Temples and palaces

Today marks the first Friday of 2019. I’ve been enjoying a rather peaceful week of rest in Tokyo. 2018 was a busy work year for me. I moved to Tokyo in May and started working for a new company.

This was quite a big change as I switched from freelancing to regular employment, and I switched from UK culture to Japanese work culture.

As a freelancer I was able to take a lot of time off over the years to indulge in amateur and (a little) professional photography.

As a regular employee in Tokyo time has been much more limited.

However I am hopeful for the year ahead. Now that I’ve completed eight months I feel more settled and I should be able to make better use of my free time.

During this weeks holiday I had the chance take some photos and spend some time browsing through my old pictures.

I was reminded of many happy memories, especially during visits to temples and palaces around Asia. I’d like to share some of my favorite spots.

Japan

Up first is a familiar picture from my last blog post. I live quite close to Tokyo tower which is right next to Zojoji temple (増上寺).

http://www.zojoji.or.jp/

Next up is perhaps one of the most well known temple complexes in Tokyo, located in Asakusa you may recognise Sensoji (浅草寺)by the huge lantern in the gate. Just to the west of Sensoji there are a lot of traditional restaurants; it’s a very old fashioned area. And Tokyo Skytree is also nearby.

http://www.senso-ji.jp/

The next three photos are from Nezu. This temple complex is famous for the red Torii and is a favourite spot of mine. It’s a little out of the way so there are way less tourists. It’s also a short walk to Yanaka; another traditional area which is famed for the number of cats. If you ever visit Yanaka keep an eye out for cat ornaments on the rooftops.

http://www.nedujinja.or.jp/

Kyoto

I’ve included some of my favorite pictures from Kyoto below. Kyoto has so many temples. The biggest challenge there is it can get very busy and photography becomes a challenge.

Rather than naming each of these, if you are interested in temples I would suggest having a browse through the complete list on Kyoto’s own travel website – https://kyoto.travel/en

Thailand

Thailand is a beautiful country for a cultural tour, there are so many temples. I think Wat Pho may be the most popular spot in Bangkok, but I enjoyed Wat Arun. The next two shots are taken around the ordination hall rather than the Wat itself.

I spent a couple of weeks walking all around bangkok. I can recommend an excellent book written by a journalist and a true culture / history lover – https://www.tuttlepublishing.com/authors/barrett-kenneth/22-walks-in-bangkok

While on these walks I spotted many small temples and back street areas where I could see locals and monks going about their day to day life.

The follow was taken at an interesting Chinese temple complex in Bangkok

China

From China I’d like to include Jing’an temple (Shanghai). This is a beautiful temple complex and I had a great time walking around here. I also really enjoyed watching people throw coins into the central ornament. I imagine it’s a way to pay respects.

South Korea

Seoul is where we switch from temples to palaces. The royal palaces in Seoul are strikingly beautiful. I recommend at least Gyoengbokgung and Changdeokgung, but time permitting it’s good to visit them all.

Taiwan

An honorouble mention to Taiwan. I’ve only been around Taipei. It’s not the prettiest city; due to a period of history with little building regulation, but it’s improving and most importantly I found the Taiwanese to be among the friendliest of Asian people I’ve met. I spent a bit of time at the temple of Confucius. Not only was it nice to see this temple, it was interesting to learn a lot about Confucius whose teachings I think are still meaningful today.

Hong Kong

I haven’t had a chance to see a lot of temples in Hong Kong, but I normally stay nearby Man Mo and it’s full of beautiful lights. It’s an excellent spot to catch the vibe of locals paying respects.

If you have any favourite temples, palaces, or churches etc. around the world I would be happy if you would share with me.

 

Tokyo Tower

It’s December 1st and it was a lovely sunny warm but fresh 16 degrees in Tokyo. I decided to head out for a walk around Tokyo Tower. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while and it was really a beautiful day out.

I started from Hamamatsucho (浜松町) just 15 minutes walk to the East of Tokyo Tower. While Tokyo Tower is a major tourist attraction the surrounding area is to a certain extent  a business district. Due to that I was lucky enough to find a few really nice independent coffee shops that were quite quiet due to it being a Saturday.

