home. I read that there are something like 180 shops in the market with another part that I didn’t see which has more upscale shops.
Not too far in, I came upon a stand set up underneath the cover of the overhead JR train tracks. They were cooking and selling what I think was Imagawayaki with an Okonomiyaki inspired filling (not sure why I didn’t ask what it was actually called as I have seen it before but never tried it). Deciding that I needed and snack, I ordered one, but had him leave off the mayonnaise. It was fun watching him cook and even better when I got to eat.
As I waited for my food, it started raining again, so after getting my food, I moved underneath the tracks to eat. Off in the opposite direction of the stand, in the not too far distance, I could see the new Tokyo Sky Tree still under construction. (It’s open now so I’ll have to go see it next time.) I do love towers and the amazing views they offer, especially here in Tokyo.
After about 10 minutes, the rain let up so off I went. I didn’t make too far up the market though before the rain hit again, this time much harder than before. I decided to get out of the rain and randomly ended up taking cover at a Shawarma stand which worked out great since I was still hungry after my first snack.
I ordered a Shawarma wrap and drink from the man behind the counter. He wasn’t Japanese, and didn’t seem at all interested in attempting to have any sort of conversation other than taking my order. I was curious as to why/how he ended up in Japan and if he owned this stand or what his whole story was. However, I suppose I’ll never know. Regardless of all that, the food I got was outstanding and really hit the spot.
The rain continued for quite a while this time, so after I finished eating, I had a good amount of time to just sit and watch the people stroll by, under their umbrellas. This spot would’ve been an amazing place to sit for the entire day and just people watch.
It was about 3pm by the time the rain finally stopped, and I decided it was time to to get a move on. So, I threw my camera bag over my shoulder and continued on.
If only I wore ties.
It didn’t take me too much longer to make it to the other end of the market. Overall I enjoyed it and was glad I came, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of the must see list of Tokyo spots. However, if I lived in Tokyo, it would be a place I’d return to from time to time, just for the people watching. And Shwarma.
At the north entrance to Ameyoko, there is, surprise (not), Yodobashi Camera perched on the corner! And, as I was extremely hot (again) I wandered inside to get out of the heat. I spent maybe 30 minutes inside Yodobashi, looking at new ball heads for my tripod, playing with some cameras and cooling down before I made my way back out to the street.
The next stop of the day was Tokyo Tower, in hopes that I’d be able to catch a nice sunset. It was another tourist spot that I had yet to see in all my past trips to Tokyo and to get there I needed to catch the Yamanote line south to Hamamatsucho Station. I decided to wander the main street back to the station I started from, Okachimachi and see just a little bit more of Ueno on my way. The sun was now starting to poke out from behind the clouds and I started to think that just maybe, I might get to see a nice sunset from Tokyo Tower.
› Mon, 08 Oct 2012
I made my way south to Tokyo Tower from Okachimachi station to Hamamatsu-cho station, via the Yamanote line. The sun seemed like it was really trying to break out of the clouds along the way.
Hamamatsu-cho station was still familiar to me from the week before so navigating through it was nice and quick. Emerging out onto the street in front of the World Trade Center Building that sits next the station, I hopped in a taxi and made my way to Tokyo Tower.
The ride was actually much shorter than I’d anticipated, and before I knew it, I’d arrived right in front of the ticket windows of Tokyo Tower.
Standing on the ground and looking skyward, Tokyo Tower was impressive enough, with it’s international orange painted girders’s reaching high into the sky above. Maybe it’s not as elegant as say the Eiffel Tower, but it’s still magnificent enough and I was looking forward to the grand views of Tokyo that awaited me. The tower itself is 1,093 feet tall with the main observation deck located just about halfway up at a height of 450 feet. There is a higher deck (at 820ft high) but it seemed to have long wait for it, so I passed on it.
With my ticket in hand, I got in the elevator without even having to wait. A quick ride up, and I was on the observation deck, standing at the windows and peering out across the Tokyo skyline.
The clouds weren’t clearing like I had hoped. I was a baffled by the fact that there was blue sky all around when I got in the elevator but in the it ride up, the blue just seemed to vanish. Oh well. The sun beams streaming through the clouds were a beautiful sight. And besides, there was enough time for the clouds to clear if they really wanted to. With that in mind, I took my time walking around the observation deck, enjoying the views of the giant metropolis below.
To the north, I could see the Tokyo Sky Tree and my favorite hotel in Shinbashi, the Dai-Ichi Hotel (in the lower left corner of the photo below.)
West was the Shio Dome (below) and Tsukiji Market near there.
To the south I could see planes landing at Haneda Airport, but in general, that view was kind of just so-so.
And let’s not forget the fun windows that look down through the floor to the ground far below. There are two, and I found it amusing to see who wouldn’t actually walk across the windowed floors.
(Slightly off topic: Tokyo Tower’s international orange paint made me think of an old joke from art school. That in the sculpture department, the joke went, that if you’re not sure what to do with a piece, then make it big and paint it orange, or something like that. Gotta love the art school humor.)
