Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

Taking on another themed post, this time the site-wide Weekly Photo Challenge! The topic? Urban. This is a great subject that can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways and, being an urban girl at heart, it’s also one I love.

I actually gave it quite a lot of thought and discarded a couple of angles before settling on something I consider intrinsically linked to urban life: public transit. So I’ve got four photos for you, coming from a couple of my adventures in Tokyo and Osaka!

Osaka Station

A busy platform at Osaka Station.

Ueno Station

Looking across the tracks at Ueno Station.

Inside Ikebukuro

The flow of human traffic inside Ikebukuro Station.

Tokyo From the Shinkansen

Tokyo rushing by, from the shinkansen.

Definitely click the link to the challenge page and check out some other posts! There are a lot of fantastic photos out there.

Snapshots of Modern Japan: 06

Mount Fuji in the distance, over Tokyo. Taken from the shinkansen.

This is a simple one: a shot of Mount Fuji, one of Japan’s most recognizable icons, over the outskirts of Tokyo. Many Japanese cities aren’t very pretty and the contrast of natural beauty and urban sprawl is visually fascinating. Every country has this to a certain extent, but I think Japan’s crowded landscape of concrete and exposed wires makes it particularly striking.

Photo Post: Tokyo Random

This is a pretty non-specific photo post, but I have a lot of Tokyo pictures sitting around waiting to be shared.

Ueno

Ueno at night.

Ikebukuro

Ikebukuro on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Chiyoda

A park in Chiyoda, near Tokyo Station.

Ueno Station

A quiet morning at Ueno Station.

Shibuya Scramble Crossing

The famous scramble crossing in Shibuya.

Imperial Palace Gardens

The edge of the Imperial Palace gardens.

Inside Ikebukuro Station.

Tokyo is a fascinating, vibrant city with a lot to explore. I never get tired of it.

Snapshots of Modern Japan: 05

A Shinto wedding procession. The bride and groom are under the umbrella.

Reviving an old blog topic here with a snapshot post! This one dates all the way back to 2008, when I was a student and went to the Meiji Shrine (明治神宮) in Tokyo for the first time. Even in modern Japan, a lot of families prefer a traditional Shinto wedding, and seeing a couple dressed in heavy wedding kimono (despite the sweltering heat) as they walked through the shrine in a silent procession was really interesting. I would have felt awkward snapping pictures, except everyone else was doing it, too.

Tokyo in June

It’s Ueno!

Last weekend (6/18-6/20), I went up to Tokyo for one last time before finishing this job and saying peace out to Ehime. I fly out of Narita, back to Seattle, on Sunday 7/31, and there are no national holidays left till Marine Day about 10 days before I leave, so this really was my last chance. And it was nice! Tokyo stopped being exciting for me a while ago, since my first time living in Japan was in Saitama, which is basically the Tokyo metro area, and I’ve been up there several times in the past year. But I still love the city and my next Japan adventure is definitely going to be Tokyo-based, so I wasn’t bored spending a weekend up there.

Anyway, I went up Friday night after work, on the last train, and it was stupidly packed. I was getting over viral plague and coughing a lot, so that was unpleasant, but I was really lucky in getting a seat on the shinkansen at Okayama because about ten people in my car were left standing. I did get stuck next to a business who splattered me with his chu-hi, but I lived. I don’t know why, but every train was crowded that night. It was really tight on the Yamanote train I had to take from Tokyo Station to Ueno, too.

Saturday, predictably, I shopped. Originally, I’d hoped to go out to my host family’s that day, but I had trouble reaching them on the phone and it ended up being put off till Sunday dinner. Instead, I spent the day bopping around town spending money. I did some shopping at 109, where they were having a sale that was never fully explained to me, and bought a couple of things in between having some nice chats with staff shop. One of the reasons I really like shopping at Gal brand stores is the customer service – most of the shops don’t have that many employees, so chances are good that you’ll see the same people every time you pop in. Since I don’t live in the Tokyo area, I don’t have that so much with 109 stores, but I definitely have go-to girls at the Spiral Girl and Murua in Matsuyama.

Sunday was definitely the highlight of the weekend, though. Late morning, I headed to Shinjuku to meet up with Sara Mari from Moments Like Diamonds and it was so much fun. Sara is delightful and I had a really lovely time chatting with her all afternoon. We went to Italian Tomato (やっぱり) for lunch and ended up sitting there for a couple of hours chatting, then we walked around a bit, including a wander through Alta. I had to go out to Kawagoe at about 4, but before that we, of course, had time for purikura!

Purikura: activity of choice for Japanese schoolgirls and young foreign women.

In the arcade, we tried our luck at the UFO catchers, but neither of us did very well. Unlike my sister, I kind of suck. But the puri was fun – the machines always make you look so good. The newer machines, like the one we tried, also enhance eyes, which is a little hilarious when you already have big eyes like both Sara and I do. This one wasn’t bad, though, I’ve definitely had some make me look like an alien.

Then, like I said, I was off to Kawagoe to see my host family. We had sukiyaki, since they know how much I love it, and I got to see one of my host sisters, and it was nice and relaxing. I always feel really nostalgic when I go to Kawagoe, since I used to live there, and being back at the Minagawas is that nostalgia times ten. Just like when I go home (as in, to my parents’ house), I know how their house feels and smells and where everything is and it doesn’t feel like being a guest so much as visiting family. Which is a good thing – one of the reasons I’m more attached to Kanto than to Shikoku is that I have roots and history there in a way that I just don’t here.

