Still haven’t been up the thing. Must get onto that the next fine day we have.
No-one knows his name. At least no-one I know does. Indeed no-one I know has even seen his face and that despite my good friend, Adrian Storey having makd what looks like an amazing documentary about the artist known as 281 Anti nuke.
This link is only to the documentary trailer but even those few minutes are exciting enough. Cannot wait to see the whole thing.
Will have to wait until it has been through the documentary film contests grinder and, fingers-crossed, won a few richly deserved awards and rewards along the way.
As I wrote before; the ability of kids to make the best of these less than ideal living conditions still never fails to impress me: both the strength of the Tohoku people and the underestimated determination and sensitivity of the children themselves.
It is sometimes harder for the adults: the houses are small and noisy;privacy is minimal and they have the memories and the greater sense of loss. But the kids adapt quickly it seems and their happiness must be something that keeps the people who look after them going through bad times that were promised to have been over by now.
Busy on other Fukushima stories that I can’t show you until the client has used them.
Been a great couple of weeks of some quite amazing encounters.
Cars can no longer cross the bridge in Tomoioka Bay. The earthquake dropped it about 30 centimetres and on the other side the radiation climbs rapidly. We walked across on our last day in Fukushima. It was a windy day and the sound of the wind howling through the arches and railing of the bridge was unsettling. Indeed it would have been hard to find a scarier soundtrack for the foolish steps we took into this empty, overgrown place. We were about 7 kilometres from the Daichi nuclear power station and had we been stupid enough to leave the road and wander the paths through the highly radioactive undergrowth to a nearby hilltop, we could probably have seen.
Hillside, forest and craggy coastlines. A nice place to live before the events of March 11th 2011 which made the encounter I had above more poignant. I saw this couple dressed in makeshift radiation suits photographing the area as I crossed the bridge.
“is this your house?” I asked the man as I got closer and he had started to leave.
“Yes it is.” he said.
Then he turned and looked at the house and in the saddest tone I’ve ever heard said “Bye Bye”
He said no more, he didn’t need to.
He crossed back over the bridge, pausing one last time to look at his house, perhaps for the last time ever. Then he went down and we carried on into a place where there have been many similar, sad good-byes.
More images of Tomioka Town inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone at my archive here:
One of the things we have seen in Fukushima a lot, both inside and outside the exclusion zone, is the decontaminated earth and undergrowth piled up in vinyl bags. The government has decided to reduce the radioactivity of the soil around the Fukushima Daichi plant exclusion zone by removing the top two or three centimetres of soil. The aim is to reduce the contamination levels in affected areas to under one millisievert an hour.
Farmland and residential areas are all to be scraped clean and many of Fukushima’s mountain areas (which accounts for around 60-70% of the contaminated land) will have 20 metres either side of every road cleared. This is what is happening in the image above near the village of Katsurao.
Some estimates put the total clean up area at 13% of the Prefecture: over 100 million cubic metres of soil and brush that so far is being stored in growing mountains of blue and black vinyl bags dotted around the countryside. Many of these are slowly being transported to special depots but some of the strict safeguards necessary to clean the area are already being ignored at this report in the Asahi Shimbun exposes.
Indeed, though technological solutions were promised to both speed-up and improve the decontamination work and companies that have expertise in dealing with such situation were invited to demonstrate their techniques; the job is mostly still being done by hand and the tools the workers can use are routinely primitive to say the least.
The Japanese government initially set aside 650 billion Yen for the decontamination but the area and the costs have risen beyond expectations. Corners are almost certainly being cut to save costs. Not least of these is in protecting the people doing the hard, dirty work of raking through the undergrowth and picking up the soil and leaves are putting them into the bags themselves. We saw no radiation suits or proper masks being worn. Indeed the most common mask we saw worn inside the zone, be they returning residents, clean up workers or policemen, was the next to useless hayfever paper mask that cost pennies in every convenience store. Some on the cleanup crew wore no masks at all! When we asked a not too happy security guard if the radiation was high in the trees and safe he said they measured it everyday and it was less than 0.6 microsieviets an hour (the Government reading). Yet if this was true why bother cleaning the area at all, it was already under the level that was the target of the action? Our Geiger counter read 1.57 microsieverts an hour on the road near where they were working. I cannot imagine what the readings must have been in the mud and leaves of the forest.
Whether this clean-up is for real or not is something I am unclear about. There are people returning to the Fukushima countryside for sure and a lot of the land in parks and schools and areas where people have quickly returned to now has a dry, dusty brown colour where the topsoil has already been removed. But the decontamination of the Prefecture’s mountains just looks like so much window dressing to me. Perhaps it will go on just long enough to convince people that efforts are being made to clean-up the mess and than will be quietly forgotten. It would take hundreds of years, perhaps even thousands, to complete remove the top layer of the soil in the affected area of Fukushima and surrounding prefectures. A school playground can effectively been cleaned perhaps but the bottom twenty metres of a slope will easily be contaminated again the next time it rains anywhere on the slopes above. The project seems pointless to me: designed more to suggest it is now safe to return to the area; that nuclear pollution is actually easy to remove and thus nuclear energy itself is no longer something Japanese people should fear. This will of course make it easy for the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to follow through on its stated aim of building more nuclear power-stations.
Anyway it’s late I have another photo job tomorrow in Soma, north of the zone. And need to get some sleep.
