Monday, August 27, 2012

Japan, Life, and Why I Blog

I suppose this is a topic worth visiting, and a timely one at that.
Here is a question I ask myself way too often,
"Why do I keep this culture blog?"
Which leads to the more important question,
"Why do I travel?"
Sure the obvious response echos back, "Why not?", but this is not something to be taken for granted. Most Americans don't even own a passport, much less have traveled overseas (Canada and Mexico are the countries most frequented by Americans, for obvious reasons). I usually can't enter into a conversation with my fellow Americans without receiving questions on how I can afford to travel, or how I find the time to travel, or how I could possibly travel alone. 

Well, to begin a discussion on how I got where I am, I believe it is worth a brief visit to my past.

In 2002, I ventured to Japan for the first time. In 2012 I returned to the very place that redirected the course of my life. No, not Tokyo, I'm talking about a little town one hour northeast of the big city, a town called Tsukuba. In one of those rare opportunities, I accompanied my friend, an international student in our middle school, to her home town over the summer preceding high school. This was the birth of my passion for Asia, and my love for traveling. Before this trip I had never even considered the possibility of living outside the U.S., of making an endless list of countries to visit, or of studying a foreign language (it's pathetic how much I took my Greek heritage and language for granted at the time, but it's the truth I'm afraid).

My parents let me borrow their expensive (and high-tech-for-2002)  Olympus camera during this trip, which allowed me to take these photographs. That was not a digital camera, mind you, as digital cameras were unknown to me at the time. Oh no, this was an old-fashioned film camera, the kind you have to take to the drug store to develop. This detail may seem trite, but it is worth mentioning, because with the luxury of digital cameras, I left Reykavik in 2011 with over 900 photos, which were carefully filtered, photo-shopped and edited. In 2002 I left Tsukuba with just 57 photos (not including the ones of Gothic Lolita chicks), all which you will see here in their original form.

When I returned from this trip in July of 2002, I intended to paste these photographs into a scrap book, and include descriptive text about all that I had seen and done, but the scrap book never materialized, and seeing as how it has been ten years, I'm thinking that it never will. Although I no longer recall the details of how I spent my days in Tsukuba, the emotions I felt while I was there remain vivid as ever.

It's too sad to see these photographs, important as they are, tucked between the pages of a blank journal for so many years. Rather than hide them like a secret, I wanted to share them.  They deserve to be shared. They are a fundamental part of the person I was then, and the person I am now.   





The houses you see belong to my friend's neighbors. These are the views from her front yard. These views, although now they may seem normal, were extraordinary at the time. My adult dream of a house was in fact, born from these images.

Here I am gazing out the window of a local elementary school. A couple things strike me about this image. One, I am so very young (14, exactly). Two, I was still so very pensive. And three, where are my shoes? Oh that's right, we don't wear shoes inside the Japanese elementary school. I'm sure they tried to give me indoor slippers, but my feet were probably too big.




















 The view upon which I was gazing, is captured in the image below. It's just a simple scene from a provincial town in Japan. It's so ordinary one would even question why I chose to photograph such a view. To me, at the time, it must have been something I wanted to remember. I didn't have unlimited film on my camera, and no way of seeing the photograph until it was developed. This image, however typical it may be, was one of only a few which followed me back to the U.S..






In 2002, the only thing recognizable to me in this sign was the Golden Arch. I became totally obsessed with photographing familiar images in this unfamiliar land, as you will see by the 7-11 and KFC sighs. 







This is the Ushiku Daibutsu, which I reference in the "About Me" page. On my birthday, I stood inside his golden head, and changed the course of my life.









This is a photograph of me at a Matsuri (festival) in Tsukuba. There are a couple interetsting things I must mention. First of all, this photograph is not cropped or altered. Somehow, when I took the film to be developed, they printed this image in a non-standard size. This is the only photograph from my trip that is not confined to 5 x 7 inches. 
Secondly, I am wearing a yukata (summer kimono) that friend's family bought for me. I didn't even know they made yukaktas this large...hehe. Joking aside, it was so much fun to be able to wear Japanese clothes. Today I own over 10 kimonos and yukatas. Looking back on it, the festival was, in every sense of the word, very Japanese.








This is where my time in Tokyo begins. I went there for what seemed like a few hours during my whole trip in Japan. I took this photograph of the Rainbow Bridge without even knowing what it was. To be honest, I wasn't very impressed with Tokyo the first time. I liked Tsukuba much  more. I remember this feeling distinctly, but I can't remember why. There's just something charming about rural Japan, whereas Tokyo looks exactly like it does in all the photographs of every tourist book.   






This is a lovely image of the Laforet department store in Harajuku. It still looks exactly the same to this day (2012) almost ten years later. I loved the Laforet and wanted to spend the rest of my life wondering through its narrow pathways and tiny shops. Now, when I go there I realize instantly how much I aged. I'm now older than every customer by a good few years or more.  





Here is the Meiji Jingu shrine, right next door to the chaos and blinding neon colors of Harajuku. It's one of the most interesting juxtapositions in the world, where  modern and traditional Japan collide. 












In a very rare moment, I had the opportunity to photograph Meji Jingu staff in traditional clothing. I am sure these are the kinds of photographs Westerners expect to take in Japan, but they are very rare sights in between the briefcases and business suits.





We also visited the grounds surrounding the emperor's palace, which nobody can enter. It feels like a huge wast of space in such a densely populated city, but it is a place of great natural beauty.











I was particularly impressed by the photograph below. It is almost perfectly symmetrical from right to left, but from top to bottom there is an startling clash of city and nature.From the middle of the picture to the top, these could be buildings in any city in the world. From the bottom, a lonesome bridge waits quietly over a still pond. It's easy to forget you're still in Tokyo.



We next journeyed to the famous temple at Asakusa. A very touristy, but must-see thing to do in Tokyo. I've never been back since this first time. 





So my photo album ends here, with me staring at a gathering of pigeons on the ground. If my memory is correct, we left Tokyo shortly after this, returned to Tsukuba, and I left for the States soon after. When I returned home everything had changed. The world suddenly became much larger than Texas and I never grew tired of it...





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