As a photographer, there could be few better rewards than the opportunity to shoot Japan in the height of fall. I had just won the Canon Photomarathon 2009, a national photography contest, and was en route to the island country to join winners from 14 other countries for a weeklong photo assignment.
After many sleepless nights before the trip, I finally found myself at Narita Airport in Tokyo. What struck me the moment I stepped out of the airport was the extreme sense of discipline. Even the trees along the road had been neatly pruned to the exact same size.
We first visited the Meji Shrine, right in the heart of bustling Tokyo city. Built in the traditional style with Japanese cypress and copper, the shrine commemorates Emperor Meji, who is credited with having abolished the feudal order and established a democratic government in Japan.
Our next stop was the Asakusa Sensouji Temple located in the centre of the shitamachi (or low town). This temple was completed in 645 BC, making it Tokyo’s oldest temple.
The lane leading to it, called Nakamise, is one of the oldest shopping centres in Japan. Besides typically Japanese souvenirs such as yukata (or summer kimonos) and folding fans, these shops also sell local snacks from the Asakusa region.
Mix of old and new
The ancient and the modern sometimes result in a baffling mix in Tokyo. For instance, I was amazed to see trendy young men toting iPhones and GPRS devices pulling hand rickshaws. They were so far removed from the impoverished rickshaw pullers I had encountered in Kolkata.
The next day, we visited Mt Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan. The 12,388 ft-tall dormant volcano is considered one of Japan’s ‘Three Holy Mountains’. The volcano last erupted in 1707.
We caught our first glimpse of Fuji-san (san is a Japanese mark of respect) from Lake Yamanaka, the biggest of the five lakes around Mt Fuji. We also visited the two other lakes around Fuji-san — Lake Kawaguchi that has the biggest shoreline alongside Fuji and Lake Motosu, which is a popular destination for adventure sports such as wind surfing and scuba diving.
I got a taste of Japanese hospitality at the Gokayama village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The village within the city of Nanto remains untouched by modernity. Its traditional gassho-style homes are over 300 years old, and guests are treated with a great amount of courtesy.
I was treated to this courtesy elsewhere in Japan too. We didn’t face any inconveniences as tourists. I came back impressed with Japanese culture, warmth and above all, the discipline that makes the country tick like clockwork.
Kaushik Chakravorty is a professional photographer based in Bombay