The emperor of Japan visited the Kawauchi Elementary School last Autumn. There is a commemorative stone near the entrance to mark the event. The school children run past it on the way into school in the morning and out again in the afternoon. If they notice it they seem not to react to the honour. It makes their school special for parents and newspapers. But for the kids, their is school is special anyway.
The building is spacious and airy; the windows large and the floors and ceilings all polished wood and beams. The building is very beautiful but that is not what makes the school special. At 3:30pm as the school day finishes, the teachers (all of who seem to be quite young and wearing tracksuits) walk the children out, past the Emperor’s stone, and line them up to wait for the buses to take them home. The yellow-hatted first graders giggle and squirm as they wait. Noisy and naughty like six-year olds everywhere they are feral at this time of day and after climbing onto the buses rattle around the insides looking for distractions. Indeed as the teachers wave them good-bye, two small hands flap against the back window of the second bus; wishing the teachers desperate farewells. The hands are small against the emptiness of the bus’s back seats, the boy and girl, unable to continue the amusements of the queue in their isolation, look sad to be leaving. They are the only two children on the bus and they have nothing to do but wave. They are heading home to a town in a landscape that does not have a lot of young children anymore. This time two years ago in fact no one lived here at all.
After the earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11th 2011 the town of Kawauchi swelled as it took in over a thousand homeless people from Tomioka on the coast. The tsunami could not reach this hill town of course but the sound of the explosions at the nearby Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant could and by March 15th the town was empty due to fear of radiation.
Yet Kawauchi is slowly recovering now it seems. One of the first places affected by radiation to re-open, the contamination readings are quite low and people are starting to make their lives here again. A lot of the topsoil has been removed and people are planting crops and setting up homes among the fields once more. A vegetable factory recently opened. Though if the area can ever regain the trust of the food consumer remains to be seen but there is hope that Kawauchi’s famous mushrooms will be a favourite of Japanese dishes as before. Most importantly however is the fact that some children have returned.
Even before the Fukushima disaster rural Tohoku had a problem with shrinking and ageing populations. Fears of radioactive contamination, and pointedly its effect on children, has unfortunately kept many from returning after they evacuated. In 2011 the number of students at the school stood at 114. This year there are only 24 across the first 6 grades. The first grade has a mere seven students: five boys and one girl. Grades three and four however have just one student each.
The teachers, all of whom were sent to the town from other areas of Fukushima when the school opened in April 2012, seem genuinely to love their posting here. Living in a school apartment building with other teachers from the elementary school and nearby junior high school and away from family and friends who are often in distant parts of the prefecture, they take the care of these kids very seriously. That reopening year there were only 16 students yet they have been surprised at how easily the kids have coped with the trauma of evacuation and a somewhat lonely return. Only one child was unable to get over the sounds of the explosions at the plant: Every-time it would thunder she would get very scared. All the teachers and other staff had to help her; talk to her; tell her it was going to be okay. It took just two weeks for the girl to believe them.
There is a deep skill and love in their teaching here. They know that the children are missing out on the normality of many friends and classmates and it is difficult for them so they fill in the spaces with a generosity of spirit that is humbling. We watched children practising athletics in the dusty, de-contaminated sports field. Athletics is a sport that individuals can do against the clock or each other because there are not enough students for a football or baseball team. All the teachers I met in this school seemed very genuine and gentle. Most importantly though they seemed to recognise that the children themselves were special. Just dealing with unreality of their school days here on the edges of the Fukushima exclusion zone takes a degree of bravery and determination that many children could not easily match.
The sun may have been out and the ground drier but due to the fact that not many people have been in the two years since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the scenes of destruction in Tomioka were very reminiscent of the time I was working in Iwate just after the disaster. Add in some radioactivity and you have a nightmarish landscape that was just a little too familiar to be comfortable.
Off out to the zone again today.
More images of Tomioka Town inside the Fukushima exclusion zone at my archive site here:
A freaky, frightening kind of day in areas that are pretty unchanged since the earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11th 2011.
Shooting up here for the week.
More images of Tomioka Town inside the Fukushima exclusion zone at my archive site here.
Interesting piece by Nathalie Kyoko Stucky here on Koji Kitahara, a farmer from the Chiba District of Tokyo who has been fighting against the construction of Narita Airport for more than 40 years.
The airport is of course built and operating and many people might wonder why he doesn’t accept that, take the generous compensation offered for his land and give up the fight. After all Narita’s runways and terminal buildings are a fact of life in modern Japan and there is no likelihood of them disappearing and the fields of rice and potatoes returning any time soon.
But then again the historical malfeasance of the Japanese Government and airport authorities in the appropriation of the local farmers’ lands and the intimidation and casualties, even deaths, that resulted when some resisted the airport’s construction is something that should not be forgotten and something that Kitahara San still tries to inform people about.
I have photographed him at many left-wing demos and conferences, (photo above) and always thought the struggle he represents a little bit pointless given the existence of the airport. But reading this piece , though I was not surprised to find the Government and construction companies had acted so badly and abused the farmers, I became a little more understanding of the Kitahara San’s reasons to not give up. He may never get the fields back but the intimidation of those that mourn their loss, or those that are currently resisting the same bullying expansion of the airport, continues to this day and this is worth fighting. Far from being anachronistic his struggle is the the timeless one of little, ordinary people against the power of politicians and corporations that feel they can do what they want.
