Quiet and loud. Conservative and crazy. Restrained and extroverted. Playful and disciplined. The land of machines, of cosplayers, clean. I have visited the country of the rising sun in April for the third time. This time for the cherry blossoms, which I hadn’t seen before. And obviously back to the land of Fujifilm. My gear for this trip were my X-T2 and my 23mm 1.4 and 35mm 2.0 lenses.
The ride from the airport into the city of Tokyo was already a surprise. I had an octoberfest-like experience. Alcohol loaded air, salarymen sitting on the floors, so atypical for the usually clean and controlled Japanese. But it was Friday evening and Hanami – which means time to look forward to warmer temperatures, the end of the cold, time to sit with colleagues and friends and a have lot of beer or sake in a park and just celebrate and this may mean drinking a bit too much.
The journey started with a few days in Tokyo in the Yanaka Quarter close to the Nippori Station of the Yamanote line. This quarter is good to start with as it is very pleasant with a slight European touch, more quiet than the rest of Tokio.
For the Japanese it is tradition to go to a park during the Sakura but you can also accidentally get there in the busy after work hours. The enthusiasm and the patience in the long queues is totally crazy.
Tokyo can also be challenging. Loud because the escalators and lifts speak to you, a video game melody announces the arrival or departure of a train, an almost melodic bleep announces the change of the traffic lights, a huge commercial screen blares loud praise of the hippest boyband.
As always, the Fuji helps you to shoot pictures mostly unobserved. I tried for this trip to alter my framing to a 2.35 cinemascope ratio.
You can escape the craziness for example with a nice day trip to Kamakura about an hour from Tokyo. There you can admire a big Buddha and put your wishes down in wooden plates in the shrines. A short hike in the urban hinterland and a walk on the beach let you forget the fast tracked life in Tokyo for a second and you find the time to breathe.
Searching for the contrast I went to Kanazawa, a relatively small city at the northern coast of Japan. In the old geisha and samurai quarter you can get an insight of what life has been like for the people who have lived there. Additionally the town has also got one of the most beautiful gardens of the country, Kenrokuen. A great example of the precision of beautiful Japanese gardening.
The third stop was Osaka and Kyoto, which make the second biggest metropolis region in Japan. Above all the former emperor cities Kyoto is a must because of the famous Fushimi Inari shrine with the numerous orange-colored wooden doors.
But better get up early because then you stand the chance not to feel as if you were at the Tokyo Shinjuku-station.
An alternative is to walk up to the mountain peak, because only a few tourists do so, therefore you can enjoy the view of Kyoto there alone and admire the small shrines along the way without the crowd.
The same… getting up early… also applies to the bamboo forest close to Arashiyama. If you want to be there alone, get up early. Since I didn’t, I have pictures pointing to the sky to avoid the masses.
Close to it, there is another small bamboo forest, which is possibly not that highly frequented as the one in Arashiyama, but don’t ask me where it is, as I haven’t found it.
Osaka is the more urban experience in the metropolis region with the (luckily) roofed shopping arcades, as it was raining during my walk. If you prefer small cafés you will feel fine in the Nakazakinishi quarter. A great café tour is possible no matter what the weather is like.
Back in Tokyo thanks to the Shinkansen fast train. It is like flying on tracks and in contrast to other countries… almost always on time. On time means here 30 seconds. Don’t forget to buy the obligatory bento box (the Japanese version of a box that you can use for your lunch break) to have a real Japanese travel experience.
The last part of the journey leads to the mega quarters Shinjuku and Shibuya, the Kawaii Monster Café, 350 meters high on the new Skytree Tower, through a fish market and the red light quarter Kabukicho with the Golden Gai Party area.
The Kawaii Monster Café in Shinjuku is a world of its own, best time to visit it is 6 pm as in the afternoon the pupils are queuing up to the ground floor. Such a location is a must see, colourful, loud, bizarre and a bit of a monster thee, I preferred it to the widely advertised and much more expensive Robotcafé.
The fish market is not what it used to be due to the many tourists who obviously haven’t behaved appropriately. It is not a museum but a normal busy market. One was allowed to walk its many streets and respectfully take pictures but now it is observed by the police and many signs forbidding to take pictures are to be found. If I had a business to do, I would prefer that as well as tourists just stand around and do not buy anything. Well the market will soon move to a new area and probably lose even more of its charm. What a pity.
The highlight of my journey was a day tour to Fuji (not the plant or HQ of Fujifilm, but the mountain). Plan A was to get as close as possible to the peak but it didn’t work as the last and the most interesting piece of the route has been closed due to snow. Plan B led to the impressive Yamanaka lake, the second biggest lake of the region. From the northern bank you have a great view of Fuji, best case cloudless. What was interesting was that the lake was unvisited and therefore we could enjoy the idyllic view.
My Tokyo tips
- if you need some noise and craziness: Shibuya Crossing and Harajuku -> Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street)
- if you need some nature: get to the beach in Kamakura (1h train ride) or to one of the gardens within the city, or the Yanaka cemetery.
My Japan tips
- basically you have a good AirBnB situation over there. For a decent price you get well equipped apartments in great areas. Don’t forget the JR Rail Pass – it is really good for traveling by the bullet train, which is really comfortable. Also think about a data sim card, for me it was really good to get along with google maps and the Hyperdia app for finding subway or train connections easily with all needed infos.