The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter


Radically Different

helmet with a hopeful message at left wing demo in Tokyo

helmet with a hopeful message at left wing demo in Tokyo

Lots of security police taking notes at a left wing demo in Tokyo

Lots of security police taking notes at a left wing demo in Tokyo

Members of Zengakuren student union at a left wing demo in Shiba Park near Tokyo Towe, Tokyo

Members of Zengakuren student union at a left wing demo in Shiba Park near Tokyo Towe, Tokyo

A left wing demo in Tokyo

A left wing demo in Tokyo

Sorry it has been a while since I posted here.

Have been very busy with other jobs and my kids were on Spring Break which has pretty kept me away from the computer. But been plotting and planning in my limited free time and hope that I will be able to post a bit more regularly for the rest of the year.

It has been a quiet spring photographically too as I seem not to have had enough time to head out and shoot anything much for myself. A few weeks ago I did manage to get along to another one of my regular left-wing protest however. This one was related to a court case going through the glacial Japanese justice system that questions the legality of land appropriated from farmers for the construction of Narita Airport. Protesting against Tokyo’s international airport, which has been in operation since 1972, may seem like rather old news but the story of the abuses the farmers suffered and the actions they undertook to stop its construction is more complicated and it is easy to see why some of these old guys are not just letting it go, as I have written before. This article on the subject by journalist, William Andrews does a better job of explaining some of the history and personalities involved too.

Apart from William Andrews and the ever interesting David McNeill, who occasionally get articles on the Japanese extreme- left through an editor’s “public interest” filter this is still a relatively unknown and massively under-reported section of Japanese society and that fact has been interesting me for many years.

The story of the Japanese left is interesting because the existence of such political passions in Japan is unexpected. Many people’s impression of Japan is that it all works well and everyone is happy: thus there is no real need to protest for improvements or call for revolution. Also the Japanese are often reported as, and indeed famously appear to be, politically apathetic. Yet even a very touristic dig into recent history will show you that extreme views, on either side of the political spectrum, have a long tradition in this country. The Fascism of the 1930s and 1940s is one example that had global implications everyone understands, but little is known now of the the equally vehement left-wing that attempted to counter it or the prominence they assumed in post-war Japan, until the Cold War intervened.

The message of the left has been, since that time, ignored and easily ridiculed by a compliant media but is starting to sound relevant again as it is very clear that things are not all going well in this land whose society was once famously summed-up as “127 million people, all middle class.”. How Japan and the left-wing are adapting to that fact is a story I am keen to follow.

The extreme-left are still far from popular to be sure and are considered by many as dangerously anachronistic, but the grudging tolerance Japanese democracy has had to give them over the years now means their age-old warnings against power and the indifference of corporate-politics are finally getting heard anew. Or rather ordinary people who once believed they were doing just fine, and the politicians they unthinkingly voted for and the companies they unthinkingly worked for cared for their lives, have realised that is no longer true and found that their anger at this situation already has a voice.

This could be an interesting time in Japanese politics. Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, though the holder of a policy mandate, is by no means the preferred choice of many voters because of his promises. He has to be careful when and where he pushes his nationalistic ideals, that will keep his backers happy, and whar compromises he will need to make, with a larger and predominately suffering population, in order to keep that mandate.

This is easy to see at the demos where the Police, that are always a heavy-handed presence (second image), are looking unsure exactly how they are to deal with the sudden relevance of those they come to control and intimidate. There is no longer the forced smiling of demo-policing that I observed a few years ago, under the administration of the Democratic Party of Japan; the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Abe and Taro Aso have a longer experience of power and are far keener to shift the narrative and much bolder in trying to silence detractors. But the left’s long opposition to nuclear energy and militarism has meant a radical presence at most of the very inclusive anti-nuclear demos over the last three years and have led to a subtle shift in its perception. While ever the voice of the proletariat was painted as a destructive, deluded minority it was easy to force its anger and make it even more unattractive. When labour unions and student activists started to need riots and Molotov cocktails to get their points across, the overt subjugation by the security-services was easier to justify to a population that wanted a much easier life than the one revolutionaries promised. With the forceful blessing of the Americans of course. These days, when a lot of Japanese people, that have never before been driven to an active disagreement with politics, feel their leaders’ indifference to issues such as pacifism, nuclear power and global corporatism leaves them little choice but to march and punch the air in anger alongside those that they once feared, the rise of the left or at least some acceptance of its message, is harder to ignore.

