You ever dream of a place for years of your life, but you could never imagine actually being there? To me that place was Japan. I always saw photos and videos of what appeared to be a wonderland to me (Cherry Blossoms, Rich Autumn Colors, contrast of old & new architecture). I think back to what I have told myself over the past few years, "Life is weird." I have found myself in places I didn't even know existed just five years ago. This month I was lucky enough to land in Japan and spend 9 days in the most beautiful country I have been (recency bias aside).
I spent my first 5 1/2 days in Tokyo. I landed in Narita Airport on Saturday, filled with excitement I exited the plane in search of the Narita Express to begin my journey to Tokyo. After redeeming my Japan Rail Pass (a must if you plan to travel within Japan) I boarded and began my journey. After about 45 min we arrived in Shinjuku. I grabbed my suitcase and bag and headed toward my hotel. Upon arriving I was greeted by arguably the smallest room I have ever slept in in my entire life. My room consisted of a bed, about one foot of space on the left side and end along with a desk and a bathroom I barely fit in. Not that I needed anymore I was just surprised at how small the rooms truly were.
Naturally, I set down my bags and gathered my camera and went out to explore. Being that I was staying in Shinjuku I chose to stay in the area and explore. I headed down to Kabukicho Arch to shoot the famous arch. I actually met a fellow American here and shot together the rest of the night. My favorite part of traveling is the people I meet and stories I gather along the way. I explored a bit more of the neon district and even was able to hit some rooftops along the way. Japan was exactly how I imagined it in my mind, covered in neon signs and dripping in color. I even tried my hand at street photography in the famous 'Piss Alley.' Everything in Japan is so photogenic that I was able to get some really incredible images.
The following day I made my way over to Ginza area to shoot Ginza Crossing. The crossings in Japan are insane. I have never seen so many people walk across an intersection in my life. Getting the higher vantage points made for some insane photos. Ginza is home to many other cool spots as well including a golden cinema, a crazy staircase inside an A&F (seriously), and a wicked view of the Ginza neon from a wedding boutique (wtf I know). Wandering around and getting lost trying to find spots was one of my favorite things to do in Tokyo (averaging about 30,000 steps per day during my stay).
During the nighttime I tried to get some aerial views of Shibuya crossing but luck wasn't on my side as I was kicked out of a few hotels for shooting... Can't win them all! I did manage to grab a few later in the trip though thanks to some very generous locals. I did not bring my drone to Japan as I wanted to respect their laws and culture, so I was unable to get an overhead view of the crossing.
Navigating the MRT was a challenge I didn't think I would be able to handle (seriously look at the metro map below....). However it was super easy and convenient and I highly recommend it when you go along with getting the JR pass if you plan to leave Tokyo. The city is massive and can take 30-45 min to get from one district to another, so make sure to plan your days out in advance.
The next day I decided to try my hand at the shopping district, Harajuku. Some of the most amazing shopping in the world. I checked out stores from all around the world. Ended up buying two shirts from Undefeated and taking some photos along the way. Shocked I didn't buy any shoes with my addiction. Their is a shop for everyone in this district, seriously. Next I headed into the Roppongi district when the night fell to take some images of Tokyo Tower. A pretty cool scene that resembles the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Despite the constant rain everyday I was in Tokyo (and even a rare snow appearance) I was able to have an incredible time. The rain and snow really adds a lot of character to an already beautiful city. Afterwards I needed to try my hand at the local cuisine. My friend Jethro (@jethoon on IG) recommended I try Yakitori. One of the best things I have ever had in my entire life. Basically they are meat skewers, super simple but so good (I tried the restaurant Torikizoku, cheap but good).
I was able to meet up with a few locals as well while in Tokyo (@leoeatworld & @yako_flpr3 on ig). Two of the most kind people I have met through the platform. We shot in the classic Senso-ji area both on the ground and some of the cool overlooks. We even went up to a hotel roof where they offered us tea and pastries while shooting (Japanese people are so incredibly respectful and kind.) Following our shoot we went down to have some ramen at Ichiran. I know this is a sin, but I had never had ramen prior to this. Let's just say Japanese ramen lived up to its hype and now I'm hooked. Afterwards we head down to shoot Shibuya area during the rain which was absolutely breathtaking. We didn't finish shooting until about 11PM and the guys were feeling like having a late night meal. They took me to this spot that had a bunch of different deep fries items that you dipped in this delicious sauce, my favorite had to be the deep fried onion and my least favorite being the brussels sprout style food.
A trip to Japan isn't complete without hitting the Pokemon Center either, so naturally I found myself indulging in my childhood and spending a fair amount of time here and even purchased a few gifts. While in Odaiba, I wanted to check out some of the amazing architecture that it had to offer. Little did I know finding these complexes would take me 5 hours. Mostly because my friends couldn't remember the name of the complex, they were off by one letter. This led to my tour of the seven Family Mart's located all across Odaiba. A pilgrimage I will never forget and highly recommend to anyone who is batshit insane. Anything for the shot though. Afterwards I went to get some more Yakitori & a beer for my hard earned efforts.
This man deserves a paragraph for himself. He became famous on Instagram. He is hidden in a slew of shops in a small place in Tokyo. Upon finding him after my 45 minute journey, I shook his hand and he smiled and was more than happy to let me take his photo. This man is what I wish more of humanity was like. I wish I could speak Japanese to really let this man know how much I appreciate his positivity in life.
Tokyo was just part one of my Japan journey though. Although it was a large chunk of the trip I have much more to share on Kyoto/Osaka. I hope you found my experiences cool to read about and even maybe helpful for planning your journey to Japan. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about traveling to Tokyo in the comments. Onward to Kyoto!
Stay true to you.