johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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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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2014 Favourites

As 2014 draws to an end, it is natural to become somewhat reflective and for my final blog for this year, I thought I would select my favourite shot from each month’s posts.

This was more difficult than I had thought. Each photo is a memory and some months had several favourites. However, changing the rules on New Year’s Eve does not bode well for 2015 resolutions, so I stuck to the task and made my selections.

There is no theme. They are simply my selections for a variety of reasons and no further commentary will be made, except to say they are shown in chronological order (January to December) should anyone wish to visit the original posts.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported my blog this year and I hope the photos and stories have brought you as much pleasure as they have brought me.

I wish you all a safe and happy New Year and my best wishes for the year ahead.

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


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Harajuku

I first heard of Harajuku long before I visited Japan through the term Harajuku girls. The term is used to describe those (predominantly teenage girls) who enjoy dressing in theatrical costumes to take on the aura of real or fictional characters.

In the past Harajuku was a gathering point for this genre, particularly at weekends and although they are still to be seen, it would seem the popularity of garish dressing is on the decline. The area’s popularity inevitably attracted the attention of large international chain stores, which now compete with the edgier independent fashion stores for the patronage of the fashion and trend-conscious youth market. Nevertheless, Harajuku remains very much a youth oriented area and a major hub for youth culture and fashion.

Geographically, Harajuku is a relatively small area roughly covering the area between Harajuku Station and Omotesando, a more up-market area where one can find many high-end luxury brands. At this point, I should acknowledge that those who know Tokyo well would recognise that some of the photographs in this post are within Omotesando. However, geographic boundaries are often blurry and they are included as being more Harajuku in style.

Most people travel there by train and the first view is from the station platform (pic 1) looking directly down Takeshita Street, the must-see inclusion in any visit to Harajuku. Exiting the station, follow the pedestrian crossing (pics 2 & 3) directly to Takeshita Street, which is really more of a laneway with shops (pics 4 to 6) on either side. Be prepared for a crowd if visiting on a weekend (pic 7), though during the week there is more room to move (pics 8 & 9).

It’s a good place for people watching and one encounters interesting casts of characters such as those in pic 8. There is the Salaryman in his business suit seemingly interested in nothing but his mobile phone; the young attractive woman presumably wanting to be noticed and the young guy on the left who maybe doesn’t want to be noticed. This assortment of characters is typical of Tokyo where, no matter what an area’s dominant demographic might be; one invariably finds a cross-section of people from different walks of life, including those with interesting pets (pic 11).

The area also has entertaining buildings worth a second look. We often hear that land is scarce in Tokyo and perhaps one should not be too surprised to find a three-level café built from (or at least inspired by) shipping containers (pics 12 & 13).

Another standout building is The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art (pics 14 & 15), one of Tokyo’s leading contemporary art galleries. I recall turning my head when I first drove past in a taxi upon my arrival and immediately made a mental note to find the place again. As well as attracting attention to the Museum, one must applaud their promotion of art in this way. If one is wondering what the faces are looking at, the answer is on the other side of the street (pic 16). By the way, pics 16 to 18 are what I meant by Harajuku style in Omotesando.

To conclude this little walk through Harajuku I could not resist snapping the photographer on an overpass setting up his large frame camera (pic 19). What was he photographing? The Sunday afternoon crowds outside Harajuku Station of course (pic 20).

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


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Ginza (part 1)

The young woman (pic 1) exiting Ginza Station is about to emerge at the famous Ginza Crossing, the heart of Ginza and probably the most expensive real estate in Tokyo.

In English, Ginza translates to silver mint and was indeed the location for a silver-coin mint built in 1612. At that time the area was vastly different from today with its traditional wooden buildings and narrow streets. Two events impacted significantly on its transformation, namely the enlightenment of the Meiji Restoration period and the great fire of 1872. Decisions to adopt brick and stone as building materials and the widening of Chuo-dori from 15 to 27 metres, thus created Tokyo’s first boulevard and provided the foundation for the nation’s entrepreneurs to create the Ginza we know today.

Ginza Crossing or, to be more correct, the Ginza 4-chome intersection, is the area’s hub. On one corner is the San-ai building (pics 2 and 3), a tubular glass building housing a variety of businesses, as well as prominent advertising signage. Le Café Doutor occupies the first two levels, with the upper level being an excellent vantage point for people watching over coffee. Unfortunately, the best seats are in the smoking area, so I have not had the pleasure of lingering there to enjoy the view.

The WAKO Department Store with its famous Seiko clock atop the building dominates another corner. This is perhaps the most recognised of the Crossing’s corners (pics 4 and 5) and WAKO has enjoyed loyal patronage since its inception in 1868.

Diagonally opposite WAKO on the third corner is the Nissan Gallery (pic 6), a somewhat unusual yet interesting space where one can peruse displays of Nissan’s latest vehicles. Nissan’s head office is also located in Ginza, thus reminding us that the area is a business centre and not just a retail and entertainment hub.

The fourth corner is occupied by the Mitsukoshi Department Store, which I understand is the oldest of Japan’s major department stores and the starting point for the Mitsui Group, which operates globally across a range of diverse industries. During my visits to Japan I formed a liking for Mitsukoshi over the other major stores and it is somewhat embarrassing not to have a photograph to round out the four corners. It’s on the list for next time.

If one was to include the word Ginza in a word association test, one suspects a frequent response would be “shopping” or similar terms. There is no question that it deserves its place among the world’s great shopping and entertainment precincts, as can be appreciated from the brand names at pics 9 to 21. This is not an exhaustive coverage, but suffices to demonstrate the esteem in which Ginza is held among the world’s top designers and popular global brands.

One of my favourite photos is pic 7, where two generations under the protective cover of their brollies pass on the sidewalk. Each group seems immersed in their own conversations, though I find it amusing that the older ladies have the more colourful brollies.

In this post I have focused on showing glimpses of the well-known Ginza and without the stores depicted here, there would be no Ginza as we popularly think of it. However, there is more than glitz and glitter to Ginza and in my next post I will share some images taken around the area’s quieter streets.

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