I recommend Byron Bay coffee at Hamamatsucho and Towers cafe at Higashiazabu.

A few pictures on the way to the tower follow. I definitely have a soft spot for morning light on glass buildings. And of course my favourite thing ever is day to day street scenes.

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Coming towards Tokyo Tower from the East you can walk through Zojo-ji temple (増上寺). The following photos are taken on the walk up to the temple and in the temple grounds.

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I’m really happy with today’s photos. A few favourites here.

I loved these worn concrete steps leading up to the main temple buildings, so I wanted to capture them strongly in the foreground. Of course I find people the most interesting of things and I thought the elderly gentleman walking down the steps looked good in the frame.

I was also lucky to catch the other elderly gentleman praying in front of the temple entrance and could take a picture w/out disturbing him.

And I think the autumn trees from the small park framing the tower was a nice view.

It’s worth mentioning the delightful little children statues. I will quote directly the nearby placard:

“These are ‘care guardian deities of children’. They are dedicated for the safety growth of children and grandchildren, as well as for the memorial service for still birth or miscarried children.

To protect and keep warm their heads, “red hat” “red apron” and “windmill”, were dedicated to the guardian deity of children image.

After existing Zoji temple grounds you arrive at the base of Tokyo Tower:

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The diagonal shot is the won that I’ve often seen on instagram and facebook. The little squirrel was part of a Christmas display at the base. They also have a little garden featuring if I remember correctly about 80 types of coniferous trees, it would be nice to go back at night and see the lights on those.

I also took the front on shot of the tower with the aim to take a less photographed angle.

Finally i walked around the surrounding areas in the North, West and South directions, one more photo worth sharing from the South side.

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This time of year truly is beautiful in Tokyo. The mild weather, the blue skies. I love it.

24 hour sushi in Akihabara at Isomaru・アキバの磯丸水産の寿司居酒屋

Tokyo is a beautifully colourful place.

I really appreciate good design in life. When people, businesses and local authorities make an effort. A lot of elements come together to make a place enjoyable. The shape of the buildings, the colours, the cleanliness, the ease of getting around.

Life can be busy, it can get tiring commuting around, rushing to work, rushing to meet people. Everything is a better when the places we go feature interesting and beautiful design.

One of my genuine beliefs is it shouldn’t just be about minimising costs and maximising profits, it should be about making the world a better place.

Japan nails this in some aspects of life.

A few years ago on one of my first trips to Japan I took a photo of a man looking into a sushi restaurant in Akihabara while scratching his head.

At that time I hadn’t eaten in Isomaru Fisheries (磯丸水産).

It’s a 24 hour seafood restaurant and bar. The one in the picture is in Akihabara – a famous district for electronics and manga / anime goods.

I went back to Isomaru in January this year to eat a few times. On this trip I decided to take a second picture of the Akihabara branch to show the full view of the store front, it’s a very colourful multi-story building with a cool billboard picture of a fishing boat at the top.

Isn’t it awesome?

They have really well priced Sushi. Not exactly premium quality, but pretty good.

On top of the sushi there are lot’s of cooked dishes including some food you can cook on a grill at your table. One of the recommended dishes is crab meat in a special sauce you can cook on the grill yourself. You can also cook various kinds of fish yourself. I had a pot of muscles.

A Short Trip to Asakusa

Today was a chill day. I didn’t have any exercise scheduled. My main plan was to study some Japanese and graphic design and to head over to Asakusa and maybe take a few photos.

To be honest, the day was a bit of a fail, I couldn’t concentrate at all and it was way too hot to walk around taking photos for a long time.

However, I did take a few shots in Asakusa. The area is famous for Sensoji 浅草寺 – it’s a temple complex that many people visit. There are a lot of shops selling traditional japanese products. There are also a lot of traditional restaurants.

You have probably seen the entrance gate to Sensoji before, it’s the one with the huge lantern. It’s often photographed super close up and you can see there are always lot’s and lot’s of people around it.

Here are three shots from around Sensoji.

Post those three shots I was sweating and uncomfortable so I took the train back to Shibuya to chill out.

