New year, new tricks

A Bullet Train to Kyoto at Tokyo Station

We’re already well into 2015 and I’m ashamed to notice that I’ve let this blog and my other social media endeavors wither as I’ve become busy with all kinds of work and photography-related things. That is about to change, however. As an unofficial new year’s resolution I’ve decided to post more images this year and also resuscitate my Tumblr and Facebook accounts.

I’ve had big plans for this website and my photography for a long time, but never really got around to implementing any of them. So this might as well be the year to do that. As a first thing, I’ve added links to the sidebar to my images that are available for licensing on Getty Images and Alamy.

If you’re on Instagram, you can go to my account to see some travel photos that don’t end up in this blog. That’s also the place where I’m currently the most active and where I post new photos first, so if you want to see what I’m up to, follow me there. Even you don’t have an Instagram account, you can go to the Instagram page on this website to see the latest images.

The photo above is from the shinkansen (bullet train) platform at Tokyo station. I took this a few years ago when I was traveling around Japan. We were heading to Kyoto but had to wait for the staff to clean the train before we were allowed to board the train.

Day 4 – Ayashi

After the dance performance, we hopped on a train that would take us to our next destination, Nikka’s whisky distillery in Sakunami! Actually the first train took us only half way there, to a small town called Ayashi, where we had to wait for another half an hour for a train to Sakunami.

Ayashi Station

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Ayashi seemed like a really nice little town and it was actually a pity that we didn’t have more time to explore it. According to Wikipedia, Ayashi station was built in 1929, but it had its moment of glory in December 2001 when princess Aiko was born. Because the name of the station and the princess’ name are written with the same kanji characters, people rushed to buy platform tickets from the station to commemorate the event. In December 2001 approximately 84,000 tickets were sold at the station, when during the previous six months just over a hundred tickets had been sold. We didn’t know anything about it when we stopped there, of course.

Ayashi Station

While we where there, my sister and his boyfriend went to find some snacks from a convenience store, but I chose to stay near the station and took a few photos. I had foolishly worn a new pair of shoes during the first couple of days of our trip and my feet were already hurting from all the walking. Well, that was a lesson learned.

A train arriving at Ayashi Station

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Although we didn’t have much time to explore Ayashi, there was one landmark that was visible all the way to the station. In the distant hills, there was a massive high-rise that really caught my attention. Apparently the building is called Nishikigaoka Central Heights. You can see it below on Google Maps – click the yellow man if the street view doesn’t open automatically.

View Ayashi in a larger map

Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train

I don’t consider myself a street photographer, but I like to photograph people in their environments, especially when I’m traveling. I saw this young woman waiting for a train at Helsinki railway station from the platform I was standing at and thought that the train cars provided interesting frames for the image. I didn’t see what she was doing on the bench, but I thought she was probably checking her mobile phone.

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29.9.2009 – Day 2, part 2: Tokyo

Luckily our friend called us soon afterwards and told us that he’d managed to take care of whatever business he had and that we could head to his apartment in Chôfu. We had some lunch in a MOS Burger near the station while waiting for my friend, handed him some souvenir chocolates, cleaned up and headed to Akihabara to meet Kazuo, a friend of mine from the time I when I was studying in Japan.

We met Kazuo and his sister at the Electric Town Exit of Akihabara station. Somehow he still recognized me even though my hair is shorter and my glasses are far less conspicuous. Then again, there weren’t other foreigners around, at least ones looking as lost as we did. We had a cup of coffee near the station and went walking around Akihabara to find me a new electronic dictionary. After I’d got my new toy, we decided to see Tokyo Tower.

Tokyo Tower

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Tokyo Tower is a 333 tall communications and observation tower located on the Minato ward of Tokyo. The tower has two observation decks, one at 145 meters and another at 250 meters. Designer Tachû Naitô based the design on the Eiffel tower in Paris, but made Tokyo Tower 13 meters taller because, according to the president of the company owning the tower, it would be meaningless if the tower wouldn’t exceed the height of the Eiffer Tower. The tower was built in 1958 and has now been replaced by a new taller tower called Tokyo Sky Tree.