After circling the observation deck a few times and visiting both floors (there are actually two floors in this lower part and even a Shinto Shrine), along with nothing much going on sunset-wise, I decided to sit down and enjoy an ice coffee and soft serve ice cream at the Cafe La Tour. Refreshing.
After my snack, I made my way to the windows and did some more photography. The sun was actually trying it’s best and delivered this. Better than nothing I suppose.
The view down to the streets below was nice, but I regretted not having an even longer lens or a teleconverter on me so that I could have gotten some shots with even greater compression to them. Still, I enjoyed what I got.
As I wrapped up my time in Tokyo Tower, I watched the dark, heavy rain clouds move in, darkening a sky that was already growing dark from the fading light of day. There was sure to be more rain tonight at some point, not to mention a crazy amount of humidity in the air.
(Oh, and there’s Shinjuku out in the distance, top right skyline, in the photo above.)
By now it was 6:15pm and I decided it was time to leave. So, I got in the elevator and headed to the ground. It let me out on the second floor of the four story building (at the tower’s base) called Foot Town. (It’s home to several attractions, like the Tokyo Tower Wax Museum and Aquarium Gallery but none of that really interested me that night.)
The second floor, where I was now, was simply souvenir shops and restaurants and I made my way through it kind of quick. I did briefly stop to admire the scale model of Tokyo Tower next to the exit, but thats about it.
Outside, it was dark now. I decided to walk back to Hamamatsu-cho station in a route that would take me down and past the Tokyo Prince Hotel and Zoujou-ji Temple. It was a nice walk, although it was far more humid than it was when I went up into Tokyo Tower and I was sweating like mad. There weren’t many people out at all, it was far quieter than I thought it would be. I guess this area is more business and not at all residential?
I love construction zones here in Japan. So neat and organized.
It wasn’t long before I ended up at Zoujou-ji, walking down the sidewalk that ran along side it. The sidewalk bordered up against the cemetery garden containing small statues of Jizo, the protecter of unborn children in Buddhism. The statues are decorated by parents with clothes and small toys, and then prayed to so as to make sure the unborn children make it into the afterlife guarded by Jizo.
It was a somber thing for me to see, and I stopped for a while and sat quietly with them. The wind would blow gently and spin the pinwheels. Nobody else passed me the entire time I was there. It felt a little strange.
From there it wasn’t much longer to the train station. My feet were getting tired and it was starting to lightly rain. I have to come back to Zoujou-ji next time I’m in Tokyo for sure. I never realized it was there and what it is, importance-wise.
Order is everywhere and reinforcing that idea is this feature on the sidewalk where I stopped and waited to cross the street in front of Zoujou-ji.
I like that there is an official “wait” spot on the sidewalk. “とまれ” (tomare, written inside the circle) means stop in Japanese. The footprints were very helpful indeed.
Next stop for the day’s (or now night’s) journey was the ever popular Shibuya. See you there!
› Thu, 31 May 2012
Kyoto to Tokyo
The cab ride back from Nishiki Market to Kyoto Station was pretty quick. It was hot in the back seat, and I began to sweat like crazy as we sped down the back alley streets. My driver didn’t seem to have any interest in using the air conditioning (at least not in a way that emitted any cold air) so to make the best of the situation, I used my hand fan to cool off and listened along to the classical music coming from the radio.
We sped passed the curiously named “Tits Cafe” before emerging out onto Karasuma Dori, upon which we made a left turn and headed south, towards Kyoto Station. I had the driver stop early to let me out in front of the Yodobashi Camera store, just a block north from the station. It was new since the last time I had been in Kyoto and not really any different from any other Yodobashi Camera, but still, why not have a look, right?
I did a fairly quick walk through of the floors of the giant Yodobashi, ending my tour in the basement. Then it was out the connecting tunnel that leads into the underground Porta shopping area. I saw my beloved KYK Tonkatsu restaurant and bid it farewell until the next time. Then up the escalator and I was back outside standing in front of Kyoto Station in the rain.
The time was now about 4pm and my train was departing at 4:56pm. I decided to spend a few minutes in the large station entrance, having one last look around. It’s such a huge complex, the main open area feels like some sort of modern cathedral.
The wind was blowing pretty hard along with the rain. The typhoon was starting to get close.
After my look around, I stopped into the Anderson Bakery located in the Isetan department store basement to get a few baked goods for the train. I had a brief chat with the bakery cashier who was curious as to what I had been out photographing (the giant camera of course being the give-away) so I told her about my project and where I had been, the usual answer. I did appreciate her curiosity and was glad she didn’t comment on the ridiculous amount of baked goods I was buying, probably enough food for 4 people. (The main thing I bought was this amazing roll that was a coiled kind of thing with a buttery flavor and a glaze on top that was just ever so slightly sweet. I wonder how many of them I ate while in Kyoto since I bought at least one of those each time I visited the bakery. This last time, I bought two of those along with a couple other things. Strangely, I never took a picture of one. Oh well).
So with food in hand, it was back to the Hotel Granvia to get my bags. And with a pleasant goodbye from the bellhop at the back entrance, I was on my way to the Shinkansen platforms.