I do not know if the Japanese left can or even want to lead this struggle. The call for change is a universal phenomena at the moment after all and protests against global capitalism and its supine political enablers are rampant in many countries. Yet we still do not know if this will be enough to force actual change in places that do not have so many of the entrenched traditions and restrictions that are self-imposed on Japanese activism.
I do not have an answer to this. But I am going to keep watching to see what happens.

Anyway here is an updated gallery of  the Japanese left-wing at my photoshelter archive for you to get some flavour of these protests.



Remembering That Afternoon

Japanese earthquake March 11th 2011 Japanese earthquake March 11th 2011 Japanese earthquake March 11th 2011 Japanese earthquake March 11th 2011 Japanese earthquake March 11th 2011 Japanese earthquake March 11th 2011

Three years ago today, at 2:46 on a Friday afternoon, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck the Tohoku region of north east Japan.

I was out in Tokyo that day, walking around Mejiro when the building started to wobble and shake violently. It was obvious something big had happened, what I didn’t know then, and what I wouldn’t be able to find out for several hours after, was just where it had struck and how big it actually was.

The scenes I saw and the people I have spoken to in Tohoku since that day have deeply moved me. Yet if I am honest it is that afternoon in Tokyo that is clearest in my memory. Wandering the streets in a community of forced pedestrians all calmly looking for a way out of the place and all similarly unsure what or where the bad news was. People checked phones for information but many were not working. Those outside watched buildings away in the aftershocks, those inside, in cafes and mobile phone shops or banks, train stations and hotel lobbies, served massive crowds of customers without anger, making room for stranded salarymen to get a seat on the floor, charge their phone; sneak a view of a TV screen perhaps and drink a coffee to keep them warm.

There was fear but no panic and it was a truly humbling experience to see so many millions of people carry-on without complaint, despite the very real stress they were under.

I will never forget it. just as I will never forget the almost 20,000 people who died that afternoon too.

I am unable to head north this day to give my wishes directly to those that survive them but I will stop what I’m doing for a minute at 2:46 today to those that I will never be able to meet.



The Clean Up

A Japanese policeman clearing snow in Tokyo after heavy snows fell on Saturday February 8th

A Japanese policeman clearing snow in Tokyo after heavy snows fell on Saturday February 8th

A policeman clears snow in front of a Koban (police box) in my home town in Tokyo.

We had a lot of snow on Saturday. Apparently it was the most snow to fall on Tokyo in 16 years.

Bit of a winter wonderland out there that day to be honest though I was busy with kids and missed most of it.

Now the sun shines, the temperature is rising and all that snow is melting or being cleared.

The policeman above wasn’t too happy I took his photos. But you’d think they would like to be seen performing a useful public function sometimes.



The Old Guard

Junichiro Koizumi Morihiro Hosokawa

Photographed former Prime-Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Morihiro Hosokawa campaigning in Shibuya today. Was quite shocked at how much Koizumi had aged. indeed watching these two old men climb the ladder to the top of the truck was a heart in the mouth experience: the ladder was steep and they tottered in the ascent.

When they talked though the energy and passion, of men much younger, came through. Hosokawa was more animated than I had imagined from seeing photos of him. in the photos he always looks tired. Koizumi, though not my favourite politician in the world, was amazing. His voice commanded the crowd. The anti-nuclear message resonated of course but he made it sing.

I do not know if Hosokawa will win the election on Sunday, though he speaks for many Japanese when he hopes for an end to nuclear power, voters are left wondering if he has any other policies. And as I watched them end their speeches and wobble back down the ladder there was clearly the question of age. Hosokawa is 76 years old and many people worry about his strength for the difficult job of being Tokyo governor.

From what I saw he certainly could probably hold his own with politicians younger than him . Sometimes the old guard need a cause to energise them, maybe this is Koizumi’s and Hosokawa’s chance to right some wrongs from their past and make a difference to Japan. Again. I mean really, they can’t be worse than some of the other less experienced, and sometimes just plain crazy, candidates out there.

More images of Morihiro Hosokawa and Junichiro Koizumi campaigning for the Governor’s election in Tokyo at my archive here:



Tatsuo Suzuki

Tatsuo Suzuki electioneering in Tokyo Tatsuo Suzuki electioneering in Tokyo

Tatsuo Suzuki is not the most famous of candidates in the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Tokyo yet he has a long history of battling the establishment and working towards a fairer, society as a left-wing lawyer and union activist. He is standing this time in the hope that the people in Tokyo might actually want a change from the usual collection of self-interested eccentrics and corrupt careerists they usually get. He seems genuine enough: it is not easy being an anti-establishment lawyer and standing against the ideas of the people who expect you to be come one of them when you qualify as a practitioner of law. He has taken on cases that rattle the bars of vested interests like defending political prisoners like Fumiaki Hoshino.

