Strangers at F1.8

In Tokyo last year I challenged myself to walk up to random strangers on the street and take their portrait. I had a roll of black and white Ilford, and a plastic 50mm lens. I am inherently shy, so asking people if I can take their portrait is pretty intimidating. With my lens choice, I had to be close, and I also wanted to capture engaged (rather than candid) portraits.

These are a few of my favourite ones. I spent quite a while talking to the man in the glasses, after taking about 15 minutes to work up the courage to approach him. He was dressed very eccentrically in bright colours, and was sort of pacing on the spot in Akihabara. He seemed like a real character, but from the way he was moving I wasn’t sure if he had been drinking for a while or not. But I knew I’d kick myself in the butt if I didn’t at least try to ask him. He ended up being really really lovely, and I talked to him for a good 20 minutes. He told me about how he made his own earrings out of metal and bottle tops. He had a very calm, gentle nature and complimented my terrible Japanese. I’m so glad that I got to speak with him and learn a little about his life.


This girl is one of the many school kids who approached me at Asakusa shrine to ask “what is your country” and “what is your favourite Japanese food?” If you have ever been to Asakusa shrine, you will know that being bombarded by school kids is to be expected if you are a foreigner. I think that the English teachers all take their classes there, as this happens literally every time I go. In any case, this girl was part of a group of 5 that were asking me the aforementioned deep and philosophical questions. Because the ice was already broken, I took the opportunity to ask her to take a picture.


I kind of cheated on the last one, it’s my friend’s son. Isn’t he just a nugget! Gorgeous light from the balcony door.


Finally, a non-portrait. This may look like somewhere in developing Asia, but it is actually a game arcade in Kawasaki that is designed and fitted out to look this way. The design is actually more interesting than the games themselves (in my opinion.) It is meant to look like the slums of Hong Kong, and the attention to detail is amazing! To get in you have to cross a misty aqua body of water, carefully stepping on rocks. The doors also make noises as you go through. It’s called Anata No Warehouse (あなたのウェアハウス). I loved the hanging chickens.


How To Meet People From ‘The Internet’

Last night it rained, and it was still cloudy when I got up this morning. It isn’t cold enough to snow anymore, and I don’t know if I’m glad or disappointed about it. I had a bit of a slow start this morning, having nothing planned until 5pm, when I would meet a new friend for coffee. So I answered emails and browsed the internet for interesting non-touristy things to do. Eventually I decided to visit a gallery near Akihabara, which I’d been meaning to go to for a while. It was having a uni graduate art exhibition about ‘bio art.’ Sounded interesting, and regular readers will know how I love a good graduate exhibition. So I set off for the hike to Akihabara, carrying my macbook this time; both for hiking practice, and because I’d need it later on.

It was really cold today, and I was glad I had layered up. I stopped at a Lawson en route to buy some lunch for later, then walked all the way to the far side of Ueno park, where the huge lake is. The trees in the park were starting to sprout tiny pink sakura flowers, and teams of park workers were busy hanging strings of lanterns between the trees. Near the lake, I found a bench to eat lunch at. I had a salad with chicken, edamame, hijiki and grated daikon, as well as an ebimayo onigiri. I’m really loving this flavour at the moment. However, this one was mostly rice, and contained only a tiny piece of prawn (maybe 2cm long and half a cm wide), and a dab of mayo. The verdict: 7/11 make better ebimayo onigiri. A lot of pigeons were bobbing around me whilst I ate, but I managed to keep my cool and not scream in front of everyone. The pigeons hovered just outside the barrier of acceptable presence. I thought I was very brave.

Next, I walked along a main road toward the gallery. The sun had come out, but I was still freezing, so I went into a convenience store and pretended to read the nutritional labels of the hot drinks, just so I could touch them and warm my hands up. A little further along, I bought a hot coffee in a can from a vending machine, because I really needed to warm up inside. It was a Tully’s branded cappuccino (kind of the Gloria Jeans equivalent), but it tasted terrible.

I found the place where the exhibition was, and it turned out to be a whole building full of art. There were four floors, all with different little galleries to explore. There was a large section about the Kobe Earthquake, as well as a corner gallery dedicated to a store that is similar to IKEA. There was also a whole room full of inflated things, and weird machines that spun or made noises, as well as giant inflatable hand that moved when air blew into it.




The second floor held some graffiti art, and some colourful abstract paintings, as well as a white room filled with black and white printmaking pieces. This room also contained a sculpture work called ‘Seed Dish,’ which I thought was pretty cool. I loved the tones and the incorporation of the plants. I think the plates were made of cloth or bread or something. I have no idea. I suppose pictures describe it better than words, so here you go…



This floor also had the ‘Bio-Art’ exhibition that I wanted to see. It held more inflated things, as well as art incorporating microscopes and petri dishes. But the one thing I really liked were a collection of tiny pointed glass balls, hanging from fishing wire at different lengths. They each had a tiny specimen inside – a bug or a twig, or dirt. I thought they were beautiful.

I also quite liked a 3-screen documentary about goldfish breeding. It was very genetics related, but I liked how the three screens showed different images that interacted with each other. I watched that for quite a while, and it was even educational!

The basement floor had a gallery of works which (I think) were created by disabled people (mental or physical disabilities, I’m not sure.) I’m only guessing this because the gallery was named ‘Able Art’ or something like that, and featured slogans that alluded to ‘equality for all through art’ or something similar. I actually thought this was one of the most interesting galleries of the lot. There were some crayon drawings on one wall, and a video of the artist creating them. Then in the centre there were these sculptures of food scraps, which looked like they’d been modeled from the insides of real rubbish bins. This was my favourite piece of the day. The way the food pieces were laid out seemed chaotic but organised  Perfectly placed, but random at the same time. It just worked.


I had a quick look in the gift shop and bought a postcard, then sat down at a little table to write on it. As I was leaving the gallery space, I passed this one tiny room that was filled with stuff. Ball-pit balls were all over the floor, and the walls were covered in paintings. There were things hanging down everywhere, and bursts of colour exploded from every corner of the room. It was like a kinder-kid had overdosed on sugar and raided the art cupboard.


After the gallery, I kept walking towards Akihabara, and stumbled upon a tiny store crammed full of new and used gameboy and Nintendo games, consoles, and controllers. I was really tempted to buy a gameboy and a couple of games for the 6 hour transit I will have to face in April, but decided against it.


Then I walked around Akiba a little more, and posted a few items at the post office.

That’s where I realized that I’ve lost my credit card.

I looked in all the pockets in my wallet, but it was nowhere. It must have slidden out somewhere. I was just grateful that it wasn’t my main bank card, or my pre-paid card, which can never be recovered. I was annoyed, but surprisingly I didn’t panic or get all upset like I would have in the past. Anyway, getting stressed wasn’t going to solve anything. I had to meet my new friend in Ikebukuro, so I took the train, vowing to search all my pockets and bags for the missing card when I got home.

In Ikebukuro, I planned to meet someone I met online. This might sound stupid and like I was asking for trouble, but before you file a complaint to my mother, hear me out. There is this popular thing called ‘Couchsurfing,’ which is an online community where people offer their couches (or spare beds, or bedrooms, etc) to travellers for free. You can host people, or stay with people, and there are Couch Surfers all over the world. When I was looking for somewhere to stay in Tokyo, I went on this website just to look. I would not normally ever stay with a complete stranger from the internet, but there was one lady whose profile yelled out to me. This person is a real and normal person and not a creepy internet freak! Said the profile. (Not literally, I mean, that would be weird and would most definitely make me avoid a person.) This lovely lady, who I’ll refer to as J, is a teacher at an international school in Tokyo. She likes photography, cooking, and hiking. Wow, I thought, we are the same person! So I got in touch with her asking if I could possibly stay a few days in her apartment. Unfortunately, she couldn’t host me, but by that time I had already found my own apartment in Tokyo. But we got talking online, and decided to meet up whilst I was in Tokyo.

Which brought me to Ikebukuro. I waited at our designated meeting point, and before long, J came up from behind me and asked if I was Steph. We clicked right away! We found a coffee shop and ordered drinks, and talked about anything and everything. There was never a lull in the conversation, and within half an hour I felt like I’d known J for years. What an incredible lady! She was so friendly and smart and funny, and so adventurous! We looked at some of the photos I’d taken on the trip so far (J requested I bring them, which is why I lugged my laptop around all day), and chatted away like we were old pals. She told me lots of funny stories about adventures she’s had in Japan, and gave me some tips on train and bus travel- some that will save me a lot of money (which can be used to buy more Japanese goodies!!) Also, randomly, we worked out that we had seen each other in Tokyo before. At the film screening I went to last week (The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom), I actually sat right in front of J. How did we work this out? I mentioned that I had been volunteering with HOT, and J said she did too! Then she asked if I went to the film, and I asked where she was sitting. She described the area near where I was. Then she said maybe she remembered seeing me. I was by myself  was fiddling with a camera, and talked to a Japanese man, and ate chilli from one of the stalls. Oh my god, that was me! We had been less than a meter from each other! I even remember that I had looked J directly in the eyes when I turned around one time. I couldn’t believe it. How funny.

