travel

Ena in Tokyo

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In Tokyo a few months back I did a few test shoots with some faces from Folio Models in Azabujuban. One of those faces was Ena, who needed some new shots for her comp card. I photographed Sakura and Ena on the same day, and it was great working with their different personalities. Their agent came with us as we walked the streets nearby the office. I found this really intersting, as I’ve never had an agent come with me on a test shoot. But it didn’t phase me at all. Once I have a camera to my eye I am in a safe place and fear, nervousness, and any other emotion are totally evaporated. I can completely focus on what I am doing (pun not intended.)

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I shoot really quickly, no matter who my subject is. I find that this keeps the energy up, and helps the shoot flow. I’m not sure if my models were used to this fast paced type of shoot or not! We spoke both English and Japanese, which was really enjoyable from my perspective. I was surprised at how much I was able to direct Ena using only Japanese to convey what I wanted.

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Thank you Ena for being a gorgeus model and putting up with my broken 日本語!

Here’s a cute beind the scenes from before we hit the streets…

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Sakura giving Ena a brush down to remove dog hair. #foliooffice

 

The Day Of Arcades

All through this trip, I knew that eventually it would come to an end. I wondered what I would feel like on my last full day- sad? Rushed? Overwhelmed? Exhausted? When I woke up I just kind of felt blank, like I wasn’t really in a foreign country, but rather, in some kind of dream or half-conscious world.

I had not planned on doing anything in particular whilst in Osaka, so needless to say I had no idea what I would fill my last 24 hours in the city with. i spent a while on Google, trying to find things to see that might interest me, but of course I could only find the most touristy of suggestions- visit Osaka Castle, the Aquarium  the crazily futuristi building in Umeda with the circular empty ball thing in the middle of it. All valid suggestions, sure, but I’d visited them all on previous visits (when I was more interested in checking sights off a list than actually experiencing things), and had no interest in just going to a place to ‘look at it’ for a few seconds, before snapping an obligatory photograph and moving on to the next place. Other websites suggested shopping in the kitchen supplies district, as well as the arcade and food stalls around Namba. Having a few more souvenirs to buy (after promising myself I would do any and all present shopping before the last day), I opted for a walk to the Shinsaibashi shopping Arcade.

There was, as usual, easily accessible transportation to said arcade, but after my trekking, I usually always opted to walk. Plus, the route was easy. After turning down one street near the dodgy looking Dobutsuenmae station, it was pretty much a straight northbound walk along paved undercover streets. It was sunny, so I didn’t mind being out in the open, but I was still weary of the area and clutched my handbag really close to me whenever anyone passed by in the opposite direction. After I’d been walking for maybe 10 minutes, I came across a run-down looking street lined with electronics stores. They were all closed, either due to it being a day off, or because they all simultaneously went bankrupt, I’m not sure. After walking a while, I realised I must have been in Den-Den town- Osaka’s answer to Tokyo’s Akihabara. I remember visiting here when I was younger and draggin my mum through the stores to find a Hello Kitty iPod cover, which I never used due to it being the wrong size for my iPod. It was exciting and bright and busy back then. Now it looked old and creepy and dilapidated.

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Eventually, I turned a corner and wound up near Namba station, close to the Doguyasuji arcade. This place reminded me of Kappa-bashi in Tokyo (it seems that for every shopping area or specialty district in Tokyo, Osaka had its own equivalent.) Osaka is known as one of the food capitals of Japan, and this place was obviously where all the chefs came to stock up on cooking wares and restaurant paraphernalia. The 150 metre arcade is packed full of shops selling these items; everything from thousand dollar sashimi knives to napkin holders for your newly opened MOS Burger franchise store. Even though I had no need for anything here, I spent ages looking in this tiny store crammed full of cutlery, crockery and bento boxes. I could not resist some discounted wooden bentos, and spent literally half an hour trying to choose between two shapes. I would have taken them both, but I really didn’t need both (let alone one), and I knew that suitcase real-estate was at a squeeze. I walked away with a cute circular box made of a light wood. And for only 1000 yen. It would have easily cost 4000 in a department store.

As I exited Doguyasuji arcade, I came out to an open air courtyard, which led to the mouth of another arcade. This one had a lot of food retailers and theatre type buildings, as well as a scattering of street vendors trying to entice passers by with takoyaki, and people dressed in character costumes with abnormally large costume bobble heads. I avoided all eye contact. I went into a store that sold electronics, looking for a gift for my dad, but there was only the same old thing as usual. However, there was a 100 yen store on the top level of the building which I came out of (20 minutes and 1000 yen later) carrying an armful of useless goodies.

I then crossed a road and walked through yet another arcade (Osaka sure love their arcades),  which boasted kaiten-zushi restaurants and ice cream stalls. Coming out the other side of that, I was surrounded by more sushi stores, takoyaki vendors, seafood restaurants, and a giant moving crab. Yes, the giant moving crab that is famous in Osaka, and which is an icon of the city. It’s not as big as I’d suspected, but that didn’t stop the flock of American tourists posing in front of it and snapping silly poses. There were a decent population of caucasians in the area, and I felt silly just being there, so I crossed the river to H&M, where I pretended like I was a girl who knew how to do ‘fashion’ and shopped for some clothing items that would look incredible on when paired with the right fabrics and colour schemes. Yes.