Now I am enjoying a cold beer. Sometimes life is tough!

 

Tokyo Rail

Clean, shiny steel and birdsong soft and sweet. A place full of people, some fast asleep, where could I be?

The Tokyo metro, or one of the Japan Rail (JR) lines in the city. Rail is something of a cultural passion in Japan. It’s a huge part of day to day life in Tokyo; the most convenient way to travel around the huge city.

A microcosm of Japanese values it’s impeccably well managed. Almost always on time and masterfully maintained.

Perhaps the most famous image of Tokyo’s hectic rush hour is the attendants shoving and squeezing people onto already packed trains. Faces can be seen seen squashed against windows and doors. It does happen, but I never take part; I tend to wait out the rush hour in a cafe.

It’s quite a different story in the UK; when our aging underground stations become overcrowded the station attendants will temporary close entry.

A reflection of a prioritisation of efficiency over comfort in Japanese culture. As a Japanese friend commented, “it is very important get to work on time in Japan”.

Other thoughts of Tokyo rail; complex rail maps, female only carriages, cleanliness and modern technology. And less well known; beautiful visual design and ever helpful staff.

An example; the Japan Rail map of Tokyo and the surrounding area at the station in Shibuya – complex and beautiful.

Note the look and feel of the ticket machines. It’s modern, but yet retro. A metallic feel with plenty of prominent buttons and slots. They say to me, “I am proud to be ticket machines”, they don’t attempt streamline themselves into the human world.

It’s not only the ticket machines that feel metallic, trains are finished in polished metal; always very clean. It’s especially noticable at one of Tokyo’s many railway crossings. When you wait on trains to pass you can see the trains are clean from the ground up.

Why so clean? – Japanese people take a lot of pride in their work. I think this is in part the healthy desire to do a good job. And in part it’s the story of a society with strongly enforced cultural values.

Take for example the Japanese word, “Ganbatte” (がんばって) which means roughly “do your best”. You hear this a lot in Japan. For example if someone is preparing for an exam, has an interview, is entering a competition you might say “Ganbatte”. It’s telling in English that we don’t have a word like this and you rarely hear people say “do your best”. When I think about it, we would use, “good luck”. Do we subconsciouly place emphasis on luck vs. hard work? I heard it said that your true nation is your language.

Let’s be frank, trains in UK are disgustingly dirty, if you are on the london underground just touch the outside with a finger – it’ll come away black.

They play birdsong in some of the stations in Tokyo. On one trip I regularly used the Toei Oedo line. I would always enjoy listening to the birdsong in the background. I don’t think I consciously noticed it at first, but at some point I realised it contributed to a joyful and relaxed feeling.

A friend tells me it’s used as a warning sound for blind people. Regardless of the true purpose it has a calming effect.

It reminds me that concrete cities and high technology are not our natural environment. Perhaps we suffer from a build up of background stress from our surroundings. These small touches can bring some peace and make life a little more comfortable.

When trains arrive or depart in Japan you get jingles, tunes and tones. It makes you aware but doesn’t cause any panic or stress. In the UK we get alarms and buzzers. It makes me feel tired.

Have you ever hear of ‘cotton wool Britian’ – we have a love affair with health and safety. Visual and audio warnings are everywhere. Do they reduce accidents – I don’t know, but they certainly contribute to a feeling of constant threat.

Even though Tokyo is a huge modern city packed with people and technology, I feel like it caters to the human need for comfort and relaxation better than many others.

Perhaps the most popular rail line; the Yamanote line. It’s the circular route that you can see in the centre of the rail map. It stops at many famous places. The green colours of the Yamanote trains and the little touches of green on the clocks, ticket machines etc. make a beautiful theme.

Tokyo is a city full of amazing vibrant colours, which really pop in photography.

The Yamanote line is a case in diversity. The stations it stops at include everything from traditional temples to electronic and business districts. A wide variety of people can be found on the platforms and trains; tourists, salary men/lady, school pupils, fashionistas and even Elvis style rockers.

What a strange city. In some ways it could be considered monocultural as Japan still remains relatively closed to foreigners. But within it’s Japanese culture there is a large diversity. Perhaps driven from the need to be different.

