For my last few days in Japan, I went back to Tōkyō – the huge sprawl of concrete and neon that gave me my first taste of this country almost exactly two years ago. Oddly, being there didn’t thrill me as much as it did before; I had either become desensitised to vast urban conglomerations during my time in Seoul, or was just too familiar with the place for it to have the allure of the novel. Most museums and shops were still closed for the holidays, so I spent a lot of time on foot exploring new neighbourhoods and avoiding the teeming crowds pressing into the temples and shrines to make their New Year offerings.
One thing I had read about that I quite wanted to photograph was the cosplay-zoku (Costume Play Gang), an inconstant group of (mostly) teenage girls who hang out on Harajuku’s Meijijingu-bashi (a wide bridge near Meiji Shrine) dressed as characters from manga/anime series or computer games, or in whatever unique and subversive style has taken hold that season. Unfortunately, almost everyone was engaged in New Year-related activities and most people on the bridge were disconsolate photographers.
In no particular order, I also browsed Ueno’s kitchen supply street (featuring shops selling only plastic food, red lanterns for your izakaya, split hangings, automatic melon deseeders etc.), went to look for the ultra-nationalists at Yasukuni Shrine (they were also off for New Year), stumbled across hundreds of goths queuing for a An Cafe concert, followed a truck selling yakiimo (roast sweet potato) by literally singing its virtues, got harangued at length on a bridge over Tōkyō Bay by an elderly homeless guy pulling a recycling cart (who also apologised at length and then disappeared when I got up to take a photograph of the sunset), watched feral cats try to catch pigeons (who were in turn trying to get breadcrumbs from people eating lunch in the park), wondered aloud at the profusion of purpose-built bagel-, banana- and onigiri– (rice ball) lunch boxes, heard a recognisable Neon Genesis Evangelion theme ringtone and, perhaps most importantly, made final preparations to get my flight back to Europe tomorrow morning. Next stop, London.