Japan is really hot in the summer. Unbearable. Even the locals said the summer heat was the worst in years. Little did I know I would encounter weather so bad.
It was really hot. Anyway…I traveled to Japan this past August for a guidebook and photographed just about every tourist site in 13 cities across southern Japan including Tokyo. I flew into Tokyo and traveled to Shimonoseki, Hiroshima, Kurashiki, Kobe, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and Nagoya. Spend a few days in Tokyo and decided (and was pushed by an aggressive editor) to go back to Kyushu and covered Fukuoka, Kagoshima, and Kuamamoto. I spent loads of time staring out the window of the Shinkansen bullet train watching the world blur by.
I’ve been to Japan many times in the past for both pleasure and family as well as work. I shot my way across the Noto Peninsula for a bicycling magazine and I’ve done many a project on my own throughout Tokyo and surrounding areas. Japan isn’t new to me but its always an adventure. Karaoke (yes, I sang), hot baths (no…too darn hot), rotating sushi bars (pretty cool), sake (need you ask), yukatas (if I can find one that fits) and Godzilla (grrrrr!) But this trip wasn’t just about badly howling Frank Sinatra songs and tossing empty beer cans into the street because heaven forbid the Japanese make throwing trash away easy…it was about taking pictures…and let me tell you I took some pictures. I think I captured on an average about 2000 images a day and that equals about 50,000 images…and thats on the conservative side.
Seems all I did was have my face buried behind my camera snapping away. And when I wasn’t taking a picture, I spent most of my Tokyo time (and for that matter in every city I traveled to) drinking Pocari Sweat, the Japanese version of Gatorade (and neither taste better than the other) while standing and sweating over a vending machine. The heat and humidity just about killed me. On one of my last days in Kyushu, I just about fell to heat exhaustion. I don’t think I’ve ever been that hot. Not even after a tough workout class with my iron-butt trainer have I had salt stains ring my shirts and socks that seemed as if they came out of a washing machine.
So I was a hot, sweaty travel photographer. Glamorous? Well, I got to travel to these exotic and foreign destinations visiting tourists spots and restaurants but its hard to enjoy. You are there to capture, as best as you can, the essence and feeling of that location, the taste of this food, or the peace in that temple. All of this has to be done on a frame or two and done within an extreme short period of time. In most cities, I had only a day or two to cover what most tourists would cover in a week. I mean from train station to museum to park to castle to museum to restaurant to store to museum to temple to shrine to restaurant to scenic area to historic spot to statue to ferry to train to bus to hotel and so forth all the while you’re deciphering a map written in Japanese hoping for a moment of brilliance that never comes. From sunrise to sundown for close to a month. You get very little sleep, rest, or time to enjoy anything. And talk about the walking. I walked so much I wore the rubber off my new Lacoste sneakers within the first two weeks. And did I mention the heat?
There is also the amount of equipment I have to carry. Multiple cameras, lenses, laptop, cords, cases, hard drives, more cords, flash cards, cases, bags, zip locks, and even more cords. Also clothes. Its not fun. The fact that you are always fearing a hard drive (although I had four of them) would go down loosing thousands of images is enough to make you stay up at night. It was no different in the old days with film but digital seems to be tougher as there is just so many more accessories to carry around. You could still in one way or another loose your film. In my college days, I back packed through Central America and Southeast Asia. I carried a film camera, a few lenses, and a few rolls of film. Once my kit (camera, film, passport, etc..) got left behind at a bus station in Saigon because a porter forgot to load it onto our bus. It arrived the next day, no problems asked. I sweated that one. Now…its a different story. Way too much on the line. Yet, today I feel like I am just a walking byte.
You also have to do all the logistics and planning, deal with the language barriers, read maps and outdated guidebooks, try to communicate with unfriendly locals who don’t want their picture taken. Cloudy weather when you need sun, dirty clothes that need a wash, and raincoats that never fold small enough to carry comfortably. Train schedules, flights, tickets, overhead baggage. Odd sized money, coins, vending machines, strange foods… travel photography isn’t what you think it is. Its not walking up an noon with a foreign beer hangover and going to make epic photos of a group of monks at an ancient temple. Its waking up at 5am with a foreign beer hangover hoping some monk won’t scream bloody hell at you because you forgot to take off your shoes when you entered…or how you walked in circles trying to find some obscure cafe some writer wrote about but never went to…or trying to explain to someone who doesn’t speak English who doesn’t understand my bad Japanese or pantomime hoping they’d explain where the hell I am on a map that isn’t written in English.
Travel is tough.