Before long, it was dark outside, and then we realised it was already past 8pm- we’d been talking for 3 hours! It had only seemed like an hour or so, I was so surprised at how the time had passed. J had to pack for a holiday (for which she was leaving tomorrow), so we both headed for the train station. We both caught the same line, so we had a few precious minutes to keep talking, and say a brief goodbye. My station was further away, so I watched J get off the train and disappear into the sea of people on the platform. And then she was gone.

It was a really brief meeting, but I am so glad that I got to chat with such a wonderful, kind individual. The world needs more people like J. Such a genuine, amazing lady. I really really hope that I can meet her again in the (not too distant) future. I enjoyed her company immensely. I felt a bit sad when we parted ways, like I was saying goodbye to a friend I’d known since childhood. Perhaps I get attached to people too easily, or perhaps J is just so easy to like.

I returned home, braving the freezing cold night, and cooked a quick dinner of veggies on rice, with leftover miso eggplant and oden. Then I had the mochi-anko pan (bread bun filled with mochi and red bean paste) that I bought at the station earlier. It was weirdly good. I spent the next 2 hours trying to find out how to cancel my credit card, which is really difficult when your phone can’t make calls. I tried making reverse calls, free calls, calling with area codes, + codes, Australian codes, Japanese codes. It was really frustrating and pretty much impossible. Then my boyfriend had the brilliant idea of using Skype to call, but I don’t have Skype either. He let me use his account, which, again, wouldn’t work for ages, but I finally got through and was able to cancel the card. Sorry to the person who found it and planned a massive shopping spree.

I bet I find the missing card in a sock sometime next week.

Hiking Training?

I’ve been finding it hard to sleep at night here. I find that no matter how tired I am, my brain just won’t switch off at night, and goes into overdrive. SO I end up tossing and turning for about an hour and half before I even get close to falling asleep. Then I wake up and I’m tired. Why?

This happened last night, and it ended up being an effort to get up at 9. I didn’t know what I wanted to do today, so I spend a bit of time working on some client images that are way overdue, whilst munching on some tiny bananas and some coffee in a bottle that didn’t really taste like anything. My laptop has become frustratingly slow, clogged up with a bunch of client images, as well as all the shots I’ve taken in Japan so far. So I decided to go to Akihabara to buy a hard drive. I’d had enough!

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 6.12.57 PMI got ready to go, then looked at Google maps to see just how far I had to ‘hike’ to get there. It was only a little further than Ueno, and about as far from Ueno as Asakusa was (where I went yesterday.) All layered up, I headed out with my iPod, which I haven’t listened to in ages. I actually really liked walking along to the music, and it put me in a really good mood. It made me feel like making a few short (like, really short) videos about the trip. Maybe just picking a random day and shooting the whole day to see what I get. Or making up a little story. In any case, I kept seeing great compositions as I walked, and matching them to the songs I was listening to. Before long I was singing out loud. I probably sounded really bad, but I couldn’t hear myself because I have noise cancelling headphones (really really expensive ones that cost 9 dollars.) It was strange hearing so many English voices, so much so that it kind of mangled my Japanese when I first switched back upon ordering lunch.

I got to Ueno really fast, and was already hungry as I began to cross the park. I thought I’d better stop for some lunch before continuing the treck to Akihabara. So I went to the little corner of 4 stores where I got the mushroom dish that I ate with dinner last night. I picked out a bento from the salad place next door, and happily took it to Ueno park, where I found a spot to sit and eat. A dodgy looking pigeon tried to come close to me as I unpacked my lunch, but he didn’t get to close because I freaked out and kind of spasmed, which scared him off because he thought I had ADHD.


The bento was so tasty! On the left was some braised chicken and a salad with marinated vegetables and broccoli. The centre was brown rice sushi that had chicken and vegetables inside, and salad underneath. Then on the right was a chicken, cabbage and sesame salad, some simmered sweet potato and citrus pumpkin, and a cherry tomato. It was so tasty, and just what I felt like!

After depositing my rubbish in a heavily decorated panda bin, I headed back in the direction of Akihabara. As I was crossing a street, a flash of bright orange caught my eye, and I had to go down an alleyway to investigate it. When I came to the end of the alley, I was at the lakeside of Ueno park, but the lake was filled with heaps of (dead?) wreeds. The colour was so pretty, and I could see a shrine poking up from the other side. I couldn’t believe how vibrant the burnt orange colour was.


From the lake, it only took about 20 minutes to get to Akihabara (with a small detour to the basement food level of a department store, where I filmed a sneaky video from hip-level, even thought cameras aren’t allowed.) I just followed the train line from Ueno, so finding Akiba was easy (locals now call it ‘Akiba’ instead of Akihabara, apparantly.)

As I was nearing the station, I walked past an onigiri store selling brown rice onigiri. I haven’t seen very much brown rice in Japan, so I jumped on the change to buy some. I got a brown rice and konbu onigiri to have for lunch tomorrow (when I plan to make a bento to take to the zoo!) Luckily I was full from lunch, otherwise I would have devoured it on the spot.


I won’t describe the next few hours in intricate detail, because all I did was roam around the electronics stores hunting for portable hard drives comparing prices. I also wanted to buy an mp3 player for my dad as a gift, but they all cost over 100 dollars, and he would definitely not approve of that (“don’t buy me anything expensive! Only spend ten dollars!”) They only seemed to have 3 kinds of music player, no matter where I looked. iPods, a rectangle iPod rip off, and a thin voice recording mp3 player thing. I was also tempted to buy a macbook air again, because 30,000 yen is pretty hard to pass up. But I actually don’t need it, so I was a good girl and saved my money. I did get a hard drive cheap though, so I was happy. I also found a post office by accident, and posted the birthday card I had written for my grandfather.


Most of the stores in Akiba are multi storey, and my legs were getting pretty tired. I actually felt a bit tired from walking around all day, so I have no idea how I’m going to cope climbing mountains. That training is starting to sound less like a ‘good idea’ and more like a requirement. It was almost 5pm and was starting to get cold, so I walked back to Ueno and bought some things for dinner. There is a store where you can get a container of any size and with numerous amounts of compartments, and fill it with any kind of dish you like. I wanted to do this for dinner, because I got to sample lots of different dishes. This is what I bought…


After taking a million years to decide what I wanted, and paying for it, I caught the train back to Nishi-Nippori and walked home from there. At home I edited the last batch of client images for the day, and talked to my mum on Facebook. I hadn’t heard from her for a while, so it was good to know what was going on.

For dinner I had stir-fried tofu, vegetables and kinpira (which needed eating) with a fried egg, rice, and the okazu I bought today. That included nikujaga (a beef, onion and potato stew), hijiki and bean salad, some nimono vegetables (simmered in soy and dashi, etc.), mushroom and burdock root with pinenuts, and a kind of spinach thing with sesame seeds. Everything was really tasty, especially the nikujaga.


I was still hungry after dinner, having spent all my energy walking, so I ate some cereal with sliced banana that I bought from the market, as well as the last yoghurt in my fridge, which had gotten a little too close to the freezer and ‘grown’ sheets of ice in vertical lines throughout the yoghurt. Kind of like a vienetta, but with yoghurt instead of ice cream, and ice instead of chocolate. Then I craved dorayaki, so I raced to 7/11 and bought an anko and chestnut one, which wasn’t great. I need to go back to the old lady in Nippori and buy one from her- that thing was amazing.



I had the best sleep last night since arriving in Japan. My 100 yen pillow worked a treat! I even woke up at 8 and then went back to sleep for two hours- something I very rarely have the ability to do.

Last night at dinner, my friends and I had organised to meet up at Ueno for lunch today. It was their last day in Japan, so we thought we’d have a special last lunch. After last night’s meeting-point nightmare, we decided to be more organised and choose a station exit and map location to meet at. We decided on a book store, meeting at 12:30.

When I got to the station, it was way bigger than I remembered, and had about 20 exits. There was also no bookstore. Shit.

Cutting a long story short, I spent 30 minutes searching, before eventually running into L and D. We then bumped into K, about a minute after. Then we had to hunt for S. We searched for almost an hour, but couldn’t find her anywhere. I said that we should give up, because that’s when you always find someone, so we pretended to give up and did one more lap of the station. We were all starving, so we decided we’d better actually get some food, and headed away from the station. That’s when S came running up behind us, having spotted us from afar.

Like I said, we needed to give up in order to be united.

