Sunrise Country – DAY ELEVEN

After the Ginza and Akihabara experience, this next day was a special one. We have decided that our 5 person group should split in 2 different groups of interest, to cover more of the amazing Tokyo, based on what we intended to visit. The first group went to the Zoo in Ueno, a destination that didn’t bring me much excitement, compared to what I had as an alternative; so the second group, me and my best friend, had a different plan in mind.

Our journey started at Shinjuku Station. It is one of the largest train / metro stations with multiple exits where you could easily get lost. This day was the time when we returned to actually the first place we visited in Japan, since coming from the Narita Airport. This was a destination with a specific purpose.

I wanted to come back to my favorite photo camera shop – Map Camera, in Shinjuku, where I needed to get a new zoom lens, the Fujifilm XF 55-200mm OIS, that I could use for what we had ahead of us in that day.

It was a pleasure to revisit those places; same fervor on the small streets, through the lines of electronic shops. As I feel more attracted to the electronics stores, than those dealing with anime, manga, spare parts and video games, I may find Shinjuku district more interesting than Akihabara.

After completing my photo bag with a new tele zoom lens, we arrived, by train, in our main place of interest: Roppongi Hills. In the center of this district, there is one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo: Mori Tower.

With a height of 238 meters and 54 floors, this building is mostly used for offices. The first floors are reserved for restaurants and shopping galleries and the top floor is dedicated to the Museum of Modern Art and finally, an observation deck, the Sky Deck that is a great place to be.

The Mori Art Museum was using an advertising banner with one of the greatest artwork of the greatest sculptor from my country: Constantin Brancusi and his “golden bird”, standing gracefully as a statement of his creative genius and powerful universal spirit.

We have visited the museum and also the Star Wars exhibition (taking pictures was not allowed) and finally we went to the top floor, the roof observation deck, that also kept the Star Wars theme alive, by playing the orchestral music from the movie and having a chance to get photographed near a very realistic statue of Lord Vader.

But we were there for the view. And what panoramic view over the entire city!

It was my first chance to test my new tele photo zoom lens, up to a maximum of 200mm focal length on my APS-C sensor inside the Fujifilm X-T1. It was exactly what I needed, to get the distant areas of Tokyo, closer into my frame.

I was enjoying switching from my standard zoom lens, with a wide perspective over the panoramic view and the tele zoom lens, when some far away details were captivating for my cityscape panorama series over Tokyo.

It’s much better to let the photos speak for themselves. The sensation and the beauty of the moment are hard to describe in words. I was simply amazed by the immense 360 degree perspective over this urban infinity called Tokyo!

We stayed for almost an hour, contemplating the power of human will in this endless urban endeavor to conquer space, shape it and build it according to a never-ending, more demanding need for habitat space.

We left Mori Tower building with a sense of awe, while starting to discover the vicinity, walking on both large boulevards and the small streets.

During the daylight, we blended ourselves into the cheerful street atmosphere. Lots of people, heavy traffic, busy streets – every corner of every street that I photographed was like a genuine symbol of Tokyo’s energetic life.

After a while, we entered a bar for a refreshing local beer and then started again to explore. But the evening was already falling over the city, as we roamed the streets and interacted with the local people, asking for specific places of interest.

The night was coming fast as I was preparing to get my last set of photographs, documenting the streets and the places we have visited on our route.

It was about time to say “goodbye” to the Roppongi district, as the clock was moving towards the hour of our meeting with the rest of the group.

We thought about what route would be best to take to meet the others, somewhere in Omotesando. We decided we should get to the rally point by foot, as we always appreciated the calm and quietness of the nights, while walking in full security on the small streets of both Tokyo and Kyoto.

We used our map and our route went on a combination of map guidance and geographical instinct, trying to find some shortcuts through Roppongi’s narrow and dark streets. It was a completely safe walk, even if we heard that Roppongi, during the night (in some areas) could be the one zone of Tokyo that offers the least safety feelings, while walking alone in the night.

After a long time of walking on our shortcuts, the streets became wider, more crowded and with more lights and more activity. It wasn’t much longer until we finally reached our friends in the right meeting spot; in front of a restaurant where we intended to have diner altogether. But the restaurant was full with clients who already made reservations, so we tried to find another one. Our group became bigger, since one of our friends met 3 of his Japanese courses colleagues that were already living in Japan for a few months. We finally found a small restaurant that was open and had a long free table for a large group of already 8 persons and the food was delicious.

After the diner, we walked together for a while until our paths went on separate ways. His school colleagues went home and we took a very late night train to Nippori, where our hotel was located – our temporary home in Tokyo. We shared our Roppongi Hills impressions as the others shared their excitement about the Ueno Zoo experience. It was, as usual, a very long day with many kilometres “on board” from our daily Japan prowling discoveries. The next day was already planned; it included a shinkansen ride. Stay close as I will tell you another story of the greatness of Japan!