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There were multi level H&M stores right across from each other, so I visited  both, wondering if they were exact replicas. But they had different stuff, and I actually bought things from each one, feeling a bit silly when I went up to the second check out with a H&M bag already in my hands. Then, feeling to westernised, I went across another canal and down to Don Quijote, the crazy store full of all kinds of random stuff. But today it didn’t spark my interests.

On the same side of the river as DQ, was the head of perhaps the longest shopping arcade I have ever been to. This was Shinsaibashi, packed full of discount stores, high end fashion stores, drugstores, and every other kind of retail business you could possibly think of. I wondered in for a little while, then decided that I’d better find some lunch before getting too deep into the arcade. So I headed back to the area near H&M, where I saw the athletic man sign with is another famous thing to ‘see and take a picture of’ in Osaka. I did not take the obligatory photo.

I had lunch at a kaiten-zushi place, which was full, but I got a seat easily. This sushi train had two layers, and I spent a while looing at everything going past before taking a few plates to munch on and making some green tea. The lady sitting next to me offered me a hand towel, as I couldn’t reach them, and so we were instantly friends. I took a few things from the conveyor belt, and then ordered salmon nigiri direct from the chef… 3 times. They never seem to have it on rotation, but I didn’t mind asking because it was much fresher and tastier that way. The lady who was not officially my friend said goodbye and left, but returned moments later to give me a coupon for one free plate of sushi. I said thanks, and then she disappeared out the tiny door again. A few moments later, I decided to press the red button so that the staff could tally up my bill by counting my plates. I went to the check out and offered up the coupon I had been given. I was then given a new coupon as thanks for visiting the shop on that day. I planned to pass it on to someone coming into the store as I left (just like the lady passed it on to me), but after loitering for a few minutes, nobody looked interested in going in to eat, so I just stuffed the coupon in my pocket and kept going.

I felt like some salad to finish off my lunch, so I made my way to a combini to get a little cheap one. On the way there, a Japanese man began walking in synch with me, then said in English ‘excuse me.’ I thought he might have wanted directions or to ask if he could practice his English, so I stopped and said ‘yes?’ Then he said, ‘excuse me…. I love you.’ And so I thought that this was some English he had learned off an advertisement or TV, and wanted to try it out on a foreigner without knowing the meaning. But then he added on, ‘excuse me, I love you….. one date, how much?’ And I realised he thought I must have been some kind of hooker!! So I turned away from him and sped up saying ‘NO, NO, NO, GO AWAY,’ and hot-footed it into a convenience store to seek refuge. Luckily he didn’t follow me. I bought a salad and ate it sitting in the sun, and a little girl watched me really intently. Her parents thought it was hilarious.

As I was heading to the combini,  I had spotted an ice cream stall selling soft-serve in flavours I hadn’t had before. Even though I was full, I knew it was probably the last time I was going to get a softcream, so I went up to the lady manning the stall and asked if I should get red bean or chestnut. She apologised that chestnut was unavailable, so I chose red bean instead. It was ok, but kind of too sweet in comparison to normal softcreams. I should have stuck with my old favourite, vanilla and green tea mix.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter ice-cream, I walked all the way down the next arcade, stopping to look in jewellery stores, visit Loft, Tokyu Hands, and a mega-concept Daiso one last time and to buy some pants at GU. I think I bought other clothing items as well, but I can’t really remember. I waked for hours, then decided I’d better get some food to take on the plane tomorrow, in an attempt to avoid airline food. So I went to a a department store basement, but ended up coing out with only a sweet potato and azuki bean sweet.

I also had to go back to the shopping area near Osaka main station to buy my sister’s birthday present (I cursed myself for not buying it the first time I saw it), so I took the subway, changing once, and then went to Loft to get a set of babushka sock monkeys. There, I also went to two department store basements to buy plane food, asking each vendor if the food would be ok to eat tomorrow. Most said no, but I bought it anyway. There was so much to choose from and I wanted it all. So I scrapped my idea of having dinner out, and instead bought all my favourites to have a feast in the hotel room. I also spent ages chatting to this lady selling ‘innovative rice,’ about my trip and going on planes. She was lovely.

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I stopped at the an-pan store one last time to buy my very last an-pan (I chose curry-pan and pumpkin), and then I trained back to the hotel in dodgy Dobutsuen-mae.

Last night I discovered that there was a microwave just outside my room, so I was happy I didn’t have to go down the lift to heat up the goodies I’d bought. I ate like a monster, somehow growing this insatiable appetite. I had sweet beef and onion on rice, and three kinds of vegetable. I had intended to eat half and have half for lunch tomorrow, but I just ate everything and decided to buy a salad and onigiri in the airport before departure instead.

