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Unite the Clan - in Tokyo

Saturday, March 25, 2006
The family is about, my free time has all but vanished, and I've got a boatload of pictures I need to catch up on. For now the updates will stay short and sweet, in order to keep me from getting way behind. I'm already pretty backed up as it is.

On the morning of the 11th, I headed into Tokyo by train, and then made my way to the Star Hotel to meet up with my family. It's not an amazing story to tell the whole world, but it is strange and nice to see one's family after seven months apart. It's also strange and nice to go from an island of 9,000 people to a city of 10 million. It's exciting, just seeing all those big buildings, all the noise, the people, the life.


In front of the hotel - the middle of Shinjuku.

That first morning we headed out and saw a Meiji-era temple in the middle of a bustling part of downtown. Down a wide gravel path, under enormous wooden torii - five minutes walk, and you'd never know you were in the middle of the craziest city in the world.




This one reminds me of drawings I've done. Maybe that's why I like it.

The parts of Tokyo that are the hardest to describe and almost impossible to capture in photographs are the city centers. The enormous intersections surrounded by giant neon billboards and trains crossing on elevated tracks as hundreds of cars and thousands of people rush by. Being swept up in a crowd of businessmen, hipsters, schoolgirls on cell phones and all kinds of other people is something that doesn't translate so well to still photos on a small screen. It's exciting and loud and fast and you see things in flashes and moments that appear and disappear faster than you can remember then - a face, an outfit, a view down a narrow alley, a car covered in lights and decorations - things slide past in the flow of people, and I feel like I could walk through Tokyo every day for a year, and never see the same things twice.







One thing about Tokyo I regret - Tokyo is perhaps the most fashionable city in the world - and I didn't take a single picture of the incredible groups of stylish people. Groups of guys with impeccable suits, enormous permed hair, and heavy fake tans, girls dressed like an adolescent's fantasy of a French maid, gangsters, hipsters, punks, middle aged men in tightly cut tartan suits, all manner of hats, gloves, and crazy shoes - and I didn't think to point my camera at these people. I couldn't take my eyes off them, and I took pictures of trains, buildings, and streets. I'll be back, and I'll do it right.

The first time I was in Tokyo, I didn't try the train. The map was too huge, the lines were too numerous, and the prospect of getting lost far from my hotel in Tokyo was a scary one. This time, I tamed the beast, and we did quite a bit of riding on the Tokyo JR lines.


This map? No problem.


Which track? What time? Just check with me, I'll let you know.


Do you need me to drive the train? I probably could, in an emergency.


Seriously though, the Japanese rail network is just incredible, and nowhere is that more evident than in Tokyo. The line this picture runs on runs I think every 20 seconds and goes all the way around Tokyo. Always on time, always clean - it's going to be a big adjustment when I go home.


Obviously, when in Tokyo, you have to go up a tall building and look down at the endless sprawl of Tokyo. It just goes out to the horizon in all directions, with a blinking red light on the top of every building.

After four days we hopped on a Shinkansen to Kyoto and enjoyed the sights between the two cities at 200 plus miles an hour.


Maud, checking out the blurry houses.


The Shinkansen blows past Mt. Fuji in about ten minutes. This looks nice and perfectly framed, right? Thank you luck, because these things are just flying by.


I've never seen Mt. Fuji before, I deserve two pictures.

The Shinkansen is so neat to ride on, because you're going the speed of small airplane, but on the ground. You pass through a lot of different weather, and sometimes the change is pretty dramatic. About five or ten minutes after the green fields and Mt. Fuji, we came onto long fields and mountains covered in snow. I took a bunch of pictures, we shot into a valley, and came back out in green. It was all over in about five minutes, but things like that just drive home how fast you're going.



I'm off to Shikoku for a couple days, and when I get back, I'll be posting up the Kyoto part of this trip.