Tokyo Day 1

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The next few blog entries that will be going up will be a recount of my trip to Tokyo. It won’t contain a whole bunch of “touristy i was there” kind of photos (I have Facebook for that), but more of the thoughts and feelings I had while exploring Tokyo. I’ll intersperse a few photos I took for that particular day as well. So I apologize in advance if the next few entries might seem like they ramble and go on for much longer than the usual entries I’ve posted in the past.

My 8 day trip to Tokyo was spontaneous, unplanned and it was my first time travelling alone. I was feeling rather depressed the week before I flew out, and decided on Sunday that I had to take a trip somewhere. On Monday morning I decided that it was gonna be Tokyo and scrambled to get my flight and some accommodation booked. By Monday evening I was set for a Tuesday flight! Talk about spontaneous.

I think it was about 7am when I arrived in Tokyo after a 6-8 hour flight (my memory is slightly fuzzy about this) and I remember being super excited that I’m actually in Tokyo! Tokyo is like a street photographer’s dream, next to NYC, and to be here on a photo trip felt amazing! Let’s just skip the boring bits during immigration, but I just have to share what happened during the customs screening.

The young chap (he looked to be my age) asked in faltering English if I was in Tokyo alone and for how long I would be staying here. When I answered “yes for 8 days” he immediately perked up. All I could think of was, “this must be racial profiling. Young man, alone, Muslim.” and I think I was right. I was the only one I could see from the flight who had to empty my bags for a screening. But he was really polite about it though. After I had shoved everything back into my bag, he asked if I knew how to get to my hostel. It was just amusing that’s all.

The counter for the Kessei Skyliner was right outside the arrival gates and I bought my ticket. I totally forgot that each ticket had a specific time for the train you are supposed to board and it’s not any time you feel like it. I took the 7.45am train instead of the 8.30am train that I was supposed to take. Haha I was that excited to get to Tokyo! The view from Narita Airport to Nippori station was awesome. Just like in Japan Hour. Clear blue skies, open fields and quaint houses dotted the railway line.

I arrived at Nippori station, at about the same time the rush traffic was about to end, so the station wasn’t as packed as I thought it would be. I couldn’t really figure out how to use the ticket gantries to transfer to the JR Yamanote line to get to Ikebukuro. Apparently you need to insert the Kessei ticket into the machine and tap your Suica card after that. It was a good thing I didnt throw away my ticket stub. Thankfully the JR train wasn’t packed as well, cos I had my huge backpack with me and it would have been super inconvenient to the passengers.

Once at Ikebukuro,I followed the map that I printed from Sakura Hotel’s website. I cannot stress enough how happy I was with my dorm room at Sakura Hotel. If you ever visit Tokyo, I highly recommend staying with them. The dorms are clean (well this actually depends on your roomies, but luckily mine were alright) and the facilities like shower and toilets were clean too. Only gripe is the lack of space to put your stuff cos there are no cupboards or shelves of any kind. But other than that, it’s really a nice place to stay. Since I arrived really early (I think it was 9?), I couldn’t check in yet. But the great people at the Sakura Hotel allowed me to put my bag at their storage room while I went out exploring Tokyo.

I walked around Ikebukuro for a bit and found a cat cafe! If you know me personally, you would know that I love cats! So you can imagine my excitement at finding a cat cafe. But I have to say, the cat cafe was a disappointment. The cats couldnt be damned about you (well they’re cats, they can’t give a damn about anything) but I really felt cheated by all the videos you see of cats just lounging on your laps at the cafe and stuff. The cats I saw just lazed around at the top of their trees or in the corner and walk away if you try to pet them. Waste of my money though. But at least I managed to get a massage from one of their massage chairs and charge my phone while I was there. But it was money not well spent at all.

After the cat cafe, I walked around Ikebukuro some more, all the time trying not to look like a damn tourist gawking at everything and being amazed by the streets and people. After a while, I decided to take the JR to Shinjuku and head to the free observatory at the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It was a nice walk underground, but slightly confusing signage though. Finally managed to find the entrance to the observatory after going up a random flight of stairs from the basement. But it’s alright, all part of the experience I guess. I was pretty lucky that the sky had cleared up by that time and I saw a great view of Tokyo. Snapped a few pictures and I went down to the basement where I saw a few restaurants advertising their English menu.

I stepped into a soba shop (this was to be the first out of many soba meals I was to have during my trip) and spoke in halting Japanese that I learned from the iPhone app “watashi wa nihongo ga hanasemasen” meaning “I don’t speak Japanese” and the lady was like “hai! English” and gave me the English menu. Long story short, the soba was amazing. While I was paying, I decided to say “Soba, oiishi” and the lady was like “haaaaaaai arigato!!” and the other 3 ladies at the shop bowed! I was like wow.