The walk down to the platform was simple enough. A brief pause to get past a group of people blocking the JR ticket gate, then up the escalator to the train platform. There were five people already lined up I to board car 12 of the Hikari Super Express train 480 when I got up there. It was now about 4:50pm.
The great thing about the Shinkansen trains is that they are always on time, like set your watch by them on time. So what happened next made for some excitement for an otherwise normal activity- the train was late! I am sure this happens from time to time, it’s to be expected, but in all my times in Japan riding the Shinkansen, it has never happened to me.
Our departure time came and went with no train. At first, everyone seemed not to notice. But then, after about two minutes, people began to get very fidgety, checking their watches and looking around as if to see if anyone knew where the train was. There was a businessman in front of me escorting someone from Germany, and it seemed like he was embarrassed or something by the situation- at the very least he was uncomfortable with the what was going on. He quickly stopped one of the platform attendants to find out what was going on and was told the train was just delayed leaving Shin-Osaka, nothing major. In the end, our train was only 5 minutes late. When it did finally arrive, everyone boarded very quickly (and calmly) and the train was on it’s way out of Kyoto Station before everyone was even seated- I guess they wanted to make up the time and get back on schedule. Throughout the ride to Tokyo, it did feel like the train was traveling just a bit faster than normal.
I settled into my seat at the front end of the cabin, with the wall in front of me (I had requested this seat so that I could use the power outlet with my laptop). And as the train sped away from Kyoto, it hit me how sad I was to be leaving this beautiful city. As crowded and busy as Kyoto may seem, it also feels like a very small city, where it’s very easy to be alone and feel like you aren’t crowded in. It’s a modern metropolis for sure, but not at all like Tokyo or Osaka, it’s a treasure indeed.
The Shinkansen ride itself was uneventful, we hit all the stops on time after Kyoto I think (at least we got into Tokyo right on time). I very much enjoyed my baked goods, spreading their consumption out over the full length of the journey. Once the sun set and it was impossible to see anything out the window anymore, I pulled out the laptop and did some photo sorting and a little writing. It was amazing how fast the train ride flew by and before I knew it, we were closing in on Tokyo.
I love how the Shinkansen slows down as it gets into the Tokyo city limits, seeming to creep along to it’s final stop at Tokyo Station. When the train did finally come to a stop, I got off and made my down and out of the Shinkansen platforms and over to find the local JR line trains. I needed to catch the Chuo Line (rapid service) that would take me across the heart of Tokyo to Shinjuku, where my hotel was. For some nice reason, the station wasn’t too crazy which made dragging my suitcase through it so much easier.
A great ad in Tokyo Station. Who knew chicken flavored instant ramen was so cute?
The trip on the Chuo Line took no time at all from Tokyo Station to Shinjuku Station. I was staying at the Keio Plaza in the area known as Nishi-Shinjuku (the skyscraper district) and the distance from Shinjuku Station to my hotel wasn’t actually that far so I decided to forgo a cab ride and walk to my hotel. The only downside to this plan was that it was very humid and when I got to my hotel, I was nice and hot and sweaty.
Checking in was fast, and I was up in my room pretty quick, it was a business level room on the 28th floor (I got an awesome deal on Expedia.com) with a nice view of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. I took a few minutes to get situated then headed back outside to do some wandering around. I was tired and it was already 9:30pm but I was hungry and decided that ramen would be great for dinner.
It took me about ten minutes from the hotel to make my way back to Shinjuku Station and the ramen stand that I decided to eat dinner at. I’ve walked past this ramen stand every other time I have been in Shinjuku but never stopped to eat at it- tonight was finally the night. It’s located on the west side of the station near the south end of the Keio bus terminal and close to Yodobashi Camera. It was fantastic.
The rain was sprinkling just a bit and the stand wasn’t the most covered spot on the street but it worked out just fine. I took a seat at end of the counter and waited my turn. After the young couple to my left got their food, I ordered a bowl and a beer and sat back as the man behind the counter worked his magic. I had no idea what kind of soup it was but didn’t care- I was hungry. It turned out to be just a simple Shio ramen and it was great. I inhaled the bowl of noodles in no time. Just as I was finishing it, a man sat down on the opposite side of the stand from me and ordered some sake. I noted that he seemed to be a regular from how he was greeted by the cook. The man then caught me by surprise when he asked, in english, where I was from. After answering him, he introduced himself (although I sadly quickly forgot his name) and explained that he was originally from Hawaii and had been living in Tokyo for the last 30 years, always came to this stand for a drink and that he knew the owner (a Korean man who actually owned I think three stands all together). I will say I was a it surprised by how friendly he was.
Our ensuing conversation was nice, chatting about my trip, his life in Tokyo and why he had come to Japan in the first place, as a student who then loved Japan too much to leave so he got into the world of teaching English so that he could stay. I decided to have some more ramen, so he asked the cook to make me some sort of “secret menu” bowl of ramen. As I watched him make it, I couldn’t figure out what was different other than the soup was now Miso and a bit spicier, but it was still amazing!
