Weekend in Tokyo, Japan

One of the great privileges of living in Asia is the ability to utter a statement like this, “Let’s go to Tokyo for the weekend!” When I lived in Canada, a trip to Japan required a lot of planning and time commitment, but being in Beijing, Tokyo is just four hours away by plane.

Lots of tourists in town; ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-100 1/160sec f/8
ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-100 1/200sec f/10

We had spent Christmas in Tokyo last year where we spent most of our time in Shibuya and Shinjuku. On a previous trip in 2019, we had visited Kyoto and Osaka. For this short weekend trip, the primary reason was to meet my brother who was visiting from New York.

The goals we collectively landed on were three-fold: 1. Eat, 2. Drink, 3. Shop. With the Yen still in a very depreciated state (perhaps not for much longer), we wanted to take full advantage of the situation.

ZK Design

As an aside, my brother has turned into quite an amazing person. He has put his Harvard MBA to good use and has turned his custom jewellery storytelling business into a big success, with offices in New York and London. 

Yoyogi Park; ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-320 1/40sec f/11

His clients range from the typical couple next door, all the way up to Hollywood A-Listers and hedge fund managers. His concept is to create beautiful jewellery based off the story of the people who will be wearing it. No two pieces are the same so it’s far more unique than what can be found even in high jewellery.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit his company’s website.

Shinjuku National Garden; ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-100 1/250sec f/8

Beijing International Airport (PEK)

I took off from Beijing at 8:35AM, which meant I had to leave home at the bleary-eyed time of 6:20AM. Beijing Capital Airport (PEK) is still very quiet in the international terminal. I really hope we’ll see more travellers coming to and from Beijing in the future. 

It was smooth sailing through the airport with the only annoying part being that we’re required in China to completely remove all electronics from the carry-on bags. This means all the lenses, camera, laptop, ipad, iphone and any batteries must be individually removed and placed in trays.

Shinjuku vending machines; ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-100 1/320sec f/8
Shinjuku; ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-250 1/40sec f/2

I still prefer to fly out of Beijing International Airport rather than the stunningly beautiful Daxing International Airport because it’s just that bit closer and more familiar. If it’s your first trip to Beijing, I would recommend trying Daxing because it’s worth some time to photograph on its own.

Japan Airlines

This was my first time to fly on Japan Airlines (JAL) so I decided to splurge a bit and booked their lay-flat business class. They have a cool concept in a small hallway that goes to the window seat rather than the usual angled approach that other airlines use. I think I prefer the angles however as the small hallway was a bit awkward to get through mid-flight. 

The overall service and food were excellent as you’d expect of anything associated with Japan. The cabin was a bit old, but very well maintained. Best of all, the toilets had the bidet function which makes western toilets feel so uncivilized in comparison. 

On the return flight to Beijing, I departed from Haneda Airport and had the opportunity to check out the JAL Lounge. I would say it’s on par with Cathay Pacific’s excellent lounge in Hong Kong. There’s two beautiful cocktail bars in the JAL Lounge, a sushi restaurant and even a place to have your shoes polished by an expert cobbler (sponsored by John Lobb Shoes from the UK).

Haneda Airport

Upon landing in Haneda Airport, I was struck by how empty it also was. Given this is peak Sakura season, I expected there to be lots more people. I was through immigration and customs in less than 10 minutes. Bags arrived another 10 minutes later and I was out of the airport 20 minutes after disembarking – remarkable efficiency that tops even Hong Kong!

Shinjuku; LCE-7RM5 50mm ISO-400 1/50sec f/1.4

Perhaps my experience jinxed things because when my partner landed at Haneda later that day, he had to spend 1.5 hours in a Customs and Immigration lineup with the airport jammed full of people coming in from Europe.

With the airport empty when I arrived, I walked out and saw a taxi which seemed to be the right way to get to the hotel. However, in hindsight, I should have taken a train or better yet, a hotel shuttle bus. The taxi cost an eye-watering $75 for about an hour’s drive. A shuttle bus would have been $10.

ILCE-7RM5 50mm ISO-1250 1/50sec f/2

Hyatt Regency Tokyo

My brother booked this hotel because it’s part of the Bonvoy membership program. It would not have been my first choice as I prefer Kimpton or a more modern hotel, however I was pleasantly surprised at the overall experience at the hotel.

Beautiful brickwork throughout the hotel grounds; ILCE-7RM5 85mm ISO-1000 1/100sec f/5.6

Staying at an older hotel like this in Japan is a much better experience than staying at a similar hotel in other countries. The Japanese take very good care of things and maintain them to a high standard; while the fittings were old, everything worked perfectly and every surface was meticulously clean.

Furthermore, being an older hotel meant that the rooms were much larger than what you’ll find in a modern hotel. Our standard room was much larger than the more expensive Kimpton King View room that we recently stayed at. The hotel also has a very swanky Japanese whiskey Bar Eau de Vie on the third floor where well-dressed businessmen come for an afterwork drink.    

Bar Eau de Vie; ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-200 1/40sec f/2

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the Hyatt Regency Tokyo and would even consider staying there again if space is a high priority. With it sitting on the Oedo (E) subway line, it’s a convenient spot to use as a gateway to enjoying Tokyo’s many sites. Having said that, I still prefer the Kimpton Shinjuku that we stayed at last time. 

Depreciated Yen

Even with the Japanese Central Bank ending its negative rates experiment, the Yen has continued to fall. This has created an exceptional opportunity to do some arbitrage shopping. With the super convenient tax-free shopping experience and the exceptional service in Japan, it makes for a fun way to spend money while saving money. 

ILCE-7RM5 50mm ISO-125 1/50sec f/1.4

Italy and Thailand can learn a few things from Japan in how to do tax-free in a consumer-friendly way. Japan takes the tax off at the point-of-sale. You don’t have to stand in any long queues at the airport or go through convulated processes. Just pay the tax-free price and go on your way. 

ILCE-7RM5 50mm ISO-800 1/50sec f/2

Based on what I’ve seen the past few trips to Japan, this is working exceptionally well for the country. There wree lineups at almost every luxury store and the Japan branded shops were packed with foreign tourists lapping up the Made in Japan products. This must be good for the local economy and net positive, even with it being tax-free.

Bar Centrifolia

Without any context or information, I was taken to this cocktail bar by my nephew who lives in Tokyo. Upon arriving, the interior looked gorgeous and the vibe exuded a great feeling. However, the polite hostess indicated the wait would be long and that she would reply to us on Instagram if a table became available.

We went to a nearby 8-seat whiskey bar where we had a great experience. It was everything a Japanese whiskey bar is supposed to be. Quiet, sophisticated, impeccably decorated and with a super knowledgeable host. While we had a great time at this whiskey bar, we really wanted to go back to Bar Centrifolia to see if we could get a seat.

ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-5000 1/125sec f/2
ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-640 1/40sec f/4

Upon coming back, the hostess indicated that she wasn’t sure if we would be seated, but would try. As the time stretched to more than an hour of waiting, our patience was starting to wear thin. We could see empty seats, but the hostess indicated they didn’t have capacity.

Half our group bailed out and called it a night. Shortly afer, when the rest of us were about to bail, the hostess suddenly came out to say that the bartender had agreed to seat us. It was a curious choice of words, but we later would understand the significance of this.

ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-1600 1/15sec f/2
ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-3200 1/125sec f/2
ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-160 1/40sec f/2

Right after being seated, I was set to review this bar as a 2-star. The long wait, the empty seats, the lack of communication, could not be offset by the beautiful interior or whatever drinks they could muster. This initial impression would indicate my ignorance of what this bar was all about.

Master Yuzo Komai is a five times cocktail champion in Japan. He takes his craft very, very seriously. So serious that he creates each and every drink in the bar from 8PM to 3AM six nights a week. He has a staff of helpers, but the cocktails are all made individually by him. This explains why they can have empty seats, but not seat waiting people.

ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-8000 1/50sec f/2
ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-320 1/40sec f/2

His drinks are more about the performance than the actual taste. When you pay US$50 for a drink here, it’s about watching an expert craft a meticulous piece of art, put on a perfectly choreographed show, and then provide you the opportunity to consume it with your friends and other bar mates. 

Once I experienced what the bar had to offer, I changed my mind and felt it’s a 5-star bar. If you’re going to visit the bar, please make a reservation; without one, you may start with a negative experience like we did. However, now that you know the level of care that goes into your drink, I hope that you’ll have a great experience right from the start.

Ebisu 84

In the previous post, I had written about visiting Ebisu 84, the Kobe Beef Steakhouse. With my brother never having visited Japan before, I felt this would be a safe bet again for a great meal. The team there remembered us and the meal did not disappoint. We went with the Premium Kobe Wagyu set meal at 33,000 yen or USD 215.

ILCE-7RM5 50mm ISO-800 1/125sec f/1.4
ILCE-7RM5 50mm ISO-640 1/125sec f/1.4

The Edition Toranomon Hills

On the last trip, we had a poor experience in trying to photograph Tokyo Tower from the Prince Hotel, so I wanted to try again, but this time from The Edition at Toranomon Hills. We got bar seats on the 31st floor cocktail lounge. 

ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-100 1/3sec f/2

The décor and vibe of this bar and hotel was so much better than the Stellar Garden Sky Lounge at the Prince Park Tower Hotel; I would like stay at The Edition in the future. They’ve recently opened a new location in Ginza so that will also be an option. I stayed at The Edition in Sanya before and it was a great experience, so I’m looking forward to experiencing this brand in Japan. 

Sakura Blooming

We were perhaps a week early, but we still managed to see a few cherry blossom trees blooming. If you’ve never been to Japan during the Sakura Festival, it’s well worth planning a trip one year. Kyoto especially is stunningly beautiful when bathed in Sakura flowers. You can see some of the images captured from my previous trip here.

ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-100 1/500sec f/8


Japan never disappoints. Whether it be for a few weeks touring around the country or a weekend trip like this one, this great country never disappoints. Each city is so unique and provides something that no other city can. 

ILCE-7RM5 50mm ISO-100 1/1600sec f/1.4

For future trips, I want to spread out beyond the big tourist cities and spend some time in less well-known areas. I visited Nagano for a marathon a few years back and loved the city’s feel. If you have any advice on what cities to visit that are outside the usual Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka tri-fecta, I would appreciate hearing from you. 

Harajuku; ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-100 1/400sec f/8

Next trip I’m off to Luang Prabang and Laos for the Qingming Festival (tomb-sweeping) holidays here in China. I’m looking forward to sharing some images from that trip. I should also mention that I’m working on a post on a workflow to use Capture One Pro on the iPad. All of the images in this post were edited on the iPad before being finalized on a desktop.

Sidebar: Capture One Mobile

Something unique I tried on this trip was to minimize my gear. I took only the Sony A7R5, Sony 50MM GM and Sigma 35MM F2 Sigmacron. I left the MacBook Air M2 at home and took only an iPad Pro. The goal was to use Capture One Mobile to edit all of the images and share with friends via iOS.

The most perfect flower I’ve ever seen; ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-100 1/125sec f/2

All of the images you see above were edited using the iPad at Capture One Mobile, most with the Cine400 Style. I now know how to add my styles to iOS so I can bring in the RNI Film Styles that I’m more familiar with. It was an interesting experiment and experience that I’m planning to write about in a future post.

ILCE-7RM5 35mm ISO-100 1/1250sec f/5.6

6 thoughts on “Weekend in Tokyo, Japan”

  1. Nice pictures as always.
    One day, i would try to do an 1 year trip going South to North of Japan using only “slow speed” trains and walking around the countryside.
    On my last trip i really enjoyed Nagoya (the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology is a must view) and Mishima (a very nice town with a walkpath inside a river and a nice view of the South side of the Fuji-san); on my past trips i would highlight Hiroshima.

    1. Hi Massinissa, thanks for your note. Thank you also for the recommendations on Nagoya and Mishima. On my next Japan trip, I’ll visit Tokyo and a much less known city. I haven’t chosen one yet but I want to get away from the hoards of tourists that have descended on Japan in 2024 and instead find a quiet part of this beautiful country to explore on my own.

  2. If I lived that close to Japan I’d be there 3-4 times a year no-doubt, it’s the one place I’ve visited that I’d immediately choose for a return trip given the chance. Looking forward to taking Leo there in a couple of years. I would consider Kanazawa for a visit, still the best sashimi I’ve ever had, and Koya-san is also special for a couple of nights of quiet serenity in a ryokan (I wrote about both a few years ago). Looking forward to your upcoming C1 post. My workflow with digitally produced imagery is still very inefficient it feels, so I’m hungry to learn more!

  3. Thanks for another beautiful travel post. I’m doing more travel this year and you are an inspiration, both photographically and travel-wise. I’m planning a trip to Budapest for May and I am thinking about going light, perhaps getting a Sony A7Cr and only two lens (a slow zoom and a fast prime) instead of taking my A7R5 and GM lenses. Gear weight when out touring for a whole day is becoming a bummer for me and recently in San Miguel, Mexico I just used my iPhone a lot. Thanks again!

    1. How about taking the two Sigma 35 F2 and 50 F2. Fabulous lenses with minimal flaws. Built well and super small without hood. It’s easy to carry around and always ready to shoot. Just like an iPhone 😉

      1. I love the look of those smaller Sigma lenses and have read your reviews. That’s a great idea!

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