There’s a digital tribe of ‘Instant Gratification Tourists’ that I have consciously tried not to become part of. They travel with a mission: to get the perfect photo, one that must unmistakably represent the place they visited, to post on their social media accounts. You see these IG tourists making their way through Shinjoku or Shinyuku or Shanjaku, a place on the their must-see list and definitely on their ‘snap-a-photo’ list, but not on their “remember-the-name-of-the-
It’s an easy trap to fall into — in this age of cheap and good cameras, why not snap a good memory? We all do it, but what sets this ‘InstaGrat’ group apart is that after they have done all their pre-planned posing, they turn around and say “So this is it? What do I do now?” It’s ironic that the people who spend so much time shouting to the internet that they are #travelling and that they are #blessed do the least travelling and exploring. They add the hashtag #explore, while standing in a corner, posting their photos; they add #my_CITY while not learning anything about the city and making no effort to meet locals. They caption: “It’s amazing!” under their posts, while sitting in a cafe complaining that there’s nothing else to see here.
It’s indisputable that a photo is a great memory and an effective method of storytelling. A social media profile with sleek shots and happy portraits is a time machine that can take you back to your best moments. But there needs to be substance behind the surface; and if you just trample around the world without caring and learning about the places you are visiting, photos are but empty shells.
Of course, I don’t ascribe all the blame to these anxious shutterbugs. These are the “pictures or it didn’t happen” times. And the unforgiving fingers of their followers are quick to scroll past a shot they don’t recognize, casting it into oblivion forever. Who cares about the charming alleys, small storefronts and flickering lights of the suburbs? Give them a landmark — a kingdom for an instantly recognizable landmark! A friend of a friend, upon his visit to Japan, went and downloaded free breathtaking professional images and just reposted those on his social media. Completely fairly, he did not claim he took the photos and completely true, they illustrated where he had actually visited. Seems simple, but it struck me as innovative. Nevertheless, it means nothing to our SNS horde if you are not in the picture. Hence, cue the uncomfortable poses at the unnatural angles that have been made a “must” by popular social media influencers. They are essentially playing Twister by themselves, often to the bewilderment of passers-by.
So going back to our photo-crazed travel addicts wrapping up their photoshoot in Shinjuku that I overheard: “What do we do now? It’s just more buildings! There is nothing to see in Tokyo!” You know what? Yes, for you, there’s nothing to see here. The constantly changing and evolving Tokyo has prided itself in surviving and transforming. Natural disasters and war made it change appearance so many times, that now we wear the change as a badge of honor. We Tokyoites actively seek the changes; we enjoy discovering new places; we relish the constant fluctuation (just maybe, that is why seasonal versions of products sell so well). We also seek out the city’s little secrets. We can teach you to look up, because this city is also vertical. We can guide you underground and round back, where there’s even more city engaged in playing out its daily scenes. We also take time to learn about the history of architecture, the stories behind the small food stalls, the reasons why this city is the way it is. We examine the daily hardships of people in order to understand the crowds, we think about people’s lives in the cold glow of vending machines tucked in alleys. We take time to admire, to inquire and to become inspired.
You should too. You can’t be everywhere, you can’t go everywhere, so wherever you are, make sure you are fully there.