I was having a great time but was starting to get really tired so I decided to call it a night (I did want to get up early the next morning). So I thanked the cook and paid my bill, then thanked the guy for the great conversation and headed off.
The rain was falling just a bit more when I left the ramen stand (not hard enough to get me totally soaked or anything, at least no more wet than the humidity did). I made one last stop before the hotel at the Lawson and bought some yogurt, orange juice and a bottle of water.
Once back in my room, I turned on the TV, downloaded the days photos, brushed my teeth and got in bed. It took no time at all to fall asleep I guess beacause the next thing I knew, it was morning.
› Thu, 10 May 2012
Nishiki Market, Kyoto (part 2)
So, with my newly bought tea stashed in my camera bag, I continued on.
This house was just outside the market on a side street. I love the shape and pattern of the woman’s umbrella against the verticals in the house.
Back out of the rain and onto the last block of the Nishiki Market.
I finally reached the end of the market walk which let me out at the entrance to the Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine in the wonderful Tenmangu Shopping Arcade.
The Nishiki Tenmangu Shrine entrance- so beautiful in the rain.
I wish that my day wasn’t so rushed, and perhaps that’s the theme of the whole trip. Japan is all about the little details amidst the hustle and bustle. Everywhere I went and everywhere I looked, there was always more to uncover, another layer I hadn’t seen at first glance. Tradition deeply woven into the fabric of daily life. I was excited to get to Tokyo but I could easily spend another month here in Kyoto, I love it here so much.
Tradition against the modern. So beautiful.
Of course then there’s that.
I guess The Colonel couldn’t come out to play in the rain. Bummer.
It was time to grab a taxi back to Kyoto Station and catch my train…
› Sat, 07 Apr 2012
Nishiki Market, Kyoto (part 1)
It was raining today, and raining hard. The typhoon that had been working it’s way closer to Japan since I arrived was finally catching up to me. Today was also the day to leave Kyoto and head back to Tokyo. That being the case, it left me only a short amount of time to do anything before I had to catch my train out of town. I decided my plan then would be to just head to the Nishiki Market (near where I went the night before) to do some photography and buy some tea from a local shop in the market named Mr. Yamada and Tea (茶やまどしや/cha yamadashiya). I bought tea from them last time I was in Kyoto and it was fantastic!
The morning flew by from the moment I woke up to when I left my room. It was a good thing that I had done some packing the night before as I woke up a little later than originally planned- I stayed up maybe a bit too late editing photos.
So after calling home (via the great Facetime and the portable wifi router I rented), all I had to do to get ready was finish a couple things on the computer, eat my yogurt and check out. And so, with one sad last look from my window at the cropped view of Kyoto Tower, I grabbed my bags and left my room. Ahh, the Hotel Granvia, so comfortable and relaxing.
I ended up cutting it close with check-out time, getting down to the front desk right at noon. I settled the bill, checked my suitcase with the concierge then made my way down to the JR ticket office to get my Shinkansen ticket back to Tokyo.
Along the way to get my ticket, at the bottom of the escalator, I encountered a group of older women in Kimono pulling themselves together after having just come in from the rain. I paused outside the ticket office doors to observe them. They seemed to be having a wonderful day, as they were all smiles and didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered by the heavy rain. I wondered what their day was going to be like, dressed as they were. They looked amazing.
Getting my ticket was quick and I ended up on the Hikari Super Express, train #480, departing at 4:56pm and arriving in Tokyo at 7:40pm. That gave me about fours hours to go and wander, nice. I was now pretty hungry and decided to mark the end of this leg of the trip with a great lunch. The choice was obvious, to go back down to the Porta for one more course of tonkatsu! (Let me indulge in another image of the deliciousness that is tonkatsu.)
And finally, the fabled restaurant exterior itself.
Stuffed full of tonkatsu and rice, I made my way back to street level to grab a taxi. It was raining harder now but I didn’t want to get my umbrella out just yet so I darted across the plaza in front of the station and back under cover as fast as I could, then over to the taxi stand. The line for a taxi was short, 3 people in front of me.
And my wait for the wait for the taxi was not boring at all. There was a large PR event being held in front of the station’s main entrance for the sports drink Vitamin Water. And just next to the taxi stand, under cover, they had set up a red seamless background and created studio to do a photo shoot.They obviously hadn’t planned to do it on a rainy day but hey, why let a little water stop you?
I have no idea who the guys where getting their photo taken. Perhaps the whole set-up was a thing where you could get your picture taken some spokesmodels then get free Vitamin Water? Guess I should’ve stuck around longer to find out what exactly was going on but I really wanted to get to Nishiki Market.
It was 1:10pm when I hopped in my cab. At first I wasn’t sure if I got across correctly where I wanted to go when I said “Nishiki Market”, (it’s one of those things that I never felt confident about, saying where I wanted to go in a cab). Anyhow, I now know how to ask for the market correctly so next time I am there problem solved! I did manage a little conversation with the driver, the usual things like “I’m from America”, “I was an exchange student years ago in Okazaki”, and that I’m in Japan working on a photography project. A very pleasant chat. And as a taxi driver, he was really great. He did everything he seemingly could to get me as close as possible to the entrance of the market to help me avoid the rain. So thoughtful.