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2018 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY SEVEN

Cannal

Welcome back to my travel journal. The Day Number Seven was in fact a “day off”. And also the day when I turned 40. This was one of my strongest desires: to spend my 40-year-old birthday in Japan, not alone, but with my wife and best friends. It turned out this wish became reality and I was really happy about that.

Kyoto Streets2

What does it mean a “day off” when you are on vacation anyway? 🙂 It means no precise destinations, no time schedule to follow, no rush, only the Zen attitude and the ability to observe and be happy with everything, enjoy every step in no predetermined direction. And this is exactly what we did.

Kyoto Streets3

Kyoto Streets9

In fact, a free day like that one was ideal for walking, discovering new streets, places, great for street photography (even though it felt like I’ve taken a day off from photography, too), well suited for occasional shopping and perfect for enjoying traditional Japanese food. And enjoying each other’s company, as well.

Kyoto Streets6

Kyoto Streets11

We started as usual, by foot, from home, heading to the center, looking for a place to have a coffee, maybe shopping, without searching for any items in particular.

Kyoto Streets12

Kyoto Streets13

Kyoto Streets15

Even though it is Kyoto we are talking about, I had a feeling of tranquility – a paradox that I have enjoyed discovering : a crowded city in a distinct quietude.

Kyoto Streets18

Kyoto Streets20

Of course this could be a very subjective perception of a man on vacation, in his day off, without the urge to run and solve problems. But the people are calm, they preserve the calmness of their environment, which could be the street, the metro, train or bus. Even here, on this crowded Shijo Dori, which leads you towards Gion, across the Kamo River.

Kyoto Streets21

Kyoto Streets25

After the Shijo Dori walk and after visiting its shops, our steps led us to Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades, a place we already knew, famous for its small boutiques, full of souvenirs, clothing, shoes, accessories, small restaurants, cosmetics, tea products, sweets and so on.

Kyoto Streets23

After that, we arrived in the vicinity of Kyoto Station. Here, there is a superstore dedicated to all fans of electronics: audio, photo, video related products, anything you want, could be found here at Yodobashi Camera. As a travel photographer, I was looking for a neutral density filter for my Fujifilm camera.

Kyoto Streets30

Kyoto Streets33

I have found and bought my filter and while I was there, I was testing a fantastic zoom lens for Fujifilm cameras. If you love those kind of things, it is a tragedy when the time comes to leave the store. There is so much to discover in a place like Yodobashi Camera – you need to dedicate one day to explore every department.

Kyoto Streets34

Kyoto Station is an impressive place to visit. It feels like a heart of public transportation, a place to start a journey, do shopping, eat international, or traditional meals and also a place to meet people. An immense space, so well-organized. People flow through its wide corridors and open spaces like colorful rivers – it is a great place to photograph, too.

Kyoto Station2

Kyoto Station17

Kyoto Station10

Close to Kyoto Station was Aeon Mall, our next destination. A place we have visited before, so it was quite easy to get there, even by taking the small backside streets.

Kyoto Streets35

Kyoto Streets31

Shopping, souvenirs for some dear ones at home, this is a great place to be and to buy whatever you might need. The diversity of products is simply spectacular.

Shopping1

Shopping2

By the time we have finished our adventure at Aeon Mall, it was already night. Our path for going home was by going back to Kyoto Station and wait for the bus to get us to Imadegawa Dori.

Kyoto Streets38

Kyoto Streets40

Kyoto Streets39

Kyoto Station15

Our final target was to find a large table in a very small restaurant, located really close to our home, where we had a traditional Japanese diner for my birthday, with ramen, tempura and ice-cream for dessert, in a very cozy atmosphere. And it was a great evening, with great food in a funny, relaxing ambience. Such a great way to finalize a very peaceful day. We went home, tired, but happy, sharing travel impressions from the closing day, thinking and discussing about our next destination for the day to come, as our first time to leave Kyoto. Where to? Osaka!

Kyoto Station1

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2016 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY ZERO

Fuji San2

I have waited for a long time to catch my breath and get the force to write this story. Well, it’s not quite a story, but more a compendium of my personal impressions of my short journey to Japan.

As a travel photographer, I have quite a few photographs and I still work on them, selecting them, processing them. Sometimes I just leave them as they are, SOOC (straight out of camera). I realize this is not just „another” travel article, like the previous ones. I’d like to put it in a chronological order and maybe tell the world what was interesting in my trip, day by day.

Let’s begin…

The journey to Japan was a dream I was dreaming since I was a teenager. The culture, the traditions, the history, the technology, the so-much-different aspects were like a magnet to me. I had a collection of photos with Japan and from time to time, I enjoyed watching them in a slide-show with some chill-out musical background. A perfect moment to remind myself what is the ultimate traveler dream.

After so many years of waiting, it happened this year. End of April, beginning of May – the perfect time to travel to Japan, in the company of my best friends and what a wonderful opportunity to celebrate my 40th anniversary – There!

