One year ago today, on March 8, 2016, I arrived in Japan for a four-week stay, a dream trip that I’d waited until my retirement to take. I’ve written about the trip in seven previous installments in the Japan Journal series, mostly from a film and pop culture orientation, but I had so much more material to cover that I decided to put together an album for the one-year anniversary using mostly previously unpublished photos covering the full span of my trip. I spent three weeks in Tokyo and one week in Osaka, with day trips from there to Kyoto and Nara. I took thousands of photos and had to spend a couple of days going through them. I’ve devised some broad categories with which to group them.
Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, the oldest temple in Tokyo:
The entrance to the Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo:
Zojoji Temple in the heart of Tokyo, in the shadow of Tokyo Tower:
Statue of Saigo Takamori in Ueno Park:
Commonly referred to as “the last samurai,” Saigo Takamori had a complicated relationship with the Japanese government during the Meiji Restoration and eventually led a failed revolt against it, known as the Satsuma Rebellion. The 2003 Hollywood film, THE LAST SAMURAI, starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe, was loosely based on this rebellion, with Watanabe playing a character based on Saigo.
The Yasukuni Shrine and Museum in Tokyo:
The Yasukuni Shrine is a particularly controversial site in Japan. I toured the museum to see what kind of history it offered and what kind of perspectives it displayed. As a museum of Japanese military history, it’s quite thorough, but its view of Japan’s role in China and the Pacific war is quite skewed. I was standing there reading the captions on the war in China when an Australian guy passed me and muttered, “Rather distorted view of history, eh Mate?” I wasn’t surprised, though.
Todaiji Temple in Nara and the Great Buddha statue encased in it:
The temple grounds are known for their tame deer:
Japanese Art and Culture
The Tokyo National Museum:
A scene from Tale of Genji:
The Ukiyoe Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Harajuku, Tokyo, had a great collection of color woodblock prints, but wouldn’t allow picture-taking inside:
The National Film Center had great exhibits on the early history of Japanese cinema, but they didn’t allow picture-taking:
They were running a retrospective of films by Kenji Misumi, a director I like a lot, so I managed to see a couple of TV episodes he directed, although they were in Japanese without subtitles.
Statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, as seen from Shinkansen train passing Ofuna Station:
In Kyoto, I attended a day-long Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) and watched a succession of dance troupes perform numbers in a park near Kyoto Station.
National Diet Building, the seat of Japan’s government:
The Imperial Palace and Gardens:
Zojoji Temple and Tokyo Tower:
The view from Tokyo Skytree:
While I covered some of my excursions into Japanese animation in Parts Four, Five and Six of my Japan Journal, I never got around to Anime Japan 2016, a big event held at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center in Odaiba on the last weekend in March, just days before my departure from Tokyo to Osaka.
The line to get in formed hours ahead of time in a massive parking lot and it took 90 minutes of constant walking in a snaking line before they let us in. I’ve never seen anything like it.
There were more westerners here than I saw anywhere else in Japan during my stay. As usual, they were pretty easy to spot in a crowd:
Once I got inside, it was like one big dealers’ room, with animation companies manning booths to promote their upcoming products and lots of displays and screens showing anime nonstop. Given the huge amount of westerners in attendance, I was surprised that it wasn’t English-friendly at all.
But I did get to pose with some anime icons:
One booth was devoted to Studio Chizu, the anime studio which creates the films of Mamoru Hosoda, whose most recent film, THE BOY AND THE BEAST, had just come out on DVD. Sketches and artwork from the films were on display and screens were showing scenes from the films.
Plus, I watched lots of anime on TV in my hotel room, including the premiere of “Mobile Suit Gundam UC RE: 0096”:
I attended four pop music concerts in Japan, visited shops catering to the J-pop market, and bought J-pop CDs and DVDs at Tower Records and other outlets. It was quite a pleasure to enter a store and see a whole section devoted to my favorite J-pop organization, something I’m not likely to find in New York:
I attended two Morning Musume concerts at Olympus Hall in Hachioji. No picture-taking was allowed during the concerts, but I did take a few selfies and audience shots as well as shots of the action in the lobby area where fans gathered and merchandise was sold. As far as I could tell, I was the only westerner there.