A struggle that is perhaps even more valid today than 40 years ago.
Yes it’s silly and a bit strange but it is also harmless fun and if it works and makes people happier and able to forget their bad situations for a time, I think it is wonderful.
More power to his moonwalk and primal screams I say.
Will be shooting more of his work I am sure. And the other Michael behind too.
When out shooting it is always a good idea to take a few snaps of any landmarks and interesting buildings and businesses you come across. My collection of images of Japanese left wing protests or old ladies in Tokyo’s Sugamo district, though very satisfying to shoot sometimes and part of longer projects, might not exactly get the editors to spend money regularly. Some of course do but it is rather a niche market and by that I mean an impoverished one.
But stock images of Tokyo’s famous buildings and unique fashions always sell. Like the one of the Tokyo central court above that has just been bought by a publication in China. A “little” extra money coming through is always nice. Especially at the moment:
Because I will be heading up to Fukushima in a week for a full week of shooting my own projects and a couple of other jobs also.
Getting excited by the research now.
Been doing a lot of reading up on robotics and haptic technologies over the last month or so for several stories I’m working on.
Interesting. The age of robots is really here.
Should we be afraid?
Look at the picture above and you tell me.
Then look at this article and think some more.
Been very busy of late, lots of stories to work on and leads to follow, looking like an exciting time over the next few weeks. But as today is a grey, cold day, thought I would spend some time indoors catching up on work and having a bit of a plan to make it all fit into my limited free time.
As I have nothing new to report at this moment (all the balls are in the air at this time) I thought I would share some older adventures with you again.
More images of Minang Kabau bullfights in Sumatra can been found at my archive here.
The opelet bounces hard sending a shock of metal through our bodies, a shock that seems hardly dampened by the thin foam covering on the seats and the aging, shiny vinyl that is gluing us in place, despite the shaking, with its history of sweat. There is something about travelling the roads of Asia that finds a thrill in un-comfortable exploration and as yet another blunting pot-hole throws us all together in the back, juggling our kidneys and shaving layers of enamel off our teeth, it would be true to say that I am having a really good time. Not that this is the perfect way to travel of course, in fact it is a terrible way to go anywhere: being cramped, crowded, painful, noisy, dangerous and polluting. It is, however, very friendly: public transport in Asia always surprises you with just how many paying customers can be squeezed into it and these tiny mini-buses are no exception.
Most of my fifteen or so fellow travellers this evening are local farmers for who this bruising commute has probably lost all its charm. If it ever had any in the first place. They do not complain though and seem hardly to notice the discomfort. They are all rough-faced old men with countryside grime worked permanently into the lines of their smiles and the creases of their necks. Their hands are similarly stained, large and very strong, with fingers like burnt sausages that grip their knees as they sit, with a straight-armed dignity, against the contours of the road. On their heads sit tall farmer’s hats, brushed clean for today, yet polished raw at the brim, and as old friends squeeze aboard at the next stop they nod them down, ever so slightly, in a quick greeting before shuffling up to make room. It is a tight fit and as we settle, inching out a degree of comfort and pulling jacket sides from under the legs of our neighbours, then the engine starts in a cloud of diesel and we are off again holding ourselves stiffly against each other until a final, noisy shudder signals our arrival at Kota Baru.
The rackety engine cuts off suddenly, like an amputation of hearing and fills the back of the opelet with the ticking sound of its cooling. The passengers stand suddenly, nod to each other again and shuffle towards the back door where an excited, seismic murmur is coming from the crowd outside; which the passengers, after paying their fare, jump down into. Pulling their hats hard over their eyes, to hide the school-boy excitement that has caught their faces, they disappear quickly into the throng that is queuing up to enter the field, adding their own voices to the shouted greetings, relieved stretches and noisy arguments that colour the air. I jump down after them, pay the driver his required Rupieh, and follow the farmers into the field.
Tuesday night and Saturday night are bullfighting nights in the countryside around Bukittinggi on the island of Sumatra. These competitions are well known and popular in the local Minang Kabau culture, as indeed are versions of them all over Asia and I had come to the small village of Kota Baru this Tuesday evening to see what all the fuss was about.
The crowd opens up as it entered the field, some of the men quickly finding their places on the low bank that runs along one-side and acts as a sort of grandstand. Many others though seem to be making their way to one or another of the four corners of the field and I walk with them to where they are gathered in circles around the sleek, black bulk of the bulls.
“This one very strong.” says Nasir when he finds me admiring one of the bulls. “Good gamble. Good win, it is not famous.” Apparently the bull I have been looking at is the under-dog though it looks unlike any second choice I’ve ever seen; being so massive and so swollen with muscles that it looks like a boulder. Brawn isn’t everything though he explains. “Good head this bull. Just watch it. I think this one will be the winner. He has a good head.”
“A good head?”
“Smart. Very good head. Look at the eyes.”
I look but see nothing but bull.
“Good head.” he searches for the word. “Clever.”
He is quite convincing.
“Is this the one you’ll bet on then?” I ask.
