The Japan Expedition - Part 1

I'm in Japan! Holy what?!

Yeah, I'm in Japan. Specifically Tokyo. I was initially going to be coming out here with my girlfriend, as she was invited to give a talk at a Global Leadership summit here in Tokyo, but then we found out that there's NO way I'd see here if I came with (Security reasons). I decided "Screw it, I'm going anyway". The timing is actually perfect, as summer is coming up, and that's when portrait photographers like myself get insanely busy. In the winter time, though, we're a little more quiet. So I figured I'd grab a gap in this calm time before I hit the busy season.

Anyway. I booked a hotel and plane tickets, and boom, I was on my way to Tokyo in no time!

Here's a video of my mission there: 

Alright, so  I've been here for a couple of days, and it's been a really interesting experience. So much has happened to me, I don't even know where to start. It's been a photographic goldmine, a photographic challenge, and a real social/emotional revelation for me. This self portrait does a pretty good job at describing and illustrating how I feel and what my life has been like here, both in what you can physically see, and what it all symbolises.


I hope you're sitting down and have a cup of coffee, I think this is going to be a long one. I'll start off with all the cool stuff, all the photo stuff, the touristy stuff, all the happy stuff, and then if you don't care about my personal life (which I don't expect you to) then you can close the tab after all the good stuff.

My trip started off with a visit to a Shrine called Meiji Jingu. Tokyo has little shrines all over the place. This one isn't so little, though.

 No idea what these are...

No idea what these are...

I'm not going to go into the details, but my visit to this Shrine was a disappointment. I mean, its really beautiful and all, but that's about it. One thing that I DID see at the Shrine was a festival! Not sure what kind but it was awesome. The Japanese have a bajillion dance festivals a year, and they're SO passionate when they dance. Look at these:

Check out the photographer pit. I feel like I got a better angle than all of these dudes. 

Next up was Harajuku. Harajuku is a really interesting place. The people there dress the way you imagine young, anime style japanese people would dress. The guys have their hair in such weird styles, points, etc, and the girls wear such crazy clothes, and they go all out on the makeup and hair as well. The main street that all this happens in is called "Takeshita". 


Here's the challenge with shooting the people in Harajuku though: There are VERY few guys that dress up like this, and the girls always move in pairs or packs. So I can't just go up to 2 or 3 girls and ask to shoot the one that caught my eye, and I don't want to shoot the group of them, and it's WAY too dense to shoot anything candid unless you're using a wide lens (which I don't like). So getting a portrait in there is near impossible. I was back there again today and I still didn't get anything. 

This is the road at the end of Takeshita. There was a HUGE festival IN this road the next day: 


This road is where I did my first real street photography on this trip:


These two women are wearing Kimonos. Believe it or not, Japanese women wear these things often in the summer. How cool is that? I think it looks amazing... 


Homelessness is not something I've seen much of in Tokyo. By "not much of", I mean that I've seen 3 homeless dudes. As a contrast, I probably see that many within about 10 minutes of leaving the house back in South Africa. 


Like I said, Tokyo has a stack of little Shrines all over the place, and they're not far out of the way. In fact, they're usually right in between massive buildings. Look at this:

This is just a portrait I snapped of an old dude I saw sitting on a bench in the street:


Next up - Tokyo Skytree. This thing is STUPID high. 634M. It's a broadcasting tower and a restaurant, and I'm really close to it actually. I can see it from my window. This is a shot I took of it from the bottom: 


Now, see that building on the left there? This is a shot from the 31st floor of THAT building: 

DSC_4704 Pano.jpg

And here's from the viewing deck 350M up Skytree:

On my way home from Skytree, I popped in to Asakusa quick. This place is amazing. It's most well known for the Sensoji Temple. This is the temple with the path leading to it:

DSC_4762 Pano.jpg

The temple itself is so beautiful. Here's another shot of the path and part of the temple: 

I took a brief walk through parts of Asakusa as well. Lots of amazing little alleyways and shrines everywhere

Today I hit an area called Ginza. I'm not going to bother showing you the photos because it's boring. Ginza is pretty commonly known as the shopping capital of the world. High-end clothing designers have entire buildings there. No jokes. Bvulgari is busy with a new, entire building there at the moment. Any designer clothing you can think of, it's there. But I don't give a crap about designer clothing, so I wasted my time in Ginza. I had the best Sweet & Sour pork of my life there, though.