So I was now at the west entrance to Nishiki Market. The market is a narrow street that runs east-west for about six blocks starting on the west side at Takakura-dori and ending at Teramachi-dori. On a busy day it can very crowded, but today, perhaps because it was middle of the day or maybe because of the rain, it was pretty empty which I was happy about. The history of the original market goes back several hundred years, beginning as a fish market. It has transformed over time into a market that now sells everything from pickles to meat to dried foods to paper fans and course still fish. Its an amazing place.
And of course the Genmaicha (below) that I came here to buy at Cha-yamadashiya:
So, at the tea shop, I ended up meeting a very nice couple from Singapore. They were in Japan for a short stopover on their way back to Singapore (after a trip to the United States). The husband, a photo enthusiast with a DSLR slung over his shoulder, struck up a conversation with me while their order was being filled. He was actually speaking Japanese when I walked up so I was very surprised when he started talking to me- I figured (incorrectly obviously) that he was Japanese. We talked about where we had each been in Kyoto, I told him about my project and gave him a business card- it was quite nice. I was surprised when he went to pay for his tea and pulled out a large money clip that contained (along with many many 10,000 yen bills) what looked like $1000 plus dollars U.S., all in $100 dollar bills. I guess I am just not that used to seeing that much cash be carried around at one time. They ended up buying a lot of tea.
The market is so interesting to me.
Up next the rest of my walk through Nishiki Market…
› Wed, 07 Mar 2012
Kyoto Night Walk
The Shinkansen got me back to Kyoto, from Osaka, in 14 minutes. So nice.
I decided to have tonkatsu again for dinner, this time at another KYK Tonkatsu location in the Kintetsu Mall Miyakomichi that was located in the south side of Kyoto Station. This location was “fancier” than the one in Porta. The menu had different cuts of meat and sauces were different. However, it was still delicious!
After eating, I went to Aeon Mall behind Kyoto Station to pick up a couple things. I hit the Baby’s “R” Us for my daughter, Muji for my wife and myself( I bought a great business card case!) and then the supermarket to buy some food for the morning. I went back to the room to drop off my purchases and some camera gear then raced back down to get the rest of the night moving. By now, it was definitely looking like rain and as a result, the humidity was very high. I was a sweat machine again!
The night’s plan was to head over to the Pontocho and Gion areas and slowly wander around to see if anything fun was happening. I wasn’t out to chase Geisha and harass them for photographs or anything like that, rather just to soak in the atmosphere of the night. I decided to take a cab to save time in getting there since it was now about 9:30pm. The cab ride was a quiet one aside from the basic pleasantries exchanged with the cab driver.
I paid my fare and got out of the taxi next to the Takashimaya department store, near the southwest corner of the big intersection of Kawaramachi-dori and Shijo-dori (“dori” is street in Japanese, FYI). It’s a big intersection and I’d love to show you a great photo of it but I didn’t bring a wide enough lens on this nighttime walk to cover it. My widest angle lens is a 17-40mm and I don’t really shoot it hand held at night as it’s a bit slow aperture-wise and I didn’t want to bring the tripod on the walk. Next time.
I crossed to the north side of the street, then headed east along Shijo-dori. I love this street with its covered walkway and many shops. Close to here (behind me as walked now) is Nishiki Market which runs parallel to Shijo-dori as well as the great covered shopping arcade that it connects to. (I’ll be coming back to both of those places tomorrow before I leave.) Since it was late now, most of the shops I was walking past were closed or closing and it seemed most of the people were either home or inside somewhere enjoying themselve’s. The rainy weather probably wasn’t helping to bring the people out either. It was lightly raining/ drizzling when I caught my cab at Kyoto Station but had subsided over the course of my short ride. You could tell it was going to rain harder soon though; you could feel it in the air, so much humidity. People had their umbrellas ready.
I made it to the alley known as Pontocho, made a left turn and wandered in. It’s a narrow alley that runs the length of one block, north-south, between Shijo-dori and Sanjo-dori with the Kamo river just to the east if it and it’s filled with restaurants that go from inexpensive to very expensive (and exclusive). Tonight, with the rain, it had an extra bit of atmosphere, the lights and lanterns reflecting so beautifully on the wet stone pavement. It was also so quiet, just a few people here and there. I only saw maybe 3 or 4 other tourists.
The rain finally started to come down and I stepped under a covered doorway to put my rain cover on my camera bag when a young married couple stopped to ask me my opinion of the restaurants on the alley. They were westerners as well and it was their first time in Kyoto- they were a little overwhelmed by it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much help on the food issue since I’ve never eaten any place on the alley (not sure why that is to be honest). They had come down to the Pontocho to hopefully see some Geisha and were disappointed that they hadn’t seen any. (I’ve got some thoughts on tourists and the draw of the Geisha but I’ll leave that for another post since it’s too long of a topic to get into now). They were very nice and it was nice to chat for a few minutes about their trip. I wished them luck on the rest of their evening and went on my way, into the rain.