“Ah!” he says and motions for me to follow him as we walk across the field to the opposite corner. Many people are on this path and the route is like a river flowing fast in both directions. Where money is involved (this whole event is about gambling though technically that particular vice is illegal here) it is always best to have the bigger picture. So with no time to lose as the evening is drawing in, we walk quickly over to where the rival bull is waiting. If it is possible to be even more impressed, I am. Sleek and solid, low headed and extravagantly horned it is, perhaps, the quintessential bull and has a large ring of farmers and admiring gamblers surrounding it. Nasir points out the owners standing by the fence nearby who look just a little smug as they fend off the occasional compliment. This bull is the obvious favourite and is without a doubt the Mike Tyson of the bovine world. Already covered in mud as if it had been fighting in the dressing room, it is a real bruiser and, I think, the one most sensible people here are putting their money on.
“Big, “says Nasir, “But dumb. Look at its head.” I look but don’t see anything but bull there either, and a big, strong, superpower of a bull at that. Nature compensates and even if it is an idiot bull, that doesn’t mean it won’t win. The school bully was never smart but I was still scared of him. “But strong. Very strong. ”He says.
“So who do you think will win?” I ask again.
“Maybe this one.” Nasir nods. Thinks.
“What about the other one, you liked him too?”
“Yes maybe him too, very clever, but this one very strong.”
“Which is your choice?”
“Ah!…” says Nasir and changes the subject.
I have a lot to learn because bullfighting Indonesian style, it seems, is as different from the Spanish variety as it is possible to get. These animals are not the gloss, muscled monsters of afternoon corridas they are instead weighty buffalo, honed by hard work in the fields and highly valued as more than meat. These animals will not die in the fights tonight, they will merely rut, their battle as old as evolution itself.
Little escapes the expert eye of the gamblers and Nasir (who appears to be one) talks me through the finer points of buffalo anatomy in a way that would send Charles Darwin home to think again. He still hasn’t, however, implicitly told me which bull to back. He seems to favour the smaller, smarter bull, but it is hard to tell, his poker face shows nothing except a pleasure in the attention we draw. He introduces me to many friends in the crowd and I practice my Indonesian as I try to gain more tips as to which bull I should back but everyone here appears generously disposed to both bulls. Maybe they don’t know, but I have the feeling they do and are just not telling me. There is an Asian pleasure in misfortune that, as a westerner, it can be hard to fathom. It’s nothing personal of course, it’s just if I lose it will be hilarious and their day will be even better than if they win. This sense of humour was taking me some time to get used to and at times I had felt unpleasantly victimized on my travels. I was not the only source of amusement here though and as we walk around the field Nasir points out an extravagantly dressed woman sizing up one of the bulls. She stood out for a number of reasons, not least because she was a woman in this world of men. Most of the other women on the field were selling snacks and drinks. This woman was also dressed well, if a little loudly, and was haggling with the bookies as fiercely as the farmers. Nasir tells me she is well known here, a rich lady from Bukittinggi and an addicted gambler.
“…but a bad farmer, she cannot tell a good or bad bull.” He laughs. “Every week she loses a lot of money. Very good for this man.” He points to her bookie who is standing nearby grinning widely at his future.
Determined to be different from the rich lady, I want to win, I don’t want to be the butt of jokes, but I find it difficult to guess which of these two animals will triumph tonight. They both look as immovable as the three volcanoes that surround us, looming in the clouds above the field.
The fights start at sunset, which at the equator are rapid, often spectacular affairs. Tonight though the sky’s fall is rather muted and sickly; the washed out yellow of the cloudy sky hardly seeming suitable for the energy to come. You could expect blood red ribbons of cloud, drenching tones of orange and purple. The usual tropical fair. You could even demand them to signal the bout to follow; a kind of a natural `ding! `: a bell of fire for the fight’s arrival. Maybe sometimes they have that but tonight the start of the contest is sensed more in the actions of the bookies as they retreat quickly to the safer edges of the field and begin counting through the vast sums of money in the pockets of their grubby ski anoraks while a ring of minders keep the farmers away.
The bulls are also on the move and the children that have been darting through the legs of the crowd all afternoon, daring each other to get as close as possible to these animals, now find their slow approach mesmerizing and hang onto the skirts of passing women to stare. In motion the bulls are indeed majestic; their heads are thrown high and they walk with an arrogant, Sumo swagger as they are led to the centre of the field. Finally, face to face, the true measure of the competition is clear and last-minute champions are decided on, allegiances changed and the bookies sought out as new odds are argued over.
Nasir has gone to place his bet. I think I know which bull he has his money on, but though I trust his opinion there is something about the bigger bull that just shouts of victory. As the owners of the bulls come to take their leashes off and grease their horns in preparation for the fight I look hard at the man who takes my money so that I will recognize him again when it is time to collect my winnings.
The sky turns grey and there is a threat of rain in the breeze that is blowing out of the evening. Suddenly I just don’t feel lucky and wonder if I should have taken Nasir`s advice, whatever it actually was. But the time of the fight has at last arrived and whatever the outcome I am at least standing here among the farmers watching something different, unusual, and I feel far from home which is always a good thing. As the bulls are led closer, almost nose to nose the farmers are slowly inching backwards, making a growing circle around the coming fight. Getting out of the way but keeping a view, not wanting to miss anything.
Then with a shout the bulls are released. The less courageous spectators instantly run for the sides of the field. The last place you want to be at the end of one of these bouts is in the way of an escaping bull. The interested farmers and serious gamblers stay close though, stepping high footed in the mud behind their animals; urging them on to make that falling, connecting charge.
