The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

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Merry Christmas 2014

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Extremely busy for all the Christmas things I need to do. So a quick Merry Christmas to all sungypsy readers.

This year has been one of the most successful in the history of this blog. Indeed perhaps the most with my greatest number of visitors to date, especially for my post on the Gaza Support Peace Protest in Tokyo in the summer.

Hopefully onto even bigger and better things next year.

Have a great Christmas and a wonderful new year everyone and see you in the 2015.

Damon

The End is Near

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Today the unnecessary election for the lower house in Japan takes place. For the first time in almost two weeks the streets are quiet as the campaign trucks are n longer allowed to shout-out their noisy endorsements of this or that candidate through the large loud-speakers that are seemingly attached to each and every one of them

The election is unneeded because it is almost impossible for the incumbent Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to lose. He has called this election at a time when the opposition parties, especially the main opponent, The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) are so disorganised that they cannot even stand enough candidates to contest every seat. Many voters it appears will not waste a vote in agreement with them. Not that this means they will switch allegiance to Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who remain scandal-prone and unpopular, at least with the young. With no acceptable place to put your mark of support, turn-out is predicted to be incredibly low.

The main reason this election is having so little impact on the imaginations of the electorate however is the fact that Abe came to power only two years ago and is offering nothing new this time around.  He still has over half his original term to serve and though he has insisted, to a pliant media, that this vote is a referendum on his economic policies, called Abernomics, a victory today will also give him four more years and a tenuous mandate for what is probably the real reason behind the poll: the pursuit of his nationalist agenda.

Four days ago the State Secrets Law came into effect. There were protests of course but almost no one in the mainstream domestic press reported on them, or on the details of this draconian legislation, because of the need for election coverage to be seen as fair. On a day when people are being asked their opinion on one issue that affects them, namely the lie that this election is about a sales-tax increase, many do not realise that their rights to seek opinions or information; or their rights to ask questions about much more serious topics, has just been removed.

For example almost all information about nuclear issues in Japan can now conveniently be classified as a State Secret. After the accident at Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station on March 11th 2011 a majority of the population are understandably sceptical of the the nuclear industry and the technology itself. Abe is pro-nuclear and sees it as a cornerstone of Japan’s economic recovery, and perhaps future defence agenda. Safety fears about restarting the reactors can motive broad cross-sections of the population to protest. Now however, though there may be genuine problems with the businesses running these power stations or the continued problem of contamination in Fukushima, reporting on it or talking to reporters about it just got much riskier and more difficult.

Going off-message is not going to be allowed on issues of war-time guilt or future power-projections either with the white-washing of Imperial-era atrocities from media histories and school text-books or changes to the constitution that would allow a proper military and also permit it to take part in collective self-defence with allies like the US.

All in all this is a very important election in Japan. Abe will win that is a surety but the clever game of political timing in calling this snap election is a ruse clear to everyone who cares to look. There is the small chance that it could all back-fire on him though. The lack of energy in the electorate is particularly noteworthy and the sense of disenfranchisement they may feel with an unpopular leader is at best unpredictable. Many in Japan are feeling emboldened with their protests on nuclear issues and Article 9 and Abe will not face an easy path to his desired “Beautiful Nation” when his mandate is as fragile as this election will probably leave it. At this moment there is little dissent in his own party against his leadership but it could  become a precarious authority weakened by each embarrassment of unpopularity and we might even see moves to un-seat him soon after the election or at some water-shed moment of policy change in the next four years.

Let’s hope so.

Anyway I got to photograph the man on Friday night as he was electioneering in Saitama. Needed a longer lens though. Last time I shot Abe was just after he quit at Prime Minister the first time. He was in Shibuya on some anti-foreigner platform with one of those “here to day – gone tomorrow” political parties and there was no security as he was a bit of a joke at that time. I was able to stand very close and take pictures and as he looked directly at me and questioned my existence, I was able to do the same back.

More images of Shinzo Abe electioneering in Saitama, Japan here:

Later

Damon

 

Feeling Blue

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Friday was a bit of an LED day for me.

First I headed off to Ichigaya to shoot the Crystal Buddhas at the Ruriden in Koukoku-ji temple. Each of the 2,000 plus Buddha statues that line the walls of this octagonal mausoleum is carved from crystal and lit with a colourful LED light. When I arrived the lights weren’t on and I stood in the dark a while wondering if I would get some shots. Only the larger Buddha statue at the back of the hall was illuminated. After about 10 minutes a temple worker came into the place to do some work and turned on the lights for me. Suddenly I was surrounded by colours. The hues changed  from autumnal reds, yellows and oranges to pink and purple and the ubiquitous blue. Quite an amazing place which has been making the news recently.

