Go to Japan. Learn just a few phrases of Japanese – especially “thank yous” - quite easy to pronounce and probably one of the easier languages to learn. Walk and taxi around Tokyo for a few days. Prior to going read about anime and manga and “Electric Town,” read about the incredible artists Leonardo Erlich and Kumagai Morikazu, read about the fish market, the Hamarikyu Gardens and the boat trip to Asakusa (and its Sensoji Buddhist temple). Discover (in print and pictures) the snow monkeys near Nagano. Read all about Hokkaido, determine what type of Japanese food you might be attracted to. That’s my starting list. I haven’t mentioned Kyoto and Mt. Fuji, etc., but I had a different agenda. Oh, and do some lower body stretching exercises.
Now check out my pictures here:
Long version, to be read if your local library is closed:
I went to Japan to take pictures of monkeys and birds, mostly on the island of Hokkaido. The time to go would generally be January and early February. I went in early March – very cold, but no new snow, and snow cover receding. Still worth it. To get rid of jet leg and immerse a bit into Japanese culture, my son and I stayed 2 ½ days in Tokyo and several days at various places west. Did that work? No amount of sushi gets rid of that much jet lag (nor Udon/Soba noodles, etc.). But glimpses (yes, superficial) of the culture were reveling. Tokyo is like putting your finger in an electric socket. From “Electric Town” to the world-class fish market, to the fabulous parks, a few museums, shrines and Buddhist temples. The streets of this 40 million people metropolis (including environs) are quiet - do they all drive Priuses? – no honking, driving the speed limits. And large swaths of the city are actually walkable (we did about 8 – 9 miles/day). Taxis are doable. No tipping for anybody. The city has the most Michelin stars of any city in the world, but why bother? Most high rises have several restaurants on the bottom several floors, all good and affordable. How can a city this size, with not one visible trashcan on any street, be so clean? Because your candy wrappers and other throwaways are ‘take homes.” So this landscape photographer took a bunch of iPhone pictures.
My first bullet train ride headed west, with stops in Kanazawa, Shirakowa and Nagano (past winter Olympic site), each a bit touristy, but what the heck, I was a tourist. Again – more pictures, including some from my big rig. And from Nagano a train and a bus took us to the site of the fabulously dramatic snow monkeys.
And then bulleted back to Tokyo followed by a brief flight to Hokkaido, and the “real trip” began. Owls and red-crowned cranes and whooper swans and (a) fox, and deer and steller’s and white-tailed eagles.
My problem: Camera did not function at all well in cold weather below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Burst mode did not work, and often neither did continuous focus. Had to constantly turn off the camera, take out the battery and start over. So I lost a lot of potential shots. Still exciting. One 24-hour day of sleet-type rain caused flooding and snow melt, with closed roads – but I still shot crane pictures. I am home and sending my rig to Sony.
My observations: Mr. Ando runs the equivalent a B&B on the island. He and his wife and friends built a lodge-home and separate gallery themselves, he learned to play the guitar in the 70’s by listening to R&R records 1000 times each; he now collects guitars. He is a photographer, speaks English, became a woodworker, jewelry maker, storyteller, motorcycle collector and rider and a tourism promoter (+ other stuff). But he seems to be an outlier. Or maybe there are millions like him? Of course I don’t know for sure. Still there is conformity. Cleanliness seems to be an obsession – the taxi drivers wear suits and white gloves. At least 1/3 of the people were surgical masks for various reasons. The fantastic toilets have heated seats (I once sat on one at a home/B&B at night just to warm up because sleeping on the floor with an outside temperature of less than 20 was getting to me), shoot out water streams at various angles and intensities, make rushing water sounds at programmable volumes, produce pleasant aromas and are self-cleaning. The “shoe thing” is genuine for them and a huge aggravation for me. I had only hiking shoes and boots with laces and hooks – difficult to take on and off, especially because there was nowhere to sit and untie them and nowhere to set your foot to re-lace them. But the floors and mats stay clean.
Almost no one involved in infrastructure (sales people, pharmacists, hotel workers, taxi drivers - even the hotel concierge) – speak English. Hotels have beds but houses have mats. The sinks are low. Sitting on floors to eat definitely affected this older body with two artificial hips in place.
That is the “low down.” I touched the surface of Japan. I was there in 1963. Now I want to go back before another 55 years for sure.
Now check out my pictures here: