18 Photos from 18 Days In Taiwan and Japan

I just got back from two and half weeks in Taiwan and Japan with my family. The trip was my son’s first visit to the homelands. It was a whirlwind that left me with a lot to process and unpack. I had some pretty lofty ideas about how things were going to go. I envisioned our 18 days abroad as a heritage journey during which stories would be richly transferred across generations. In some ways it turned out the way I hoped (romanticized). But in more ways it turned out totally different than expected. I’m home with something I already knew. Defining our Asian Mixed American (and transnational) family identity has never been, and never will be, straightforward or uncomplicated.

More to come in that department over the months ahead. In the mean time, wanted to share some of my photography from our travels. I’ve been to Taiwan and Japan many times but this was the first time I’ve been as a semi-pro photographer. Of course I took lots of personal, family photos (mostly not sharing those here). But a professional goal of mine was to also practice shooting as many non-family photos as possible. It was an incredible opportunity to be outside my usual Seattle and US shooting context. And, I wondered, what does photography look like when it’s both heritage and travel photography; when the artist is part-insider and part-outsider? I’ll let you chew on that one. Here are 18 of my favorite images from 18 days abroad:

Akihabara, Tokyo. One of our first meals in Asia the day after arriving. We were shopping in an Akihabara department store and stopped to have lunch at the food court. Unlike food courts in the US, food is hella good in Japanese food courts. We decided to eat at this place that served up lunch combos. Japanese restaurants often display models of their dishes for potential customers. This is my son’s first experience with a plastic Japanese menu. 
We were lucky enough to be in Japan during sakura (cherry blossom) season. Honestly, it was hard take a sakura shot that didn’t feel cliche. But I love this one for its golden lighting.
Public access to the Imperial Palace compound is only permitted twice a year: during cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons. Thousands of people line up to walk 750-meter Inui Street, which runs from Sakashita Gate to Inui Gate. But planning a trip to see the cherry blossoms in Tokyo is tricky. Sakura only bloom for a week. Last year, they only bloomed for 5 days. We visited the compound with my husband’s Japanese cousin who had never been inside his entire life. Counted ourselves extremely lucky to have visited when we did.
Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle (会津若松城 Aizu-Wakamatsu-jō), aka Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城 Tsuru-ga-jō). Aizu region, Fukushima prefecture. This is a replica of the original castle which served as the military and administrative center of the Aizu Domain from 1384 to 1868. Today, Aizu is known for its award-winning sake and samurai tradition. No pictures of sake though much was drunk later lol.
Visitors at Tsuruga Castle
Little girl running at Tsuruga Castle
Thousand Hand and Thousand Eye Guanyin statue in Yuandao, northern Taiwan. It’s being built, but isn’t built yet. My father just wanted us to see it. We could only stand at the perimeter and take pictures from afar. Haha. Flipside, there were no tourists because it’s not finished. When it is finished, it will be one of the largest (or the largest?) Guanyin statue in the world. Construction is scheduled to be complete in 2020.
Making a wish at Dharma Drum Mountain. Jinshan District, New Taipei City
This photo and the following two are from the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum. I went with my father, who grew up during the White Terror Era under Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship and Kuomintang (KMT) martial law. My Agong and Ama were living in Keelung when 10,000 KMT troops arrived to suppress the Taiwanese people (which I wrote about here https://www.patreon.com/posts/in-harbor-25736103). But my Agong didn’t tell his children much about what was happening to protect them from the KMT. My father didn’t learn about the 228 Massacre until he moved to the US where he could access more information without fear of persecution. This was the first time both my father and I visited the 228 museum, built in 1995. We found the records of violence in Keelung that my Agong and Ama survived. I also got to hear my father tell stories about his childhood that I’d never heard before. It was emotional and profound for both of us.
Taipei 228 Memorial Museum
Taipei 228 Memorial Museum
Koala at the Taiwan Zoo. Looks a little foggy because the koalas were being intermittently misted by sprayers in their habitat. Tough life. First, how zen is this koala? Second, the Taiwan Zoo is super fun and despite going to Taiwan almost every year growing up–I’d never been before??? My father was convinced it was going to be provincial. He came with us, though, was pleasantly surprised, and had fun too. FYI the zoo is also pretty big. We only made it through a quarter of the park.
View of downtown Taipei from Guandu Temple. My Taiwanese father, like many elders in Taiwan, exercises early every morning. In his case, he walks briskly to and from this 300-year-old temple near his apartment. The main shrine is dedicated to Mazu, goddess of the sea, who is widely revered in Taiwan. My father does bai bai (pays his respects) before returning home. Guandu Temple is simply stunning but for my father, this place is everyday. We had to ask to see it several times before he agreed to take us.
Ramen shop somewhere in Kyoto. Swear this man never stopped moving. Steady, precise, efficient. His workflow was unbelievable. 
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto. Look up Fushimi Inari online and you’ll see a million photos of this famous walkway which features thousands of torii gates. What you won’t see is how extraordinarily difficult it is to get a shot with no people in it. Because this walkway is so well-known it’s swarming with tourists during daylight hours. Nevertheless, you have to take a photo because it’s so spectacular. Amazingly I was able to capture a brief moment without tourists and also a different angle than we usually see.
Monkey Mountain at Monkey Park Iwatayama, Kyoto. Also swarming with tourists yet still so cool! Japanese macaque are wild monkeys native to Japan. They’re known for their red faces and butts, and for sitting in hot springs in the winter when it snows. We climbed Monkey Mountain in the spring, however. No snow. But lots of cuteness and personality. This one is being groomed by a buddy.
Shibuya, Tokyo. I mean… 
Matcha fountain at a Tokyo restaurant. Our last night, and last meal, in Asia.

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