12 May 2008


I've been really overwhelmed with life-related things since being back from Japan (work, errands, etc.), and didn't take the time to reflect on my trip until yesterday. We have a status meeting every Monday morning at work, and I got to share some photos and brief rundown... I hate to admit that this impending chat is what forced me to really sit down and think through it all, but I'm glad I finally did it. Nippon08 is the Keynote presentation I gave, but here are the photos with voice over text.

Those who know me know that I've been wanting to go to Japan for around 10 years. There are a lot of things that slowly built up my interest and love for all things Japanese, but that's a sort of long story /explanation. Anyway, last April I realized that I would be missing the Brooklyn Cherry Blossom Festival that year. I was so frustrated that I told myself "I should just go see the real thing in Japan." A few moments later I stopped and thought, "Hey, I should!" and made the decision to go over for sakura the following year.

So I went to Japan last month, all by myself, with not too much of a plan. I was terrified. There were several instances in which I couldn't sleep at night, thinking I was mad for doing such a thing.

This was one of the first things I noticed in Japan. I was exhausted and wonky until I got onto the express train to Toko, and peeked through the seats to see a forty year-old businessman reading manga. This is when it started to feel real.

on the shinkansen

This is where I stayed: Shinjuku. There are a lot of businesses here, but also neon lights as far as the eye can see. It's like Times Square times fifty.


What I didn't know was that the district my hotel was in (Kabukicho) is the biggest red light district in Japan. I reguarly saw flyers like this, and groups of androgynous beautiful people plastered outside of clubs, advertising the cast of "performers" to be found within.

Yes, I took one.


I got lost every single day. Since I felt really safe in Tokyo, though, it was not too bad. I didn't have a set schedule, only a handful of things I wanted to make a point to see. Each time I got lost, I found something awesome. One time in Warp Zone (I was on the same road for an hour, eventually ending up where I started, even though the road is not a loop on my map) I found a shrine with this cherry tree in front of it:


While wandering in Shibuya, I found some stone steps leading downward two flights into a basement manga superstore mecca (there were dozens of aisles like this, very narrow so two people could hardly pass by at a time):

There were dozens of aisles like this,

Also while finding my way in Shibuya, I saw a television show being filmed:

a television show was filming.

Let me tell you something quickly about Shinjuku Station - it's the busiest train station in the world. It's easily the size of Chinatown (although my estimating intelligence is quite crap, so I might be wrong, but it's HUGE) and as of 2006 saw over 3.5 million passengers a day. I got lost every single time I was in there. One of those times, I ended up in the Metropolitan Government Building, where I was shuffled into an elevator with a bunch of people and ended up on the 40-somethingth floor, looking over the city at sunset. wow.

observation deck

It wasn't confusing craziness the entire time, though. I got to visit Naked Tokyo. They just moved into a new space in a tangle of streets in residential Harajuku. Turning the corner and seeing the familiar sign made me grin. They were very wonderful and welcoming, inviting me to clubs and dinner etc.

Naked Tokyo

I also got to meet my friend JWoo's father. The day I met Papa Woo, he was helping to record a rockstar in a basement studio in Shibuya. He let me play the Hammond organ, which was amazing.

Papa Woo!

I had some mountain time! I went to a few mountains in and around Hakone, one of them being this very iconic one:

Mt. Fuji

I also took one of these to the summit of another mountain and got vertigo:

cable car gondola thing

Culture of Cute is something I kept saying in my head over and over while in Japan. Everything is cute. I was squeaking the whole time. Here is a store that was inside a hot pink airplane (all the sales associates were dressed like flight attendants):

This store was in an airplane.

Here are random trucks in Roppongi:

everything looks like a toy here.

Here is a train - omg, this train.

!!! Chuo Line

Here is another big reason I went to Japan: I have relatives there that I had never met (or even heard of until a few years ago). I first got to meet my second cousin (she lives in Tokyo and was so so so so gracious and nice and helpful and fun and lovely).

So, I went to Japan with this photograph that I've seen in my mother's bedroom since I was young. The woman is my great grandmother, and the little girl is my... great aunt? My grandmother's sister. They're from Nagasaki, so I took a bullet train nine hours there.

Kame & Fumiko, without the frame

My journey tomorrow (train)

I got to meet the little girl in the photo. She is now 96 (or 97, my first cousin once removed's wife told me; sometimes the Japanese count the 9 months in the womb as a year) and lives in a retirement home in Nagasaki. I can't even describe what this felt like. My grandmother hasn't seen her in over 60 years, and was flipping out when I got back and told her about this /showed her the photos. Guys, this was amazing. I got to meet my mother's first cousin as well, whom she has never met either. He was lovely lovely lovely, and even though he didn't speak English he kept telling me things through his wife (who spoke a teeny amount of English) and showing me photographs. I was ecstatic. This entire chunk of the trip was very emotional for me (don't even get me started on all the atomic bomb stuff I saw and learned about).

Oh also, I found out that I'm part Russian. neat.

Russian flag

I took a detour on the way back, upon a couple of people's advice. It was pretty beautiful, albeit a little harder to get around. It took more time to get to places than actually see them, but again I didn't have a set plan so that was fine by me.


I couldn't get over the color of this thing.

Even though I had only spent 6 or 7 days in Tokyo prior to returning, I felt instantly at home when I stepped out of Shinjuku station (after getting lost again) on my last day.


Here is something neat. I barely got to see any cherry blossoms while in Japan, because rain and winds wiped them all out before I got there. The weekend after I got back, though, I went to Brooklyn:

sakura matsuri

It's kind of cool how things work out. The thing that brought me there was actually waiting for me when I got back.

I just wrote this in an email to someone, but picture taking every single feeling you've ever had, throwing them into a kaleidoscope and shaking it up. I think that's why it was a little difficult to collect my thoughts on my trip, because I felt everything while I was there. I was terrified, elated, lonely, introspective, everything. I finally have mental closure now though, and all I can say is

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