Japan Travel Update v.2

Posted by Alex

Duel(ing) Passports

Yes, both of those passports are mine. The first thing that was said to me upon my arrival in Narita was “Do you know Interpol?” I answered yes and was lead into an interrogation room where I sat for about 45 minutes. Periodically someone would come explain that my passport was stolen. I would explain back to them that it couldn’t be, as it was right there in front of us. In the end I was told to go to the American Embassy and get a new one (hence the two above). So now I have two passports and a unique knowledge of the underworld at Narita Airport. That was at the beginning, much has happened since then.

Since my last update I have been out mining for cool things. No more tourist attractions (besides the Ramen Museum in Yokohama. My Mom already made fun of me for visiting a noodle museum, so don’t start). I am happy to say that I have been successful in my searchings for all things weird and wonderful. Most of my time has been spent in Aoyama, Harajuku and Naka Meguro (with some Daikanyama too). It’s been hard to decide what to focus on; clothes, housewares, interiors, music, games, food…I could easily spend all of each day bouncing between all the different shops in those areas. One place I literally had to leave because I was afraid I might buy too many things (Sempre). I also found a hair salon that was having a yard sale. Their three items for sale were a replica M16, faded porn, and a Twitter sign. Awesome.

Crossing the street at Ometesando

Restaurant Van in Harajuku

She wanted the ice cream for sale behind her. Mom said no.

Nice typeface, bad spacing

I started experimenting a bit more with my shooting technique as well. Since I was mainly trafficking the shopping districts (though let’s be serious, this pretty much describes all of Tokyo), there wasn’t as much *obviously* visually exciting stuff to shoot. To combat this I started doing rapid-fire, one-handed shooting while moving. This resulted in countless terrible pictures — due to compositional problems or usually focus — but when it did hit I was really pleased with the results. Since I wasn’t really composing the image myself beforehand, it was always a nice surprise when something came out in an interesting way. The five shots above utilized this technique. It was certainly a lot easier to do, especially when carrying snacks or weird robot gifts.


Princess Peach in the Imperial Garden (I had to wait a long time to get that shot)

Smoothies on the 53rd floor

A frequent theme I notice with my images is that they are usually of people facing away from me. It would be simple to assume that this is because I am going for this specific silhouetted look. Or something. No, rather, it’s because I am usually too afraid to ask people if I can take their photograph (or too polite to do it anyway). I know how to say it in very polite Japanese but I usually chicken out. (Note: the 6 month Japanese class I took was based on a 1986 business Japanese text book. So everything I know how to say is with the utmost respect. How I know how to ask someone what their hobby is would be translated to something like this: “Excuse me sir, if I may, would it be acceptable for me to inquire what it is you do in your free time please?”.) So what ends up happening is I have to sneak up on people like this and make it look like I’m photographing whatever is in front of them.

The consumer experience at Commes des Garcons

Setting up for dinner

The other thing you notice immediately is the exceptional level of service no matter where you are. I bought a guitar in Tokyo two years ago and was instantly relieved to find that the shop helpers actually wanted to help me! (As opposed to Guitar Center where it seems like they literally want to kill you.) The image above of Commes des Garcons is a good example. I snapped it illegally as he was checking out a customer, but it was fairly easy to do as it took about 10 minutes for the transaction to be completed. The ritual involved was remarkable. The item was inspected, presented multiple times for quality checks, wrapped many times over, and ultimately escorted out of the store and presented to the customer by two helpers. It really makes your purchase feel special.

The other image is of a waitress I noticed setting up for dinner. She spent about an hour (I know because she was there when I returned) setting up this one table. I was too far away to see what she was actually doing, but more than likely, she was just being very methodical and not missing any details.

Shinjuku from the Mori Tower helipad

8 Bit

Tokyo after dark is another world that is completely mind blowing. I haven’t really been covering it much on my other blog, but it’s really something to behold. The shot above is from a tiny tiny little bar (though I suspect it’s an apartment) called 8 Bit Cafe. The place is amazing and on the night I was there, the music was being composed using NES controllers and turntables. They were remixing old video game soundtracks to a room of probably 50 people. How on earth I found myself there is a whole other story for another day. Best told in person I think*

19 Comments Leave A Comment


Design Police says:

June 8, 2010 at 12:45 pm

What lens are you shooting with again, the colors and gradients on that MKII are phenomenal! Very jealous!!! Nice Tom Ford glasses, by the way.


Cristian S. says:

June 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I was about to inquire upon the same details as ‘Design Police’ here.. Are you using any filters whatsoever? The shots are great!


mg33 says:

June 8, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I went to the Ramen museum as well, back in 2006. Really cool place; sadly there’s nothing close to that type of perfection in the US.


alex says:

June 8, 2010 at 6:25 pm

@designpolice – The lens is the EF 50mm/1.2 L. Super great/amazing piece of glass. I pretty much gave up on the kit lens after shooting with the 50. I call it the 50 caliber. The kit lens works better for my music video stuff, but for stills, the 50cal is my friend.

@Cristian – No filters, but I am editing them all extensively in Lightroom. Not Photoshop, mainly because I am on the go and only have my laptop. Will probably tweak any of the ones I intend to print a little more when I can. But yeah, they look good straight out of the camera, but they dont look like this. It’s easy to forget what the image looks like ‘zeroed’ until you go back and check. Crazy how much a touch of editing can change things

@eddeezy – Not sure!


Vale says:

June 8, 2010 at 6:27 pm

If i may suggest, try going to the Roppongi and Azabu areas, they have loads of really nice places for shooting pictures. And spending loads of money on antiques.


Brett says:

June 8, 2010 at 6:44 pm

“Crossing the street at Ometesando” = The Best of the lot. Has a feel completely separate from all the other images. Print work quality, no doubt. Sad Ice Cream Girl is the close 2nd, catching a random human emotional moment is far superior to me than any other still composition. But, I must say that your Prada building shots are excellent.


glenn says:

June 8, 2010 at 8:31 pm

i went to the ramen museum too, can’t beat the miso ramen, i made it to 4 booths, then i was done. when in Daikanyama check out a bar called kinsfolk. if you haven’t already, its pretty cool. enjoy!


Gui says:

June 9, 2010 at 12:45 am

Hey really nice photos there!

I came back from Japan last week and is nice to see that we had similar paths.

If you like architecture I can recomend the “Gallery Ma” or the stunning museum from Tadao Ando 21-21 Design Sight.

Enjoy and keep us feeding great images and reports.


Ivan says:

June 9, 2010 at 7:20 am

One of the reasons I keep checking out your blog is your sense of humor.(“Excuse me sir, if I may, would it be acceptable for me to inquire what it is you do in your free time please?”) Great post. Enjoyed the shots. You shoot pretty well, and I understand you being “afraid” to ask people if you could take their photograph. Hehe. In US-Canada its different, beside the language barier-been there too.

Yeah, Japan’s great place to visit if you’re into strange and unusual things.


Aman Fahimullah says:

June 9, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Simply amazing Alex, I had a feeling these were taken with a 50mm, Prime lenses are wonderful. The focal length on this is superb. Nice Shots. Hope you have fun.


Dave B says:

June 9, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Alex, these are amazing, makes me want to get out again and start shooting…and I bloody live in Tokyo! Drop me a line if you have time if you’d like to see an insiders point of view, some pretty cool stuff coming up to do in and around town.

I’ve got the 50 1.4, is there a serious difference, enough to blow my paycheck on?