A mutual friend told Kenji Morimoto to look for me. I was easy to find.
At the Pacifico Yokohama Arena, I attended HinaFest (Hina Matsuri Festival), an annual concert by all the acts of Hello! Project in conjunction with the Satoyama/Satoumi Movement, which offered an eco-environmental convention as a side event. No picture-taking was allowed at the concerts, but many of the acts appeared onstage at the convention, so I got some shots of the girls there, as well as former members of Morning Musume who came to the event, the first time I’ve seen any of the first and second generation members in person.
All five members of C-ute, a group I saw perform live in 2014 in Paris, where I got to interview them:
All eight members of Kobushi Factory (aka Magnolia Factory):
Meimi Tamura of the group, Angerme, who has since left Hello! Project and embarked on a career in musical theater:
Chisaki Morito and Mai Ozeki of Country Girls, who do pop songs reminiscent of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll:
(Mai Ozeki is the daughter of Tatsuya Ozeki, a famous Japanese baseball player.)
Momoko Tsugunaga, a former member of Berryz Kobo and now leader of Country Girls, whom I’ve met in both New Jersey and Paris and consider one of the most delightful performers I’ve ever seen:
Ms. Tsugunaga has since announced her departure from the entertainment industry this coming June to embark on a career as a Kindergarten teacher. Our loss is the Kindergarteners’ gain.
One of Morning Musume’s founding members, Kaori Iida, on the left, is joined by 2nd Gen members Mari Yaguchi and Kei Yasuda:
Three of the four members of MM’s 4th Gen, Rika Ishikawa, Hitomi Yoshizawa, and Nozomi Tsuji:
At the second HinaFest concert, I got to meet another American, Jonathan Yeh, who was seated next to me. He had recently been at the Morning Musume concert in Houston, Texas (his hometown) and knew a lot of the same people I did. I had been unable to attend that concert because I was preparing for my Japan trip.
The Hello! Project Store in Akihabara offers merchandise, memorabilia, costume displays, signed messages from the girls, and screens running concerts nonstop.
During my visit, I got to meet Michael Rigoni and Alita Schratwieser, who live in Japan and run a company called No Country for Tall Men Exports, which supplies fans in the west with event tickets and goods. In fact they were the ones who got me my concert tickets.
Just like in anime, J-pop music videos and Japanese TV shows, there are lots of kids running around Tokyo in a variety of school uniforms. I saw one group of five middle schoolers, two girls and three boys, carrying musical instruments and running to catch a train and my immediate thought was, “I’ve seen this anime before.” The kids all seemed happy, well-adjusted and loved. They seemed to have fun in each other’s company. I was consistently impressed with them. I also noticed lots of couples with children and lots of fathers with children. One park near my hotel attracted lots of young professionals, both fathers and mothers, with children. This is in contrast to the image I had of Japanese fathers being aloof from their children. I mentioned this to a Japanese woman about my age whom I met in my hotel and she’d noticed it also, remarking that it was quite different from when she raised her children.
At the Suginami Animation Museum:
One afternoon when I came out of Tokyo Tower, I was lured by the sounds of a brass band playing the Beatles tune, “A Hard Day’s Night,” coming from a nearby park. It turned out to be a high school marching band in a practice session. No adults were present. One student was conducting and directing the whole enterprise. I got to watch and record a run-through of the number, which incorporated another Beatles tune as well, “Magical Mystery Tour.”
That’s the student conductor in the last photo.
What an unexpected gift.
And here’s the video clip:
I loved the trains in Japan. Even though there’s a huge learning curve involved in getting used to the subway system, once you’ve adjusted you’ll find it all reliable, clean, safe and aesthetically pleasing. The trains were even prettier in Osaka and Kyoto. Here are some random shots I took in all three cities:
In addition, I rode streetcars in both Tokyo and Kyoto:
Tokyo Subway Map:
And finally, Mount Fuji, seen on the train to Osaka: