The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

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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


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


In Readiness

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It is probably going to be occupying my time a lot over the next 6 years but am beginning to shoot some of the preparations for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The controversial main stadium will be built from and over the remains of the 1964 Olympic National Stadium in Shinjuku. I was there last week looking for some of the preparations going on.

A lot of the work is being carried out behind walls and truthfully not a lot appears to be happening as of yet but am sure I’ll be seeing and photography a lot more activity around the capital as the infrastructure come together.

There are many stories related to the preparations for this Olympics, not least the fact that money is being poured into the event when many in Tohoku are still suffering the effects of the 2011, March 11th earthquake and tsunami. Prime Minister Abe’s assurances at the IOC, and elsewhere in the bidding process, that Fukushima nuclear disaster is under control is also something that has a lot of people wanting to show the world the opposite truth. There are people in Tokyo that are similarly angry at the effect the Games will have on their lives.

Hope to find quite a lot to shoot but for now some images of the demolition and remodelling of National Stadium.

Later

Damon


The Management

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Where the real power lies in Japanese politics

Very busy, talk soon

Damon


Six and Counting

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I missed most of the craziness around the iPhone 6 launch in Tokyo yesterday because I had a prior commitment early in the morning but even as I wandered down to Ginza in the afternoon there was still a long queue outside the new Apple store there and crowds of people looking at the new tech in the shop itself. (image above)

I love my iPhone and think it is a great tool to help me in my work but cannot understand why anyone would want to wait outside a shop for hours, even days, to buy one. These launches have now become event that people go to as much for the experience as the product. They dress up, camp-out and seem to have a good time. yet that are there to buy a product and happily part with a lot of money because a company says they should.

It is all a little bit scary that these festivals of consumerism are so important in the calendar now and attract such large numbers of people to the wishes of a corporation. I saw many tradition festivals, called matsuri,  setting up for the weekend as I walked around yesterday. The Equinox arrives on Tuesday and the Japanese people often celebrate the arrival of Autumn by carrying a mikoshi around in a noisy procession. Not saying the religion that created these colourful spectacles is any less of a unhealthy mind-control than consumerism, it isn’t. But it is certainly seems more fun and is considerably cheaper than joining the hoards of iphoners.

Later

Damon

 


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