How time flies. I miss my favorite sushi place, a little hole in the wall run by a couple near Hiroo station. Good sushi is very hard to find in Canada – and rolls with sauce are not sushi.
How time flies. I miss my favorite sushi place, a little hole in the wall run by a couple near Hiroo station. Good sushi is very hard to find in Canada – and rolls with sauce are not sushi.
From the middle of the street, late one night with my tripod.
Salarymen on the way home.
To a small temple in Hiroo.
No city loves their dogs like Tokyo. If you pass a stroller in Tokyo, you have a 50/50 chance that it carrying a dog, not a child. Love it.
For further evidence, click here.
I just processed these photos, from our 2nd last day in Tokyo.
Black and white.
Color handheld HDR.
Not sure which I like better.
Three very different shots, same sunrise.
A few Tokyo black and whites, around Hiroo.
Police on pretty much every corner.
Cartoon figures of some type, on every corner.
The 100 Yen Shop – why are all of their signs in English?
A snow shovel for 100 Yen ($1). It snowed 2 times in 2 years when we lived in Tokyo .. not sure it is a good investment?
Millions, if not 10s of millions of bikes. This one got a ticket – how they knew who to make it out to is beyond me? Not broadly known, but there is no identification system in Tokyo (i.e. Social Insurance number).
As a testament to the Japanese and their honor/honesty – without a name – one can expect that the owner of the bike will go to the police station and pay the fine, despite being anonymous because that is what the culture dictates.
Rules make this city of 40M the most unique in the world.
A little Japanese English outside a bar. No idea what it means ….
In Hiroo, the most expensive place in Tokyo. Hanging around the fishing hole in a park.
This time of year, due to their refusing to implement daylight savings time, the sun rises in Japan around 5:30am and gets earlier and earlier. At it’s peak, the sun will come up at 4:40am. It does not matter how good your blackout blinds are – when you have a full on tropical sun shining down on you (Tokyo “feels like” 40-50C in July and August), you are waking up.
The sunrises are beautiful, but I do not miss 4:40am sunrises.
Our time in Japan has come to an end.
We could have stayed longer, but factors played out that a different choice was the right one for our family. Leaving a country is always a bittersweet experience, there are things you are looking forward to in your next destination while you know there are things that you will miss from the previous country. You also get into a groove in a new country after 2 years …. that groove is over.
In no particular order are the things I will miss about Tokyo:
Safety and cleanliness: A society that is homogeneous with very little immigration means that they have 3,000 years of shared tradition and values which drive their society. The downside is that it leads to rigidity, hierarchy and significant innovation constraints. On the plus side, it makes Japan truly unique. There is no garbage because people care about their society and are too proud of Japan to litter. You can walk a back street at 2:30am and be completely safe, while a 4 year old child can walk to school with zero issues. That is truly unique.
The people: Our western society is so fast paced and all about the push. I will admit to being too abrupt, irritable or not polite enough. In Japan, as a whole, that is not the case. Sure the subways get crowded but over the last two years I have come to respect the little things like the politeness of a bow. We as westerners have not lost all of that and not everyone is rude (insert Canadians saying “excuse me” joke here), but in Japan it is the way that they all live. I heard a story the other day where a fellow was in Japan teaching English and he happened to mention to a few of the women he was teaching that he found Tokyo cold. The next day they showed up with extra blankets and a warm jacket for him. The sense of community, sharing and “team” is alive and well in Japan.
The food and drink: If you like food, you need to go to Japan. Good food on every corner, with more drink choices than you can imagine. There is no where like it. Odd to think that Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any country in the world and Canada, sadly barren.
January and February: Why? Because if you want snow you can jump on a train and be at the ski hill in 90 minutes. Otherwise, my heavy winter jacket did not come out once in over 2 years. Now that is the type of winter that I love – tennis in January.
Amazon.jp and Japan Post: I know, miss a postal system? Japan Post is amazing. Order something on Amazon on Saturday morning at 8am (and you can order EVERYTHING on Amazon) and see it arrive that same evening. A post man working on a Saturday night? Now that is customer service.
The 5pm song: Every evening in Tokyo at 5pm huge loudspeakers play a song. I have been told it is so that children know it is dinner time. How quaint.
Vertical parking: Why? I don’t know. But I always found it interesting and Roppongi Towers has to have the most advanced parking system in the world.
The wonderful, oddity of Japan: As I have said before, living in Japan is like living on Mars. You could never feel more different (As a side note, I have heard Japanese say the same thing about when they are in North America). They do so many things differently than us and it is always interesting to stumble upon new things. A simple example; they have these sinks in the washrooms in our office and I could never figure out what they are for.
Turns out they are for brushing your teeth and the button on the left (blue swirl) is a special flushing button that swishes water all around the bowl in a circular motion to clean the sink. And of course, don’t get me started on Japan’s greatest invention – the Toto. I had 3 installed into my house in Canada instantly – and yes there is a Toto Canada, and yes they sell their products on Amazon.
Japanese English: I love to read interpretations. I snapped this one recently because of the gargling insert. I also like the detailed instructions – it feels like mom wrote it – “don’t forget to wash under your fingernails” (smile)
Facemasks: This might seem like an odd one, but I like facemasks. To understand the Japanese facemask culture, you need to understand how they think.
To the Japanese, facemasks are about being polite. If you have a cold, you wear one so that you will not get anyone else sick. If you have a baby, you will wear one so that you don’t bring home any germs. To see someone wearing a facemask in western society is an oddity, in Japan it is incredibly common – people wear them everywhere. On a few occasions I have worn them when ill in the office, I have worn them at home to try not to spread a cold when I get off a plane and I love wearing them when on a plane (for hydration reasons – a great way to reduce your chance of getting a cold or sore throat).
A reflection on their community focused culture.
Last but certainly not least, Japanese customer service: Customer service in Japan is THE BAR. There is nothing that compares and it is consistent, people take pride in their work and bend over backwards to service the customer. The primary driver for this is that the Japanese people expect excellent service and are therefore willing to pay higher prices – something “Lowest price every day” mentality in North America has destroyed – it is our consumer choice.
Good-bye Japan. You are very, very unique in this world.
The Japan Times has an interesting feature called “Well Said” which is all about helping the gaijin integrate into the local society. In their words, it is all about “sounding natural in Japanese”.
While having breakfast at the hotel last week I enjoyed the topic of this Well Said! It is particularly Japanese.
I cannot imagine the Washington Post or Globe & Mail using ‘Lets go drinking after work’ as an acceptable scenario to help learn English and integrate into the business culture (smile).
Now, to truly understand this Japanese scenario, you have to read between the lines. The reason why Mr. Sere actually has only Y1,000 in his wallet (roughly $10) is because he has almost spent the allowance that his wife has given him for the week or month. He is simply using the credit card as an excuse for spending too much this week/month or to hide that fact that his wife only gives him a small allowance.
All true. Read more here.
Japanese commercial music – you hear their synthetic version of elevator music everywhere. I did not expect to see it on the floor cleaner.
I hope he has earplugs. Can you imagine listening to that all day long?
I love this little flower shop. This wonderful elderly couple run it and over the last couple years I have gone in there many times. No shared language, other than a love of flowers and herbs.
Wasn’t that a book? No, it is the Monk who sold his Ferrari.
Well, it would appear that the monks of Japan are not so interested in selling. I am amazed by the number of BMWs you see at shrines around Tokyo. When I asked a colleague, he explained that many of the shrines are handed from family to family, and are exempt from taxes.
Interested if anyone has a link – my searches on the topic proved futile.
A few shrine shots around Minato-ku, Tokyo.
And of course, a BMW
I think that Yoyogi Park is one of my favorite parks. I love walking it. In Tokyo, people gather in the parks on the weekends. Families, friends, joggers, ninjas, cosplayers, dancers … everyone.
That is why it is such a great park, if you stop and look around.
There are many joggers holding a piece of rope between them. When I asked, it was explained that these people are jogging with a blind companion.
The bridge, that takes you to where the festivals are – on this day it was Cinco de Mayo day.
A few shots from Cinco de Mayo which was all about the food and .. of course, some dancing. It was amazing watching this woman balance the bottles. I wonder what made her want to learn this dance? She went to 8 bottles.
In Japan you will never be disappointed by the unique English translations.
You will never be disappointed by the food either.
I will miss trying different foods. Tokyo is for the bold, in this case squid – with a little mushroom.
I am quickly approaching the point where I will try anything. As my wife always taught, you have to try something 3 times before you are allowed to say you do not like it.
They were good, although I liked the tuna better.
On the weekend you will see these huge trucks driving around Tokyo blaring music – advertising bands. These bands are always pop bands – and J-POP is a very unique brand of music.
You be the judge: when you read the name of this album – GUTS! – and interpret the name of the band (‘Arashi’ means ‘Storm’) what do you envision? Myself, I envisioned a tough-guy band.
Now view the band. (smile)
Near Roppongi there are a lot of police – all the time. I believe that this is due to it being a diplomat area. China, Korea, Qatar, Pakistan, Finland, Germany – there are a lot of embassies near our home.
Makes you feel safe, that is for sure – but it is also a little odd.
The police have these roll out barriers everywhere. These are used for crowd and traffic control. The odd things is that to hold a demonstration, you have to file a notice with the police (read more here) so they would have lots of opportunity to deploy these when required. Instead, they are on street corners all over Minato – accompanied by cones, large plastic boxes (containing who-knows-what) and these tire busting contraptions.
This is the Chinese embassy. There is always someone in that van idling with the air conditioning on. I had to snap this shot quick, they do not like photos around the Chinese embassy for some reason ….
Perhaps the street barricades are to lean on. Of course, no shortage of pylons.
And of course, the officer is properly masked – a truly Japanese custom.
Just down the road from where we live in Tokyo. There is no lawn at this club, the courts are all clay (smile).
A few HDRs from when the azaleas were in full bloom.
The path beside the club. I walked this path for a year – until we changed offices.
Actually, down the street from where we live – a spring view. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.
Many restaurants look like this, with the welcome cloth over the door.
This fellow was arriving, ready for his next food delivery.
Last shot, in black and white.
I kept meaning to take a picture of these uniquely Japanese scooters. These retro, cruisers are everywhere.
My last shots.
I had never seen porcelain prayer requests before.
I also do not know what these are. Perhaps prayer requests for a nice garden this summer?
As with most shrines, 1,000 cranes offered.
Last shot – a caged dragon.
As previously mentioned, a few weeks ago we headed to a shrine sale/market on a Saturday morning. In one area they were serving food. I love Japanese food. I love that Japanese “fast food” means that someone is cooking it quickly, from scratch, instead of mcCooking it.
A few shots. This fellow was quite artfully keeping his ashes out of my food (smile).
These folks were cooking a very popular dish that you see at the baseball fields – octopus balls with a nice squirt of Japanese mayonnaise on-top.
I went for the noodles.
I am afraid that I am becoming a Japanese food bigot and will not be able to step into Canada’s version of a restaurant .. Moxie’s, Jack Astors .. without a sense of despair. I will definitely have to seek out those Canadian ‘chef owned’ restaurants actively.
Reflecting on the difference, it seems to come down to economics. More and more, Canadian restaurants are owned by business people – not chefs. It is bought as a business, not as a extension of a passion and everything from building layout to food delivery is controlled by HQ.
Very different from Japan where those holes in the wall are still family owned with the husband busy cooking while the wife runs the business. Sure, there are fast food chains, but they are a small fraction of the ecosystem.
Guess that is why Tokyo has more Michelin stars than anywhere else in the world – by a huge margin. If you come to Tokyo, explore the food. You will not be disappointed.
A fun way to spend a Saturday morning.
This fellow was super content.
In the end we didn’t buy anything. I don’t need a $100 hand crafted wood comb. But really enjoyed wandering around.
I was in North America for a few hours recently and I grabbed a quick bite in a food court – avoiding the fast food chains (which is really hard) and getting a scratch made sandwich. I walked down the drink aisle and found it depressing. Pop, a few vitamin waters, high sugar energy drinks – a wasteland of unhealthy drinks and obesity in a bottle.
Just so different to Japan where it is pretty clear that the vending machines are one of those secrets to long life and a low BMI.
A North American drink shelf.
Now Japan. In the country with a vending machine for every 13 people, the diversity is amazing. Coffees, green teas, hot – cold, jasmine tea, sparking water (in many flavors), flavored waters sweetened and unsweetened, this grape drink with aloe cubes and everything in between.
Sure, you can buy a pop (I still love a cold Coke) or a different fizzy drink, but it makes up a very small percentage of the vending machine real estate.
Lattes, vitamin C, milk tea, fiber drinks …
This is a pretty common sight, 4 or 5 vending machines in a row. They are everywhere.
Here is my current favorite drink, the “Green Shower”. It is humulus lupulus sparkling water – and has an herbal taste to it.
For those of you who do not know what Humulus Lupulus is (I certainly did not):
Humulus lupulus (common hop or hop) is a species of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family, native to Europe, western Asia and North America. It is a dioecious, perennial, herbaceous climbing plant which sends up new shoots in early spring and dies back to a cold-hardy rhizome in autumn. Strictly speaking it is a bine rather than a vine, using its own shoots to act as supports for new growth.
Who are the companies that make all of those healthy, amazing Japanese drinks? Ironically, the same ones that delivery very little choice in North America. Or perhaps, they are delivering what the market wants – which is too bad.
The homes and apartments may be small, but they burst with plants.
Notice the complete lack of any litter.
The Japanese make the most of their space.
The time the sun rises in Tokyo. For some unknown reason Japan does not believe in daylight savings time. In Japan’s semi-tropical climate, no black-out blind every made can stop that UV 14 sun.
I wake up very early every day. I guess there are worse things in the world than sitting on the deck and enjoying a cappuccino to this sunrise.
If you live in Japan, you know that the Japanese are dog crazy. With a plummeting birth rate, the dogs are clearly filling a gap.
This little fellow is in the pet store down the street. Take a guess at the price.
You are probably wrong.
That translates to roughly $20K CDN. Premium, for sure. If you are going to have a dog that expensive, you better buy a dog stroller.
You better buy a carrier too.
Of course, if you are having a tea party, everyone needs to be dressed up – bow in the hair and all.
Japanese love their dogs. Check out this site from some amazing Japan dog photos.
Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm USM.
My transfer station is Ginza. Again, it seems like I flow against the commuters with more people getting off than getting on. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f/1.2.
As with much of Japan’s society, it is all about order. When you stand on a platform you will notice the little colored markers where the doors will stop and people calmly and neatly line up on either side, waiting.
As people funnel on, there is no pushing or shoving – even as it gets tight.
And it definitely gets tight. Although on this day, the conductor did not need to do one of those famous ‘pushes’.
A few more shots around the subway.
The subways of Japan, the cleanest and most efficient in the world.
It occurred to me recently that I have never brought my camera along for the commute. The other week I did. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f/1.2.
The subways have some old fashion elements – like white gloved conductors who hop on and off to guide the crowds.
My commute to work is a short one. It starts at Hiroo station – stop number 3. I change trains at stop number 8.
I seem to go against the flow of the commuters. This station fills up with people getting off the train, not on to it. Very clean.
Note the face masks. I found that very odd when I first moved to Tokyo – people on the train, in the street and in the office wearing facemasks.
