Last time we saw Takumi was in 2011, when we were a 'host family' and he stayed in our home to get a sense of living with an English family. We weren’t really in a position to travel much at the time, so thought it would be a great experience to bring the world to us. Within a five year period we hosted thirty-seven people from fifteen different countries, and Takumi was our first Japanese guest. He was only twenty at the time, fairly quiet, and a massive Arsenal football club fan - As I recall, he had a whole suitcase full of Arsenal paraphenalia to take back home. Takumi and I have loosely kept in touch via Facebook, and it was great to have him show us around Tokyo for a couple of days. He is more of a country boy and not the biggest fan of Tokyo, so we are even more grateful for his time!
Our first day saw us visit Senso -Ji Temple: Greeted first by the massive red 'Thunder Gate' there was then a long walkway of stalls selling anything from chopsticks to kimonos. It was heaving.
Once we had navigated our way through the crowds the majestic site of the temple presented itself. There was a smoking-stone-incense-bowl where according to legend, if you want yourself in the smoke your dreams will come true. I got the feeling there were many ways one could enhance their fortunes, if they were so inclined!
We left via the back road which was far more bearable, and headed to the world's tallest free-standing tower: the Tokyo Skytree. It was so busy we had to grab a voucher that would enable us to return in three hours to purchase a ticket! No problem, it was lunchtime!
The wait was well worth it, and we spent some time looking down from 350 metres above the city. Even the most buzzing city can look peaceful from above.
Today, March 31st was one of those very special days, that even at 2.30am my mind is still buzzing with thoughts and memories that I am sure will last a lifetime.
We met Takumi at 10am and headed for Rikugien Gardens in Komegome, and were surprised by the orderly queue that had formed around an outside wall...
Before leaving London I conceived an idea for a photographic feature and got a load of model release forms together. Takumi thought this place may offer the right kind of setting, as the series is based around the art of cherry blossom viewing, so a full bloom was hoped for. Ueno Park has a lot of trees, but attracts thousands of tourists a day and the trees are obscured by some ugly fencing.
Rikugien was a gem of a park, full of well-dressed Japanese pensioners and a huge and amazing cherry blossom tree. Of course it was surrounded by people and park-guides keeping the path clear. Executing my idea was looking tricky, as we prepared to leave.
As is the Japanese way, it's not always easy to gauge enthusiasm or to know if someone has had enough. I had asked a lot of Takumi by enlisting him to translate my idea to strangers and asking them to sign a model release form for me. I was very happy when he said I have another idea, and suggested an alternative location about twenty minutes away.
We entered Yoyogi Park and walked up the main boulevard. Ahead of us I could see a canopy of light-pink fluffiness. I was optimistic. Clusters of blossom trees were divided by a busy pathway, and as far as the eye could see were groups of friends and family sitting, chatting eating and building up for a great afternoon of Hanami.
I laid out the cotton throw I had brought from home and set up my camera and tripod. Sam filmed some of the action and Takumi started the task of asking for people to be photographed, with me smiling politely by his side. We got off to a good start with a group of five young women, which was swiftly followed by three men drinking Sake and beer, that we lured away from their own spot a few blankets away! We stopped for some sustenance after managing five shots, and I think Takumi was hoping it was over! I told him I would like to double the figure (less than my original target) so he politely agreed and we got back on it! Some people said no, but I really think we got some great photos. I am afraid they will not be posted on Facebook as they are destined for the 'real world' but I will be happy to show anyone who asks when I get back home. All I will say, is we asked one guy who must have been at least seventy and with his dog if he would participate. When he sat down, he widened his legs, and adjusted his hips. He did the full side-splits and raised an arm in the air. Turns out he is a Master Yogi, so for all my yoga friends, this was inspirational! The portrait-sitter of dreams.
As if that wasn't enough, I have learned how to say ' I am a photographer' in Japanese. It sounds a little like this 'Wa tashi wa shishenken dis'.
Leaving the park on a high, we took a stroll around Harajuku, and ended up in Bill's for coffee and cake. It was more like a swanky restaurant than it's English counterparts, but very enjoyable!
It was time to bid farewell to Takumi, so we thanked him again and assured him we would stay in touch and send plenty of pictures from our two days together.
Just to wrap up the day's activities and I know I'll be having less than five hours sleep (did someone say holiday?). When Sam and I went for dinner tonight we asked directions to a restaurant from two young guys. Soon, four of their mates turned up and four out of six of them were busy on their mobiles trying to find it. With minimal English and lots of hand gestures they said to follow them. Turned out the restaurant was closed, but these boys were now on a mission to find us somewhere to eat! They were on their phones, then apologising for taking too long, and then we were off again. We got to a shopping mall that was part of a train station, and most businesses were winding down for the day as it was coming up to 9.30. We found the building plan with various restaurants, and they were apologising again, saying they don't yet understand, which I took to mean they weren't sure which floor it was on. Then, there was more excitement when they realised it was on the 8th floor. Amidst giggling and the boys banter with each other, we bundled into a lift, where they escorted us to the restaurant. As is my method of communication, I whipped out my phone and took a picture of the boys with Samuel, and reciprocated with one of their phones.
They told us they were from North Korea, but I think they were settled in Japan and were all Rugby players. What a joyous day.
Goodnight. Sleep tight.