From Heathrow – London to Narita Airport – Tokyo, the flight is about 12 hours. You get the chance to watch some new movies during the flight. We were 5 people on this journey. The feeling you are getting close to Japan gets really stronger when you see Mount Fuji from your airplane window. It’s so distant, so hard to photograph, but you know it’s there, like a guardian for this amazing country.

Narita Airport was the place were we exchanged the JR PASS vouchers with the real JR Passes. With such passes you can travel on the Japan Railways by train without worrying about buying tickets. You can reserve places, for free, but we often traveled without reservations in the regular cars. You feel like going to another city? Just get in the train, regular or bullet-train, the famous Shinkansen.

Kyoto Station2

Excepting the Nozomi and Mizuho trains, we could travel with all the other train types on the JR lines. And if you intend to travel more than, let’s say Tokyo – Kyoto (2 way trip), the JR PASS just saves you real money.

Shinkansen1

From Narita Airport we took the NEX line, a modern train that brought us to Tokyo Station. This is a big place underground with so many train and subway connections and this was the place when for the first time we split our group in two. Me and Gabriel needed to go to Shinjuku. The other 3, my wife Anca, Adrian and Diana took the Shinkansen to Kyoto – our first destination and our city of residence for 9 days.

Shinjuku8

Thanks to our JR Passes me and Gabriel took a train to Shinjuku Station. After just a few stations, we were outside, in the middle of an ocean made of people coming from all directions and going to all directions. This was my first step under the Japanese sky, on a hot and sunny day. Our destination? Map Camera.

Map Camera2

This is the place were my favorite camera store is placed. Thanks to my friend from Tokyo (professional photographer), I had a reservation made on my name, for a brand new camera and pro-grade zoom lens. And Map Camera was the right place, after comparing prices, shops, locations – thanks to the useful info I got from Bellamy from Japan Camera Hunter (many thanks!).

We took out our maps, smartphones with GPS and made our way to Map Camera, in a zone full of electronic stores. Here you can find Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera – which are huge stores with plenty of photo equipment, but I find them more expensive. By foot, Map Camera is not far from the station. The people we ask for directions were very polite and helpful.

Map Camera Gabi

Map Camera is a special place. A store on 5 floors I guess, each floor created for specific camera brands : Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Fujifilm, Sony, Panasonic, Leica. Gabriel was interested in Canon accessories (having his famous Canon 5D Mk2 with EF 17-40mm f4 L) and I was interested in Fujifilm (having on me just the small, but IQ powerful Fuji X100S). My reservation was for a brand new mirrorless Fujifilm X-T1 paired with a professional zoom, the fantastic Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R WR, but more on this in a separate, dedicated article. The people from Map Camera were kind, leaving you the feeling you would certainly come back to their store with great pleasure (which I did). As a tourist, I got my photo gear tax free, based on my passport.

Shinjuku1

We left the store with a big smile on our faces, scouted the area for a while. So may stores that sell everything that requires electricity and the place is crowded with people, even at noon. But we had to got back to Shinjuku Station and get the Shinkansen to Kyoto and join our friends. We followed the same route and arrived in Tokyo Station.

Shinjuku Day10

We wanted to be sure we’ll have our seats reserved so we took the reservation and got into a train, the Hikari type. Coping with fatigue, we were pleased than things just went according to our plan. According to Hyperdia, the website you want to check for train timetables, the trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, with Hikari Shinkansen takes 164 min. Not “so bad” for a distance of 514 km. This trip, without the JR PASS, would cost 8.210 yen (a little over 60 euros). And the ride was indeed smooth, fast and very comfortable. Plenty of space for our tired legs. We wished we had the same space in the airplane!

Shinkansen2

By the time we arrived in the huge and crowded Kyoto Station, the night felt rapidly over the city. We went outside, stayed in the line, waiting for a taxi and got inside the spacious car. Our ride was about 1.700 yen (about 13 euros), not until the driver tried for almost 10 min to figure out our destination, even if we had a map, an address, a number, a name, both in English and Japanese.

Kyoto Station3

It seems they use a system of landmarks, an internal map of important points, buildings, names and institutions. If you say your hotel name or you live just in front of the hospital, it’s easier than having the complete address. Our accommodation was not in a hotel, but in a building with apartments to rent. After all this mental calculations, the driver started the engine and he seemed pretty determined and sure about our destination and its location.

Kyoto Station1

When we arrived, Adrian was waiting for us in the street, in front of our building so it was quite easy. We payed the driver (of course the „keep the change” system does not work in Japan – you get your change everywhere and you pay just the exact amount you have to pay – fair and square), took our luggage and rejoined the group in one of our super-small rooms, that kind of room that gives you the feeling you live on a cheap ferry-boat. It was perfect!

To Kyoto1

It was the time for a quick meal from Family Mart and a local beer, Asahi (remember – Family Mart is your friend, as one of the best convenience stores in Japan). We shared our first impressions – we were really tired, but happy. This was our first night in Japan – I should call it “day zero”. The adventure was about to begin, only after a good night recovering well-deserved sleep.

Day One was just around the corner, waiting for us to wake up …

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2015 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com