It should be a good battle. The bulls square-up and try to intimidate each other by snorting contempt, posturing and threatening to lunge forward at any moment. Both have large, incongruous-looking erections that seem pathetically pink and fragile stuck out under their craggy, black bulk. Almost like another animal hanging there, having nothing to do with the potential violence above. Or does it? No-one seems to notice though and the muddy-footed owners fiercely continue to push at the bulls` behinds or smack them sharply with bamboo canes as they scream at them to fight.
But they just stand, nose to nose, shaking with anger, jolting spasms down their necks that twitch their low heads lower; leaning further: expectant, dangerously teetering on that edge of momentum but neither making that fall across the inches that separate them; the skull cracking gravity of the rut missing tonight. Both animals it seems are unsure enough of victory to risk a charge and as they wait and wonder, we wait also.
Two minutes, three. Four and complaints and laughter begin to break out among the crowd. After about ten minutes even those closest to the bulls seem to relax and grow less wary, bored of this stale-mate. Already those that only think themselves brave are coming into the field, away from the safety of the fences and the `grandstand`, swaying their long arms confidently and making their way to the other two corners where the next bulls are waiting and the bookies are already gathering their ring of farmers.
My bull walks away in the end, giving up the fight before it even began. The smaller one watches him go, patiently enjoying the long minutes of its deluded victory before it begins to search the ground for food. The larger bull wanders over to his corner, still arrogantly swaggered, still huge and powerful looking. No longer worried by the other bull it is the owner alone that looks embarrassed as he leads him away.
Nasir finds me in the crowd, he is smiling of course and talking about the lack of fight. I daren` t tell him that I lost.
The second fight starts soon afterwards and almost as soon as the animals are facing each other. With a shout the leashes are removed and the ring of gamblers again escapes urgently to the edges of the field as the two massive heads collide with an audible ‘clunk! ‘as they send the mud splattering in a frenzy of bovine anger. This is the type of thing the farmers are used to and encouragements are shouted at the bulls from all around. Even if money is lost no one seems to mind because the energy expended in the mud in-front of them has made it all worth while.
Again you should always watch the under-dog. The bigger bull is strong that much is obvious in the ripple of muscles along its back and the push of its legs into the earth as it tries to ground the other bull into the muddy puddle that is their battleground. But the smaller one fights back with brains, turning the powerful weight of the larger bull into a pendulum of retreating balance. As the large bull crashes forward, the smaller one sinks, steadfastly into the mud, bending its legs and taking the weight of the attacking animal on it head. It then does a very clever thing; it turns its head, the horns locking, and the larger bull, whose balance is now all on slipping front legs and it own moveable head, is swung round until it finds itself falling sideways into the mud as the smaller animal shakes its horns free. This happens a number of times. The puddle deepening as a stumbling buffalo splashes its way into and out of the mud once again and turns for the fight. The smiling farmers that have stayed close are splattered with the fall-out, yet their teeth grin through it all as the larger bull crashes forward again and again.
Yet another scrambling recovery eventually tells the larger bull it has had enough and it turns to run, giving up the fight. But the smaller bull has one last indignity to offer. At the moment it turns the smaller one charges. It has waited for this moment and now, hooking its head under the back legs of the running bull, it pushes the larger animal around the field; tossing its head determined to topple it. The crowd laughs at the sight: the larger bull running on three legs with the smaller one hooked under it. It is a wary laugh though because of the possibly dangerous continuation of this struggle and the unpredictable nature of the scared bull. The owners meanwhile are running behind them trying to catch their animals and separate them by throwing blankets over the eyes of the victorious bull to disorientate it and stop any further pursuit. The fight has been won, and these expensive animals must not be allowed to injure themselves like this. It’s quite a funny sight though and the children in the crowd laugh as they too run after the bulls, imitating the flapping farmers chasing their tangled animals all over the field.
When the fights are over, the crowd gathers together in the middle of the field, for the winners to collect their bets from the bookies before they disappear into the visibly darkening night and the losers to talk over the fights and wish themselves better luck next time. Nasir finds me as I stand looking around the field, taking in the truncated volcanoes and the glimmer of lights that are beginning to pick out invisible villages in the horizons. He comes back smiling, as before, and though he doesn’t mention it I am sure he is laughing at my loss. He does tell me that the second fight was one of the best that he can remember though. In this, at least, I seem to have been very lucky.
We walk out to the village in a crowd of farmers and before I go to find an opelet to take me home Nasir shakes my hand to say goodbye.
“You have a good time?”
“Yes, very good thanks.”
He carries on shaking my hand and smiling.
“See you on Saturday then?” He asks.
You know, he just might.
Some adverse weather in The UK I hear. (nice pic on this piece by the way)
They clean the roads and footpaths pretty quickly though. I was impressed. Several metres of snow hardly affects the day to day routines of the rural Niigata. A few centimetres in Tokyo or London and everything grinds to a halt.
Busy time for me journalistically at the moment, lots on the go. Lots of plans and leads to follow. Got to keep ploughing on through it. Geddit?
