Hot and Humid in Japan
I step out of the airport in the afternoon and it's 28˚ and 94% humidity. It's like stepping into a sauna fully clothed after a 17 hour journey. This was to be the pattern for the next week as I ventured down to Kyoto, where it was even hotter, and back to Tokyo. The only relief found in shops, on public transport or through one of the many shaved ice vendors dotted around. I forgot my shorts.
Kyoto is like the polar opposite of Tokyo, except for in temperature. It's a city of 1.5 million, steeped in tradition and religion, and famous for the Geisha houses that sit side-by-side with dozens of buddhist temples and shrines.
One of the most famous temples, especially for photographers, is Fushimi Inari Shrine which is famous for the orange torii gates that form an almost continuous tunnel. The Inari is thought to be the protector of grains, in particular rice and thus sake. In Japan, that meant wealth. Even today the rich, and officials from companies, come to pay their respects. I got up at 4am to get there for dawn and take shots before the crowds arrived.
One can't visit Kyoto without going to the bamboo forest located just outside in Arashiyama. This is a more difficult place to get shots without people so I simply made do and used the people for scale or zoomed in to interesting spots. I particularly like the contrast of the black dead tree sitting in, and almost looking intertwined, with the bamboo.
I was in Kyoto on a Monday, which is traditionally a day of rest for the Geisha who work mostly weekends, so I wasn't expecting to see any. Incredibly I wandered down a side street and bumped into this Geiko coming straight towards me with a gaggle of photographers around her, and her minder busily keeping them at a distance.
Funny story about the guy wearing the Punk t-shirt, I cursed him vociferously when looking at my photos as he managed to get in every single on of them. I briefly considered a photoshop edit but decided to Instagram it as it was. Later that night I was trying to find somewhere for dinner (no mean feat in Japan where the best restaurants are always hidden inside dowdy looking office blocks 2 or 3 floors up, and no signs you can read). Anyway, I found a super local restaurant, in a back street, and halfway through dinner they sat this foreigner beside me at the counter. This tends to happen when you're the only other foreigner in the place. We started talking, he was a musician from Mexico city traveling in Japan after a tour, and we start talking about Geisha, at which point I pull the shot out to show him, and he says "Hey that's me!". Indeed it was - he was still wearing he same t-shirt. These are the sort of encounters that define travel for me, the serendipitous connections you make with people along the way who then stay in your periphery network for many years. I now have a friend in Mexico City who will one day get that message from me to meet up for a beer and some local tips. And of course, if he's ever in Europe...
Japan has so many beautiful things to photograph that this blog could very quickly turn into a book. But one of my favourite things to do there is to just wander the streets and take photos of the people in all their kookiness, cuteness and beauty. The streets of Kyoto.
If meditation was a city then Kyoto would be it. Even though it's over a million people, the gardens, temples and shrines make it feel like a peaceful retreat, one that I would like to experience again without the 100% humidity. And if Kyoto is meditation, then Tokyo is the techno club that smashes into you with full assault on the senses. It's loud, bright, futuristic and constantly moving. It is a city that never sleeps and you can find all kinds of weirdness when you go poking around in the dark corners.