Tagged: impressions

Two weeks ago I was in Tokyo. People ask me about the trip and if one word could sum it up, then I don’t know it. Overwhelming. Efficient. Crowded. Beautiful. It was a constant benevolent surprise, the biggest city I have ever seen, a Las Vegas with purpose, streaming with scores of people going to places I can’t imagine.

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Crowds outside Shinjuku Station

It seemed that everybody was just trying to carve themselves a space. Sometimes it was a seat on the train, sometimes it was a nine-story building full of electronics equipment, sometimes it was a blue tarp in the crack between two buildings. In a day you could go from a massive and beautifully landscaped park to the red light district to a 43 foot tall bronze statue of Buddha cast in 1252 A.D. to Disneyland. You probably wouldn’t, but it’s possible.

I stood outside Senso-ji in Asakusa, thunder rumbling, gaping at Kaminarimon, the outer gate, later in the shadow of the ornate Buddhist temple, not really understanding the why but recognizing the devotion and respect of the other visitors. I breathed the incense, felt the first drops of what would later become a downpour, and set my camera down. Experience first, pictures later.

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Senso-ji, Buddhist temple

Walking slowly back through Nakamise, a covered street filled with small shops, I bought a rice cracker dipped in soy sauce, browsed the cell phone charms and chopsticks displays, I weaved between bodies as the rain intensified, pounding against the roof tops, gushing between cracks in the stalls. I bought a clear, plastic umbrella for 300 yen and dashed across the intersection.

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Mannequins, Nakamise

But there are so many moments I could tell you about.

Another day, my husband and I walked through Shinjuku Gyoen to escape the oppressive humidity while insects buzzed all about us like airborne construction equipment. They buzzed so loudly it made conversation difficult. We wandered into a grove of bald cypress trees, their roots exposed and straining through the reddish soil like fingers clutching at the sky. A woman sat nearby and sketched the scene.

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Roots, Bald Cypress

Or the night we explored the dark edges of Kabukicho, our ears just grasping wisps of song over the street noise. We followed it to an outdoor festival at Hanozono-jinja. Musicians and dancers, strings of glowing lanterns, and food vendors, all attended by a bustling audience on the compact temple grounds. The smell of grilled meats lay thick in the air while drums pounded out their inexhaustible rhythms; it was a tiny oasis of celebration hemmed in by relentless concrete towers.

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Hanozono-jinja, Festival

Two weeks have passed and I am still under the spell of Tokyo. Back in Seattle I eat lunch at the deli counter and people-watch. No crowds outside, only a few tourists who walk leisurely past, nobody wiping his brow with a handkerchief. Here, the garbage cans are everywhere, no need to separate burnable and non-burnable trash, no vending machines filled with cold beverages, no rows of bicycles with kickstand locks, no parking lots stacked with mopeds, no plastic food models. You look up and the buildings end in a few stories. No neon lights, no sales people welcoming every customer into the shops, no trays to place your money at the register, no signs for the subway, JR Rail.

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Eye-like lanterns hanging in Shinjuku

For such a short visit, Tokyo left a great impact. It’s left behind a sort of hunger — to go back and see more, do more, experience more, and of course, eat more. The question isn’t, will I go back? It’s: how soon and for how long?

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Takashimaya Times Square and NTT DoCoMo Yoyogi Building (clock tower)

To view and purchase prints of photographs from this trip, go to On Focus Photo: Japan.