I think the struggle to save the last remaining street-level view of Mount Fuji from central Tokyo is not going to create many martyrs to the cause. But some people are angry enough to start a campaign to save the view of Mount Fuji from Fujimizaka in Nippori and it has recently being getting a bit of press coverage. I went there on Friday while shooting a travel piece on this interesting area of Tokyo to see if the view is indeed worth fighting for
While it is not a stunning vista of Mount Fuji’s peak to be true, there is something magical about having that famous silhouette at the end of a quiet street as the sun sets. Certainly the famous ukiyo-e woodblock prints by Edo-era artists, that show Mount Fuji in the background of a developing urban life in Edo (modern day Tokyo) are a thing of the past in more ways than just the clothes the people are wearing. The city is larger now, the horizons are jagged with skyscrapers and yet, as the evening breeze rattled the toba in the graves of the cemetery behind me and the birds sang in a sky that felt so much wider than usual in this sometimes claustrophobic city, there was a feeling of some connection to that past. It was a past when the unhurried contemplation of beauty was the defining Japanese character trait.
We live much busier lives these days and I was joined by only a few older photographers as the sun set. Yet each person, young and old alike, that walked up or down the hill turned their heads for a second or more to take in the view. The few cars or vans that passed stopped for a bit to check the view and I could see why the residents have declared the view to be cultural heritage. the simple pleasure that all got from seeking out the smooth summit slopes of Mount Fuji from among the messy, skyline of Northern Tokyo showed that this is a experience that should be saved for others. Of the sixteen similarly named Fuji view hills (Fujimizaka) in Tokyo the one just above Nishi Nippori station is the last to actually have the view it advertises and surely that is something worth fighting to protect.
Even the view from this slope is no longer perfect however. More or less the same fight was fought over the same hill before. In 2000 the residents tried to stop the construction of a 13 storey apartment building that would block the view of the left hand side of the peak. They formed the Nippori Fujimizaka Mamorukai (Association to Preserve Nippori Fujimizaka) but were ultimately unsuccessful and the perfect profile of that most perfect of icons has forever been cheapened.
The hope is now that a large 45 storey, 160 metre tall building being planned by Sumitomo Fudosan can be stopped or the plans changed in some way that it doesn’t completely hide the peak from view. As the Fujimazaka Association says; the views are and should be made available to anyone. “We cannot stand by and let companies or individuals claim exclusive possession of these spots by obstructing them, or let city ordinances turn a blind eye to such cases.”
Mount Fuji holds a special place in the heart of most Japanese and you would think that preserving views of it would gain ready support from business and political leaders. In 2004 the Tokyo Metropolitan Government did established the Scenic Sights Law to protect the aesthetics of famous views around valuable man-made landmarks such as Tokyo Station and the National Diet Building. The implementation of the law has been left to individual ward offices to interpret however and it unfortunately does not include natural sites. The Association to Preserve Nippori Fujimizaka are lobbying to get the law changed to include natural vistas such as the ones of Mount Fuji. They have also, as in 2000, tried to enlist the help of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and its advisory body, The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), to suggest the construction’s planners needed to have a re-think. In December 2011, ICOMOS publicly supported the Fujimizaka Association by calling for just such a re-evaluation and the further development of guidelines in Tokyo to protect the remaining views of Mt Fuji.
Tatsuo Ikemoto, a member of Nippori Fujimizaka Mamorukai, says his generation have a duty to leave the landscape for future generations. To this end they are asking people to write messages of support on their website in the hope that national and international pressure can be brought on the necessity of preserving such natural vistas.
Japan is very keen to have Mount Fuji listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Indeed it rather repeatedly demands everyone understand the cultural importance and inspiration the peak has had on the nation of Japan. And it is a seriously beautiful mountain that is clearly worthy of such recognition were it not for the fact that UNESCO a few years ago found the the slopes to be covered in garbage and ugly developments. The rejection that followed still smarts and this year the Japanese are once again waiting to find out if the process will be more accommodating this time. Yet for all the love the Japanese profess for the peak, the reasons for it failure last time have not really gone away and the chances of Mount Fuji getting the World Heritage status, it would in any other place so obviously deserve, are slim. It may be sacred, it may be the iconic leitmotif of the Japanese rural soul but developers do not care enough about it to have protected it in the past or the future. Whether on the dusty slopes of the volcano itself or from the streets of Nishi-Nippori.
I do not know if the Association to Preserve Nippori Fujimizaka will be successful in shaming a new, business-friendly government intent on building its way out of a recession, into saving the last view of this mountain all Japanese are supposed to honour. I hope they are and if anything environmental protest in Japan has been emboldened recently with the anti-nuclear protests that came from people reactions to the crisis in Fukushima. But I feel sadly that this is probably a losing battle.
Will have to keep watching what happens though and enjoying the view while it still exists. (below)
It’s January 10th which of course can be written in Japan as 1/10 or 110 which is the emergency number for the police in the Japanese phone system. So the police were out in force, enjoying an unofficial day of celebration for the nation’s boys in blue.
I came across some big, self important police event in front of The Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery in Tokyo today. Lots of uniformed officers standing around, some running relay races around the gallery and even some top brass in spangly epaulets or camouflaging, and scarier, dark blue suits. It was in a public space and anyone could walk through and take a look but it didn’t seem to be a public event per se. Indeed the feeling was much more self-congratulatory with saluting officers and lots of military style shouting. The Japanese police are not my favourite people, though some of the officers there did look just a little prouder and friendlier, especially the ones driving an incongruous collection of open-topped patrol cars around.
Funny sight, interesting day.
Thousands of well wishers thronged into the Imperial Palace to see the Emperor and his family great them and hear him make a short speech.