Lastly, a couple more portraits I've taken: 

So that's all the happy, fun stuff. If you're just here to look at photos, then this is where you can close the tab. The rest of this post is going to be about a SERIOUS case of me learning stuff about myself and about what this trip has been like from more than just my eye and shutter finger, but also my heart and spirit.

 Tokyo has been a real struggle for me. On a pretty significant level. I'm pretty sure I've never experienced loneliness like this in my life. Here where that's coming from:

Those of you that know me personally know that I'm a super outgoing, social, loud, extrovert. Chatting to people, even complete strangers, is huge in my life. I don't think a day or two goes by where I don't at least say a FEW words to a total stranger. Then I came to Tokyo on holiday, where absolutely NOBODY speaks any English whatsoever, and I'm confronted with the reality of essentially never speaking, ever. And I'm serious when I say that. The extent of the conversations I've had since I got here has been "Hello" and "Thank you". I had one or two conversations with the reception lady of the hotel, but other than that, I've not spoken. I can't describe what that contrast feels like. It's so, so difficult adapting to that. So that's revealed a lot to me. I'm not really someone that can be alone comfortably. The reason I'm a PORTRAIT photographer makes even more sense now. Heck, even the subway makes me feel lonely and miserable. Look at this:

Along with feeling like this, I feel like my confidence has gone to hell in this country, and I honestly don't know why. I mean, people can't TALK to me, but they seem to like how I look, at least. I've had a number of people compliment and ask me about the sleeve on my right arm, and I even had one dude ask me to be a model for something or other. Yet, I feel like I don't have the confidence to ask people if I can photograph them. 

To put that into perspective for you - in South Africa this isn't a problem for me. In fact, if I see someone in a mall that I think will photograph well, guy or girl, I'll go up to them and say "hey, this is going to be a little weird, but hear me out. I'm a photographer, and I think you'd really photograph well. Take my card and call me, I'll shoot for free and you can have the photos". I'd even tell them they look good/pretty if I felt it necessary. No struggle for me to do that at all. 

Now, I don't ALWAYS need to ask someone, but sometimes I do. The portrait earlier in the post - I obviously had to ask that guy if I could photograph him, and I struggled to. I have no idea why. The FIRST guy I asked, after working to build up that confidence again, shot me down right away. So this is something I'm getting sorted out. I need to do it fast, though, I'm not here for much longer.

So, the self portrait I posted earlier:


It speaks so much of how I'm feeling at the moment, both in what you can physically see around me, and what it all symbolizes:

  1. I'm in a foreign, beautiful place
  2. I'm absolutely, SURROUNDED by people almost all the time, yet I'm lonely
  3. I'm in a photographic dream, a goldmine: I've got amazing gear with which to shoot - D800, D7000, 85mm 1.4, 50mm 1.4, Sigma's new 35mm 1.4 (that's a friend's), 24 2.8, TWO GoPros, and I've even bought some incredible gear since I arrived, and all this is with me, in Tokyo. Frikken Tokyo, man. What more could a photographer ask for?


So yeah, that's where I'm at. I'm feeling a tad better today, and tomorrow I WILL feel better. I'm speaking that over my life right now. I WILL be better tomorrow. 

Hope you enjoyed the read. Let me know what you think.

EDIT: I've since written Part 2 and Part 3. Go check those out!

The Japan Expedition - Part 2

The Japan Expedition - Part 3