It’s actually a miracle how we’ve managed to find each other each time we meet.

D wanted to eat ramen one last time, so we walked around the market area of Ueno, passing an abundance of fresh seafood, bag stores, and shoe stores. We couldn’t find a ramen store that we liked, and we were all hungry, so we decided to give up and cross the road to a kaiten-zushi shop instead. That’s when we accidentally stumbled upon a little ramen store that looked really really good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We ordered our food from a vending machine, which spat out a little ticket that we had to give the waiter. My Japanese came in really handy again, as I was able to tell everyone what was in each dish (there were no pictures on the machine, only buttons with kanji and kana.) and order myself a bowl without pork. We went upstairs and waited for our food, glad to be out of the freezing wind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe food came quite quickly, and it was humongous. I had ordered miso ramen with spring onions, whilst everyone else had miso ramen with pork, corn and butter. Mine also had bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, a thinly sliced vegetable with a kimchi-like taste, a raw egg, nori and sesame seeds.

I’ll let you in on a secret- I’ve never had ramen before. Despite having been to Japan 4 times, and being obsessed with Japanese food, I haven’t tasted the real thing ever (2 minute noodles don’t count.)

I’ve been converted…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was so delicious, and the soup changed taste as I ate (as the egg and kimchi-stuff mixed in.) It was so so so good! But I don’t think I;ll ever be abe to finish a bowl- there was that much food there! I really did my best, but even though I kept eating and eating, the level of food never seemed to go down.


We all had a go of the garlic press, which required a bit of muscle. The minced garlic tasted great in the soup, but we all probably had really bad breath afterwards.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter waddling out of the restaurant and back into the cold, we visited a few stores in a nearby department store. I took the gang to Loft, and another crazy shop that sells all kinds of weird things. Everyone went nuts there and bought heaps of stuff- as you do on your last day anywhere.

I decided I want to buy a Fujifilm mini polaroid camera, but I’m going to hunt flea markets for it first. You can get really cheap film at some of the stres we visited today.

Next, we took the subway to Akihabara, so that D could do some last minute present shopping. Akihabara hasn’t changed. It’s still full of flashing lights, millions of electronics stores, and spruikers on every corner trying to get patrons to come to their maid cafes. The boys went off in search of gameboy games (yes, really), whilst S and I headed for some of the kitchy and crazy stores. On the way, we spotted a tiny corner which did nail art. S was so excited because she’d been looking for somewhere to get detailed nail art done the whole time she’d been in Tokyo. This place was so nuts, each little sample was a work of art, and featured imagery of anime and manga characters in ridiculous detail.

I had a look in a multi story shop in the AKB48 building whilst I was waiting for S. I really wanted to buy this black and white cushion with a face on it (why am I sucked in by cute simplified faces?), but I used exceptional self control and reasoning and didn’t buy it. Besides, if I wanted to take it home in my suitcase, nothing else would be able to go in as well. As compensation, I bought two t-shirts with the face on them. One black and one white; one for me and one as a gift for my sister.


S was so thrilled with her nails- they were really puffy and super cute. I love the face of the jellyfish! We had a quick look in a used Mac shop before we left. There were laptops, ipods, iphones and ipads, as well as cameras and lenses and other technological goods. I couldn’t beleive how cheap everything was! There were macbook airs for 20000 yen, and ipads for 30000. Crazy! I wondered what was wrong with them because I literally had enough cash (and desire) to buy one on the spot.

On the way home, I stopped at Lawsons to get some supplies for dinner. I didn’t feel like that much after my sumo-sized lunch, but I’m trying to eat lots because I think my body needs the energy to keep warm. I made a stirfry of carrot, shimeji mushroom, bok choy and edamame, and had that with some kinpira, an egg, the last of the sweet beans, and some yaki-imo. Yaki-imo is a charred roasted yam (like a purple sweet potato with yellow in the middle), that convenience stores sell in winter. They are in little display cabinets on hot black charcoals at the front of the store. It was pretty tasty, but also kind of dry inside. The skin was the best part!

I think the plate on the left looks like a face.

After dinner I had a new mochi icecream that has a strawberry in the middle! It was pretty good, but the strawberry was frozen solid. I think the regular ones are still my favourite.


My shower flooded again tonight- it’s getting really annoying. I had to speed shower, because the water level was getting dangerously close to spilling over, and my laptop cord was on the other side. I think the drain is even more clogged than before Might have to call in the plumbers tomorrow.