For a very long time the city of Tokyo and Tokyo photography has always appealed to me. In 2013 I was lucky enough to travel and explore this totally foreign land, and this post documents my treasured memories of this amazing city.
“If you plan to visit Tokyo soon, then my learning experiences may offer you some useful information!”
In the Spring of 2013 I traveled there with my Wife, intent on exploring this incredible city and to hopefully witness the beautiful Hanami Blossom Season in full effect. Each year for only a few precious weeks, the thousands of blossom tree’s turn Tokyo into a festival of colour and changing landscapes. It really is a sight to behold, and possibly the best time to visit.
“I recommend visiting Tokyo during the beautiful blossom season in early April.”
2013 however was a very unique year because the Hanami which is celebrated and respected so highly in Japan, started unusually early! We were so afraid we might miss it all, but luckily when we arrived, we were fortunate to see blossom trees still “in bloom”.
Traveling from middle England Lincolnshire down to Heathrow Airport, we endured the 12 hour flight half way around the world to the land of rising sun. We arrived in Tokyo, dazed and tired, yet full of excitement to see and explore this incredible foreign land. I couldn’t wait to try my hand at Tokyo photography! We spent the week in the cute, friendly, and welcoming B Akasaka Hotel in Minato. It was the perfect location to call home for the week, and jump onto the Metro and explore.
Our first landmark to visit was the Tokyo SkyTree. An incredible sight that can be seen night and day from almost anywhere in Tokyo. After being awake for almost 24 hours, we trekked across the city heading towards the awesome spire in the distance… only to find that “trips up the SkyTree” must be book several months in advance! So if you intend to “go up” the SkyTree, book months ahead through the website. Pushing disappointment aside, we stopped at a local Japanese Hawaiian Burger restaurant which was a bizarre experience! Try and picture the scene. We arrived in Tokyo that day with severe jet-lag, and then navigated our way across to the other side of the city only to find the SkyTree was fully booked! So we decided to get some food, and enter a Japanese Hawaiian Burger Bar. It was decorated in awesome 1950s apparel, serving American style food, with Hawaiian music playing – but sung in Japanese!? Very surreal! We couldn’t help but smile! A very surreal experience…
“Tired. Jet-lagged. After hours of walking, we ended up in an American inspired Japanese Hawaiian Burger Bar, that played Hawaiian surf music sung in Japanese. Awesome!”
After refueling, we headed to one of our favourite stops of the trip – the Tokyo Tower! Slightly smaller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Tokyo Tower boasts fantastic views within a confined viewing platform, and the staff are so helpful and happy to see you enjoying their attraction. It was a delight to attend this classic Tokyo landmark. If you want a great view of Tokyo, head to the Tokyo Tower.
Busy Busy Busy! As with any busy metropolis, there are lots of people in Tokyo. Yet in Tokyo, we were never pushed or “shoved”. The queues were so orderly, and the inner-city traveling so “seamless”, you couldn’t help but be impressed. Tokyo is the safest I have ever felt, in any city in the world. At one point, we saw small children who must have been around 6 years old, navigating the underground Metros alone to make their way to school. It is that safe!
On several occasions we stopped for food at this really cool fast food chain called “Yoshinoya”. Some of these restaurants are tiny, and you literally have to “squeeze” your way in to find a seat. Everyone who entered, “ate fast”, and so did we. Places like Yoshinoya, especially the little restaurant in Shinjuku that we visited, are not designed for luxury dining. The food is awesome, wholesome, and merely “fuel” to keep you moving. Well worth the experience!
“Travel to Shibuya, and walk over the famous Shibuya Street Crossing. We did, several times! Thousands of people make the journey across the road at every green light, yet everything is orderly and calm. There is a nice Starbucks next to the crossing overlooking everything which is a great place to grab a coffee, and watch from above.”
Also, Japan is a “cash culture” country. It’s rare to pay for items and groceries with card, so we took plenty of cash! And with it being so safe, we didn’t worry about the usual “big city” crime fears. I felt quite happy and safe to walk around with my camera “in hand” whilst being immersed in Tokyo photography.