His policies this time include halting  the constitutional reforms promised by Prime-Minister, Shinzo Abe and indeed even aim for the complete over-throw of the Abe government itself. He is anti-nuclear of course  yet unique among the candidates also believes the Olympics are a vast, wasteful vanity project that is taking away much needed funds from the reconstruction in Tohoku and feels that the city does not deserve this event while ever the Fukushima crisis is most obviously not under the control Abe promised it was.

A principled man, but a very long shot for electoral success I fear.

I photographed him campaigning and giving some short speeches to the anti-nuke faithful protesting outside the Diet Building on Friday night. I was quite impressed that these protests are still able to draw enough of a crowd to raise some noise and inconvenience the police the bit. Far from their popularist heyday of course but the call for a change of direction in Japanese energy policy is still one that resonates with many people despite the government’s attempts to neuter the debate or rewrite the narrative.  Suzuki San found a sympathetic crowd for his rather short message but many people there, who you think would be natural issue allies, seemed to have never heard of him.

Anyway I wish him luck.

Very busy, too much to do really. Need more hours in the day.



Still Fighting For Freedom

Akiko Hoshino leads a demo in Tokyo to protest the release of her husband, Fumiaki Hoshino

Akiko Hoshino leads a demo in Tokyo to protest the release of her husband, Fumiaki Hoshino

Interesting read here in the Japan Times by the William Andrews about the case of Fumiaki Hoshino who was convicted of killing a policeman in a riot in Shibuya in 1971.

Nicely updates something I wrote before yet never quite got around to investigating more. In interviews with Hoshino San’s wife Akiko, we learn more of the petty cruelty of his detention like the 20 day punishment he got for washing his feet without permission after stepping on a cockroach or the lack of adequate heating and air-conditioning to deal with the the extremes of Japan‘s seasons.

The cruelest revelation of all is that Akoko San has never even touched her husband since their marriage in 1986. Conjugal visits have been denied and even a request to have his baby via IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation Treatment) was rejected.

Never mind the fact that his twenty year sentence has been extended indefinitely and numerous appeals refuse to reject the confessions that were used to convict him even though they were withdrawn soon after they were given with claims they were forced. Never mind the appearance of new evidence that casts doubt on the identity of the person responsible for the policeman’s death or the unbelievable fact that the prosecution is allowed to hide that evidence.

It all looks like a huge miscarriage of justice that has got both The United Nations and Amnesty International interested. Even after nearly forty years in prison the most amazing thing we learn in the article is that Fumiaki Hoshino is still optimistic that he will be released one day.

Here’s hoping he is.

More images of the Free Hoshino Campaign at my archive here.

Later Damon


Ferrari decorated with manga idols near Akihabara in Tokyo

Ferrari decorated with manga idols near Akihabara in Tokyo

You shouldn’t do this to a Ferrari.

Am I right?

Working a few other stories at the moment,  just something fun to keep you entertained while I shoot and scribble away.



Spooky Nights

Young people dressed in costumes to celebrate Halloween in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. Thursday, October 31st 2013

Young people dressed in costumes to celebrate Halloween in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. Thursday, October 31st 2013

Halloween in Tokyo Halloween in Tokyo Halloween in Tokyo Halloween in Tokyo

A few meetings yesterday and then a quick photo trawl around Shibuya to shoot the people enjoying the Halloween celebration.

Being a Thursday I hadn’t expected it to be so busy. Indeed the main Halloween celebrations took place last weekend but a lot of young people seemed to be getting very firmly into the spirit of the day as the sun came down on Shibuya.

Busy day again today.

Hope you had a good Halloween if you do that sort of thing.


Blown It All Away

A Japanese salaryman walking on a bridge near Ochanomizu station with Tokyo Skytree and other tall building behind him. Ochanomize, Tokyo, Japan. Wedneday October 16th 2013

A Japanese salaryman walking on a bridge near Ochanomizu station with Tokyo Skytree and other tall building behind him. Tokyo, Japan. Wednesday October 16th 2013

Love the clearing skies after a typhoon. The atmosphere sparkles and the air is clear and fresh. The views are hard edged and bright. All the rush and rime of the city has blown away.

It is good to be out in the light that follows these storms; there is a sense of escape both mentally and physically as you leave the house you had to hide in through the rattling winds and rain. Outside,  the city is scrubbed and good to look at again and you want to explore.

In reality Typhoon Wipha merely grazed Tokyo and it wasn’t as bad here as had been expected.  Other places were not so lucky however.

Very busy.



Memorial to Natsue Murada Memorial to Natsue MuradaMemorial to Natsue Murada Memorial to Natsue Murada Memorial to Natsue Murada Memorial to Natsue Murada Memorial to Natsue Murada Memorial to Natsue Murada Memorial to Natsue Murada

The memorial is small: a makeshift alter on a tiny oblong of unused ground next to the train tracks; surrounded by plastic construction site fences that are much too cheerfully green. Behind it a couple of rough tin and wood shacks are collapsing in on themselves and the passing commuter trains on the other side wobble the ground like an earthquake. It is an extra-ordinarily ugly location to honour the life of a woman who did an extra-ordinarily brave thing. 

On October 1st 2013 Natsue Murata was driving back to her property company office with her 67 year old father, Shigahiro. They had stopped at a level-crossing just outside Nakayama Station, in Yokohama’s Midori Ward, at around 11:30am when she noticed an old man laying on the tracks. They were at the head of the line of waiting cars and she could see clearly that there was something wrong. The crossing barriers had already closed but the man wouldn’t or couldn’t move to the safer side of them. A train was approaching: the crossing signals alarms were incessant with that warning, but forty year old Natsue knew he was in danger and couldn’t just sit there and watch him get run-over by the train. 

“I have to help him.” She said as she got out of the car. 

“Don’t go. There isn’t enough time!” Her father called after her but against his advice, she crossed the barriers and tried to pull the old man to safety.  

The train driver saw her struggling to move the man and applied his emergency brakes but couldn’t stop in time and Natsue was struck by the train and killed. She had managed to move the 74 year old man enough to save his life however. He sustained head and back injuries, including a fractured collar bone, but is expected to make a full recovery. 

The old man doesn’t remember anything of the incident and apparently only became aware of his surroundings in the ambulance. Some people have commented that he may have been trying to commit suicide but it is more likely he had a seizure or “senior moment” on the crossing.  

“My daughter was someone who could not ignore a person in trouble.” Shigehiro told the Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun.  

“I have to console myself with the fact the old man is alive.” He said, adding that he hopes the man lives to a very old age


The trains that were stopped for several hours by the accident last Tuesday rattle by frequently again now. The crossing signal sounds and the cars, trucks and pedestrians stop and wait at the barriers until it is safe to cross. The routine returns to normal and the heroism and unluckiness of that day become part of the background like the pure white table cloth covering the makeshift alter which is stained now where the rain has washed the colours from the flowers that are piled above it.  

The memorial was set up on the October 2nd, the day after the accident by JR (Japan Railways that operate the Yokohama Line), so many people have left flowers and cards that many of them have had to be moved to another location. More people arrive daily to offer prayers for Natsue however. A piece of cardboard lays on the ground in front the alter for people to kneel on when they pray and two security-guards bow and welcome those that come to offer condolences.  

Not only locals have been moved by her selfless act. The Japanese government and national Police Agency (NPA) have presented a medal with a red ribbon, the highest civilian honour, and a silver cup to the Murata family to mark their daughter’s courage. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, also sent a letter of gratitude. Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshida Suga, personally handed the letter to the family on Sunday. In it the PM expressed his condolences and honoured her courage in putting another person’s life before her own. 

When politician, especially ones as unscrupulous and stupid as Abe it is easy to be cynical.  Perhaps he is coat-tailing an act of unusual courage for political gain: something he can spin into some sense of unique Japanese fortitude that suits his nationalistic agenda. But if so he would need to ask why no-one else there that day thought to help the old man or Natsue as she struggled to move him.  

It makes him more human perhaps; more caring in a way his other policies are not but I do not think it so shallow a ploy. Perhaps like many people he has asked himself the question we all do at such events: would I have helped? Would I have been brave enough to do what she did?  I’d like to think I would; but with a train baring down and a statically higher risk to my own life as the rescuer, I wonder. I wonder.  

All of which makes Natsue Murata’s sacrifice all the more extra-ordianry and maybe that is enough to make all of us, great and small, honour her and we should just leave it at that.


Ebisu Garden Place, Ebisu, Tokyo, Japan. Friday September 27th 2013

The nights are drawing in. Soon I will spend a good proportion of my day shooting in the dark.

At least it is cooler though and I don’t need to carry so many T-shirts around as I am sweating less.

I might soon need to start carrying a  coat again however and that is equally a hassle.

The skies are mostly clear and blue though and the dusk does lend a certain colour, that I like, to the cityscapes.

Above is an image of the  back way into Ebisu Garden Place that I came across last Friday. So dark, so uninviting, but look at bubble-blue late evening sky!

Lot’s to do today.



A Day to Remember

Yasukuni end of War memorial day Yasukuni end of War memorial day Yasukuni end of War memorial day Yasukuni end of War memorial day Yasukuni end of War memorial day Yasukuni end of War memorial day Yasukuni end of War memorial day

The Yasukuni visit on August 15th is a ritual for many photographers in Japan; we go to see a side to Japan that is often hidden but which bubbles below the surface of most interactions. Because on this day, the day that marks the end of the Pacific War and Japan’s defeat, the unique pride of the Japanese in themselves is on full display.

And it is a display for the best part: a strutting peacock in khaki and medals display of historical myopia and stupidity. Patriotism is one thing, and a worthy one at that, but here, on this day, people look to the past to find the cause of their present discomfort, laying their search wrongly and missing the message in remembrance:  They see a small Asia country respected  through its export of discipline and order not the fear created by the colonial adventurism of its despotic military rulers. They see romantic hopelessness and the divine sacrifice of youth toward a passion of place not the national embarrassment that should be the kamikaze. They see the faces of millions of innocent men branded evil by unwelcome and uncouth enemy lords, without realising that at least 14 of those faces deserve that very description. And they see conspiracies of foreign subjugates to belittle Asia’s natural leader not the collective response of an organic new world order and the beginnings of post-colonialism, Asian or otherwise.

What they do not see enough is the waste of life that was the Pacific War. An easy victimhood can be found in the numbers of dead but they blame he wrong people for those lost souls and put defeat down to diet or bad luck.

Almost every year my photographer friends and I go to see the dichotomy of Japanese nationalism here. There is a superciliousness to it that is laughable when the  history is recalled yet it is a sort of pantomime of self-regard that is of course interesting  as a photojournalist; with posturing men in uniforms they have not earned and a mania of flags, fights and misplaced anger. The constant question foreigners get asked, when talking to people at Yasukuni on this day, is where we are from. The openness of the relationship that ensues depends on answers stuck in past animosities. Obviously British and American citizens are derided  whereas Germans and Italians are treated as brothers and welcomed.

The biggest pantomime is the annual  “will he, won’t he” of politicians’ visits who nominally go to remember the war dead, but actually do so to  make political statements and cement their right-wing credentials. This year Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, (who right wing credentials are quite strong) stayed away in a  realpolitik attempt to avoid increasing tensions with China and South Korea after territorial disputes and several racist gaffes by senior cabinet members. At least three of his cabinet ministers visited the shrine however and 77 other Liberal Democrat Party lawmakers (LDP) also did. In total 89 politicians paid their respects at Yasukuni on Thursday. I watched some arrive; driving up in their cars and getting out, in formal frock coats, to polite applause. Famous faces got loud cheers and the less famous a mere  smattering of sweaty hand claps from the more enthusiastic onlookers, before embarrassment that they didn’t actually know who that person was sent them silent.

Last year only 55 politicians came to Yasukuni on August 15th and indeed the whole place seemed busier this year. A spokesman for the shrine  told the press that 175,000 people had come to pay their respects, up from 161,000 last year, and the queue of people waiting to pray stretched back far further than I have ever seen it before.

Maybe the current troubles with its far too critical neighbours is causing this surge in national pride. But these are  not your rabid right-wing activists in Uyoku jump-suits. Most of the visitors were mostly ordinary people, living ordinary lives who may never express openly, at any other time,, the feelings they have. They may work, live and study with foreigners every day without their dislikes getting in the way. Perhaps they do not even feel that dislike day in, day out. But is must be there , mustn’t it? For the wish to march with a flag on the street and to express your belief in your nation’s exceptionalism is not normal. Pride I get. Patriotism I understand. Respect for victims of war I agree with. But Yasukuni is not about any of those things, it is about expressing a political opinion that places all other nations below your own and refuting the lessons of history,  with an apparent intention of repeating the mistakes of the past. It is about nationalism and xenophobia. The politicians know this; the right-wing ideologues and their foot-soldiers know this. The foreign media know this. Yet a visit to Yasukuni is still reported as an innocent expression of commemoration and hopes of peace. Yet can it ever be that when the shrine so disingenuously ties the unpleasant aspects of Japanese history to the memories of its victims?

