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Apr 05 2014

Japan 2014

By Mark Beresford | Comments 6

Face masks

I’ve always been fascinated by people wearing face masks in Japan. You don’t see it in western culture, except for people who are very ill, but it makes a lot of sense. With Tokyo being so crowded it’s easy to spread germs. It’s considered polite to wear a face mask if you’re sick, and perfectly acceptable to wear one if you don’t want to get sick or have allergies. These pictures were all taken near Shinjuku station, one of the busiest stations in the World.

Face mask wearing has increased in recent years. In fact, it’s become fashionable. About 30% of people wearing face masks say they are doing so for reasons other than health.

The top non-health reasons for wearing face masks are:

  • They are not wearing any make-up and want to hide their face.
  • They want to keep their face warm.
  • They want to make their face look small.
  • It is comforting.
  • It makes them look mysterious or cute.

Other theories are that young people wear masks to avoid standing out in a crowd, as that’s not the Japanese way, or because it is a barrier that makes social interaction easier for a generation used to communicating with email and enjoying computer software friends. Whichever it is, the Japanese are able to make face masks blend in with their very stylish dress. I love how they pay great attention to their appearance – almost everyone looks so beautifully turned out that just walking down the street looking at people is a treat.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Kaori and I arrived at the Tsukiji Fish Market by 4am so that we would be among the 120 people who are allowed to see the tuna auction each day. It was very cold and we waited for 90 minutes before we were marched off in single file to the auction site.

The tuna arrive frozen with no heads or tails. They lie there in state while the buyers walk around hitting their flesh with hooks while taking notes.

Slices are carefully inspected with lights and details recorded.

Then, the auction begins. The tuna in the photo below are among the smaller ones being auctioned off. We didn’t really understand the process they were using because there weren’t lots of people standing around winking or raising their hands, but could see when one was purchased because it was dragged off with a hook on a pole.

Some of the fish were then sawn up and loaded into crates for transport.

Outside the fish market it was very cold so early in the morning. It was also very dangerous. The whole market swarmed with small electric carts travelling at high speed. The tourists are watching, but the people driving the carts are working and time is money, so the carts zoom by fast and close making it risky to be out in the street.

As well as electric carts, there are lots of vans, scooters, motorbikes, and bicycles going in every direction. It’s very chaotic and you have to move slowly and deliberately keeping your wits about you at all times if you want to get out alive.

Meiji shrine

This man was sitting very still inside a building with windowless openings. It seemed as though he was guarding something. The joe silk robe and tate-eboshi hat that he’s wearing, along with the shaku ritual baton that he’s carrying, suggest that he’s a Shinto priest, also called Kannushi.


Food is a Japanese obsession, and it’s no wonder because the Japanese are very social and the food is so fresh and delicious. Japanese youths always seem to travel in groups and young women love to eat out together. This group is waiting for tables to become available in one of the restaurants upstairs in a Tokyo department store.

However, this group of older women weren’t having so much fun, despite the name of the restaurant in big letters on the wall.

I really wanted to eat with the working class locals in Tokyo and persuaded Kaori to go down this alleyway near the Shinjuku railway bridges where there are numerous cramped restaurants where you sit at a bar and eat Tokyo style bar food.

We ate a variety of meat kebabs, including chicken heart, liver, and beef tongue. I made some friends who enjoyed the gaijin from the UK, and showed me how to drink warm sugar cane shochu with a salted plum in the bottom. Shochu is a kind of sake except that it’s distilled instead of fermented like most sake that you can buy in the West.

While we were at the fish market, we dived in out of the cold to have some sushi breakfast. Here’s Kaori tucking into fresh fish shirako (sperm).

On the edge of the fish market are food stands with tiny counters that feed the people who work there. There’s the most wonderful smell of dashi and noodles as you walk by.

We were feeling very hungry at the end of one day just before we caught the train back to Kaori’s parents, and the smell of this little crepe kiosk was impossible to resist. We each had a delicious crepe with fillings, folded up into a cone for one-handed eating. It’s rare to see people eating on the street in Japan, but an exception seemed to be made for these.


Asakusa has one of the best known temples in Japan. But I enjoyed the rickshaws that were giving people rides around this historical monument more. This lady was having fun taking a corner at speed.

And this scene was perfect for someone who likes to take photos of people having their photo taken.


We spent a lot of time on trains in Tokyo. Sometimes it’s fun.

and at other times it’s very crowded and stressful. When it’s really busy you have to jump on and push your way in to avoid being trapped in the doors.

Dressing up

The Tokyoites do love to dress up. From high fashion to cosplay (costume play) you’ll see it everywhere in Tokyo. This street vendor specializes in maid costumes.

And you still see quite a lot of traditional Japanese clothing being worn.

Kimonos are worn by elegant older ladies.

As well as by the young and fun.

Architectural style

When it comes to architectural style, let’s just say that the capital of Japan is the opposite of the capital of France.

Overhead wires are just part of the urban scenery. One person told me that this is so that they are easier to repair in the event of an earthquake. But actually, Tokyo has started to bury its power lines because power poles fall down in earthquakes making it very difficult to get around to rescue people.

At night, the neon in the major areas of the city takes over, and does have a beauty of its own.


The end

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