The Tokyo I know and remember is the buzzing, vibrant, pulsating, swarming, neon flashing, sleepless city that it is. Anyone who’s been lost in one of the multiple layers of Shinjuku station or stranded in a crowded mass of people on Takeshita street has been introduced to this side of Tokyo. But in recent trips, I’ve peeled back some of the layers of this complex city and caught a glimpse of life behind Tokyo’s flashy facade. There are many neighborhoods each with its own personality and own pace. Things that really linger in my memory long after the trip is over are the hydrangeas blooming everywhere, the conbinis, the cute mascots on everything, the osoroi code at Disney Sea, the quiet forest parks, the ice cream vending machines…the simple heartbeats of life in a big city.
Here is a list of places around Tokyo that are perfect for slowing down:
- Shimokitazawa – a hipster town with a wealth of vintage shops and unique boutiques
- Tokyo Photography Museum – some provoking exhibits by Japanese photographers showcasing Japanese culture and history through a creative lens. Bonus: the oddly grand European chateau that it’s located in and the yummy Euro-style cafes nearby.
- Tokyo playgrounds – love all the retro-styled, cute mascot-themed play structures
- Tokyo Toy Museum – a hidden gem! This museum focuses on well-designed wooden and eco-friendly toys and houses an impressive collection of vintage toys from Japan and around the world. Almost everything is available for the kids to actually play with.The museum is two levels inside an old school. This place was a true gem and one of the most affordable and fun attractions we’ve been to.
- Shinjuku Goen Garden – an incredibly large park with many different styles of gardens. There are wide open fields of green lawn flanked by cherry trees and willows. My favorite section was the French-styled garden that had hundreds of roses in full bloom. Surrounding it are quiet lanes with benches sheltered by huge sycamore trees.
- Meiji Shrine – another quiet forested park near Harajuku. For an eerie experience go near sunset and feel the premature darkening of the park from the thick canopy of the trees accompanied by the loud caws of giant Japanese ravens. The Japanese lanterns lining the paths add to the atmosphere of being spirited away.
- Hie Shrine – another beautiful shrine in the middle of the city. It has beautiful vermillion buildings and adorably bibbed monkey deities.
Nothing forces me to slow down more than a camera, especially an old film camera. The weight of the metal body around my neck is a constant reminder that I’m a collector of images. Anything that catches my eye, moving me with its beauty or making me smile with its absurdity gets to be frozen in time inside my camera. My senses are heightened when I walk down a street and suddenly even the mundane becomes interesting.
Here are some more film snapshots from Tokyo and our day trips outside of Tokyo.
KAMAKURA and ENOSHIMA