I just wandered around for a while, eventually reaching the north end of the alley. I turned around and decided to walk back back down the alley again, for one more view of the Pontocho. When I reached Shijo-dori again I went left and headed over to the Gion, a short walk away. It was so quiet, it was fantastic.
I had been walking about an hour and a half by now and I was starting to get tired. Part of me was feeling old for not pushing myself to stay out even later, maybe explore some bars or something, but I decided that it was time to call it a night and head back to the hotel. It had been a pretty busy day.
I was back on Shijo-dori, walking west. The rain had let up but it was still drizzling. The taxi’s were lined up waiting for passengers but nobody was getting in. I decided to wait and grab a taxi where I started the night and kept walking. The walk was so nice and I was really enjoying how quiet it was, it just didn’t seem like a big city at the moment.
I caught my taxi just around the corner from where I initially started the night. A short ride back to the station, a quick walk through the empty hotel lobby, up the elevator and I was back in my room.
I clicked on the TV, started the nightly routine of downloading and backing up my photos, had a little snack and started packing my stuff to make the morning easier. Tomorrow, it was back to Tokyo for the final three days of the trip and I wanted to get out of the room early and see a couple more things before I departed. What a great day it had been…
› Fri, 03 Feb 2012
Osaka for the day (part 2)
It was so much fun wandering through the shotengai, passing all the restaurants, souvenir shops, DVD shops, Billiken statues, pachinko parlors, karaoke clubs… it seemed just totally endless.
After all this walking, I was getting hungry but couldn’t decide what to eat. I had read about a large crab restaurant on the Dotonburi canal that I thought could be good and decided that’s where I’d eat lunch.
I headed west, past the Bic Camera (note: link is video) and I exited the the shotengai, along the way passing a bookstore that looked interesting. From the window looking in, I saw that it was just packed full of massive collections of books that seemed very specialized. I imagined them to have been volumes and volumes of legal books or something technical. Either way I like it so I took a photo and walked on. After that, I came to the crosswalk that lead to the Dotonburi and stopped.
I was now standing on Sennichimae-dori (street) which bisected the shotengai. In front of me, (across the street) was the entrance to the continued shopping arcade. To my left was a large building that seemed like it was probably a Kabuki theater based on its architecture. Next time I’m in Osaka, I’ll pay it a visit.
The light changed and across the street I went.
I could see the Dotonburi Canal just up ahead now. The covered street opened up onto a pedestrian only street that runs parallel. With a huge Tsutaya bookstore to my right, I saw the crab restaurant just across from me. I walked over to the entrance and found a menu resting on a stand and looked through it. I quickly decided that this was not going to be the place for me to have lunch as it much more expensive than I had thought it would be. Besides, it was almost 4pm and if I had gone in, it would have probably taken too much time so, I decided instead to walk over to the fine Lotteria and get a quick bite to eat. Not gourmet by any means but fast. And, it had a second floor that looked down onto the street which seemed like a good place to do some people watching while I ate.
I ordered my fine cheeseburger set meal, paid, got my tray with my drink and fries (my burger was coming up as it was being prepared fresh for me) and went upstairs to get a seat with a view. It turned out that all the window seats were taken with young women busy typing away on their cell phones and ignoring the view so I took a seat in the next row back. I suppose to them, the view was nothing new or exciting, just the city they see everyday.
It didn’t take too long for my burger to arrive. However, just as it did, two girls got up from their window seats and left. I quickly moved up and began to eat. The view turned out to be nothing spectacular but it was nice to watch the steady stream of people below moving back and forth, crossing the canal with their shopping bags. While sitting there, I decided that I should have just stopped in Osaka for two nights after Koyasan and then hit Kyoto for two nights. Oh well.
Back down on the street after my gourmet meal, I wandered north again and crossed the canal. I turned after crossing to gaze upon the large sized billboards on the buildings along the canal. The most famous of them is the “Glico Man” neon sign. It has been here for ages and it is one of Osaka’s landmarks for sure. Not as thrilling in the daytime since it’s not lit up, but still fun to see. I love the architecture down here, it’s a place that definitely feels like it has kept up with the times.
As I reached the crosswalk to enter back into the shotengai, named Shinsaibashi-suji at this point, I paused to watch three repair men and a lone security guard going about performing some sort of window repair. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were doing but it seemed very important- they were all so focused on the job at hand. Perhaps they were so focused because they were trying to finish before the rain came which at this point, seemed like it would arrive any second. I crossed the street and was back in the covered shopping street.
After walking a block and coming back out to the open street, it was now raining. As I waited to cross yet another street, I saw a guy on the other side of the street sitting on the ground next to his bicycle, in the rain without an umbrella, trying to do some sort of repair to his laptop computer. It puzzled me why he didn’t move under cover.