This year I decided to join the crowd a little further back than I usually do: to try to get some of the flags waving in front of the Emperor, framing him in patriotism. It was a grey cloudy day. Not the best for images, though the reflections off the bullet proof glass the family stand behind as they wave was a lot less this time. It was all over quickly, we were shepherded out and I went to send the pictures.
Pictures off, work done I had time to drool over shiny pieces of aluminium at the Apple shop. This computer I am using is getting old and it appears to the people at the genius bar in the store that many important things are starting to go wrong with it. Time for a new one I think. But need a well paying job to nudge the spare cash into new computer sort of territory.
More stock images of the Japanese emperor’s birthday greeting at my archive here. Obviously in an effort to achieve the previously stated aim.
Its a wonderful way to endure the cold. A a feature of many Japanese communities in winter:
That was a good day.
Off out shooting today for work
Just a quick update.
Got roped into photographing my son’s unicycle performance yesterday at a local kids’ festival.
Unicycles are usually ridden by girls in elementary school in Japan but my son, Sola, has amazing balance and an some innate aptitude for all thing circus-like. He loves juggling, wants a diablo for Christmas and is amazing on the one wheeled bicycle that I couldn’t even contemplate riding.
Only two boys were in the performance but they did well.
Some of the girls however were amazing. Riding those high unicycles and one girl skipping while on the thing.
Pretty proud of my son (in the top photo before he went on).
Good fun day out for my shutter finger though.
My wife is a florist and knows a thing or two about flowers obviously. She says these kind of large flowers, all regimented and garishly coloured, is something Japanese men really like to grow. I must admit unlike other floral events I have been dragged to with my wife, there were a lot of men at this display.
I went along yesterday to photograph and talk to over a hundred Kurdish immigrants in Japan taking part in a 12 hour “Hunger Strike” outside the United Nations University in Omotesando in Tokyo. The strike was held to show solidarity with nearly 800 Kurdish political prisoners in 38 jails in Turkey who have been on hunger strike for over 2 months.
The strike started at 8am and lasted until 8pm and was part of an international day of action by Kurdish people to draw attention to the struggle of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey, Syria and Iraq and to call for the UN and international community generally to help in the protection of Kurdish cultural identity and secure the release the leader of the Kurdish Workers’ Party or the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan who has been in jail over 12 years.
Though the PKK is called a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, among others, and has carried out a violent struggle for Kurdish independence since 1984. The leadership now seems intent on seeking Kurdish autonomy alone and some protections for the culture that is under threat from the countries Kurdistan shares geography with.
Kurdish people are nice people who have a tough time in Japan, and everywhere. It was a peaceful, sit down protest more or less ignored by the passers by. Which is a shame as The Kurds could do with some support if their culture is to survive.
More images of the Friday anti-nuclear protests in Tokyo above. Even months on they continue in a mostly good-natured, way to call for the ending of nuclear power in Japan. Old news and all that but think there is still something interesting here because of the fact that they are still happening even though many are dismissive of them.
These protests are distinctly Japanese in character: there is a bit of a festival atmosphere to them, people dress up, sing, dance and call for a change in energy policy. How effective all this is, is of course questionable. At times the protests have swollen to numbers that the police are scared of and the mainstream media can no longer ignore but mostly now the police control the thinning crowds easily (where they are not policed by protest organisers) and as you walk around them, you do wish that the protesters would all be a little angrier, a little louder, more inconvenient, more worrying for those that disregard their rather hubristic agendas.
To be honest, I think the anti-nuclear movement here has lost momentum. Though the idea of a nuclear-free Japan generally enjoys broad support among the Japanese population, at this moment, the protests have become mundane. They need to detach themselves from the scenery more and demand more attention and respect. They have become a sight-seeing opportunity; a part-time revolutionary experience for tourists from the usual unquestioning masses. They are a kind of ether trip in counter-culture argumentativeness for many that have neither their own opinion or anger to bring on the revolt. From 6 to 8 each Friday the people call for their voices to be heard and almost no-one but themselves listens.
I do not doubt the organisers have their heart and soul in the hope that Japan will not suffer another nuclear catastrophe; and I do not doubt the visceral hatred many Japanese have of all things nuclear. What I do doubt, however, is the belief many who take part in these protests have that their voices will ultimately make a difference. I think many know that nothing will change and that turning up here and politely asking to be heard is a waste of time. Why aren’t they angrier? Why don’t they ask for compromise more forcefully, or at all? Is it perhaps that they don’t really want it all to change that much?
Without the genuine support of many ordinary people the true believers in the movement will never get their message across, as it is put too quietly. The politicians can ignore it because it breaks the usual protocols of respect and acquiescence. The politicians expect that, even though they have long since stopped earning it, but most of the protesters still give it to them. The demands shouted meekly by the old and respectable members of these protests, and others, are not loud enough, are not angry enough and nothing will change unless they are. The young, the tattooed and angry leaders are expected to be fickle and drift away. This is a waiting game and it has endured longer than many politicians expected it to for sure but unless the noise annoys the politicians, they do not have to actively endure it and it does not affect their policies.
Make no mistake, the Government wants nuclear power: it has invested too much in the policy to abandon it. There are also too many vested interests in its continuation for any politician to remain vehemently and honestly anti-nuclear upon assuming power. Toru Hashimoto for all his anti-nuclear, voter-attracting words now is almost certain to fall into line behind a pro-nuclear LDP if he is any part its expected return to power in the next election Indeed in Japan, with it’s lack of natural resources, there is almost an argument for the technology; assuming the facilities can be run at a level of preparedness that matches the unique geographical dangers Japan faces.