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Then I still wanted to eat, so I had curry pan from the an-pan shop. It was incredible, and I literally could have eaten 3 more of them. I bet they are really bad for you. But it is so hard to find an-pan with beef curry and not pork curry, so I had to get it. Then I ate the sweet potato and azuki thing I’d bought near the arcade. It was covered in sesame seeds which were tasty and went all over the place.

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Then it was time to pack.

Exhibit One: Everything being everywhere (but neatly organised into groups)…

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Exhibit Two: Packing level: expert.

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Transit

All good travel stories begin with a ridiculously early visit to the international departure lounge, right? That’s what I was thinking when I set my alarm to go off at 3:55AM. But would the “dancing buggies” ringtone herald good fortune and ward off international delays? Or would this day of travel turn out to be one of those disastrous occurrences that are utterly traumatic at the time, but make for great stories to tell your grandchildren? 

Apparently, neither.

So I’m however-many-thousand-feet in the air right now, racing my laptop’s quickly diminishing battery power in order to type out this blog post. It’s been a very strange past-week, purely because I have not felt completely ‘real.’ Anyone who has had the misfortune of being in my company when I describe this feeling will know what I mean.

I don’t know if I am the only person on the earth who thinks this way, but I never feel ‘real’ in the early stages of a trip. It’s hard to describe. A build-up of excitement perhaps? That would explain the constant feeling of being in a dream. I have to continually ask myself, ‘is this really happening?’ Going to the airport, landing in a new country, and sleeping in foreign accomodation all trigger this weird floating feeling.

But enough about my phyche and the strange way that my mind works.

So I’m mere hours away from Haneda International Airport in Tokyo. Ever since I enrolled in university I knew I’d head back to Japan the moment I graduated. I’ll have to admit, I cheated. Graduation isn’t technically until this June, but… meh. But now the day is finally here, and it couldn’t feel stranger. A bit of backstory; I’ve been to Japan 3 times before, twice with my mum for two weeks each, and once for two months. On that last trip, I stayed with Japanese friends for the first month, in their own homes. But this time, I’m doing it all solo. No tiny futuristic houses full of food, friends and Japanese slippers. No arguments with my mother about where to eat for lunch. No boyfriend. Just me. I don’t know how I feel about it. I mean, I’m excited to go and photograph the country I love most in the world, but at the same time, I am a little worried I might get lonely. I guess it will be good for me to be truly independent, especially in a foreign country. It will be a challenge, at least.

I’ll be renting an apartment in Tokyo for a month, and then travelling through Kansai and Western Honshū. As you can probably guess, I’m going to attempt to build up a killer photographic portfolio whilst I’m there. In my opinion, Japan is one of the most photogenic countries, and I intend to make the most of that. I’m already looking into gallery spaces back in Melbourne, to exhibit what I capture whilst abroad. A little ambitious? Maybe. But now is not the time to be safe and unadventurous with my career. Actually, I was looking not exhibiting some of my final semester images whilst in Tokyo, but the festival I wanted to partake in doesn’t start until I’m already back in Australia. I did think about hunting down a small gallery for rent in Shibuya or Shinjuku, but let’s face it, I don’t have any prints on me and my cashola is limited.

But back to the dancing buggies ringtone. I slept for only 3.5 hours last night, and kept waking up with these incredible stomach pains. Reason unknown. I then took a private car to Denpasar airport (did I mention I’ve been in Bali since the 13th? Oops..) and sweated it out in the multiple, never-ending lines of check-in, immigration, bus-que and airplane-que. My stomach was still trying to tie itself in five thousand knots, which didn’t help. I always manage to get sick when travelling internationally. Head-colds, flu, fever, vomiting and nausea- I’ve had it all. I really thought I’d gotten away with it this time (aside from the mild hangover caused by one too many Veuve Cliquots at Saturday’s party- nothing a gigantic beef and mushroom hamburger couldn’t fix.) I am what my boyfriend calls a “mafan traveller.” Google it.

After the first flight from Bali to Kuala Lumpur, I had a very exciting 6 hours of transit to fill. I could bore you with the details, but that would take up battery life. The flight from KL to Tokyo will take 6.5(ish) hours, and I’ll land there at 11pm. I was very excited when I remembered the difference in timezones, and realised that I’ll actually get to sleep before midnight (Bali-time midnight, that is.) There were heaps of spare seats on the flight, so I moved to an aisle so I could have the whole thing to myself. Afternoon nap anyone? I also ate airplane food- which I am usually very wary of. But I had Air Asia’s “famous” nasi lemak, which was actually edible and even a bit delicious (or are my tastebuds just numbed at this altitude?)

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I really don’t foresee anything else exciting happening, so I’ll leave it at that. Probably nobody is reading this anyway, aside form my mum. Hi mum.

Well, I’m going to watch a movie before my macbook dies. I promise some better photography tomorrow. There’s only so much you can do in an airport without being tackled to the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEdit: Ok, just one question. Why do airplanes insist that all flights are non-smoking, and that smoking anywhere in the cabin in prohibited, yet have cigarette ashtrays in the toilets?