This post on beautiful Tokyo is long overdue following a week there in December 2012 with one of my best travel buds, my Dad. We were lucky to catch both the Emperor’s birthday – with a rare entry into the Imperial Palace – and the madness of a Comiket fair. We explored Ginza, Harajuku and everywhere in between. Other highlights included…
Sumo: The time of year meant we missed the Tokyo Tournament, so we organised a visit to a wrestling stable via the IJCEE. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. If you’re in Tokyo, you really can’t miss this.
Shinjuku: Shinjuku was my favourite neighbourhood, home to Golden Gai bar area and the stunning Park Hyatt hotel, which hosts the New York Bar & Grill where you can create your own Suntory moments.
Meiji: Another highlight was not just the serene Meiji Shrine itself, but the Meiji Shrine at the weekend with all the gorgeous traditional Japanese weddings parading through its courtyard, one after the other.
Music: Japan takes its music seriously, reflected in Tokyo’s world class jazz venues. We spent a couple of great evenings at Tokyo Blue Note and the Pit Inn. For a country I’ve always associated with cutting edge technology, it surprised me that the trade in second hand records is truly alive and well. Disk Union stocks literally every record that has ever been produced.
On that note, my final recommendation. Pick up a copy of the ‘Lost in Translation’ soundtrack (awesome Xmas present!). I’m just listening to it while pulling together this post. It feels like I’m right back wandering through the alleys of Golden Gai. Failing to be more original or witty, I’ve named this blog post after my favourite track on the CD – the 1971 song ‘Kaze Wo Atsumete’ (‘Gather the Wind’) by the band Happy End. Enjoy!
Recently got back from Taiwan. What an awesome place. What struck me first was how lovely Taiwanese people are – really welcoming and super helpful. Then there is the awesome food, which merits its own paragraph below. Ladies, Taipei is also awesome for shopping. I totally overindulged my partiality for scarves in Ximending and the night markets, preferring Shida to Shilin for clothes. Whenever you need a pit stop, temples abound. And to top it all off, in October the weather was simply…awesome!
Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou, China
I always love visiting Shanghai. Here’s a collection of shots from Shanghai and nearby Suzhou and Hangzhou. I’ve been asked for a few Shanghai recommendations recently, so here’s my top three:
- Visit the Propaganda Poster Art Centre – an awesome collection of Chinese propaganda through the decades in a converted basement apartment.
- Have a drink on top of the Hyatt on the Bund for the best views of the Huangpu river.
- Stay at the Astor House Hotel for a glimpse of old Shanghai with the old wooden floors and stained glass windows.
And of course, make the trip to nearby Hangzhou and Suzhou.
I get asked a lot about the pollution in Beijing. Not being particularly outdoorsy and having lived in polluted cities, I’m usually the last person to pay much attention. But there was a day last autumn when walking out of the office, I was reminded of the smell of my grandparents’ old coal fireplace. It was the day the central heating was switched on and the coal-fired power stations were clearly in overdrive. A few months ago I was rather caught by this Foreign Policy photo essay on the Beijing smog. Here are my own days of contrast. Both unedited photos were taken from my office, the smoggy day in March 2012 and the clear day in May 2012.
Below was taken at the Chengdu Panda Research Base. There are so many pandas here you’d almost forget how endangered they are. Total pandamonium. Having said that, they really are the most chilled-out looking animals chewing on their bamboo – all 12kgs per day – like old pot-bellied men might smoke their pipes. And baby pandas? The cutest things ever!
Gansu and Xinjiang, China
I’ve ended up in Xinjiang a couple of times this year. The first trip was to the beautiful Nalati grasslands. For the second trip we followed the old Silk Road starting in western Gansu and finishing in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The first stop was Dunhuang, home to the amazing Mogao Caves. Photography wasn’t allowed, but I can assure you that the thousand-year-old paintings were truly stunning. Indeed, as our guide kept repeating ‘So vivid! So fresh!’ Next stop in 2012? Kashgar, I hope.
Route travelled: Dunhuang, Liuyuan, Turpan, Urumqi
I can spend hours (and hours) sifting through photos, not least those taken by other people for a little inspiration. Let’s call it ‘siftspiration.’ I’ve created a new category along these lines, aimed at highlighting other people’s work that I think is worth checking out if you happen to enjoy sifting as much as I do.
First stop? The BBC News ‘In Pictures’ section run by picture editor Phil Coomes who also maintains a really cool blog covering various aspects of photography as a student and professional. I was indeed once so inspired I submitted the below photo which made their ‘Traffic‘ week of their ‘We set the theme.’ Happy sifting!
Guangxi Province, China
And in keeping with the season, winter greetings! This photo was shot on a very chilly trip through Guangxi Province, China in February 2008. The winter of 2007/8 was apparently the coldest winter in 100 years. Everything – from flowers to furniture – was encased in ice. Even after visiting Alaska for nine years, I had never seen anything like it. It was rather how we imagined Narnia might look.