But that is not what TEPCO and the politicians that profit from it want. They want to return to the time when they were left alone to run the electric companies as they saw fit. Cutting corners and lobbying pork are seductive powers to give-up. Yet the public mood is against those exact things. The people dislike nuclear power and do not trust those that control it so what are they to do?
One answer is to find new ways to attack the protests, as TEPCO seems intent on doing with the statement it released on Friday the 12th of October that admitted the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima could have been avoided but seems to suggest that the utility didn’t implement globally recognised safety standards and measures because it feared outrage and inconvenience from the anti-nuclear movement.
As I remember before the events of March 11th 2011 the anti-nuclear movement here in Japan was a fringe affair at best: the band-wagoned preserve of militant unionists, who basically hate everything connected with all politicians of any hue; or the often lonely call of colourful eccentrics who could be easily caricatured and othered. TEPCO was not scared of them which is why it could get away with running dangerously unprepared nuclear power-stations. This statement, though seen by some as an admission of culpability and thus a cuddly act of contrition by TEPCO, to me makes clear only that they aim to prove their ability to learn from mistakes by returning to nuclear generation. I expect many moth-balled reactors to be restarted soon amid a curtaining secrecy that will quickly replace an initial, showy openness conspiratorially labelled as accountability.
The cries of the anti-nuclear movement will be louder at this time of course, the crowd angrier and the authorities more heavy-handed in the their control and scapegoating. It could get ugly as the true believers know that this is what it will take to change direction. But that unfortunately is not the mettle of many of the protesters on these Friday evenings. For them the false blame will resonate, the warranted anger of the protesters will seem excessive and the suppression by the authorities appear reasonable. They will leave the movement in droves. For them these Fridays are a chance to act-out and act-up in a safe way. If by accident the government accedes to their wishes the dislike they have for nuclear power will have been justified. If it doesn’t they will assume they were in the wrong because they don’t hate nuclear power enough to make change happen; they don’t hate the system enough to empower those alongside them that might bring about the change they think they want but are not sure.
The direction the energy of the protest will take in the future is interesting which is why i still go along occasionally to take some pictures.
Rather hard to take photos though as the police barely let you stand still a minute some great photos here of the Friday night protests by Tony McNicol though.
Heading out now.
That famous call at the end of the working day; the celebration of the freedom that needs some form of alcoholic lubricant to be truly liberating.
Of course for some of us beer is work.
Went along to Yokohama‘s Oktoberfest at the red brick warehouse last night. This is the third time I’ve been to this Japanese version of the famous Munich beer festival. but last night was the first time I could actually relax and enjoy it. Last night I wasn’t working, I had a free evening so took the wife and kids down for some bratwurst and originally flavoured beers.
Getting a place to sit might be the most difficult part of the evening but if you can snag some space at the tables there are many fantastic European and local beers to try and some great food.
Of course I had to take a few pictures but due to my kids being rather to small to relax in the throng, my photo walk was limited to a few minutes mixing with the energetic bonhomie like above. It is not difficult to make friends at Oktoberfest and though I have a few other jobs on this week, I do hope to get back to Yokohama and take some more shots of the people enjoying this wonderful festival.
Just heard that the leaders of the Spirit of Japan or the Japan Innovation Party as they are sometimes called (Nippon Soshinto) have decided to fold up their own operations and throw their lot in with Toru Hashimoto.
The President of the Spirit of Japan Party is the former mayor of Tokyo Suginami ward, Hiroshi Yamada, seen in the image above campaigning for the House of Councillors elections in 2010. I seemed to keep running into him that year!
He along with the party’s Secretary General, Hiroshi Nakada (former mayor of Yokohama) will stand as candidates for the Japan Restoration Party in the next election, which is expected to be called by an unpopular Prime Minister Noda sometime this autumn.
Interestingly their party policy Chief, was the former governor of Yamagata, Hiroshi Saito. Don’t know why they didn’t just call themselves the HIroshi Party!
This could all be, of course, the desperate grouping together of nationalists to ensure a singular message and weight the chances in favour of a success that might be prove more elusive than hoped for. Yet the sheer momentum of Hashimoto’s party in gathering acolytes is troubling. There appears to be an inevitability to this group’s assumption of some form of political power, great or small, and that “can’t be helped” feeling is exactly what the electorate don’t need. Because Japanese voters tend to vote the way the media is suggesting the result will go. Deep thought about the repercussions of the choices you make as a voter is not the strongest feature of Japanese election history.
As I argued before ,when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) wrested power from the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) in 2009, after 50 years of almost continuous governance, I do not think many people actively voted for the DPJ, they voted against the LDP. And the reason they did that, despite being, at heart LDP conservatives, was the feeling that the DPJ was going to win anyway. By this time the the LDP had become so toxic, with a long list of failed Prime Ministers and failing policy that even it’s most ardent supporters felt it needed to be taught a lesson. I strongly suspect many that voted for the DPJ in 2009 fully expected the new government to fail within a year or two and the return of a chastened but familiar LDP to power. Indeed I think many people wanted that.
I worry that the same thing will happen again now, the short sharp shock of defeat delivered as a message for the main parties to pull their act together. Problem is when Hashimoto gets power, I have the feeling he is not going to give it up easily.
Like I said in the last post, interesting times.