Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 04 2009

A day of photography

There were some clouds in the sky when I got up this morning, but they were gone by the time I made my way outside around 10am. I walked to a nearby free wifi spot I’d found online to upload a rather mediocre picture from my phone to flickr to let everyone there know I am in Tokyo (not that they particularly care, but I thought I’d do it anyway). Then I walked around the neighborhood for a while, ending up at a nearby shrine that was empty except for a man feeding some stray cats. Apparently Japanese love cats, as there seems to be a lot of well-fed strays around. The light streaming though the canopy of trees surrounding the temple and its reflection in a modern glass-sided building just behind it made for some interesting shots. Old ads were tacked on the billboard out front, including some WWII-era posters and an ad for a camera that looked almost exactly like the new Leica X1. When I was more or less done I put my hands together to thank the god in residence for the pictures, and a shiver went down my spine.

Exploring more alleys nearby, I came across three other photographers who were apparently taking pictures of power lines. I never know what to do when encountering other photographers, a situation that is increasingly likely as just about everyone is a photographer these days. Usually I just ignore them. As I was taking some pictures of some laundry hanging out to dry, a woman poked out of a Korean shop across the street and asked me if I was taking pictures of the cat. At least, that’s what I assumed she was asking, as the only word I understood was “neko” or cat. She could have been saying, “Watch out for the killer cat,” I suppose. Some people, I noticed, put water bottles on top of the walls around their houses. Thief detection device? For thirsty passersby? Ghost offering? I have no idea.

Louis showed up at my hotel at noon as promised, and he took me to a series of tiny alleys nearby that I’d missed. All the shops were closed, but Louis said it used to be a popular evening watering spot for local artists and photographers. We passed what looked like some kind of government building with a guard outside the door, but when I asked what it was, Louis told me it was a training center for comedians. “That’s hilarious!” I said, and promptly took a picture of the guard. Louis said that the guard was there to keep fans out, but it seems to me that if a comedian is already that famous, what does he or she need to train for?

We walked though central Shinjuku to the tall building that houses the Nikon Center, on the 28th floor. The views of the city are pretty nice, and there is a gallery inside as well. Today’s show featured the theme of dead and dying pigs, or Pigs In Dire Straits. Another one featured mostly night photography with at most one or two decent shots, IMHO.

We went back to the shops and fooled around with M43 cameras. Louis has a GF1 with the 14-45 kit lens, and he swears by it. I have to admit that it’s a nice little camera. The second-hand camera shops we visited had a lot of Olympus EP1s, apparently abandoned for GF1’s. It must be frustrating for Olympus, but nobody forced them to release a camera with sub-par focusing and a low-res screen, no matter how nice it is to hold and shoot with.

Lunch was had at a fried pork chop place on the second floor. The line up the stairs moved quickly, and soon we were sitting cross-legged at a table across from a bear in a business suit who spoke in an uncharacteristly high voice when he asked for more miso soup. My foot fell asleep as we ate due to the seating position, and I had to be careful coming down the steep stairway after the meal lest I bowl over the board of directors that were coming up the stairs at the time.

We walked around the station, taking pictures of commuters in the rich afternoon light. Louis hit the jackpot when he came across a repairment on a ladder, his entire upper body engulfed by the ceiling, but just at that moment he ran out of memory and had to delete photos to make room. After failing to track down interesting reflected light from the nearby high office buildings of West Shinjuku, we looked at some bag stores, as I had mentioned getting a bag that looks a little less like a camera bag, but I didn’t really see anything that I liked that much.

We visited an art gallery on the fourth floor, mainly for the use of the restrooms, puffing after the climb up the stairs there. The photographer of the single photo exhibit, an older Japanese man, sat forlornly by the door as a few people browsed his shots, which ranged from black-and-white film prints from the 80’s to digital color prints starting in 2004. Louis asked him what camera he used, and he produced a list. Surprisingly, all of his film cameras were Canons, and when he switched to digital, he only used Nikons, culminating in a D200. I wondered if he thought Nikon did digital better, while Canon did film cameras better, but he explained that he had never gotten anywhere with the Canon Club, but after he joined the Nikon Club he got more exposure and status. What a strange reason to pick a camera, I thought, not mentioning my opinion that his earlier b/w work was better than the later color photos.

We found a coffee shop down near the subway station and chatted for a while in the “non-smoking section” as we downed a chocolate float (Louis) and a hot apple rind tea (me). One of the few areas where Japan is behind the rest of the world is its attitude towards smoking in public places like restaurants.

Louis had to go to his job as a photo editor at a newspaper, as he works the night shift and the sun was setting. I decided to go back up to the Nikon Center and take shots of the city as the lights came on. The harsh, bright lighting of the hallways made this a difficult task. Someone should invest a flexible hood to put on lenses just for taking pictures out of windows at various angles. Or maybe someone has.

All that was left of the day was a faint glow on the horizon as I continued west, through the park, and then back around to the station area, where I had some dinner before returning to the little alleys Louis had shown me this morning. By this time the little shops were open and the place had come alive, little bars and shops ingeniously filling the tiniest of spaces. I hesitated to take shots of the people within, as it just didn’t feel right, but I took shots of the alleys themselves. At one point an older man leaned out of an upstairs window to snap shots of passersby with his old Rollei. He looked familiar, and I took some shots of him, but the loud clack of the Invincible-yet-sadly-not-Invisible Rabbit alerted him to my presence, and he withdrew. A moment later I saw murky faces staring out at me from the closed window.

A ring around the moon usually means rain is coming, but I could be wrong. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

posted by Poagao at 9:53 pm  


  1. Regarding the bottles of water, I’m not completely sure, but I’ve been told that the bottles of water are for scaring cats away actually. The stray cats spray their urine everywhere and the residents cannot stand the smell. The bottles are called nekoyoke, and it is believed that cats cannot stand the reflection of light caused by sun-rays striking the bottles of water.

    Anyway, don’t know if you’ve tried these, but I thought I’d throw them out there.

    Since you’re in Shinjuku, I highly recommend visiting “Golden Gai” (ゴールデン街) after dark when the signs light up, the little shops are full with customers both drinking and smoking, and the music seeps out of the shops and onto the tiny streets. It is quite an atmosphere! Even if you don’t go into any of the shops for a drink, it’s kind of fun to just walk around. My Japanese friends really like it, it reminds them of better times when Japan was still growing…you know, Dad’s generation, kind of like the 1950s in the USA or what not.


    It’s also near the red-light district and “mafia playground” Kabuki-cho (歌舞伎町), which is also interesting to just walk around. You can observe a lot of business “culture” in that district.

    Comment by Bryan — November 7, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  2. The Golden Gai is practically next door to my hotel, and I really like walking around that area. Amazing how they can fit whole bars/lounges in such small spaces.

    Comment by Poagao — November 8, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

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