The Japanese royal family don’t think so.

Are the Japanese people really so stupid, or do they really feel that dangerous pride again?

Confusing and troubling day as you feel for a moment there that you do not understand this country at all. Men in shirts and ties insult you to your face whereas other men in boiler suits with swastika  badges apologise for standing on your foot while they are fighting with riot police in an attempt to cause real physical harm to peace protesters.

Can’t keep away.

More images of the Yasukuni Shrine end of war celebration on August 15th at my archive site here:


Anjin San

William Adams statue in ItoIto, Shizuoka, Japan Saturday August 10th 2013 Anjin matsuri Ito, Shizuoka, Japan Saturday August 10th 2013 Ito, Shizuoka, Japan Saturday August 10th 2013

Written about the Englishman, William Adams before but this weekend finally got to go to the Anjin Matsuri in Ito on the Izu peninsular to see him honoured in Japan.

Due to family pressures (it was much more of a beach holiday for the kids!) didn’t actually get to see much of the festival itself but did meet and get interviewed by William Adams himself (bottom image). As the real Will Adams died in 1620 it wasn’t actually him of course. Indeed it wasn’t even an Englishman but a Japanese man in a blond wig and Elizabethan clothes who was very hot in that get-up but also very happy to share the history of Ito and tell me about the blue-eyed samurai who came to Japan 400 years ago and became a friend and advisor to the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

I know a thing or two about William Adams as he is from my hometown of Gillingham in Kent. My dad’s interest in history plus his connections to the sea made the name something I grew up with. When James Clavell’s Shogun was shown on the TV in my youth we all watched it religiously. I learnt my first few Japanese words from watching it; indeed it would be true to say that series piqued my initial interest in Japan itself.

There was a touch of home also as the parade, that is the main event of the festival, got ready when I met and briefly spoke to four exchange students from Medway who were leading the parade (third image). The students: two women called Sally Jeffery and Molly Ellwood and two men called Matthew English and Lare Erogbogbo were somewhat hot and flustered and seemed either unimpressed or too tired to react to this chance encounter with a Kentish compatriot.

Japanese people love organising photo calls and poses and all lots of old men and women were fussing around them of them. It seemed everyone had a job and a particular place to be stand and smile to do so our conversation was brief.  Though it appears they are over of a few weeks, heading off to various cultural events and having a good time despite the heat. Indeed Lare seemed to be loving the sunshine.

Then it was back to the beach, past the statue of William Adams that commemorates his connection to this town (It is where he oversaw the  building of Japan’s first western style sailing ship) and then a sunburnt afternoon with the kids at the beach and fireworks over red wine at night kind of a day.

A mostly good day out to be honest.

Hope to go again next year.



Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Friday January 25th 2013

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Friday January 25th 2013

It has been a pretty cool and wet summer so far. Not the usual routine. I still feel I am suffering in the humidity though so found this image of Shinjuku and thought I’d share it. Winter in Japan is cold but there are  these beautiful skies.

Feel cooler yet?


A Gentleman

AP photographer Itsuo Inouye

AP photographer Itsuo Inouye

Been a busy few weeks covering the elections here in Japan.

Calmer now and with the kids off school I’m going to be on full time father duties for most of the summer.

I love those busy times with a camera though. Not only for the subjects you get to cover but the chance to run into other photographers.

One of the snappers that I sometimes run into when covering news is Itsuo Inouye  who works for the Associated Press.

He is a great photographer and yet also a gentleman in the manic scrum that snappers sometimes have to get the shot. He is never in your way; he always waits patiently for you to get out of his and will even help you get the shot despite being competition.

Once when I was photographing a demo by Iranians in Tokyo against the previous election results, it was raining heavily and Inouye san even held my umbrella for me while I climbed up on a bench to get a shot.

I met him again shooting actor, Taro Yamamoto’s political campaign the other week and tried my best to keep out of his shots and be patient and polite and smile and choose good positions that inconvenience nobody; because that’s just how you act when you are around Mr Inouye.


