While I was walking around the Shinjoku district of Tokyo today, I found myself wanting to share so many little things about Japan and knew I wouldn't be able to cram them into a 300 character status update. Hope you enjoy a few thoughts and photos from Kyoto and Tokyo below. My walkaround setup here is a 5D Mark II and a 35 f/1.4 L, so any non wedding photos you see from this trip will likely have been taken with that.
It's been raining for the past few days, much of my stuff is damp, and my minimal abilities with the Japanese language ( I can say excuse me, introduce myself, thank you, and have a nice day ) have made it difficult to do many of the little things I hoped to do ( such as find out where the laundromat is so I can dry my clothes )
I'm wet enough that today I finally broke down and bought a pair of shoes, as my asics runners were designed for comfort and breathability, but unfortunately not for the rain. I've had wet feet the past few days and was finally tired enough of it that I shelled out $80 for a pair of Nike Gortex hiking shoes ( Sorry hun! )
Tokyo is in a word, big. It's hard to comprehend and communicate the sheer scale of the city. I'm not even in the downtown district, and yet today I rode an elevator that made my ears pop twice, up to the 45th floor of the Tokyo municipal government building for a view of the surrounding area. It's amazing to look down and see buildings that are the same size as the largest of them in Victoria looking like little huts next to the behemoth skyscrapers that exist here.
The city is loud, both visibly and audibly. Bright colours and signs plastered over practically every building, and vans driving around with loudspeakers attached projecting a cutesy ( read: annoying ) sounding japanese girl yelling about the most recent sale at an electronics store. Despite the apparent visual chaos, there is a wonderful order to the way things seem to be done here. Without needing to be reminded, everybody shifts to the left of an escalator when riding to allow anyone in a rush to run by, places like Mcdonalds have devices that clean the rain off your umbrella, and the public transit system is wonderfully precise and on time everywhere you go.
So far I haven't encountered any awkward social situations. My concerns about not knowing the right actions to take when meeting someone were unfounded, at least from a Western perspective. If anything, people are fascinated by white foreigners and seem eager to help, I've had several people in particular who went way out of their way to help me and really saved my butt on a number of accounts. People are understanding of my lack of ability with the Japanese language and patient while I try and communicate by waving my hands around and pronounce english words with a terrible japanese accent in a vain attempt to make them easier to understand. I'm actually quite shocked in general at how few white people are here. Even in Tokyo, it must be 99.9% asians walking around, and while I may not be as comically large compared to everyone as Bill Murray was in "Lost in Translation", I'm easily several inches above the vast majority of the crowd, and get a lot of curious looks from passers by.
I've been eating terribly. So far each and every Japanese restaurant I have tried has left me looking at the remaining food on my plate like it's a hike up Mt. Fuji. Even when I get chicken dishes I don't love them, largely because in Japan they don't just use the Chicken Breast like we do back home, but rather every part of the chicken, including the nasty, chewy, gristly parts that I'd rather not touch. As such, I've had 3 meals at Mcdonalds in the past few days, and whenever I go somewhere else to get something like a sandwich, there is never a whole wheat option. This is likely because bread is clearly not such a central part of the Japanese diet as it is back home, but it's still a bummer. Hopefully the 8-10 hours of walking and cycling I have been doing daily in my efforts to explore can counteract this horrible diet.
Another thing I expected here was ubiquitous high speed wifi, and instead wifi is very hard to come by. Places like Starbucks and Mcdonalds don't offer it for free like they do back home, and when you stay in a hotel the only internet available in your room is via LAN cable, which is occasionally provided. I suppose this is to minimize the technical difficulties often associated with wireless networks, but it's still a pain, especially when you're out and about for the day and just want to quickly check Google Maps on your iPod touch.
Toilets are all quite high tech, even in the dumpiest of places, and I think I could probably get used to the built in Bidet in all of the electronic toilets, but my disappointment with the bathrooms here is that they practically NEVER offer hand soap. That's right, you use the washroom and then just rinse your hands with water. What's the point? Why even put sinks in the bathrooms if you're not going to offer soap? A small complaint but something that has crossed my mind repeatedly while I've been here. I've relegated to using the body wash I brought for the shower each time I use the washroom in my hotel room.
I've been taking a lot of pictures, naturally. While in Kyoto I went to Bic Camera and finally purchased 2 filters that I had been wanting to pick up for a long time; a Circular Polarizer and an ND8 filter. In all honesty, I don't know how I ever shot landscapes without either of those for all these years. The ND8 filter allows me to use a much slower shutter speed while shooting in the middle of the day. Combine that with ISO 50, f/22 and you can take a 30 second exposure in the middle of the day and make a busy intersection appear empty, pretty cool. I'll be posting the occasional photo but I don't have a ton of time for editing while I'm here. I'd rather make the most of the trip and do more of the editing once I'm back home on my big, fast desktop with large calibrated monitors.
Watched the hockey game online yesterday. It was disappointing but I think Tim Thomas really deserved the cup, even though I personally think the style of the Bruins is too dirty. I prefer watching skill teams that don't relegate to cheap shots and scrums after the whistle to intimidate their opponents, but apparently it works. Was really disappointed to hear about the riots, but really encouraged at all of the anti-riot activity going on, including the clean up efforts. Well done Vancouver, show the world that a few A**holes don't represent all of us.
With that, I'll sign off. I'm going to take a brief nap before heading out again tonight to get more pictures of the city, this time all lit up at night. It's 4PM here and midnight back home, so by the time I'm typically in bed it feels like I've been up until 6AM. Still adjusting, but loving the newness of everything. I enjoy the freedom that traveling alone allows, especially when there is a big time difference and your energy levels are all over the place ( i.e. it's 4PM and I'm about to nap ), but I miss my beautiful wifey Mandy and can't wait to see her again.