Shinjuku North Side: Kabukicho; Golden Gai; Hanazono Shrine; Skyscraper District
Almost two decades ago, I landed in Japan on what was to be a three-year overseas adventure from my home in Canada. I’m still here, but that’s another story…. Those first days in-country, while my then-partner — I’ll call her Achan — attended orientation training at the Keio Park Plaza hotel before being posted to rural Hokkaido to help “internationalize” the countryside (but that’s still another story…) I spun out a jet-lagged fugue through the neon canyonlands and narrow sidestreets of Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighbourhood. You know: the setting for Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Bill Murray? That was me. Minus the hair. And Scarlett Johansson.
After three years Achan returned to her family in suburban Calgary. After another year, in central Hokkaido this time, I relocated to Tokyo for some big-city adventure.
Now, thirteen years later, I live in a comfortable if un-cinematic neighbourhood in west Tokyo. Every day, on the commute, I pass through labyrinthian Shinjuku Station.
“There are eight million stories in the naked city,” to paraphrase The Naked City. And more than three million of them pass through Shinjuku each day. The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Shinjuku Station as the“world’s busiest station”. Channel5’s recent documentary “World’s Busiest: Station” gets it right: “a perfect storm of busy-ness.”
My first winter break in Japan seventeen(!) years ago, while all my friends went off to Thailand, I spent a couple of weeks sleeping wild on Okinawa and Iriomote jima in the off season. Trip of a lifetime! One of I’ve written about elsewhere, and may soon also tell here on Big Sushi…
Meantime, in the spring of 2013, I finally made it back to the Yaeyama islands, this time to Ishigaki jima – with a day trip to Taketomi jima. While it was spring this time and not winter, we still hit it in the off season – which is how I like it anyway. Fewer crowds. More unstable = more interesting weather.
I shot most of these pictures with the Olympus E-P1 and – for reasons that escape me now, since I already owned a couple of fine prime lenses – the 14 – 42 kit zoom lens.
Pictures of Countryside around Biei and Furano, Hokkaido Japan, Summer 2012
… and here it is, the last of three galleries of photos from a trip R. and I took to Hokkaido, including my old JET Programme host town of Biei, in the summer of 2012.
BTW, I’m at work on a personal essay about my time in Hokkaido when I first moved to Japan 16+ (!) years ago for the Transitions Abroad narrative travel writing contest. Look for the story, working title Extreme Japan: slow travel epiphanies from the far ends of Japan, in the TA winners’ circle. Or in the highly unlikely event that I don’t win, here on the pages of Big Sushi, Little Fishes…
Photography Notes: As mentioned previously, I usually set my cameras to shoot RAW + JEPG. It’s easy to messy up settings in the menu of an Olympus PEN camera, however, especially early models, and at some point early on I ended up getting only JPEGS shot through the Grainy Film Art Filter on these shoots (the colour shots were taken with a Canon G9). All the B&W shots in this gallery were taken with the m/Zuiko 45mm 1.8 prime lens.
Although I developed, so to speak, a passion for photography during the four years I lived on Japan’s rural, northernmost island of Hokkaido — island light! — I don’t have digital copies of those first pictures.
These pictures are from a summer trip R. and I took to the Biei area of central Hokkaido in 2012. Although I didn’t really appreciate it then — I was alone, my girlfriend being in Tokyo — the Biei area is very photogenic. Cigarette commercials and TV dramas like to use the patchwork fields and dramatic treelines as their settings.
By the way, the volcano pictures are from an aborted climb up Asahidake, in Daisetsuzan National Park.
I lived on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, for four years when I first moved to Japan – from the summer of 1998 to 2002. Although I left Hokkaido for Tokyo twelve years ago and don’t regret the move, Hokkaido for me then was one of those seminal times in life when you are, as they say, “in the right place at the right time.”
Recently I started to write once again about what it was like for an inner-city kid to find himself in a rural part of Japan on an island which, at the time, most people had never heard of. I’ll write more about Extreme Japan: slow travel epiphanies on Hokkaido and Iriomote…
An easy 40-minute climb from the ropeway station at Senjojiki Cirque, the approach to Kiso-Komagatake, “Horse Head Mountain,” and surrounding peaks make an easy day-trip adventure into the alpine zone and thin air of high-mountain adventure. I’d write it up, but wes at Hiking in Japan has already nailed it. The only thing I’d add, and this is true any time you’re high up, is to remember the hat and sunblock. The air is thinner up here, and the sun’s rays stronger. Both R. and I were a little negligent, and we both ended up with sun- and windburn, and blistered lips. Continue reading “Japan Photo Hike: Kiso-Komagatake, Chuo Middle Alps”→
It still feels like late summer/early autumn here in The Big Sushi, but in the mountains to the west of Tokyo koyo autumn foliage season is already burning up the forests, all Halloween reds and yellows. Last weekend R. and I took a (longish) four-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Senjojiki Cirque, on the slope of Komagatake, in Nagano prefecture’s Chuo Middle Alps for a long weekend of hiking and photography. We stayed at Hotel Senjojiki, a fancypants mountain hut/rustic hotel attached to the ropeway station at 2,662 meters: the highest ropeway station in Japan (and Japan has ropeway stations!). Continue reading “Japan Photo Hikes: Senjojiki Cirque”→