Return to Tokyo

Ever since I left this city five years ago I’ve been dying to get back. I’ve never traveled to the same place twice, always figuring that there’s so many new places out there to explore that I’d be doing myself a disservice by revisiting places with so much left out there I haven’t seen. Tokyo changed all that. I’ve tried visiting new places since then, but my mind was always bringing me back here. Even before this very trip I was seconds away from booking a flight to the Balkans, but a last minute impulse forced me to check flights to Tokyo before I clicked that button. And well, here I am.

I was afraid for a long time that if I came back here it’d just feel like I was trying to relive my past trip, and would ultimately leave feeling unsatisfied. I can happily say that was not the case whatsoever. I had such a great time here, and Tokyo is so huge I was even able to spend maybe half my time exploring completely new parts of the city.

I will say though that the next time I come to Japan I’ll be venturing out to some of the other parts of the country, most likely up north. Between my two trips I’ve spend around 6 weeks in Tokyo alone, and there’s a lot more to Japan that I’d like to see.

I have a ton of pictures to post, so let’s get things started with Shibuya. I had been here last time but mostly at night. This time I spent some time walking around during the day taking in the sights, the sounds, the people, the cars, and the food.

Of course I did spend some time here at night as well.

This area in particular was under construction last time I was here. Seems they haven’t made much progress in the last five years, except for closing down more streets and setting up more cones.

This is a place I checked out called Taito Game Station.

It’s basically a chain of arcades. They had them in every major city district and they spanned multiple floors. They’d have a couple floors for kids games, a couple for normal arcade games, and then a smoking floor with some of the more violent or adult-themed games.

I didn’t partake, but had plenty of fun just walking around.

Just north of Shibuya is Yoyogi Park. If you read my last post from Tokyo you’ll know that I caught a live Shinto wedding that time, and wondered how lucky I was to have seen something like that. Well as I was walking up to the Meiji Shrine in the center of the park this time, I caught the tail end of another one. So they’re probably pretty common. Still cool though.

Speaking of parks, I found this other small grassy area out in the western outskirts of Tokyo with some people kneeling over a small stream of water. My guess is they were catching frogs or fish or something.

Now while I do love to walk, Tokyo is an absolutely gigantic city. I’ve spent almost an hour just walking from one end of a subway station to the other before. Trains are all but necessary here.

Even during rush hour, getting crammed in a packed car by one of the many ‘pushers’ still beats the alternative. In Boston a 20 minute ride on the subway will get you from Park Street to Allston, saving you maybe an hour’s walk. In Tokyo it can take you from Shinjuku to Yokohama, saving you the better part of a day.

Last time I was here they had literally just finished building the Skytree, the second-largest freestanding structure in the world behind only the Burj Khalifa. Unfortunately it wasn’t going to be open to the public until a couple weeks after I had left, so I didn’t get to go up to check out the view. I made sure to do that this time around.

It was impressive for sure. As far as observation decks in Japan go however, I think I still prefer the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka. It’s shorter but you’re right in the middle of the city, and there’s picturesque harbors and mountainsides to compliment the view. The Skytree was honestly too tall. Even the Tokyo World Trade Center offered better views of the city in my opinion. It was cool to see, but if you’re reading this and are trying to choose just one observation deck to go to in Tokyo, I’d skip the Skytree in favor of the WTC.

Came across these two cool izakayas on my walk back to my guesthouse after the Skytree.

Next up is Ikebukuro, a place I spent almost no time in on my last trip. I still didn’t spend a whole lot of time here, but the area had a lot more going on than I remember.

The area around the station had tons of great restaurants, and lots of electronics stores.

The area away from the station was pretty cool too.

Now whenever I go to a big city, I always like to go out and try to shoot in their industrial and port areas. I had done this before in Tokyo, but Tokyo has a few of these, so I tried to find my way down to one of the others just southeast of the Shinagawa station.

I felt like a salaryman making my way through this giant walkway.

Outside the station there was a really cool park in between all the skyscrapers.

I also remember it being really hot out this day, and out by the harbor and the shipping ports there wasn’t much in the way of shade, due to the lack of big buildings.

So I didn’t spend much time out here, and there really wasn’t much to see anyway, but on the way back I happened upon a monorail station so I used that to get back into the city. That was pretty cool, Tokyo never disappoints with all of its various high-speed public transportation systems.

Another one of the places I visited that I didn’t spend much time in last time was Akihabara. Now I mentioned Ikebukuro was slightly cooler than I remember it, but Akihabara was much cooler. I honestly just think I went the wrong way out of the train station last time, as I’m pretty sure I just completely missed all the cool parts.

I did go up this series of escalators, but it was cooler from outside.

Like most other places in Tokyo, cool restaurants, shops, and architecture were just about everywhere you looked.

Sorry, more shots of this street. I couldn’t pick which of these was my favorite so I just posted them all.

They had these little ‘capsule toy’ vending machines, called gashapon, all over Tokyo. Here in Akihabara though they were everywhere. There were even entire stores devoted just to them. They’re similar to the little quarter toy machines outside of grocery stores in America, but a bit more expensive and contained much weirder toys.

Seems these chairs were set up so people could watch the trains, but everyone seemed too concerned with watching their phones.

Just ouside of Akihabara was this cool shrine.