So that was my Tokyo weekend! The last for a while, but I do plan to come back to Japan for language school next year (July, not June, since Mariel’s high school graduation is in June), so it’s not like it’s the last time ever. I would have been a lot sadder leaving without that in mind. Instead, it was a much needed break and now I can try to focus on getting everything sorted here. Almost exactly five weeks till I’ll be back on US soil.

Family in Japan 04: Tokyo (part 2)

Being dorky in Asakusa.

On Friday, we did a second day just in Tokyo. It was more low-key than Wednesday because we were starting to drag a bit. After a solid week of travel, with almost no downtime, you just get tired. My family was also getting really sick of the Tokyo crowds. But we weren’t quite finished with the city, so we ventured out again for more adventures – mostly Asakusa since our second pass at the Imperial Palace gardens failed.

Oddly enough, despite having lived adjacent to Tokyo back in 2008, I’d never actually been to Asakusa. For some reason, it was just never a priority, possibly because I wasn’t doing a ton of touristy things. So it was a first for all three of us and pretty cool. The whole area is super touristy, very deliberately “Asian” because that’s what people go there to see. It’s really self-conscious, but I feel like a lot of tourists don’t pick up on that so much because they’re not very familiar with Japan, so it works. I didn’t mind or anything, stuff like that doesn’t bother me, but I definitely could see how carefully constructed it is. There’s an image being cultivated and, while it’s very effective, it’s pretty artificial. But, then again, most of the things Japan markets as “traditional” are.

My mother got a bad fortune.

There was something going on in the main temple hall, a proper service with chanting and a ton of incense, but you could still go in and look around and take pictures. It always feels a little awkward to wander in and out while people are praying, but all the Japanese people do it, so it’s not like you’re doing anything wrong. Different attitude towards religion. And, honestly, that’s what you’re going to get when it’s in a place as famous and public as Asakusa.

Lovely gardens.

It was a pretty nice day, very warm but not raining, so we wandered around the gardens and looked at the little shrines and mini-temples. A man tossed some bread into the pond to get the koi to come up for my sister to try to take pictures, despite a sign clearly telling you not to throw anything into the pond, and we just had a leisurely stroll before moving on. We got a drink in Starbucks and then took the subway a couple of stops to Ginza. Just to see it because Ginza is the heart of designer Tokyo and prohibitively expensive. It’s also where the Takarazuka and Kabuki theatres are, but we didn’t have the energy or motivation to track those down. But I felt like, since we were so close, it was a place my family should see. Because, seriously, Ginza is impressive. Incidentally, it’s also a place I’d been to before, though that time was entirely to go to the Takarazuka theatre and visit the goods store. I’m not even kidding.

So shiny, so expensive…

After Ginza, I took my family back to a station on the Yamanote Line and sent them back to Ikebukuro while I continued on alone to Shibuya. It was my last day in Tokyo and, though I do intend to do another weekend trip up there before leaving Japan, I wanted to get some shopping in just in case I don’t make it back. Now, as I’ve said before, I am not Gal, but I love some Gal brands and enjoy shopping at 109. And there were sales. I had fab conversations with shop staff in Spiral Girl and Vanquish and ended up with two one-pieces, a cardigan and a top. It was a great way to end my Golden Week Tokyo adventure.

Up next: Osaka and Nara, the last leg of the journey!

Get your travel face on.

Family in Japan 03: Tokyo Disney

The family at Tokyo Disney!

Sorry for the absence! I’ve been fighting with my Board of Education over my return flight to Seattle at the end of July. It’s a long story and one I’ll come back to after the issue has been resolved. For now, though, I’ll talk about an important day in the Tokyo leg of the great Japan adventure: Tokyo Disneyland!

My mum, sister and I love Disneyland, so we were pretty psyched to go to Disneyland in Tokyo. Because of the stomach issues from Matsuyama, we left Disney for Thursday. It ended up being a good choice because it didn’t rain, but it was overcast and cool. Anyone who’s tried to do a Disney park in the summer knows that cool weather is infinitely preferable. I actually wore my jacket all day.

Yay Disney!

It was kind of strange, though, because despite being Children’s Day, which is right in the middle of Japan’s busiest travel season, the park was pretty empty. I’ve never had an easier time getting on attractions anywhere – the longest wait was 40 minutes, the rest were 30 or less. The only ride that had a serious wait time was Splash Mountain, so my sister and I decided to just skip it in favor of other things. We actually managed to get on nine attractions: It’s a Small World (had to be done… once), Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Thunder Mountain, Star Tours, Thunder Mountain (again), the little Toon Town coaster, and we ended the day with one more ride on Space Mountain (my absolute favorite). We also rode the little train that goes around part of the park and ate tasty, overpriced food. Considering we only stayed from 9:30 till mid-evening, that’s a lot!

Such a quiet day.

Despite being a little weirded out by how few people were out (I think it might have been earthquake-related, considering the park had only been open again for a couple weeks at that point), it was delightful. We weren’t interested in watching the Easter-themed parade, so we took advantage of those times to make a break for more popular rides and, even though my mum’s stomach got a little iffy again for part of the day, we had a great time. The magic of Disneyland, maybe.

We also decided to buy one of the plastic popcorn buckets, for the nice flavored popcorn they sell at Tokyo Disney, so I’m going to end this with an amusing aspect of traveling from Tokyo to Osaka, and then later from Osaka back to Matsuyama: my classy bag accessory.

So class.

(Don’t be surprised if my blog layout changes periodically. I’m not sure what I want, so I’m experimenting.)