Tag Archives: Hiro-o

Life Design: Making a Photograph


This post is part of a weekly series about designing your life.
Peter Turnley, an American photographer I admire, talks about “making” a photograph instead of taking one. I puzzled over this at first.

Then I read this quotation from the poet Mary Oliver: “Attention without feeling is only a report.”

Ah! We make photographs in the same way that we make poetry which is to say that we feel our way to the truth.

Technical skills will not help you coax a flower into showing you its personality. The flower doesn’t care how expensive your camera is or how many months you’ve spent mastering exposure.

You love the flower, it loves you back. Just like words… and people.

On Saturday I spent the day in three neighbourhoods in central Tokyo: Tokyo Tower, Hiro-o and Ebisu. I walked through the city taking photographs with my heart {and Instagram}. I’ve shared them here as smaller photographs, the way they appear on my iPhone, like little gifts.


tokyo tower





divine feminine





Looking for Naoko Nishizawa

Leaning girl

For the past six weeks, I’ve been writing the first draft of a novel set in Tokyo. Two teenage girls discover the journal of a woman named Naoko Nishizawa and decide to track her down so they can return the journal to her. It’s more than a decision. It’s a mission. In the meantime, however, they read every delicious word of her journal. The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa.

A few weeks ago, I asked my friends on Facebook where Naoko should live. I was looking for a lovely Tokyo neighbourhood with a park nearby. A place with restaurants and cafes. A neigbourhood a young artist would choose.

“Hiro-o!” wrote my friend James.

And so it is. Hiro-o. Which sounds, of course, like the English word hero and that makes me happy. It is also the Tokyo neighbourhood I know best and visit the most often. Last weekend I went to Hiro-o for lunch and took some photographs.

I keep looking for Naoko Nishizawa.







Japanese word for bicycle


bicycleOn this day
I was headed
to Kato Gallery
in Hiro-o
where Chihiro-san
would advise me
on the framing
of a new painting.

She was the first Japanese person
who reached outside herself
past the pin-point of courtesy
to welcome us

On my way
to the gallery,
I passed this young woman
elegant in black
sleeveless dress
and metallic sandals.
A brown paper bag
hung from her handlebars.
She saw me
and smiled.

A second warm welcome.

Kato Gallery is now gone
but our friendship
with Chihiro-san

The Japanese word for bicycle is jitensha.
It also means runner-up.
{I wonder if that is sometimes confusing.}

Japanese word for celebration


Laughter rolls
down the street
ahead of them
like marbles.

People step out
of the way,
to make room
for such joy.

We two
quietly yearn
to join the celebration,
this particular way
of being happy
in the company
of others.

and careless.

Red balloon days.

{The Japanese word for celebration is shukugakai.}

The train to Tokyo is my teacher

trainThe train to Tokyo
is my teacher.
I’ve seen
skyscraper shoes,
people sleeping standing up,
silver mini-skirts,
shark-bite knapsacks
and train benches blooming
with kimonos.

kimono2These rides
between Tokyo and Yokohama
are like little plays,
40-minutes dramas
standing room

trainEvery ride helps me
know Japan
a little better…
one express-train vignette
at a time.

katoA friend and I
were returning from the city
(this is how I think of Tokyo
even though Yokohama
is home to 4 million).

streetWe’d been to Azabu-Juban
and Hiro-o for the day.
A late lunch at a French restaurant
where they served our salads
in a glass

restaurantsaladAt Naka-Meguro,
the car was crowded
we were grateful to find seats.

By Kikuna Station
the aisle cleared
and I saw him.

manOh! That face.

{That’s a teddy bear
peeking out of his bag.}

The train ride
from Tokyo
makes me

The real Japan

Travelers often arrive
in Japan
with a checklist
of visual expectations.
A menu of Japan-sights.
Pale, young women
in kimono.
Mount Fuji
watching over Tokyo.
Cherry blossoms
in the pink
of their youth.
Ancient temples
surrounded by bamboo forests.
Skyscrapers piercing
blue skies.
Harajuku girls
in petticoats
and fuchsia hair.
Trains packed
with Salary Men
in grey suits
en route to distant
Red vending machines
stocked with the unusual.
The panoramic view
from a marble window ledge
in the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
Gaggles of well-mannered
school girls
in navy uniforms
and straw hats.The traveler’s Japan
It begs to be captured
in photographs
and haiku.This Japan
is just part
of the story.
The predictable bit
of pristine ice-berginess
above the water.The rest of Japan
is a jumble-jangle of
wood and concrete grey
houses and apartment buildings
built up against
each other
beside train tracks
and shopping malls and
sweet, small parks.
Armies of bicycles
perch precariously
on sidewalks,
blowing over in the wind.
Plants in large ceramic pots,
sweater-wearing dogs in prams,
and 100 Yen shops.
Light blue duvets
hanging outside,
being aired out.
Women returning home
with small plastic bags
of groceries.
Grandparents on brisk walks.
Communities working together
to overcome tsunami-loss.
Ferris wheels,
Chinese food restaurants
on boats,
pizza delivery guys
zipping by
on motorbikes.
Families skating
at outdoor ice rinks.
People in love.All of these bits
are arranged
as if the huffy,
giant toddler
of the gods
grabbed handfuls of goodies
from the box marked Japan,
threw these disparate items to earth
and yelled, “All done, mommy.”There is no one Japan,
no real Japan.
All these Japans
live side by side
writing each other
into existence.In the absence
of geisha,
and ninja,
there are
ordinary people
sometimes lovely
sometimes complicated
sometimes sad
in concrete jungles
and small towns
by the sea.These Japans
are also Japan.
Travelers are welcome
and there are
no bad photos here.

Saturday errands in Tokyo

This morning we took the train to Tokyo because we had errands in the neighbourhoods of Azabu-Juban and Hiro-o. Here are a few shots I took with my iPhone… the first one is all about that fantastic floral skirt. I am enchanted by this city with its bold fashion statements… leafy, green spaces… quaint + quirky little corners… and the {epic} burgers at Homeworks.

How did you spend your Saturday?