Kids’ stuff now



Fighting Talk

Antonio Inoki electioneering in Tokyo

Antonio Inoki electioneering in Tokyo

Antonio Inoki electioneering in Tokyo

Antonio Inoki electioneering in Tokyo

Antonio Inoki electioneering in Tokyo

Antonio Inoki electioneering in Tokyo

Not content to be led by two cartoonishly accident prone leaders, the Japan Restoration Party enters the Upper House elections today fielding a candidate whose appearance is rather like that of a Batman villain.

Antonio Inoki, is a former wrestler and wrestling promoter. He also has the biggest chin in showbiz!

In a country where fame attracts almost no distractors, the pronouncements of celebrities carry weight and people listen whether he is talking about historical revisionism  in front of Shinjuku station, as above, or shopping bargains on daytime TV.

Inoki is one of the most famous and best loved personalities in Japan and a self-made man whose life story has to be respected even if he is not exactly the smartest man around or the hype surrounding him is rather overblown. He is a valued product of the media and as such he always gets an audience.

Opinions in celebrities are not common. In the west his current ideas would also not be popular and rightly ridiculed.  The  politics of the Japan Restoration Party are extremely unpleasant being a nationalistic, racist party that wishes to return Japan to the hollow pride of the Showa Era empire builders. They equate respect with fear and are in a dangerous game of keeping up with the Joneses regarding China and Korea. But he is allowed these opinions and beliefs because they are “on message” with those that control the media. He still has has a platform to express his views on immigration, patriotism, or the best shampoo, and continues to enjoy his celebrity. Indeed it is his star power that has JRP co-founder and one of the aforementioned leaders, Shintaro Ishihara hoping his presence will undo some of the damage caused by the other leader, Toru Hashimoto‘s comments on the comfort women issues.

“[Inoki is] here to give us new life, and help us fight through this trying time.” Ishihara said at a press conference to announce Antonio Inoki’s candidacy in June.

Contrast the indulgence Inoki’s conscientious stand is given with that of actor, Taro Yamamoto‘s who decided after the Fukushima nuclear accident on March 11th 2011 that he could not agree with nuclear power generation policies in Japan and has had to essentially give up his acting career.

Yamamoto is also running in the Tokyo elections against Inoki as I wrote before.

It is not sure if even someone as popular as Inoki can reverse the JRP’s fortunes however. Their support rates have plummeted since the Hashimoto faux pas. Inoki has run and won seats in the Upper House of Japanese politics before and might just be able to give some much needed muscle to the campaign. But the JRP brand, though once quite popular, has become toxic to many.

To me though the machismo of the JRP is also something that really doesn’t need adding to. These dinosaurs of belligerence  need to learn that Japan is a very different place to the one they wish want to return it to and its place in the world is not going to be secured by acting-up. Japan is an important country that is widely respected for exactly the reason these paranoid men see ridicule. Yet it is actually politicians like Ishihara, Hashimoto and if he is successful, Inoki that make people not take Japan seriously. As governor of Tokyo, Ishihara insulted almost foreign visitor. Hashimoto re-energised Osaka as its mayor to be true, but Osaka people have a great sense of humour and can swallow most idiocies; on the national stage he  has looked seriously provincial and out of his depth. And inoki just has that chin! He also has a wrestler’s skills at debate and rhetoric, i.e. none. The second image is him performing his trademark slap on a young supporter. Basically he is indulged in any argument to win by being stronger so we are really not going to get any useful discussion if he enters politics.

Like the others he confuses having political view and enough power and wealth to run an election campaign with being a politician. There is more skill and nuance to the job than any of these people can muster. Indeed in politics in Japan there are precious few that have those skills  that could guide Japan to take its rightful place globally.

Including the current Prime Minister.

More images of former wrestler, Antonio Inoki electioneering in Tokyo at my archive site here:




Inoki San won a seat for the Japan Restoration Party in Sunday’s poll. The JRP did badly however losing their widely declared “third force” position after the lower house elections in November to something much lower and less influential.

Beach Life (almost)

A mikoshi waits in a shrine before the Hamaorisai matsuri in Chigasaki, Kanagawa, Japan

A mikoshi waits in a shrine before the Hamaorisai matsuri in Chigasaki, Kanagawa, Japan

Three mikoshi on the streets of Chigasaki during the Hamaorisai matsuri in Chigasaki, Kanagawa, Japan

Three mikoshi on the streets of Chigasaki during the Hamaorisai matsuri in Chigasaki, Kanagawa, Japan

A mikoshi and supporters cross a bridge o¥ver the railway tracks as they head towards the coast during the Hamaorisai matsuri in Chigasaki, Kanagawa, Japan

A mikoshi and supporters cross a bridge o¥ver the railway tracks as they head towards the coast during the Hamaorisai matsuri in Chigasaki, Kanagawa, Japan

One of my favourite events in Japan is the Hamaorisai matsuri in Chigasaki.

