Ginza is perhaps Tokyo’s most prestigious shopping district, known mostly for its high-end department stores, galleries and luxury boutiques. There's no shortage of art galleries in Tokyo, but in upscale old-school Ginza, there's one that goes back, waaaaaaaaay back.
On a recent visit, I happened upon the Okuno Building, a former apartment building that was built in 1930s. The Okuno building has somehow survived not only the ravages of World War II, but also the wrecking balls of development through the boom years thereafter. It is now home to numerous art galleries, shops for artisans and design collectives.
Looking rather like a mini Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong, the Okuno Building stands in complete contrast to its modern Ginza surroundings, almost as if it were a piece of art itself. Unlike restoration or revitalisation projects in Hong Kong, the Okuno building looks and feels basically the same as it did decades ago. There are no fancy makeovers or upgrades. The floorings have been untouched since the building was designed over 80 years ago. The interior matches the exterior perfectly and is wonderfully old, rusty and worn down. Flaking paint, bent railings, deep ruts worn into the concrete floor, it looks more like an abandoned ghost complex than a working building. The art inside is constantly evolving, with many exhibitions lasting mere days, but just walking around in the building is fun in itself. While appearing haunting to enter, I strongly urge you to experience its narrow corridors and short ceilings, poking into gallery after gallery, getting lost in its gloomy corridors and wondering if you are going to fall through the floorboards.
Let me introduce a cherished breakfast experience in Tokyo.
First things first, if you have never been to Yanaka district, just get off the train and go exploring. It is one of those rare gems in a city like Tokyo, an area steeped in history and endowed with countless historic temples; it never seems to garner the same kind of attention like the ‘old-Japan’ seeking tourist hot spot that is Asakusa. But this is what makes it great. Yanaka is Edo. You don’t even need a map, just take a walk down any side street and you are bound to come across a temple with some kind of historic importance. Basically, Yanaka is that wonderful of a topic that it deserves a post all of its own, for another time.
Within the midst of all that history stands the Cafe - Kayaba Coffee.
Kayaba coffee is a fusion of ancient and modern. This traditional coffee house has been running for over 70 years. The building itself is a worth-seeing spot as it was built during the World War I in the so-called “old downtown” of Tokyo. The coffee house has survived the earthquakes and the air raids during the War and exterior remained unchanged to this day. However, the true charm of this cafe is its ability to adapt to modern times. The original owner has closed the place in 2006 but it has been brought to life once more in 2009 with the help of non-profit organisations and the people behind the nearby art gallery SCAI THE BATHHOUSE. While Kayaba coffee house has been renovated, you can feel the retro spirit all over the place, from the original sign post, tatami mats, chairs and coffee cups that have been used for decades. The warm atmosphere will make you feel at home.
I can’t see a thing.
There’s clouds of smoke billowing in every direction. People rushing by me with growling bellies or expensive cameras; and everywhere I turn I smell the essence of Japan.
It’s night time in Tokyo Omoide Yokocho (more commonly known as Piss Alley or Memory Lane), and the place is starting to fill. Every shop is wafting a different delicious smell from their open BBQ’s down the narrow and crowded alley that’s usually filled with locals and tourists from every country. It has its roots in the black market which sprang up in post-war Japan in the late 1940s. It was more famously known as Piss Alley, probably as back in the old days at makeshift black market tent bars, there were no proper toilets, and drunken people just pissed around.
While the entire place actually burnt down in 1999 and was remade into the alley of today, all the decor and the general vibe was deliberately made to feel authentic to the post-war era. I think this would be an awesome setting for a Kung Fu movie of sorts. There’s just something about it; from the old looking decor, the crazy amount of smoke coming from the open flames, the shoulder-to-shoulder people sitting on tiny chairs in tiny restaurants, the lights, the sounds, the smells. Oh god, the smells.
It's chaos. But i love it.
