This time last year, I was contemplating between staying in Tokyo or taking another year off to travel. Guess which route I took. Yes, my gypsy soul went traveling to a bunch of cities around the United States and abroad to places I had never visited before. Not only that, but I took a bunch of great photos, I started getting more into street photography, and circled back to simply enjoying the process of taking photos. Every year, I love to share my favorite photos so without further ado, here are a few of my favorite travel photos from 2016.
Let’s start off with the one that looks like I pulled it off of Google images instead of actually capturing it with my camera. GUYS, I took this picture with MY OWN CAMERA and did very little editing on it. This scene is real. Can you believe it? This is the beachfront of Blue Osa Yoga Retreat in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica. They have beach chairs atop a cement platform where you can sit, be still, journal, and watch the sunrise or sunset, and this is the view. The scenery and greenery in this part of Costa Rica took my breath away and proved to me that Heaven on Earth really does exist.
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Colombia was one of the countries I visited for the first time. It was challenging, insightful, and SO colorful. Not just the buildings and people’s personalities, but the color of the fruits seemed more vibrant than anything I’ve seen in the United States. I snapped this photo on my food tour around Bogota with Bogota Foodie. It was meant to be a test shot but turned out to be one of my favorites. The details I love most about this photo include the woman in pink with a bright smile on her face in the top right corner and the bananas positioned over the man’s body as if to replace his head. When I wandered through different markets, I was overwhelmed by the different variety of fruits on offer and their dirt cheap prices. My favorite was the mangos (I ate my weight in mangos while I was there).
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When I look at this photo, it screams epic adventure. This was taken from a paragliding trip over Medellin, Colombia. The only thing I remember from this day is that after we launched off the ground, we kept going in circles so the wind wouldn’t carry us too far from basecamp, and I got queasy. Thankfully nothing more came of my nausea than a mild stomachache. I will say though it was an amazing flight above the city, seeing all of Medellin spread out below us, and being surrounded by mountains in all directions. It was definitely the most epic landscape from any aerial adventure I’ve been on.
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One of the best food adventures I’ve ever been on was a tour through Vancouver’s Granville Island Public Market with Context Travel. One of our stops was a shop called Seafood City where we sampled shrimp, crab, candied salmon, and peppered salmon. Coming from someone who doesn’t eat a lot of seafood because it induces a minor gag reflex, the samples was fresh and easy to swallow. I love the smile on this guy’s face as he handed us the platter because he was eager for us to taste. Food is much more enjoyable when served by someone who is proud of the business he works for, loves to work with and serve food, and cares about the quality.
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Every weekend, my friend Daichi stands outside of Shibuya station and gives free hugs. This is a protest of love. I’ve done Free Hugs with Daichi on multiple occasions, but what I love about the day this photo was taken is that as much as I encouraged the guy in the black blazer to participate and hold the free hugs sign, he wouldn’t do it. He kept giving me excuses like lack of self-confidence, feeling unattractive compared to Daichi, and fear of judgement from others. His feelings are valid, as I’m sure we can all relate to them. In a land where PDA is virtually non-existent and love is expressed through actions rather than words or hugs, Free Hugs is a very vulnerable experience.
The thing about Free Hugs is that, at first, you and the person you’re hugging may feel awkward or unsure about the exchange, but it completely dissolves in a moment of camaraderie. Free Hugs is about knowing that somebody cares even when you feel like your friends, family, or those closest to you don’t. It’s about meeting people, paths colliding for split seconds, and trading stories if both parties are willing to share. It’s about connecting Japan to other nationalities and opening their minds to the fact that there’s more than one way to be/live/think/act/be human. After 2 hours, the guy finally gave in and took the sign. One hug came then another and I could feel the cultural barriers and his insecurities start to crack.
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My first meal on my trip back to Tokyo was this grilled chicken and root vegetables lunch from a buffet at Natural House and green tea soy milk from the grocery store. One of the reasons I took a hiatus from living in Japan was because my relationship with sugar got so out of hand that it contributed to my anxiety and stress. So on this most recent trip, I challenged myself to eat healthier and seek out vegetarian options and natural sugars that would curb my sweet tooth without doing too much damage to my health and well being.
I love how simple this photo is and how the colors of the food pop against the white background. It’s representative of how removing everything else out of sight, it becomes about what’s right in front of you. To me, it’s a statement on our overuse of technology and how we engage more with our smartphones than the people or life right in front of us.
One evening towards the end of my time in Tokyo, I felt restless because I wanted to take my camera out on the town and shoot some photos but I didn’t know what I was looking for or in what kind of environment I wanted to shoot. I decided to go to Shinjuku, an area of Tokyo I spend very little time in, especially on weekends when people are out and about, drinking the night away. I decided to walk around Golden Gai, perhaps one of the most photogenic areas of Shinjuku due to the high volume of tiny bars and pubs that only accommodate 5-6 people at a time packed into tiny alleyways.
As I walked around, this oden place caught my eye, and the stairs leading up to the restaurant looked spooky but intriguingly warm. The night was still young so there weren’t many people around, only the occasional salarymen who would shoot a look of concern my way when I crouched down in front of the entrance to try different angles or capture their movement on camera.
Prior to the evening this photo was taken, it had never occurred to me to explore Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto by night. To my pleasant surprise, it was indeed the most peaceful time of day to visit, when I could be relieved of the tourist crowds and enjoy the serenity on the grounds. The only people around at night are couples and photographers. This is the main gate to the shrine, and at this angle, I love how it stands tall in all its majesty against a vast evening sky.
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The next 3 photos were taken on an evening photo walk tour in Osaka where I got to learn a lot about night photography, long exposures, light trails, and composition with a company called EYExplore. For the past 2 years, I’ve struggled with night photography. I never could get the right camera settings and rarely ever used my tripod, which went against all the advice I read online saying to do so. When it comes to light trails, especially, a tripod is a necessity to help stabilize the camera and reduce blur. This photo was taken on a bridge over a main road with lots of night traffic. I love the expression of movement on one side and stillness on the other (it’s two different scenes in one), and I love how the highway above leads off into the top right corner. I’m still learning, but I feel like I’m armed with the right knowledge now to go and practice on my own. What a cool shot.
People say Tokyo is the city of misfits. It’s where people go because they don’t fit into Japanese society norms, but I would argue Osaka is that way too. People from Osaka have a reputation for telling it to you straight rather than dancing in circles in conversation, as is custom in Japanese culture. Osaka is like the friend or sibling that keeps you in check.
The city is more lively and at times, an assault on the senses with its condensed areas of neon lights, cigarette smoke, and grease seeping out onto the streets from the hundreds of restaurants. It lacks the polished aesthetic that the rest of Japan is so well known for. One small example is the girl in the photo with the red eye shadow and two hair buns on top of her head. I love the look of joy on her face and the laughter that spilled over into the crowds from whatever she was talking about with her friends. Whatever the case for this look, she rocked it.
It looks as if these girls are crying and sharing a moment together, doesn’t it? I can’t be entirely sure though because I didn’t hear any sobbing or sniffling as I walked by. I was in a bit of a daze because my eyelids were getting heavy despite being surrounded by neon lights and the overwhelming stench of grease and cigarettes. The reason this photo is one of my favorites is because the girl is dressed in a pig onesie and standing outside to promote a Yakiniku (grilled meat skewers) restaurant. In another reality, that is sort of a dream job especially if it means working outdoors on a cold winter evening. In my head, it’s the equivalent to showing up to to work in my pajamas, and who doesn’t love the sound of that?