The giant shrine in Asakusa, while impressive, doesn’t really do a great job of taking you ‘out’ of the city. This shrine on the other hand was much more peaceful and relaxing.

Speaking of Asakusa, I stopped by here a few times on my trip.

I had never been one to souvenir shop, but I had a few things I wanted to get for people this time around, and Asakusa is a great place for that. Tons of little shops just outside the temple, and the flagship Don Quixote store is just down the street for all your cheap, quirky, Japanese trinkets.

Now of course, what would a trip to Tokyo be without going to Shinjuku. In fact I probably went here close to half a dozen times this trip, between days, nights, and a quick stopover for some food.

During the day I explored some of the area southeast of the train station.

And of course Kabukicho as well.

Which is an excellent place for night photography, even with 400 speed medium format film and an f/4 lens.

I think I caught this guy in the midst of a pretty stressful moment. The girl however seemed unimpressed.

While doing some googling in my guesthouse of off-the-beaten-path places to go in Tokyo, I came across a place called Shimokitazawa. It was billed as a more ‘grown up’ place for alternative fashion, as opposed to a place like Harajuku, which is I guess more of a place for ‘cute’ or teen fashion. I don’t know, I’m not too knowledgeable on the Japanese fashion scene.

These kids were definitely pretty fashionable though.

So probably one of the coolest parts of my trip, is while I was walking around the train station at Akihabara with my Minolta SLR around my neck, a guy came up to me with a pack of film he had just got developed and complimented me on my camera. Turns out he’s a fellow Minolta shooter named Yoshi. He gave me his business card, I ended up emailing him a couple days later, and shortly after that we ended up going out shooting together around the city.

One of the first things we did was go to the two best cold soba noodle places in Kanda, one right after the other. Outside the second place was this Japanese maple.

Here we bumped into some people preparing for a festival they were having in the area the next day.

And after that we started hopping around to different used camera stores.

First a few in Akihabara, then we made our way over to Shinjuku for some of the bigger ones.

Including a trip to the flagship Yodobashi store in the western part of the district.

After that we were getting a bit hungry again, so we headed towards a place affectionately called Piss Alley.

Supposedly they call it that because back in the day people would get drunk at all the izakayas here and then stumble out into the alley to relieve themselves.

It seems like it’s been cleaned up a bit since then, but it’s still been able to retain that cool atmosphere. Probably one of the more unique places I’ve ever been. If they built a whole city like this I could totally live there.

After Yoshi and I were done shooting around the alleyway there, we headed down to Kabukicho for some more shots before nightfall.

Here’s Yoshi himself.

After we were done here we headed out to Ueno, a popular area at night with some really cool izakayas and restaurants mostly built under the elevated train tracks.

This whole area was just teeming with amazing food, young, energetic people, and cheap sake. The great atmosphere of all the restaurants and hearing and feeling the rumble of the trains as they passed overhead every minute or so was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. If you only have one night in Tokyo, spend it here.

Here’s the area around the train station during the day. Also cool, but the place really comes alive at night.

Back to Shinjuku really quick, I took a few shots around the western, more business-oriented part of the district.

And now for some interesting storefronts I saw over the course of my trip.

There are a bunch more I’ve posted throughout this entire post, but wanted to put a little set of them together.

Another place I did a little bit of night photography in is Shiodome

I told myself last time I was here that I wanted to do some more night photography next time I was in town, but going back here it was smaller than I remember, so only spent maybe an hour or so walking around before I left.

Now like I mentioned earlier, train travel is pretty much a necessity for getting around Tokyo. Whether you take the Tokyo Metro subway, one of the plethora of JR lines, or any other of the lines into, out of, and around Tokyo which are owned by private rail companies, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in train stations.

They’re generally great places for photography. Interesting backdrops and lighting, and there are people everywhere and they’re usually too busy to notice you.

Even if they do notice you they don’t seem to mind.

Now onto a bit of a repeat, the Tsukiji fish market.

I went here last time I was in Tokyo, but I strolled in at the crack of noon when it was pretty much deserted and everyone had already gone home for the day.

This time I got here around 9. Not too early that I’d be interfering with most of the important business the market is actually here for, but not too late that everyone had packed up and left. They actually generally don’t even allow you in before 9:30 or 10, but there was plenty to do outside while I waited.

Once inside there was still plenty going on, so I made sure to stay out of everyone’s way.

Back out in the city I stopped by the Imperial Park quick near Tokyo Station.

And just south of that is Ginza, famous for its 5 star restaurants, none of which I ate at.

The pictures were nice though.

A little down the street was this cool little izakaya block under a train bridge.

I believe these two were taken maybe a 10 minute walk south of the Minami-Senju area, but I’m not sure exactly where. I just remember it started downpouring shortly after I took them.

One of my dream cars. If I still drove I’d seriously consider getting one, but as it is I have a big turbo B8 A4 that’s just been gathering dust in storage since I’ve moved into the city. The good thing is the longer I wait, the cheaper they get.

I can’t remember exactly where I was when I took all these. I was somewhere in the middle of a walk from Ebisu station to Hamamatsucho station.

And with that, that time has unfortunately come again. Time to go home. As usual I don’t want to go, but am always excited to start developing, scanning, processing and going through all my pictures. I don’t have much to say this time, except this trip was everything I’d hoped it could be and more, and has me already planning my next one. Hope you enjoyed my pictures, and I’ll see you next time in the Balkans!

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