johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Yoyogi Park (Tokyo)

If you turn right when exiting Harajuku Station and walk up a short incline to the pedestrian bridge over the railway line you will be faced with two choices. To the right is the entrance to Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s most revered shrine and to the left lies the entry to Yoyogi Park. Go right for serenity, tradition and a step back in time or go left for a fun, relaxed community space. My advice is to do both, but today my focus is on Yoyogi Park.

Yoyogi Park has an interesting and varied history. In 1910 the first successful powered aircraft flight in Japan took off and landed on the site of what is now Yoyogi Park. In 1945 it was known as the “Washington Heights” due to the site housing the military barracks for US officers during the allied post-WW2 occupation of Japan.

More topically given Japan’s hosting of the next summer Olympics, Yoyogi Park was the location for the Olympic village for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as well as swimming, diving and basketball events at the Kenzo Tange designed National Gymnasium building. The National Gymnasium will extend its Olympic heritage by hosting the handball events for the 2020 Olympics.

The area became formally known as Yoyogi Park in 1967 and has since become a very popular venue for a wide range of activities. At 134 acres the park is one of Tokyo’s largest and has become a much-loved and used space, particularly at weekends when, weather permitting, the park comes alive with people.

The selected photographs make no attempt to show the natural beauty of the park, though that is significant, but rather focuses on the enjoyment gained from the park by visitors.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

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Osaka Streets

My week in Osaka was punctuated by a number of day trips by Shinkansen, thus limiting my opportunity to get to know Japan’s third largest city. However, my immediate impression of Osaka was that of a city that does its own thing – an impression that was reinforced during my stay. Being so close to Kyoto it is impossible not to compare the cities and the contrast is clear. Where Kyoto is cultural; Osaka is commercial. Where Kyoto is refined; Osaka is brash. I am not saying one city is better than the other – that is a judgment for each individual to make, but they are different.

Similarly there are differences with Tokyo in that Osaka seems less fashion conscious and more easy going. Sometimes this manifests by appearing a bit rougher, but what is most noticeable is that the city worships food, hence its reputation as the “nation’s kitchen”. Restaurants, cafes and bars abound and all seemed to have customers. Does this mean Osaka’s homes are empty in the evenings?

Most of the photographs in this post were taken around the Dotonbori area, which is always lively after dark and a good place for people watching as well as eating. The gentleman looking contemplatively over the bridge rail (pic 2) brings back a pleasant memory of a conversation. After taking the shot we chatted for a while before he resumed his journey home from work. Such interactions when travelling are always valued for the insights one gains into the place being visited.

Except for the buildings in pic 10 the architecture is predominantly old and one hopes Osaka’s planners will opt to retain the area’s current character rather than yield to demands from developers. Losing the paved alleyways (pic 3), the night market stalls (pic 8), the earthy comfortable bars (pic 7) and the wacky statues (pic 5) would be quite tragic. Cities take a long time to build character and identity and if we are not careful it can be lost in the guise of sterile glass and steel developments.

I had not intended to comment on development until I looked again at the photos and thought about how my city has been wrecked by development and continues to be further wrecked. My apologies if I have caused offence.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Kyoto streets by day

Following-on from my last post of Kyoto at night, this post shows sights that one encounters wandering Kyoto’s streets during the day. When selecting the images, I have intentionally ignored the shrines and temples for which Kyoto is famous, choosing instead to show aspects of the city that one may encounter moving between the more famous attractions.

Kyoto is a great walking city and will reward those with the time and energy to meander through its streets and laneways. As well as getting a better feel for the city, one may find hidden gems the equal of the more popular tourist sites.

The shots do not require explanation, but let me make some observations nevertheless. Arashiyama (pic 1) is simply a delightful place to spend time and should be a must-see on any trip to Kyoto. The bridge in pic 5 is wider than it appears, but not recommended for those who may have had one too many drinks. Above the tunnel (pic 7) is the Keage Incline – a popular and magnificent place to view Sakura during the cherry blossom season. My apologies to the taxi driver (pic 8), though I can report that he was amused at walking into the picture. Although the dish hails from Hiroshima, Kyoto’s okonomiyaki (pic 11) is worth trying. Last but not least, the parked car (pic 16) was one of the more amusing examples of creative parking I came across, albeit not conducive to a quick getaway.

Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy these little windows into the real Kyoto.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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By the Kamogawa (Kyoto)

 

The Kamogawa flows through Kyoto and translates literally to Wild Duck River. At only 31 kilometres, it is a relatively short river with its source in the nearby mountains around Mount Sajikigatake. Kamogawa is locally regarded as a gift from the gods and considered to be one of Kyoto’s natural treasures.

I always enjoyed my strolls by the river and it is easy to understand why it is a much-loved location for people to relax and enjoy the company of friends. The photographs shown here were taken around the Pontocho area, mostly between the bridges crossing Shijo and Sanjo streets, which is one of Kyoto’s prime entertainment precincts. Whilst it is naturally busiest during weekends and evenings, one would generally find people strolling or sitting quietly by the river at other times.

Kamogawa suits Kyoto with its quiet energy, thus further enhancing the charm and warmth of this traditional Japanese city.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

 


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Crossing Paths

Perhaps the greatest joy of travelling is the opportunity to meet new people. Even though most meetings are short and one-time occasions, they nevertheless leave an impression that stay with us long after we return home.

In this post I show some of the people I met or encountered on my visits to Japan. Most images were shot with the subject’s permission and a few were irresistible photographic opportunities. There are many more shots in the archive, but I chose to limit myself to twenty selections based entirely on my personal preference.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Tokyo Station

My first visit to Tokyo was during the time Tokyo Station was undergoing significant refurbishment and I recall being disappointed that the station’s glories were hidden behind scaffolding and screens. When I returned the second time my disappointment continued and I was mentally associating Tokyo Station with the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which I had visited when it too was shrouded from view. Perhaps I’ve discovered my superhero skill!

However, timing is everything and a few days later when I again passed through Tokyo Station, the scaffolding and shrouding was gone and a beautifully restored station could again be appreciated. Everyone seemed to be stopping to look, even locals, many of whom probably used the station every day.

I don’t know how Tokyo Station compares statistically to other Japanese and international stations, nor do I wish to know. What I do know is that for such a large station I have always found it quite easy to navigate, primarily due to good signage in both Japanese and English. Nevertheless, upon viewing the restored exterior for the first time, I must admit to being a little surprised at its architectural style. My first impression was that it did not appear to be very Japanese and would not be out of place in western cities.

First impressions are, however, prone to mellowing when one has had time for reflection and so it was in this instance, especially when viewed from above. The station fits its surroundings and the more I reflected, the more I came to the view that it is a quite imperial structure befitting its close proximity to the Imperial Palace.

Several of the photographs were taken from the rooftop of the Kitte Shoka shopping centre opposite the station, which allowed one to more fully appreciate the quality of the restoration work and see detail that would not have been possible from street level. Whenever I can access an elevated position, I always regard it as a photographic treat. The detail shots (e.g. pics 7, 8 & 10) show, in my opinion, exceptionally good craftsmanship. The copper work is sublime and as the copper patinates with age and acquires those wonderful greens that come with patination, the aesthetic will change progressively and the station’s character will similarly change.

The crowning glory (pic 8) is, of course, the domes – simply magnificent! These were destroyed during the 1945 bombings and not replaced until now. Whilst it has taken a long time, it has been worth the wait and as well as being true to the original design, they add an important Japanese element that will surely become a defining feature of the Marunouchi skyline.

When visiting Tokyo, don’t rush through this station. Take the time to enjoy it.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Kyoto Station

First time visitors arriving at Kyoto Station could be both impressed and surprised when they disembark at Kyoto’s large and ultra-modern central station. Anyone expecting the station to match Kyoto’s reputation as Japan’s cultural jewel is likely to be surprised at the towering, futuristic edifice that is Kyoto Station.