在日本旅行时，我都会去居酒屋喝杯小酒吃串烧，感受一下日本的居酒屋悠哉气氛。沿着东京新宿站西口陆桥，与高楼大厦形成对比，充满昭和复古氛围的长屋，就是Omoide Yokocho （回忆横丁）。横丁在日语里是胡同、小巷的意思，思い出横丁 翻译过来就是“充满回忆的小路”，是不是光听名字就有一种很文艺很浪漫的感觉呢？然而这里之所以出名倒不是文艺，恰恰相反，是因为在这里可以体验到繁华东京最接地气的市井美食。从远处看也非常醒目的个性招牌，是这里的特色之一。回忆横丁都是满满居酒屋店家，共有80几间的餐厅。每家都是小小的，人们肩并肩地坐在吧枱前。当中有17间是串烧店，烟雾弥漫，非常热闹。虽然环境简陋但是价格相对外面的居酒屋要便宜许多，可以算是迷你版和低配版的深夜食堂了。
Finnish Nightmares: A Must-read Social Guide for Anyone (Not just for Finns) 芬兰人的噩梦, 超人气幽默又另类芬兰社交指南 / 漫画集
These are funny books of finnish people. I spotted these little books at a bookstore in Finland and was curious to see what kind of nightmares the Finnish have. After flicking through and realising they are in English and also hilarious I bought them both to take home to Singapore. Apparently, the Finnish Nightmares books have been bestsellers worldwide.
Finnish Nightmares by Karoliina Korhonen, is a collection of comic art detailing the life of finnish Matti, who loves silence and personal space. If someone gets angry or is behaving badly, he wonders what he has done wrong. The idea is interesting, and I like the way the nightmares (universal as they are) are represented. Who of us hasn't felt awkward when someone invades ones space? Who doesn't feel at least a tiny bit of social anxiety when standing in an elevator with a stranger? What about that awkward moment when you accidentally touch the salesperson while collecting your change? Small talk turning into something way serious? That´s when it happens. A finnish awkward moment. And I could go on. These books have made me wonder if I'm maybe a secret Finn? The author says that if you relate to any of the comics you may have a little Matti living inside you. I think I am Matti.
芬兰艺术家Karoliina Korhonen创作了一个漫画系列，取名为“芬兰人的噩梦”（Finnish Nightmares），漫画的主角叫Matti，是一个典型的芬兰人，注重平和、安静的个人生活，尊重人际交往中的个人空间、对待他人的礼貌以及避免不必要的搭讪。
Painting attracts so many people today of all ages. Painting is not just for the professional. Painting can be a pastime or a hobby too; and pursued for the satisfaction of simply trying something one has always wondered whether or not they could do. I think most people like the idea of painting something of beauty and feeling good about being able to say they painted it. Painting as a hobby can be relaxing in a stress filled life. It can be an escape into another world, a world of calm. Anyone can pick painting up as a hobby and enjoy it. One will not find themself dealing with boredom when taking up painting. There are many benefits to the hobby of painting.
Painting tree silhouettes is slightly more challenging than drawing, however I find the experience to be therapeutic and very much worth any effort involved because the end product is striking and beautiful. Something to be proud of every time. Looking upon a gorgeous tree silhouette gives me a feeling of peace. The fact that they are also some of the easiest natural things to recreate makes them one of my favourite subjects to paint.
I love to use acrylics. The canvas size that i usually use is 12 x 18 inches. Acrylics are very forgiving. If you don’t like the way it looks once the paint is dry, paint right on over it. Keep adding layers until you are happy!
As a rule, using black in painting is usually a no no. It creates a hole in your picture when used carelessly. Having said that I love using blackest black for my silhouettes because it slices a striking, intricate and delicate pattern in the paper or canvas that I find beautifully captivating. If you prefer not to use black however, you can always just use a very darkened version of whatever other colors you are using. Although I said that acrylics are forgiving, and they are, however painting a purely black tree on your background is not going to be easy to paint over if you mess up, so proceed with caution.
Harmonica Yokocho (Alley) in Kichioji district of Tokyo contrasts nicely with the fancy neighborhood that it resides in. Places like this are called yokocho in Japanese, a set of alleyways where some of the city’s most precious gems are safely sheltered - small shops, modest restaurants, teeming ramshackle pubs. Those who are familiar with Kichioji usually associate it with its links to art, high-end fashion, fine dining, and top izakayas (Japanese pubs). In fact, many popular Japanese personalities such as famous musicians and manga (Japanese anime) creators flock here to hang out and shop for themselves. It’s also very accessible from anywhere in Tokyo; it’s just a 15-minute train ride away from Shinjuku.