The light changed and I crossed back under cover and out of the rain. In this block, I actually stopped into a couple stores. The first was a Yamaha music store then into the Disney Store, looking to see if they had any unusual merchandise based on any the shows I had worked on for Disney Animation- no such luck. The next stop was something totally unnecessary (especially given my lunch), Krispy Kreme donuts. I thought, “hey how about a nice donut for the Shinkansen” and went inside. There was a little bit of a line but not too long. After a minute or so I was surprised when these two young guys came and got in line right behind me. Turns out they were from Orange County, south of Los Angeles and in Japan on vacation with their families. It was summer vacation before their senior year in high school. Neither had been to Japan before and found the place pretty cool but didn’t seem to know too much about the country. I guess I am always shocked though when I meet other Americans here and see how much they really don’t know about Japan.
As we talked, they decided not wait in line ,since, as they correctly stated, they could eat these back in America. Not me, I never go in America and used this trip as the excuse to splurge. I ordered two donuts, the classic glazed and a glazed with chocolate and sprinkles, paid and left. It was now raining harder.
I came out of Krispy Kreme and had to wait again to cross yet another street. Even though it was raining harder now, I didn’t want to deal with my umbrella while holding my donuts and camera so it stayed stashed in my camera bag. I was glad it was finally raining and happy that the streets were wet since they would yield some nice light and reflections. I waited to cross the street for a couple of cycles and spent the time photographing the people in the rain.
Deciding that time was finally running out on my day in Osaka, I crossed the street and made my way up through the shopping arcade until I reached the Shinsaibashi Station entrance for the Midosuji subway line. I went underground and caught the train all in a very short amount of time. I arrived into Shin-Osaka station at 4:48pm and hurried down from the platform and out into the main part of the station. Shin-Osaka station is seperated into two areas, the non-JR tains and the JR trains. I had to get back to the JR area and get a Shinkansen ticket. Fortunately there is a JR ticket office right as you come out the local train area so I hurried inside. I got my seat on the 5:13pm Shinkansen to Kyoto and ran out of the office. Remembering my route from the Koyasan journey, I was able to get up to the right platform quickly. In fact, it took only 10 minutes to go from the subway, get my ticket and get to the Shinkansen platform. It gave me enough time to buy an nice cold can of coffee to enjoy with my snack on the train. I was happy.
The donuts were great by the way. Oh, and the fan I bought in the morning? It turned out to be a great purchase. Next up, my night back in Kyoto…
› Mon, 16 Jan 2012
Osaka for the day (part 1)
Another morning has begun, and I’m still in Kyoto for one more full day. Surprisingly, after yesterday’s trek through the mountains of Kurama, in northern Kyoto, I managed to wake up on my own, just a little bit before my alarm went off. Upon opening the curtains and looking out the window, I saw right away that it was threatening rain again. However, that made me happy as I do enjoy photographing the hoards of umbrellas that appear in a good downpour. At the same time, I knew it was going to be another very humid day. Oh well, first things first- time for more yogurt and Frosties. And a little morning news as well.
I decided that Osaka would be my destination for the day, but before I left, I had to do a few things to get ready, like download some memory cards. After a nice video call home to see my wife and daughter, I was out the door and down to the JR ticket office in Kyoto Station, where upon I actually attempted to ask for the ticket in Japanese. I gave up though when the ticket agent asked me a question that I couldn’t understand. I was happy I tried though.
Next, I went back to the bakery in the basement of the Isetan Department store to pick up some small snacks for the road, then made my way back into Kyoto Station via the basement entrance which put me near the local JR platforms. This way is easier and almost like a short cut to get to the Shinkansen platforms which are on the south side of the massive station complex.
When I got down to the Shinkansen area and figured out which platform I needed, I still had plenty of extra time before my train departed so, I decided to buy a collapsable fan in hopes that it would help me avoid some of my overheating problems of the previous day. I started looking at the large selection of fans in the souvenir shop and decided that 1,000 yen would be my budget. At first, all I found were the higher priced fans but then I noticed a saleswoman helping a young salaryman in picking out some fans as gifts that were in my price range and quickly saw what I wanted. The fan I bought has a magnificent image of a tiger and dragon against a grey background, all printed on the finest polyester. Definitely a great purchase.
After that I decided to stock up on some tea, then made my way up to the platform to wait for my train to Shin-Osaka Station.
At this point I should say that I really didn’t need to take the Shinkansen. I cold have taken a local JR express train. But since it was free due to my JR Rail Pass, I felt I had no choice but to take it and enjoy its smooth and speedy ride.
The first thing I did after leaving the Shinkansen platforms, to was find a tourist information booth and get a map of Osaka. After a slightly confusing conversation with a police officer about the whereabouts of the tourist information booth, I found it and got my map. The woman working the booth was very friendly and fortunatelyspoke english quite well, as she had lived in the United States for a few years. She was very glad that I had come to Japan considering the earthquake of March 11th. I explained my history with coming to Japan and why was here this time- the conversation was quite nice indeed.