From Shinjuku, I transfered to the Odakyu Line and headed to Yoyogi Uehara station to visit Tokyo Camii Mosque. The mosque was beautiful! Did my prayers there and walked around the neighborhood. Nearly got hit by a car because I was standing in the middle of the road taking a photo. What a way to go on your first day. I concluded that the people living in Yoyogi Uehara should be quite rich, as almost everyone was driving a European luxury car.

By the time I was done, it was about 5ish so I thought I’d pop by Shibuya to see the famous crossing. Well it is what it is, with about a gazillion people crossing the road at a time. I was getting pretty tired by then, so I didn’t spend much time there. Took the train back to Ikebukuro and checked into my hostel.

So that’s the end of my first day. Sorry or the rambling entry, but I did warn you at the start didn’t I? Hopefully I’ll have the energy to blog in this detail till day 8. Thankfully I had my journal with me, where I scribbled down notes of where I went at the end of each day because I know this brain of mine has a memory of a goldfish.

Till next time guys. Thanks for sticking till the end.

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Tokyo

Hello friends! Those of you who follow me on Twitter would probably have known that I took a super impromptu trip to Tokyo a few weeks back after a sudden bout of depressing thoughts came over me. I brought along my Lumix G1 and my Minolta to keep me company. I went there with no plans whatsoever and I don’t speak a word of Japanese, so it was quite an adventure.

Luckily I had my friends Jamie and Takeshi in Tokyo, together with Ade and Joanne who were all kind enough to meet up with me.

Well I’m back, with 6 rolls of film and about 1000 digital shots, and I’m still curating all of them. I’m actually yet to develop my films, so those will come much later.

Stay tuned for more in-depth entries of my day to day adventures, but for now I’ll just post a teaser of some of the better (digital) pictures from my trip.

Thaipusam 2011

Thaipusam is an annual procession by Hindu devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks. Celebrated in honour of Lord Subrahmanya (also known as Lord Murugan), who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil, it is held during the full moon in the 10th Tamil month called Thai, which falls during mid-January each year.

Devotees cleanse themselves through fasting and prayers for 48 hours prior to the festival. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi, ranging from pots of milk to elaborate chariots and canopies. Some also pierce their flesh or tongues with hooks and spears as they believe that the greater the pain,  the greater the God-given merit. Some devotees enter a trance during the piercing and procession.

Markets in Singapore

Markets like the night bazaars and wet markets have been a timeless part of the Singapore landscape. Night bazaars tend to spring up every few months in the housing estates or during special occasions like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Deepavali.

Haggling and elastic pricing are part and parcel of shopping at these places.

They’re filled with all sorts of colorful characters hawking wares from carpets, savory snacks and traditional costumes.

Loud hailers and playing dress up are de-rigueur for many stallholders during the bazaar to attract patrons to their stalls.

In recent years in cookie cutter Singapore, wet markets are being phased out in favor of supermarkets. These chain supermarkets offer a larger variety of goods, and sometimes at cheaper prices too. But why lose the allure of the wet market?

Many of us surely remember waking up on Sunday mornings, going for family breakfasts at the neighborhood coffee shop and trudging to the adjoining wet markets. Our parents would arm us with a few 10 cent coins so that we could ride on these ‘kiddy ride’ machines to distract us while they shop for groceries.

Smelly, wet and noisy, these are the things that make the wet market what it is. We have been buying our groceries from the same people for years. It has evolved from a simple weekend business and financial transaction into a personal relationship. It is this personal touch that makes the wet market truly special in most of our hearts.

Without needing us to say anything, the fishmonger will know to cut the fish into 4 slices (for our family of 4) just the way my mum likes it. He remembers which fish my mum prefers and will actually dissuade my mum from buying fish that he thinks my mum won’t enjoy.

The butcher usually greets us with “daging 2 kilo as usual eh kak?” (the usual 2 kilos of meat?). On special occasions, he takes pre-orders from us without the need to pay a deposit. He goes out of his way to order special cuts or marinated meat for us if we inform him a week in advance.

Night bazaars and wet markets hold a special place in many of our hearts because they’re so quaint, with the cacophony of dialects and bantering being tossed around and the personal touch of many of the stallholders. The thrill of haggling for lower prices, the smell of cooked food while mingling with the throngs of other shoppers makes shopping at night markets such an experience. It’s such a departure from the clinical and orderly side of Singapore that stepping into a market feels like taking a step back into the past.