You’ll know you’ve found the main entrance to Harmonica Yokocho when you see a large yellow sign with a red Japanese inscription. Below that inscription, you’ll also find the English translation, except it’s spelled “Harmonica Yokyocyo”. If you want to have a true “Tokyo Drinking Experience”, there is nothing quite as authentic to be found in Tokyo as what Harmonica Alley has to offer.
I first laid my eyes on Tallinn last December. At the time, I was on my trip to Helsinki, the Finnish capital two hours away by ferry from Tallinn. Given their close proximity and shared heritage, these two cities are often referred to as twin capitals, Baltic sisters, or simply Talsinki. Castles and other churches and buildings lie scattered all over this tiny country. Then there’s the aftermath of two World Wars and the Cold War, as well as Soviet occupation and withdrawal, making it a fascinating country to visit.
Tallinn’s old town is just marvellous. Visiting there is like stepping back a few centuries and they have done a good job of preserving their history and medieval structures. I walked around there shuffling down cobblestone paths which are lined with medieval homes and ancient churches. Tiny alleys lead to tinier lanes, where you find cloistered yards. The city is still ringed by much of its original stone wall and many guard towers. It’s breathtaking.
I don't really use a map nor an itinerary to discover it. I realise just going by foot everywhere and stumbling on interesting things is fulfilling enough. I like medieval towns to be empty and quiet. It personally helps me appreciate them more. Medieval towns are much better when they are empty and peaceful. In winter, the narrow cobbled streets that take you past grand merchants houses, medieval walls and hidden courtyards are almost deserted.
由于爱沙尼亚的首都塔林 (Tallinn) 就在赫尔辛基 (Helsinki) 两小时的船程范围内，于是我便贪心地把塔林这城市都加插在我芬兰旅行程之内。在港口便望见一大片白墙红顶、高矮参差错落有致的房屋，间或有一个个突起的墨绿色尖铜顶刺向天空，勾画出一道耐人寻味的天际线。那里就是塔林的老城区。单是听名字，已经觉得浪漫。塔林老城是欧洲唯一保持着中世纪外貌和格调的城市，因此被列入世界文化遗产。
I tend to shoot as I am going about my life so much of my photography is 'daily life' or places I have chosen to visit. I have not actually photographed many of the 'tourist' places and I probably need to do a bit more of that.
While I have not completed my Finland winter stories, I shall bring you back to Japan, precisely to one of the most crowded and vibrant cities in the world, heaven for street photographers: Tokyo.
One of my favourite spots in Tokyo to wonder around photographing and a paradise for street photographers is Ginza; the Grande Dame of high-end shopping in Tokyo. This is the place where all the main fashion brands show their beauty and richness by installing enormous stores and decorating the spaces with the most extravagant architectures and billboards.
There is also a sort of sophistication that Ginza still holds onto that the other districts just do not have thanks in part to its wide streets and sidewalks. This makes a much more relaxing place to shop. I would love to go back again and again and again, as there is always something new happening in these crowded and exciting streets.
One of the good things about visiting Finland in winter is that it is easy to catch both sunrise and sunset on the same day, offering ample photography opportunities without insanely early wake-up calls. Getting up to catch the sunrise in Finland in the winter is a piece of cake. It’s pretty odd to see a sunrise around 10 a.m. in the morning but the sky looks so beautiful that you forget about it later. The same thing happens during sunset. There is this magical blue light that can be seen around Helsinki that makes everything better. You will have to visit it to see it. Therefore, it’s actually reasonable to catch sunrise and sunset, and if you are at all able to, I suggest doing so as you certainly don’t want to regret missing out on a beautiful sunrise when photographing.
Do you prefer the sunrise or the sunset? Which one really stands for the beginning and the ending - when both are the start and finish line of another day or another night. It’s a matter of opinion. I love both, but love sunset even more. The color of the evening just after the sun falls behind the horizon is absolutely unique and stunning to me. Whichever you prefer, you can frequently tell a sunrise from a sunset by the fact that the latter appears more chaotic, and the former, tidier.
Japan is a country I have been visiting (besides Hong Kong) with incredible mountain scenery, one of the world’s most chaotic & quirky cities such as Tokyo, a long history of culture & tradition, and of course incredible cuisine with authentic sushi on offer everywhere you turn.