As an insight into the Japan culture, often people wear masks not to avoid getting sick – but to stop themselves from getting others sick. Very polite. I have even started wearing a mask when ill (garnering a few looks) and on airplanes; it is fantastic for your throat as the air is dryer than a dessert on a plane and the worst place to catch a cold. I travelled a significant amount in 2013 (often 10 hour flights) and seemed to be catching a cold every other flight – the mask helped.
Another common reason for wearing a mask is allergies (blogged about previously).
The train flying by.
The Tokyo rush hour can become very crowded.
I think this is my favorite shot of the morning.
Next stop Ginza.
When we moved to Tokyo I found it very hard to figure out. As expatriate assignments go, Japan is like moving to Mars and dramatically more complex than when we moved to Europe.
As a public service announcement, I share a few key learnings in the hope that it helps others in the future.
Tokyo is the safest and cleanest city in the world. It has beautiful parks and perplexing rules. The Japanese people are incredibly friendly and will openly try to help you out as a foreigner.
But it can be daunting, as I described in this post. I hope this helps others.
It seems that regardless of country, students always get stuck doing manual labor to “build character”. In this case it is weeding and cutting the grass (with their hands) at the Tokyo police academy.
There must have been 200 of them. The only difference between them and their brethren everywhere ? Most of them were wearing a face mask.
Ever since we landed in Japan two years ago I have constantly been smiling at the little things that are so different. Truly, I say it again and again, living on Japan is like living on Mars. It could not be more different than Canada.
Case in point, music. J-pop is everywhere and I personally find the dollification (I made that word up) and boy/girl band music confusing and well, not reeling me in. That artificial, tinny, synthetic type of music can be found everywhere in Japanese society. It is particularly grating in D2, my local hardware store, which has found a way to make elevator music even more soul crushing by replicating it via synthetic organ music.
To give you an insight into this music, I pass on a video. It is me recording what it is like to be on hold with an un-named Michelin 3 star restaurant in Tokyo.
I live on j-pop Mars (smile).
In most countries when you think of a construction worker you think of a hardhat, steel boots and safety equipment.
In the land of paradox, where rules abound and business culture is all about adhering to the norms and coloring within the lines, the attire of the Japanese construction worker continues to confuse me.
Construction pants? Well yes, but they are these huge, flowing baggy things that look perfect for getting caught in an auger and ripping off a limb. Called a Tobi trouser.
Tobi trousers or tobi pants are a type of baggy pants used as a common uniform of tobi shokunin, construction workers in Japan who work on high places (such as scaffolding and skyscrapers). The pants are baggy to a point below the knees, abruptly narrowing at the calves so as to be put into the footwear: high boots or jikatabi (tabi-style boots), often brightly colored.
According to a spokesperson for Toraichi, a major manufacturer of worker’s clothes of this style, the style was developed from knickerbockers. The regular knickerbocker-style pants are called nikka zubon ("zubon" means "trousers," and "nikka" or "nikka-bokka" is a gairaigo–transformation of the word "knickerbockers"). The excessively widened ones are calledchocho zubon. This style has also entered popular fashion, as evidenced by the emergence of toramani ("Toraichi maniacs"), die-hard fans of Toraichi trousers.
Construction boots? No. Usually soft boots with the big toe separate to allow for slip on footwear (i.e. flip flops). Definitely not steel toe. He happens to be wearing running shoes. Called the Jikatabi. I personally like this commentary on the boot “Though slowly being replaced by steel-toed, rigid-sole shoes in some industries, many workers prefer them for the softness of their soles”.
Hard hat? Infrequently. The bandana seems to be a team favorite.
One could say that construction mirrors culture – where tradition is tantamount, despite the changing world around them. Or perhaps, the right term is “to spite the changing world around them”. The paradox that is Japan.
I love the view of the clouds over Tokyo. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm USM.