Then I took a train, with blue LED lights on the platform in an effort to reduce suicide to Nakameguro to photograph the most obsessive collection of blue LED lights I have ever seen.

The Japanese invented the blue LED and are extremely proud of that fact. Recently also they seem to have put blue LEDs into or on to almost everything. It’s a mania of sorts. Must admit the blue canyon over the river in Nakameguro was very spectacular though. And very popular with crowds lining the banks and bridges to take snapshots or selfies.

Rather too tired and busy to write a journalistic travelogue of my day. Will try and add more details when I have time but just wanted to share these photos for now.

Later

Damon

Cemetery Gossip

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One of the problems of having been in the same city for so long is that on photo safaris it is easy to end up in  a place you have already been. On Friday, as I was wandering around enjoying the wonderful Autumn light, I found myself in Aoyama Cemetery again.

I was last there about six or seven years ago and the views, as you would expect of a cemetery, had not changed that much. One advantage of being in Tokyo though is that it is never really boring and there are always new pictures to find if you look. As I walked around looking for something I had not seen before I found these two monks talking in the cemetery temple. I didn’t get too close preferring not to disturb them and shot from a distance with the shrine roof and doorway providing a frame for them.

Nice little encounter on a short but magically lit day out.

Busy at the moment, more later.

Damon

There Is Some Corner of A Foreign Field

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Went along today to the Yokohama War Cemetery in Hodogaya to photograph the Remembrance Sunday ceremony there.

I and only recently found out that such an event was held in Japan. The wearing of a poppy at this time of year in the UK is something we, to a certain extent, take for granted. Though recently the meaning and justification behind the poppy has been twisted and questioned by those with their own agendas.

I used to be a member of the Air Training Corp, a kind of boy scouts connected to the Royal Air Force, and we definately felt something of the importance of this day when we paraded to the local war memorial. We were all quite hung-ho and borrowed selfishly from the high regard given to our professional ambitions in the real RAF. We also took kudos off those we wanted to follow who had never come back.

I still honour the men and women who went to war and paid with their lives. I don’t think I could have done what they did and I now dislike the idea of war. I respect them unquestionably for their bravery; for  I understand their sacrifice meant I never have to test my own courage in such a way. I may count myself as less deluded by patriotism, but I wonder if they too, soon realised how the war was using the youngest and best of it population to to move along the senile wishes of its worst. I worry now, as memory fades, that those who have again a similar desire to advances their own causes, inch by bloody inch, have forgotten the poppy’s message is one of  hope our children will never have to fight another war.

There is one grave from a WW1 serviceman in the cemetery. But most of the war graves there date from the Second World War and the occupation that followed.

It was good to go there with my wife and family, to try to explain how fundamental this is to a British and European Identity that is now often judge as indifferently violent as our unbloodied ally across the Atlantic. I think Japanese people can understand the horror of war better than most, a horror so large that you wish, forever, to avert its return. It was harder perhaps to explain that honouring soldiers is not to glorify war because the jingoistic politicians and idiot rightists in Japan and the UK  do just that and damage their memory and our freedom to give our gratitude. Looking along the names of the men and women buried there and the lack of years each shared before they found rest here in Japan it was easier to feel that waste of life.

We might have lived a nominally peaceful existence since the end of World War 2. But the First World War was meant to be the war to end all wars and now people talk in a detached way about the brutality of combat; coming as it does for many through a redacted report or the electronic eye of a Predator Drone and I wanted to show my sons, my wife that though it is often done in our name, and was done before, it is not who we are, just as most Japanese are not Yasukuni crazies.

Anyway a moving and memory-filled day in a beautiful place.

Will certainly go again, and as this was a much bigger event than I had imagines with some very important people in attendance, I will dress better for the occasion next time.

More images of the Remembrance Day ceremony in Yokohama, Japan at my archive site here:

Damon

All Hell Breaks Loose

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It is All Hallows’ Eve, an ancient European festival of remembrance that is more or less meaningless to most people these days. But it is known as Halloween and celebrated very energetically in many countries, especially in America (and since the movie ET also in Britain) and even in Japan where the young dress up in costumes and put on rather macabre make-up and parade noisily around places like Shibuya enjoying this totally strange, borrowed piece of culture.

I have shot it a few times and it is fun, the crowds all seem to have a good time and the costumes reference Japanese popular-culture icons and for some reason lots of nurses along with the usual vampires and monsters.

Anyway sending images off to agencies and such like thought I would just share a few portraits from tonight here with you.

More stock images of 2014 Halloween in Tokyo available a my archive here:

Later

Damon

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