Trains and Metro Trains run like clockwork. But be prepared for the “information overload” awaiting you inside the stations! There are a lot of signs everywhere, but once you know what to look for they’re very logical and useful. For example, the moment you step off a Metro train, you will be confronted with a large sign board with an pointing left, and an arrow pointing right. Underneath these arrows is a list of nearby landmarks and places of interest (in English), with an accompanying “exit number”. Take a minute to read over the sign and locate the best exit. Some trains will give you exit information before you get to the platform using LCD screen in the carriages. The best advice I can give when tackling one of the big “super stations” like Shinjuku, is to simply find any exit – and use it! If you become even remotely unsure of where your exit is, just find any exit and get outside. Shinjuku Station has about 300 exits and 32 platforms, and so it’s easy to get totally lost inside these huge super train stations. We spent 45 minutes lost in Tokyo Station when we first arrived!
Many Parks. One Panda. We took a trip to Ueno Zoo which is nestled within Ueno Park. Both are well worth a visit. We saw the much loved and adored Panda. I don’t know what was cuter? The cuddly easy-going Panda as he sat down and helped himself to more bamboo, or the masses of onlookers going “oooOOoooohhhhh” in delight, as he helped himself to his lunch.
We explored many of Tokyo’s “inner-city” gardens and shrines. If you visit Tokyo, you must visit some of these incredible gardens. They are so peaceful, and a great way to “process” everything you have seen that day.
Most inner-city gardens are maintained daily by professional groundsmen, so you can be assured your visit will be delightful and peaceful. You will have to pay a few Yen to enter the gardens, but we are talking the equivalent of a couple of British Pounds, or a couple of US dollars. It is totally worth paying to enter.
We especially loved Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. So vast and “open”, with numerous blossom trees with admiring visitors in awe of them. It was humbling to see local Japanese, celebrating the beauty of the blossom trees, and treat them with so much respect and admiration. At times, I felt like a welcomed visitor in someones home.
Tokyo Photography Gear One of the questions I always get asked, especially when travelling, is “what photography gear do you take with you?” Well, as I only had my trusted Nikon D80 to hand, I had to settle for carrying that around to handle my Tokyo photography. It was a little heavy at times, and perhaps a smaller compact would have been more preferable, but at least I finally understood why we often see our Japanese friends visiting the West, and so enthusiastically “taking pictures of everything”. Over in Japan… everything is so different, and as a photographer, I found myself photographing almost everything. You can’t help but document everything, as it’s such a different world. Back to the gear, I wore a record style “shoulder bag”, which tends to be my choice for carrying photographic gear during city shooting, and used a combination of a 18-135mm (F3.5) and a 50mm (F1.8) lens. I also carried a small “expandable” travel tripod for the long exposure stuff. After the trip and realising a smaller camera may have made life a little easier, I looked into buying a well equipped smaller compact camera and bought the Fuji X20. This little thing could have easily done the same job as my D80, and been a darn sight lighter and easier to carry about! Lost In Translation Being fans of the film Lost In Translation we had to visit the Park Hyatt Tokyo Hotel, the main setting for the blossoming on screen friendship of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. The hotel itself is located in the upper-story of the tallest of the three skyscrapers in Shinjuku, with the lower floors being dedicated to businesses and shops.
Taking 2 elevators to reach the New York Bar at the top, we sat in the same “bar” as in the movie. It was quite surreal. The service there (as with everywhere else in the city) was exceptional, and the views across Tokyo were breathtaking. We went for early evening drinks, and stayed there for hours watching the sunset. Watching the night sky as plans crisscross the sky, and the ensemble of red-glowing lights appears on top of the city skyscrapers. If you want to have a luxurious drink and enjoy the city views, then visit the Park Hyatt Tokyo. It’s the perfect evening to conclude your stay there. Yes we did spend most of the days budget on drinks, and had to eat out of vending machines for the rest of the evening, but it didn’t matter! Our trip to Tokyo was the perfect city exploration holiday. We visited knowing “some” Japanese language, and educated ourselves on local customs and behaviors. My theory is, if you can learn some basic greetings including the all important “please” and “thank you”, it will go a long way to show respect to your hosts. In turn, they will greet you with smiles, and make you feel so welcome. If you have doubts about visiting Tokyo, push them aside. Sometimes you have to jump in with both feet and leave your comfort zone behind you. This was one trip we’ll never forget, and I recommend visiting this amazing city and country, to anyone.
“Love Tokyo. Love Japan.”
More Photos You can view more of Tokyo Photography at the following links: My Flickr Tokyo Photography Flickr The Pixelglo Photography Website Thank you for reading =) Please share this page, and leave a comment below!