The station is Japan’s second biggest station building and at 470 metres in length and fifteen storeys tall is also one of the nation’s largest buildings. Typical of large Japanese stations it is more than just a station and also incorporates the ten storey Isetan department store, a large underground shopping mall, a hotel and several local government facilities. Welcome to Kyoto – starting with a little bit of culture shock.

Its central location, with the main exit on the Karasuma side exiting directly into downtown Kyoto, establishes the station as not only a transportation hub, but also a general community hub.

In this post I have attempted to give readers some idea of its impressive architecture with several photographs of the main concourse (pics 5 to 8) combined with other shots that play with the “meeting place” role served by stations everywhere. I was always amused by Platform 0 (pic 3) as I can’t think of another platform zero I’ve come across, though I readily admit to not being expert on train stations.

Have you noticed that crowd shots often throw-up a person who immediately catches the eye? For example, in pic 9 “Over there!” we have the gentleman at bottom centre pointing and mouthing directions to another person out of shot. Or maybe he was telling me not to take his photo – sorry! It is enjoyable to have a bit of fun titling such photos and, of course, it is pure speculation on my part, but pics 12 to 14 suggest widely contrasting emotions. The young woman at pic 12 has the worried, confused look of someone who may have been stood-up; whereas the woman in pic 13 is a study of calm and patience; and at pic 14 we have a woman who clearly knows where she is going. Look at the woman and station guard at pic 10 “How can I help” engaged in an apparently earnest conversation. I wonder what about?

I fondly remember Kyoto Station as the starting point of many trips and the source of nourishment when returning late at night and I hope this post gives others some insight into a magnificent modern building that serves as the doorway to one of the world’s greatest cultural cities.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Homeless in Tokyo

When travelling it is easy (and not at all unreasonable) to seek out pleasurable experiences and pay little attention to social issues that may be of greater concern to us in our home cities.

Homelessness is an issue that seems to be common across all countries and the more highly developed and relatively affluent societies such as Japan are not exempt. This may come as a surprise given Japan’s homogeneity in class terms where it is estimated that more than 90% of Japanese people are deemed to be middle-class. In many other western societies, a rate of 90% would be considered a thing of the past and an unattainable dream in today’s world where western governments are disproportionately influenced by corporate rather than societal concerns.

Nevertheless, people fall through the cracks in all societies and it is estimated that Tokyo alone has more than 5000 homeless – mostly men over 40, many of whom are likely victims of changes to Japan’s corporate culture where Salarymen (and women) can no longer assume that loyalty will be rewarded with jobs for life.

I did not seek out photographs of the homeless, though with the benefit of hindsight it would have been an interesting project. One must be sensitive to individuals’ needs and for this reason I tended, in most instances, to resist taking such shots. However, in terms of general observations, I was never troubled or approached for money by homeless persons in Japan, something that certainly does not apply in my hometown. It was also noticeable that they were, in effect, not noticeable on city streets, at least during the day. One would encounter homeless people sleeping rough around subway stairs at night, but during the day I mostly came across the homeless in parks, where they would sit quietly and contemplatively on the benches. Their possessions would, for the most part, be stowed away in less obtrusive areas of the park.

The convention seemed to be that people leave the homeless alone and vice versa. Whether such mutual respect and tolerance will continue if the issue worsens is difficult to predict. In fact, the only time I recall seeing the homeless openly express some anger was in Kyoto prior to a long holiday weekend when the police were not allowing the homeless to settle in the vicinity of Kyoto Station.

All the selected shots were taken in parks; some in Ueno Park – a very popular recreational area, particularly at weekends when families flock to visit the nearby zoo, galleries and museums. Others were shot in a smaller park across the road from Tokyo’s billion-dollar Metropolitan Government Building, an irony impossible to ignore. Indeed, pic 3 shows a rather forlorn homeless person resting within the forecourt of the Government Building.

Of the other images I wish to comment on only the first (pic 1) and the last (pic 10), in that I personally consider these images to be the most powerful. When I shot Bed is a Park Bench (pic 1) and checked the image on my camera’s screen, my first instinct was to adjust the exposure and shoot a second image. Fortunately this instinct was quickly replaced by the realisation that the image was far more powerful as shot and did not require a face to communicate the hardships faced by homeless persons. Similarly, Not Quite Alfresco Dining (pic 10) shows a person who has seemingly become inured to eating most if not all their meals in public view and foregoing the dignity that we take for granted.