The ticket to the tower costs 820 and allows access to the main observatory located at 145 meters. At the second floor of the main observatory there’s a shinto shrine, where I offered my 10 yen to guarantee us a safe journey. The tickets to the upper observatory cost 600 yen, which we thought was a bit pricy, but Kazuo kindly offered to pay them. I probably don’t have to tell you that the night view of Tokyo from 250 meter was breathtaking – especially if you’re afraid of heights like I am. Unfortunately we only had an old compact camera with us (I forgot mine at my friend’s place), so these photos don’t do the view justice.
A View From Tokyo Tower

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On the way down we saw a genuine teen idol on the main observation deck! Ayaka Umeda from AKB48 was hosting a radio show there. She seemed to have a lot of interesting things to say. We learned that she likes ice cream and that the Back Street Boys song she played earlier reminded her of her teen years. It’s good to hear that she hadn’t forgotten – she was already 20, after all. Actually none of us would’ve even known who the girl was unless we happened to come by just as she was introduced and honestly, most of the other people present seemed to be more interested in view and the small windows on the floor, through which you could see the street below the observatory. She wasn’t bad on the radio though, and she actually sounded really natural although the show seemed to be scripted. It seems that she was the Tokyo Tower girl 2009, which is why she participated in various events there.

We had made plans to eat dinner with our host so we said farewell left our Japanese friends and headed to Chôfu. Our Finnish host took us to a small restaurant that served not all kinds of Japanese and Korean dishes and surprisingly they also had pasta on the menu. I opted for a bowl of soy sauce ramen that I had waited for a long time!

29.9.2009 – Day 2, part 1: Are we in Tokyo?

We landed at Narita airport at 6:50 am. It was raining, just as we thought when we left Finland, but despite the rain the weather was really warm. As we got out of the plane, we were greeted by the warm air that felt pleasent after the long flight. I still remember how strange that warm rush of air felt the first time I landed in Japan, and it has made me feel like home ever since. The nostalgia didn’t last long though, because within 5 minutes I was sweating like a pig, and I was only carrying my hand luggage at the time. We hurried to the passport inspection and got into the queue. While we were waiting for our turn, the lady from the back seat asked someone (maybe herself) the important question: “Are we in Tokyo?”

I had imagined that getting our fingerprints and taking our photos would take a while but it happened really fast. However, the clerk thought it odd that I didn’t know the address of the place where we were supposed to stay in Tokyo and held me at the inspection counter. Luckily he finally let me go when I gave him my friend’s phone number and told him that my friend will be waiting for us at the airport. As expected, the others got through without being asked anything. I should’ve known better, ofcourse, and keep all the necessary addresses and phone numbers at hand.

After we got our luggage and passed the customs, we picked up our rental cell phones from the Softbank counter at the arrival lobby and trodded to the nearest bench to rest. It was so warm and humid that even walking around the airport for a while with our luggage seemed like a huge effort. After setting our gear to the benches, we bought some beverages – water Kirin Ichiban beer C.C. Lemon soda. C.C. lemon must be one of the best sodas ever! If you don’t believe me, watch this commercial:

While we were figuring out what to do next, we gave my friend a call to check if he’s home so we could drop off our luggage. It turned out that there had been a misunderstanding and he wasn’t even expecting us. Instead, he thought we’d head straight to Sendai from the airport and told us he wouldn’t be home until the evening. We thought that the best thing we could do was to go to Tokyo station, leave our luggage to a coin locker and kill time until 2 pm, when we were supposed to meet another friend of mine. We quickly exchanged our pre-purchased vouchers for the Japan Rail Passes at a JR ticket counter and reserved seats on the Narita Express train that would take us to Tokyo. It took an hour to get from Narita to Tokyo. I was excited to look at the scenery and tried to locate familiar places.

Apartment buildings on a train line from Narita to Tokyo
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We arrived at Tokyo at about 10:15 and located the lockers – which weren’t much use to us because my suitcase was too large to fit in even the biggest one! Now this was an unpleasent turn of events. The idea of dragging the suitcase with me in Tokyo or even around the crowded Tokyo station didn’t seem amusing at all…