I expected Japanese commuters to play Nintendo or Sony or be glued to their mobile phone, but it’s not completely the case. A big surprise was the popularity of books. Tokyo has big bookstores in all the main areas. And even has some cool concept stores such as the Tsutaya at the fashionable Daikanyama.

I started to realise how important literature and poetry is in Japan. I recently discovered one of the most famous concise forms of poetry ‘haiku’ comes from Japan. And only yesterday while finishing the very good book, “strange weather over tokyo” I discovered the following poem:


In loneliness I have drifted this long way, alone.
My torn and shabby robe could not keep out the cold.
And tonight the sky was so clear
it made my heart ache all the more.
– Seihaku Irako

A little of topic, but worth sharing. So a lot’s of people read on the trains. Japan has a slightly smaller format for novels. They look really cute and easily go in your pocket.

Japan is obsessed with cuteness – a topic close to my heart.

Coming into or exiting a station in Tokyo is generally a pleasure. The stations are super clear, they always seem to be staffed by helpful attendants and every station I have been to has a clean toilet! Just the thing when late night asahi and sake are common features.

You can’t escape from the rail in Tokyo, everywhere you look it’s their to see.

Life in Japan can be difficult with long working hours. It’s important the trains are clean and on time. One thing that will amaze any visitor is how quickly and easily japanese people can fall asleep on the train. If you fall asleep on a train here in the UK it’s likely someone is going to steal all your stuff.

Tokyo is very safe. Theft is virtually non existent. You can leave your bicycle unlocked at the park entrances, you can leave you Macbook, phone and wallet unattended in a coffee shop.

The only complaint I have to say is when I’m stranded after 1am, then it’s time to find a late night club, a 24hr restaurant or a manga cafe and wait it out with all the other partiers for the 1st train the next day.

But that’s a small complaint.

Tokyo Dining

Prepared like art, with heart,
Eaten with care, flavours rare,
Japanese food is really that good,
Cooking and dining are national pastimes,
Ramen is a passion and,
Sushi a fashion,
That powers Tokyo life.


Colourful restaurants; from counter bars to tatami mats,
Natural flavours, fresh, chosen with care,
Attention to detail, clear to see, delicately prepared,
Haru, Natsu, Aki, Fuyu; Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter,
Often seasonal; food and tableware.

Traditional meals, that are
Humble small dishes, with
Rice to fill you,
Fermented soya to increase your life,
Vegetables and seaweed to nourish you,
Fish or meat, just a treat,
All arrayed in front of you,
Tea afterwards as a sweet?
Candy, chocolate and cake? – simply no need.

Hidden behind green and red lights,
Small alleyways, with restaurants side by side,
That’s beautiful Japan,
Beer and skewered meat; just what I need.

Just one word of warning,
Be prepared,
If the food is good,
To wait in line.

Tokyo dining; a social affair,
Friends, food and sake, the perfect afterparty,
Salary man and lady; who work so hard, can finally relax,
Even alone, you can be part of the counter dining family.


This is kind of a poem I wrote today after completing the first 5 days of the wordpress bloggingU writting201 (poetry) course. The photographs are from both 2014 adn 2015 of restaurants and food stands in Tokyo, Japan. I’ve been wanting to write something about these photos for quite some time. But I had been putting it off, as I was going to write something quite long winded. Today I had an idea, why not just try to write a simple poem about some of the things I love about Japanes food / dining.

Kyoto Umbrella

bright orange and blue
just a small shelter it’s true
but I still love you


I took this picture in Kyoto, Japan, back in 2014. At the time I was working on my photography in a structured way. On the day I took this I was working on contrasting colours. Specifically looking for blue and orange, red and green etc.

Contrasting colours can be quite powerful, especially if you have a visual weight contrast e.g. 80% of one and 20% of the other. That’s why sometimes if you see a girl in a purple dress holding a single yellow flower, it looks beautiful. In fact some photographers will take a contrasting colour flower to a photo shoot just for that purpose.

Yesterday when I started writing201 poetry course we learned the form haiku, today I was thinking about this picture and had this short haiku in mind.