They are incredibly kind to lost travelers.
On two different occassions in Tokyo, someone asked us if we needed help finding something as we stood there staring stupidly at a map. The first time, an impeccably dressed woman asked us where we were headed. She didn't immediately know where the place was, but searched the map until she could point it out. The next day, another kind stranger whipped out his iPad to look up and show us the route to our destination. How's that for acts of kindness? Thank you to those Japanese strangers!
|Ladies in kimonos at Kyoto's Kiyomizu Temple|
Women actually wear kimonos
Whenever I tell people that I'm from Texas, they automatically assume that I was surrounded by cowboys wearing boots, ten-gallon hats, chaps and spurs. Ummm... no, not unless it's rodeo time. So I kind of thought that, similarly, no one in Japan actually walked around wearing kimonos. I was wrong. These folks were in the minority, but I saw a few kimono wearers every day. Part of it may be that cherry blossoms blooming at a temple is the perfect backdrop for a photo in traditional Japanese clothes. But I did see women walking around downtown Tokyo dressed this way, too.
|Masked Tokyo salarymen stride past a busy sidewalk smoking lounge.|
Tokyo's Men in Black
A black suit with a white shirt is definitely de rigueur for the Tokyo office worker. Well, I noticed one daring young career woman wearing a pinstripe charcoal pantsuit, but that was as crazy as it got. Conformity seemed to be key. The one thing that stood out was how many people wore surgical masks covering their mouth and nose. At first, I thought they were sick and thoughtfully keeping germs from spreading. A guide later informed me that the pollen count was high, and this was their way of keeping allergies down. Can you imagine Texans doing this when Cedar Fever hits? Everyone would think you were about to rob them.
|Salarymen relaxing in Ueno Park at an office cherry blossom watching party. Not exactly Casual Friday.|
Pedestrian Scramble at Shibuya Crossing
My husband wanted to know why I just had to go to Shibuya Crossing. "Because it was in Lost in Translation," was my reply. That didn't really seem to be a compelling enough reason for anyone else in my family, but it was good enough for me. After months living in Malaysia where jaywalking and crossing lanes in a Frogger-like way is the norm, Shibuya was simply amazing. Everyone, both cars and pedestrians, followed the rules! Crowds of people built up on the sidewalks waiting until the crosswalk lights turned green. As soon as the cars came to a halt, they flooded onto the streets in the busiest, all-directions, pedestrian scramble crossing I have ever seen. For a whole minute, it's sheer madness. Then, the crosswalk lights turn back to red, and the walkers actually stop entering the street. It's really something to behold. Our vantage point was the Starbucks overlooking the intersection. It's rumored to be among the busiest in the world, and the staff doesn't seem too keen on people taking pictures out the window. (Just sayin'.)
|Pedestrians and cars take their turn at Shibuya Crossing.|
Youth Culture in Harajuku
In Harajuku, you'll find a bold contrast to somber attire of the white collar workers. Youth culture rules here, especially on Sunday afternoon at Jingu Bridge. This is when the Cosplay (short for Costume Play) subculture comes out in droves to see and be seen. Looking at these kids in their truly elaborate get ups, I wondered how many years would go by until they morph into one of the black suited, toe-the-line salarymen I had seen in other parts of Tokyo.
|Harajuku girls and boys|
|Can you guess which ones are the tourists visiting Harajuku?|
Kyoto's Style is Flirty and Fun
Kyoto Station is a supposedly a must see for it's modern architecture, plus it's the biggest transportation hub in town. But what I loved most about this place is the vast shopping mall stretching out underground. I almost told my family that they could look at temples without me, and I would just shop my way through the day. (For some reason, hubby was opposed to this plan.) If you're familiar with the American store, Anthropologie, it's pretty much an entire mall based on that style. Everywhere I looked, I saw flirty, fun, romantic fashion. On the subways, I noticed that the women's clothes were much more colorful, flowing and embellished than those in Tokyo.
One day, were were visiting the International Manga Museum where one of the temporary exhibits was on Manga's Influence on Fashion. In walked three of the best dressed ladies around. They put my jeans, sneakers, and zip-up hoodie to shame. If you compare their outfits to the cosplay participants in Tokyo's Harajuku, I'd say that sums up the differences I felt between the two cities.
|Sweet cosplay styles in Kyoto|
This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox and Photo Friday at Delicious Baby. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.