So if you know me in real life, you’ve probably seen photos of me recently dressed up as a Japanese Lolita. Here’s where I begin to explain all of that.
It’s taken me awhile to start posting about this because I have so many photos and I just kept pushing it back in favour of shorter, more timely entries. BUT. It’s going up now! いきましょう！
A million years ago, I submitted a bunch of photos to some photo contest because the prize was a trip to Japan. You know, like you do when you come across a contest on the internet. I don’t even remember where I heard about it, but it was sponsored by the Japan Tourism Agency and they were looking for photos in a variety of categories. As with all the random contests I enter on the internet, I entered and promptly forgot about it. This was so long ago, I didn’t even know I’d be living in Japan when the contest ended. And who actually thinks that they’re ever going to win anything? (Hint: not me.)
Fast forward to early this year and I get an email that I’m a winner in this contest that I forgot about. What?! Free airfare to Japan! Free hotel! At first I’m suspicious (I never win anything) and then I just find it kind of hilarious — I won a TRIP TO JAPAN while I’m LIVING IN JAPAN. What are the chances of that? Apparently over 38,000 photos were submitted to the contest so it’s extra surreal.
My photo that won is the photo above. I took it a couple years ago in Tokyo, during an early-morning trek to Tsukiji Market for breakfast. I thought it was awesome that if you need help, a guy will magically COME OUT OF THE WALL to help you. (If you’ve ever seen the tv show Departures, it happens to them.)
I am by no means a photographer (except in the sense that I’m a person who takes photos) — the photo itself isn’t anything special, but what’s happening in it makes me love Japan.
And I will now accept you guys referring to me as “an award-winning photographer.”
Anyway, my suspicions disappeared when I received shinkansen tickets in the mail from Osaka to Tokyo. I would have enjoyed free airfare from Canada, but the shinkansen between Osaka and Tokyo isn’t exactly cheap so I was happy.
When I arrived in Tokyo, I was met on the platform by my unbelievably gracious translator/guide Keiko*. Each of the winners (there were seven of us) was assigned a translator/guide for the weekend. Keiko took us to the hotel, checked us in, and gave me a package with a keitai (cell phone), a ¥10000 Suica card, and ¥30000 in restaurant vouchers.
* I love being met by people holding up a sign with my name on it. If you’re ever meeting me at the airport, please bring a sign with my name on it.
We stayed at the Keio Plaza Hotel, which is basically next door to Shinjuku Station.
The view from our room!
The next day was the awards ceremony. We piled on to a bus and headed to Saitama, just outside of Tokyo.
My lucky number!
I stole this program thing from Keiko. I was the only winner from North America. The other winners were from various countries in Asia and one was from South Africa. I guess it makes sense considering that the majority of tourists to Japan are from Asia.
The awards ceremony was at this totally weird yet AMAZING place called The Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel. It was deep underground (we entered through the door above) but just such a impressive place. Yes, it’s in Saitama, but if you ever get a chance to visit it, you should. You can see more photos on the website (it’s only in Japanese though).
Mike takes over the photographer duties from here.
A practice run of the awards ceremony. We all have our coats on because it was cold down there!
The awards ceremony was part of a larger event promoting tourism in Japan.
Which included (of course) MASCOTS! This is one of my favourite Japanese mascots, Unari-kun. He’s the mascot for Narita! He looks like an airplane but he’s really an eel. (Watch the video below.) I tried to meet him after the ceremony but failed.
When they played this video, Keiko whispered, “Carly Rae Jepsen is Canadian, right?”
And then the actual awards ceremony.
Me talking about my photo. Everyone else had such meaningful photos but hey, here’s mine of a subway worker.
And here’s where they announced my prize to everyone.
Group photo (including mascots).
Just the winners (and some of our translators).
A blurry photo of me being interviewed by Japanese tv. Someone told me that they saw this air on tv but I hope I never see it!
Probably the only award statue I’ll ever receive in my life.
The lighting in this place made taking good photos pretty much impossible but it was REALLY COOL in real life.
Back on the bus and back to Tokyo.
The Japan Tourism Agency generously wanted to take everyone out for dinner so we went to an izakaya where you catch your own fish. It was harder than it sounds (doesn’t it seem like it would be easy to catch fish out of a tank? I mean, they’re just swimming around the tank in front of you!) and only one person in our group actually caught something. But a couple weeks later, I saw this same place on tv and Mana Ashida (everyone’s favourite child star) managed to catch a fish and she’s eight.
Success (not mine)!
Here’s what the fish looks like after you catch it. Mmmmmm.
And delicious sashimi.
It was nice hanging out with fun people who were all foreigners but who had all spent significant amounts of time in Japan so nothing required explanation. Plus I learned about a lot of places in Japan that I still need to visit!
Group photo. I’m in the back left corner. Thank you, Japan Tourism Agency!
Whew. So that covers the whole prize thing and awards ceremony. Stay tuned for the next entry, where I hang out with a famous Japanese model, wander around Harajuku, go shopping at Kiddyland, and yes, dress up like a Lolita.
Click here for part two!