Surrounding these peaceful creations are cities with complex and diverse histories, filled with architectural wonders built for both style and purpose. My heart trembles at the thought of Japan and I’ll struggle to capture its greatness in words. Why am I so overwhelmed? Why does Japan hold so many special pieces of my heart? Why go back? Why do I keep coming back?
A very happy weekend! My short photo essay under pen name 蓝天游 on Lake Kawaguchi (near Mt Fuji) in Tokyo, Japan 日本东京《东京河口湖赏富士山美景》is featured in a special press travel edition.So happy to see it being featured nationwide in print! Special thanks to Lianhe Zaobao, you have made my day! Thank U so much 感谢 感恩 :)
I love street art. I have been a street art fanatic for many years. What began as mere curiosity, many years ago, soon became a deep appreciation, and occasional obsession. There’s something so impressive about artists pouring themselves into works that in all likelihood will be removed or destroyed. Aside from the more technical aspects, it’s simply a beautiful way to liven the concrete backdrop of an otherwise bland, almost dismal scene. Sometimes it’s a multi-story mural exploding with colour, becoming a focal point of the neighbourhood. Other times it’s a simple stencil, maybe conveying some cheeky social commentary.
In Helsinki, the city considered by many as the cultural capital of Finland, street art isn’t just an art form. It’s an intrinsic part of the city’s history and identity. Finland has a wonderful street art program. I found a wonderful art area. In their constructions zones, they put up blank walls surrounding the scene. On these walls, street artists are allowed to “deface” them and showcase their art. This blew me away. The beauty brought to the construction site from the artists made it a better destination. The bold colours used by the artists contrasted strongly with the brown wall of the stadium. Each section held a different message depending on what the artist wanted to portray. The result is that street art has burgeoned and become one of the defining aspects of the city’s character. Buildings tall and small are daubed with beautiful murals.
Everyone, truly everyone: from Helsinki locals to avid travelers, told me to visit the Unesco World Heritage site of Suomenlinna when in Helsinki. I wasn’t entirely sure what all Suomenlinna had to offer when planning my trip. It felt a bit like: "You have to visit the Eiffel tower" when in Paris, which usually makes me want to skip a site or monument altogether. But not in the case of Suomenlinna: it is a truly unique place. Suomenlinna has a really interesting history, paralleling Finland's history. It's a fortress built over 6 islands in the 18th century, at a time when Finland was part of Sweden.
After only a short 20-minute ferry trip from the city center, I arrived in what seems like a different world - a snowy white wonderland. No cars, few tourists because of the winter season and a snow storm. It was -20°C and all the trees were covered with beautiful hoarfrost. I was able to get some pretty epic pictures thanks to all of the snow. I’m not sure what Suomenlinna looks like in the summer, but with the snow in the winter it was breathtaking.
I spent almost two weeks in Finland, exploring, discovering and learning. Finland has long been a dream destination for me, so when I had the chance to explore this amazing city for several days, I packed my warmest jackets, my favourite camera and away I went. Winter in Finland is famous for the amount of snow falling every year and for how long the snow season lasts.
Helsinki was colder than I anticipated but the weather didn't stop me from exploring even its most obscure corners. There were so many things to do in Helsinki. Helsinki is a quaint European city with lots to see and do. I like it how you could have almost the entire place to yourself, especially during the cold winter season. Unlike the more famed touristy cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, Helsinki is the salve for the over-travelled soul, looking to take a break from bus loads of Chinese and European tourists. It’s a lovely place for winter-lovely travellers, on a search for a place of peace and quiet, for themselves. I am so grateful for every encounter in Finland.
My Photo Essay on Hayao Miyazaki Clock At Nippon Television Tower In Tokyo, Japan 日本东京《钟声响起走进宫崎骏的梦幻世界》Press Publication Dated 2 March 2019
A very happy weekend! My short photo essay under pen name 蓝天游 on Hayao Miyazaki Clock At Nippon Television Tower In Tokyo, Japan 日本东京《钟声响起走进宫崎骏的梦幻世界》is featured today! So happy to see it being featured nationwide in print! Special thanks to Lianhe Zaobao, you have made my day! :) Thank U so much 感谢、感恩 。