If this subject and/or images have upset anyone, I do apologise, but the subject is real and alive wherever we live and I hope this post will encourage viewers to pause and reflect.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Karesansui

Karesansui is the Japanese word for dry landscape gardens. Introduced to Japan as landscape concepts from China and Korea around the seventh century, the form progressively evolved to take on a distinctive Japanese style. To borrow a relatively modern terminology, karesansui may be described as minimalist in their design, an approach consistent with the Japanese view that frugality is virtuous.

Karesansui are gardens for the mind, designed to encourage contemplation and meditation. From my experience of viewing karesansui I can certainly attest to their ability to induce a contemplative state of mind. Alas, my meditative skills are very limited, but one can imagine such environments being conducive to intense meditation for skilled practitioners.

I regret not having spent more time visiting and photographing karesansui, but in this post I offer a selection of shots from Kyoto’s Ryoanji and Ginkakuji temples. Ryoanji is considered to be the finest example of dry landscape gardening and Ginkakuji’s expansive Sea of Silver Sand and large (Mount Fuji) sand cone is quite unforgettable.

Photographs are a poor substitute for the real experience, but I hope you will experience a little appreciation of these wonderful and enduring gardens.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Streets of Asakusa

To conclude this series of posts on Asakusa I have selected shots to show what visitors may typically see if strolling the streets of this interesting and often quirky area.

Designed by Phillipe Starck, the renowned French designer, the “Flamme d’Or” (Flame of Gold) atop Asahi’s Super Dry Hall (pics 1 and 2) is difficult to miss. The Super Dry Hall takes the shape of a beer glass and is quite architecturally striking in its own right, but absolutely unmissable with the 300 ton Flamme d’Or perched like a crowning glory. The building to the left is the Asahi Beer Headquarters, with the complex of buildings occupying the site where Asahi started brewing beer over 100 years ago.

Visitors will usually spend some time walking through Shin-Nakamise (pics 4 to 7), an undercover arcade running parallel to the more famous Nakamise Dori approach to Sensoji Temple (refer to previous post).

On the outside streets there is much to catch the eye. The Nimi building, or as I prefer to call it, the Tea Cup building (pic 8) presents as an eccentric novelty. However, it is actually in keeping with Asakusa’s hosting of many businesses supplying product to the hospitality sector, an example of which is a vendor’s display of takeaway food trays (pic 9).

Translation is always good for a laugh and although the antique shop’s wares (pic 11) appear interesting, my attention was initially caught by the misspelt word (“planing” rather than “planning”). Nonetheless, I freely admit that their attempt is much better than I could manage if operating in reverse.

Tokyo must go close to being the Starbucks capital of the world (pic 15) and yes I did succumb to taking a break and enjoyed looking out over Asakusa life from an upper level vantage point. Just as Starbucks is everywhere in Tokyo, so are bicycles (pic 16) and titling the shot as “bicycle calamity” is probably unkind. What most impressed me about this and other bicycle parking I observed in Japan was the general absence of security devices to prevent theft. I read recently that one of the reasons for the low crime rate in Japan is the high proportion of travel made on foot or by bicycle and perhaps there is some credence to this argument.

I felt a bit sorry for the rickshaw operator being passed by the cyclist at pic 17, as it is was hardly a fair contest in “power to weight” terms. It never ceased to amaze me how fit the rickshaw operators are and their ability to maintain conversations with their clients while jogging along.

I have shown the house at pic 18 in a previous post on concrete buildings and am indulging myself by reposting here as an example of the innovative architecture one finds in contemporary Japanese residences. By contrast, I also offer pic 19 as an example of how small many Japanese residences are.

My farewell to Asakusa is pic 20, which serves to remind that no matter how busy and bustling life can be, water and greenery combine to create opportunities to enjoy tranquil moments.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)