It is that time of the year again – Christmas illuminations and decorations are up all over Tokyo Midtown and the crowds are as thick as usual! Midtown is strangely photogenic so I can’t resist taking some pictures every time I pass through the area, and every year something changes slightly in their decorations. The Christmas tree though, is the same year after year and as popular as ever.
The illuminations in the park behind Midtown are always crowded and are scheduled to run until December 25th. Most of the crowds tend to stay at the bottom of the field though, and if you don’t mind walking a little up the field it is usually not crowded at all up there. In Japan Christmas is not a big family event, it is more for young couples enjoying a romantic night out. “Older” couples tend to order fried chicken and cake and have a quiet night in. Me, I will be working all through Christmas!
It is winter and the toughest thing about this season for me is to survive without visiting any Awaodori dance festivals! Thankfully I have Youtube to see me through the winter, with thousands of videos of my favorite teams. Here are some photos from the Minamikoshigaya Awaodori Festival (南越谷阿波踊り) in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo. This might be the second biggest Awaodori festival in the Kanto area, and it usually takes place at the same time as the biggest one, the Koenji Awaodori Festival in Tokyo, something which is really annoying for us Awa fans. The festival in Saitama attracts some fantastic teams, even some genuine Tokushima teams that we generally never see in this part of country, so it is well worth skipping one day of the Koenji festival to check this one out as well. The festival itself is quite different from other Awaodori festivals as the streets used a two or three times as wide as the widest Tokyo streets, so the ambience and the photography is quite different. Being used to being so close to the dancers that you can see every drop of sweat, the Koshigaya festival takes some getting used to.
I took these photos of some beautiful members of several different teams, the Koushoukai Asunaroren (工匠会あすなろ連), the Inaseren (いなせ連), the Hibuki (飛舞伎), the Miyabiren (雅連) and the Hokushinren (北辰連). I can’t wait for next summer to come around!
Since emigrating to Japan I have learned to love the humble Japanese convenience store. These little beacons of light and civilization are everywhere in Japan, from the loneliest Okinawan island to the busiest Tokyo high rise. You can book tickets, pay bills, do your banking, pick up and send packages, buy cell phones, get your beer, order food, buy ready made lunch boxes or lottery tickets or just browse the huge numbers of magazines. Sometimes you can even borrow their restrooms. Some convenience stores have a seating area with free hot water pots. They are open 24 hours a day, usually never close and the staff is amazingly service minded. During the trouble up north in March and Aril 2011 the convenience stores were a lifeline: they had the most advanced distribution network in the country, a perfectly streamlined inventory system and were able to get fresh food into the damaged areas before anyone else. Over a thousand convenience stores had to close due to the earthquake and Seven-Eleven alone saw 41 factories unable to operate. But they had 128 others spread out around the country that could pick up and keep supplies and food streaming into the damaged areas. For me the convenience stores of Japan are heroes, and I have quite a collection of these kind of “portraits” of lonely convenience stores at dusk or sunset.
I took the photos of a Lawson and Three-F store just next to Yuighama beach in Kamakura City, south of Tokyo.
Yesterday I posted about the old Masneibashi station, as it looked about 7 months ago. Today the station platform, the old surviving hulk of a brick building sitting in the middle of some very nice real estate in Tokyo, looks quite different. I visited a few weeks after opening to check it out and I must say that I like what they have done with it. While a lot of it has been gutted out and renovated with chic stores, cafes and galleries, they have also kept surprisingly much of the original grime and gore of the old station platform, including the red brick exterior, pockmarked from fire damage, bomb shrapnel and almost a century of pollution. The stairwells leading up the old platform are left almost as they were found, without any of the retro upgrade you often find in this kind of reconstruction, complete with mildew damage, leaking pipes and even some very old signage. Although it is winter now, I can imagine the outside boardwalk becoming very popular in the spring. Perhaps the influence of the masses of young shoppers will push the owners of the property on the other side of the river bank to do something to revitalize their buildings as well.
Although the new Manseibashi Station is suffering from the same “lack of place” that drove the old station to extinction, stuck as it is between Ochanomizu, Kanda and Akihabara stations, I have a feeling it will do well. Even if you are not into shopping, there is a great “mini-museum” with a model of the old station and the surrounding area, as well as art and books associated with trains, Tokyo during the first half of the last century and art of the period. Of course the real treat of the place is the platform top, but that will be the subject of another blog post this week. This one is already too long with 22 photos!