So, with my new map in hand a positive feeling about my day’s adventure, I made my way to the Midosuji Subway line (that line I had taken before when traveling to and from Koyasan) and took it to the Dobutsuen-mae station. The morning commute was over and the trains weren’t too crowded. I was surprised though, by how many salarymen still seemed to be on their way in to the office at 11:45am. Osaka feels different from Tokyo, perhaps a bit more relaxed and informal as compared to Tokyo. And I think the short sleeve oxford style that most of the salarymen had going on exemplified that feeling. (Also, on this subway ride, a young, early twenty-something woman sat down across from me on the train and spent her whole ride doing her make-up. It was a fascintaing thing to watch and it seemed like this was something she did all the time. She got on the train and by the time she got off, at the station before mine, she had completely transformed herself into someone else. )
Dobutsuen-mae station was pretty quiet when I got off the train. I was one of only a few people who did get off there and it made me think that, at least during midday, it was a quiet part of town. The station seemed a little more run down than some of the other stations I’ve been through and it set the tone as far as what I thought I could expect for this part of town. And, as I wandered above ground, I began to wonder even more what I was going to encounter. I was heading into what the people of Osaka seem to think is a very dangerous part of town, crime-ridden if you will. Well, compared to the Namba area north of Shinsekai, its definitely more run down, but compared to say downtown Los Angeles, it was just fine. I suppose it’s all relative, right?
By now it was noon and there were quite a few people in the area, although I think not at all like the amount of people that would be down here at night. Most of the excitement here really happens at night -and it had the same feeling as walking around the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku (in Tokyo) during the day. Where it’s not until the sun goes down, and the bars and restaurants open and fill up with people, that the seemingly seedy side of things really come out. Because at this point it was pretty dull actually. I saw no gangsters or dubious looking types lurking about. Only tourists and young people mixed in with older guys on bikes winding through the narrow streets. The few places places that were open were either small souvenir shops or restaurants mixed in with mahjong parlors full of men who looked like they spent everyday there, smoking, drinking and playing their games.
So much atmosphere here, I wish that I had more time to spend there. Many interesting characters and sites that would be fun to examine closer. It is on my list of places to return to for sure when my Japanese is good enough to have a conversation. Would be a good place to come and do a portrait project…
In the end, it didn’t take too long for me to make my way from the subway station to Tsukentaku Tower and I was looking forward to getting up high and seeing the (what I hoped to be) majestic views of Osaka.
I found my way into the tower and went inside, taking the elevator from the ground up to the second floor observation platform. From there, I paid my admission fee to the Sky Lounge observation deck and rode the elevator to the top. The view was fantastic! And, aside from the overcast conditions, well worth the trip. I love just looking out across the dense sea of buildings- so many people doing so many things every day all packed into what feels like a very confined area. It looks very abstract to me. (One thing that I like, visually, is how when you are up high, like in a tower, and look out through a telephoto lens, like 200mm or greater, the buildings visually compress and create these beautiful abstract images.)
A truly fantastic image to me was that of Osaka Castle, nestled amongst the skyscrapers but standing out distinctly- am iconic image indeed.
On the top floor observation deck where I was, there is a statue of Billiken, the “God of Good Luck”. It’s a iconic thing in this area, popular in Tsukentaku Tower and Shinsekai for that matter. (I first saw a statue of him when I exited the Dobutsuen-mae subway station.) Anyway, up on this deck, people like to have their photos taken with this statue, and to help facilitate that, there were two photographers there to provide that service as a souvenir ( after you buy the photo they took of course). I didn’t end up doing that as the whole Billiken thing meant nothing to me- in fact when I was there, I had no idea what it was even all about. But, never the less, I was in the minority with that and there was a constant line of people waiting to be photographed.
On the way down from the observation deck you end up in a museum about the history of Shinsekai and Tsukentaku Tower. There were amazing diorama’s of the city in older times, a room showing old films and then finally the souvenir shop. I was gettng hungry at this point but decided against a lunch of soft serve ice cream and instead bought a postcard of the tower to send to my daughter. The final cool thing that I saw there was a display near the elevator to the ground floor. It was, what appeared to be, a transforming robot model of Tsukentaku Tower! I wasn’t able to get any great shots of this model since there were guys all around it, working on it but it looked cool. I do love transforming robots.
When I arrived back down on the street from the tower, I decided that I would continue walking instead of taking the subway to my next destination, Namba and the Dotonburi. So, I headed north on Sakaisuji Avenue, into the area known as Nipponbashi or “Den-Den Town”- Osaka’s version of Tokyo’s Akihabara .
On the walk, I had stopped in some shops, mainly some toy and anime shops but bought nothing. I walked up Sakaisuji Avenue until I reached Nansan-dori turned left and headed into Namba. There I did spend some time in a camera shop, they had a some great used gear but nothing that I truly needed.
Namba was where I had caught the train to Koyasan days earlier and was curious to see it in a little more detail. With this in mind, I left the main streets and headed into the shotengai, or covered shopping arcade. It was magnificent. One shop that I found most interesting was the knife shop. I was mesmerized watching the owner show some beautiful knives to (who I think was) a chef and his assistant. There were more shops in this section that made me think this was the restaurant supply area of the shotengai. There were many shops selling seemingly everything you’d ever need to run a restaurant, including one that sold what seemed to be every conceivable sign you could ever need for your establishment. Way beyond the no-smoking or toilet signs it seemed.
Next up- the rest of the day in Osaka and my evening in Kyoto.