I am a Starwoods guy. Whenever I can, our family stays in their hotels because that is where I stay on business. A friend coached me when I first came out of university – pick a hotel chain and stick with it – that is how he gets a free week in Maui every year.
That qualifying statement complete, the Four Seasons is impressive. We stayed at the Four Seasons in Cairo years ago and it is one of the best hotel we have ever stayed at. The view helped.
Recently we were speaking with someone who had managed the restaurant at the Four Seasons in Tokyo. We were discussing the Japanese culture, creativity and education. He provided the following insight (paraphrased from memory):
It was a real challenge at the restaurant because our staff struggled with the westerners. At a Four Seasons it is very common for the guest to not order off the menu. They expect to order what they want and have us prepare it.
This is very different than the Japanese clients. I cannot remember any Japanese client every asking to order outside the menu. It just isn’t how they think and our servers really struggled with dealing with the custom ordering.
It just isn’t how the Japanese were taught to think and as the world continues to change, I wonder as to what will be required out of the Japanese education system, is it being altered to deal with change? (I believe the answer is no). We all need a good dose of Finnish education.
A bear I would never buy. The warning is very clear about language.
I believe this golf visor was in the men’s section.
The below translates into roughly $60USD per melon.
And Tokyo is the 6th most expensive city currently!
A sign in Azabu Juban that made me laugh.
An old set of buildings, jammed between new ones in Tokyo, Japan.
Part of the sakura season in Tokyo is the celebration; gathering friends, throwing down a blanket on the grass and hanging out. This usually involves food and of course – drink.
It gets very crowded under those trees.
I cannot see what the sign on the left says but I think it says that you are not allowed to have food there.
Public alcohol is not a problem in Tokyo, it would appear. This shot (above) was taken at Arisugawa park. A beautiful park near Hiroo station in the heart of Tokyo.
Study after study suggest that memories are heavily linked to the senses; sight, smell and sound. According to this study it is because of where memories are stored:
Sights, sounds and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories. A new study in rats suggests why: The same part of the brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories.
Spring has sprung in Tokyo and as in so many other four season cities around the world, that means construction. As I walked to the subway the other day I passed a construction site with a large safety wall blocking my view. It was early so the crews were just starting up … and in this case one of the crew was starting up a Stihl saw. I could not see it, but I instantly recognized the sound.
The ‘almost flooded’ coughing as the single stroke engine caught, followed by the high pitch whine as the operator revved the engine. It has been more than two decades since I put myself through university on summer construction sites – driving heavy equipment, lugging blocks and spending hour and hours bent over a Stihl saw with a diamond blade. At that moment, the memories felt like they were from yesterday.
Last Saturday the sakura were still out – although fading fast. It is such a short season and after two full bloom, “peak” days, it rained for 3 days straight with wind. Down came the sakura.
The sun was out Saturday afternoon so I decided to take a quick walk – a last walk to enjoy the season. From our balcony I could see a few big trees in bloom. As we made our way down the alleys, we came across these huge bushes, in full bloom with perfect, pink flowers.
It never ceases to amaze me to be in these temperate climates where flowers abound. In Canada, flowers are a concerted effort.
Around the corner, in a small park (5 trees wide), the last of the bloom.
The local baseball field is surrounded with blooming trees.
An entire city turns pink.
As we wandered around Tokyo seeking the sakura we came across the Imperial palace and the gardens, in bloom.
The blooming sakura stand out among the greenery.
I loved the view.
A great afternoon – finally enjoyed the sakura.
Last year we missed the blooming sakura, Tokyo’s famous cherry trees. One of the most famous is Ueno park, truly breathtaking in the middle of a city of 40M.
Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.5 USM.
Down the main path – the sky was filled with blossoms.
As with everywhere in Tokyo, there were large crowds. Everyone enjoying Hanami;
is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, "flower" in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms ("sakura") or (less often) plum blossoms ("ume"). From the end of March to early May, sakura bloom all over Japan,
Truly spectacular. Should have brought some sake to sit with the crowds …