Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


Looking for Old Tokyo – Kagura Cobbles

Kagurazaka is located close to Tokyo Central and given its past as a prominent entertainment district, I had hoped a visit would yield further examples of old Tokyo. This was not to be the case. Whilst I’m sure that with more time one could find some interesting links to old Tokyo, including a number of surviving geisha houses, the Kagurazaka I found was that of a rather fashionable and western-friendly district.

The beauty of travelling is that even when one does not find what one expects, the unexpected is nevertheless interesting. Kagurazaka seems to pivot around its shopping street, which is closed to vehicles around lunchtime each day, thus creating a relaxed pedestrian mall. However, apart from enjoying the relaxed environment, this street held little interest for me.

The interest lay in the side streets and alleys that lead away from the main street and then meander in the manner one comes to expect when walking in Japanese districts where the urban layout seems reminiscent of times past. Indeed, venturing into the side streets is a tad similar to Kyoto’s Gion district where, although the modern world has shouldered its way in, the street layouts allow one to imagine life in the glory days.

For this blog I have selected photographs consistent with my two main impressions of Kagurazaka. My first and strongest memory was that of the cobblestoned streets and alleys, a street surface that may be cursed by cyclists, yet is invariably appealing in the aesthetic sense and immediately creates atmosphere. Although today’s cobblestones are unlikely to be original, they succeed in slowing the pace of life a little and at the same time hint at the district’s interesting past.

My second main impression was that the district felt western-friendly, predominantly due to the variety of restaurants tucked away in side streets. I later learned that Kagurazaka has a reputation for being Tokyo’s French Quarter and is home to two French schools. The accompanying photographs show a small selection of the eating and drinking establishments in the area.

Visitors to Japan will certainly have noticed the very popular pachinko parlours and may have also noticed the smaller and more discreet TUC shops included in pic 7. As the title “Cashing in” implies, these venues allow players to exchange their pachinko tokens for cash, thereby getting around Japan’s gambling regulations. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, pic 8 shows a small street shrine allowing people to worship or seek some respite from a busy day.

The most unusual of the restaurants shown was “Hajimeno Ippo” – Tokyo’s first garlic restaurant. Whilst I doubt I would be paying a visit, it seems well placed in the French Quarter and I believe it can often take some time to get a booking.

Revisiting Kagurazaka for this blog post has made me realize that I will revisit in person when next in Tokyo to look for those old Tokyo remnants I sense are there to be found.

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


Ginza (part 2)

In part 2 of my post on Ginza I’d like to show there is more to Ginza than beautifully presented stores selling up-market products. Where better to start than with a Ginza institution, Meida-Ya (pics 1 and 2).

Meida-Ya is an up-market grocery store (established in 1885) whose headquarters and flagship store is located in Ginza. Operating under the motto of “The Highest Quality for Everyone Everytime”, the business now operates a network of 12 stores across the Tokyo metropolis and 14 stores elsewhere in Japan, as well as two international stores in Amsterdam and Singapore. A visit to their Ginza store will show adherence to their motto, not to mention the temptation to try some of the goodies on offer.

Despite the dominating impact of the big name brands, there is still room for independent operators to cater to those shoppers looking for individuality and quirkiness. I was quite taken by the two shops shown at pic 3, one catering for a young contemporary market and the other specializing in kimono – the most traditional of Japanese clothing. The birdcage and the coolest umbrella stand (made from a converted violin) (pic 4) draw attention to the store and add further to its individuality.

Those wishing to preserve their credit cards can also find more reasonably priced goods by exploring the quieter side and backstreets, as shown by the small footwear store at pics 5 and 6.

Art galleries are quite numerous in the Ginza area and art lovers could easily spend an interesting day wandering the streets and enjoying the exhibitions on offer. What one finds is naturally dependent on the exhibitions at any given time, though one is likely to find work ranging from jovial Buddhas (pic 8) to antiquities (pic 9). One may even come across some mobile installation art, such as Ugueno (pic 7) parked curbside. I am unsure what the work represents, but I believe it may be an alternative and highly contrasting form of flower arrangement. Whatever the message, it was noticed on the streets of Ginza.

Ginza’s shops and offices support a large workforce, thus creating a demand for bars and restaurants where workers may relax and unwind. Pics 12 to 18 show a sample of the bars and eateries, many of which can be found in Ginza’s quieter streets and laneways.

Walking around Japanese streets, one cannot help but notice the distinctive manhole covers. Rather than cheap, nondescript covers, one frequently comes across eye-catching, decorative covers that enhance the streetscape, such as the cover captured at pic 19. It seems to me that applying this level of attention to such a utilitarian item is yet another way to create pride in local neighbourhoods.

To prove that Ginza is not all gleam and glitter, I have chosen to end this two-part post with pic 20 – a photograph of rubbish awaiting collection. Yes, even Ginza needs to dispose of its rubbish, but as can be seen, it too is very tidy and well organised.

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


Sayonara Sakura (Kyoto)

Sayonara Sakura is my fourth and final post on the cherry blossom season and I hope readers of this blog have enjoyed the images as much as I have enjoyed sharing them.

Once captured, an image is forever and becomes one of those frozen moments from the infinity that is time. This has allowed me the indulgence of posting cherry blossom themed photographs over four weeks, somewhat longer than the real-life experience.

To conclude this series I have selected photographs linked only by the common factor of cherry blossom. Some photos are personal favourites, whereas others revisit and extend previous themes. Allow me to make a few brief observations on select photos.

All the photos were taken in and around Kyoto, with the first photograph showing the Philosopher’s Path – a walk I made many times and a favourite place of mine in Kyoto. This photo best captures the image of the Path that I carry in my mind.

In an earlier post (March 28, 2014) I featured a number of shots taken at the Heian shrine, where the cherry blossom was simply magnificent. I had reluctantly excluded pics 3 and 4 from that post – an exclusion now remedied.

Pics 8 and 9 should be viewed together in that they show diners at different ends of the culinary spectrum, each enjoying views of nearby cherry blossom whilst dining. On the one hand there is the clean, modern lines of a fast-food establishment (pic 8) and on the other (pic 9), a row of high-end teahouses, which I have seen attended by geisha. Two polar dining experiences linked by the sakura.

Another favourite location is Ryoanji and particularly its highly renowned karesansui within a magnificent earthen wall. At pic 13 I have shown the sakura from the other side of the wall – a personal indulgence.

Those who have visited Kyoto will probably have visited the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto’s Gion district. Pics 14 and 15 feature the same sakura tree at the top of the steps near the main entrance. Pic 14 is the view that greets visitors on arrival and pic 15 is the reverse view looking out over Kyoto and its surrounding hills.

I recall an earlier visit to Kyoto where I chose to capture the sunset from Kiyomizudera as my final shots of Kyoto. Somehow the final photograph of this blog seems an appropriate way to bid sayonara to the sakura until next year.

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