This very spectacular festival takes place in the middle of July every year and involves about 40 mikoshi or portable shrines winding their way down from shrines all over the areas to Southern Beach in time for sunrise. When they have been blessed in a Shinto ceremony the tired, often rather drunk, carriers take them into the surf to cleanse them.

It is manic fun and not a little dangerous for the camera as the waves come roaring in to break over the mikoshi and their supporters.

I have written about the festival before here and here.

This Monday’s sunrise was rather grey and flat to tell the truth and the festival seemed overcrowded and a little lacking in energy due to the close, muggy atmosphere. Not the best one I’ve experienced.

Yet I did do something different for particular this visit. Have got a contact in one of the teams carrying the mikoshi I managed to follow the procession through the night. The best part was in the centre of Chigasaki itself when  three mikoshi came together outside the station before crossing the tracks and heading towards the sea. See images above.

I was tired and sweaty but what a great night of mayhem on the streets of this otherwise nondescript Kanagawa town.

Tempted to do it all gain next year too.

More images of the Hamaorisai matsuri in Chigasaki here:




Houser of Councillors election candidate posters in Tokyo, Japan. Tuesday July 16th 2013Yoshiro Nakamatsu campaigning in, Japan. Tuesday July 16th 2013

More electioneering today along with the beautiful Mitama Matsuri at Yasukuni Shrine.

Busy day!

This election provides so many choices  for the man in the top images who is checking the names and faces of the candidates. A total of 433 candidates have registered for 121 open seats in the Japanese House of Councillors election this year.

The ruling LDP led coalition needs sixty-three of those places to gain a majority that could  lead the politics of Japan back into the single party dominance of the past. Something they are predicted to do despite the number of other choices available to voters.

This is good news for the Abe’s aims to amend the constitution and resume nuclear power generation. Basically with a commanding majority he can do whatever he wants.

There are a few independents around that could upset the numbers though  Of course there is Taru Yamamoto as in my last post. There are smaller parties too and some colourful characters that offer broad degrees of seriousness and otherwise to most of Japan’s political events.

None perhaps more colourful than Yoshiro Nakamatsu however (in the second image.) Known as Doctor Nakamats he is a prolific inventor and TV celebrity well known for entering, and losing, elections. He has stood for the upper house elections before and also run for the Governor of Tokyo twice. The young people coming out of the Mitama matsuri were very happy to see him. It is this sort of star power that attracts votes regardless of his policies. This time he is supported by the powerful, rich  and rather scary Happiness Realisation Party though and their broadly nationalistic agenda.

Let’s hope his luck doesn’t change too much this time round.

Though of course Abe is hoping the same thing.

It’s a dilemma.



Taro Yamamoto

Actor, Taro Yamaoto speaking to crowds outside Tamachi Station as he campaigns for the House of Councillors election in Tokyo, Japan Friday July 12th 2013 The election will ake place on July 21st. Yamamoto is running as an independent candidate with a strong anti-nuclear power

Actor, Taro Yamaoto speaking to crowds outside Tamachi Station as he campaigns for the House of Councillors election in Tokyo, Japan Friday July 12th 2013 The election will ake place on July 21st. Yamamoto is running as an independent candidate with a strong anti-nuclear power

Out photographing the actor Taro Yamamoto again this week as he campaigns for the House of Councillors election.

I photographed him last year when he tried to get elected in the lower house poll in Tokyo. He lost that particular race but having secured 70,000 votes he understands that his message is one that many people perhaps want to hear.

It is a hard job campaigning in the Tokyo summer hear but Yamomoto San has given up a lot more than sweat for his beliefs. His acting career suffered as the media shut its doors to him after publicly stating his opposition to nuclear energy. In Japan celebrities are expected to be passive and not have opinions. Yet Yamamoto san has always stood up for what he believes in: from the dangers of nuclear energy to the rights of teenagers to use hair gel. Having spent some of his childhood travelling and volunteering in The Philippines there were rumours that the lack of future prospects was forcing him to leave Japan and live there. But it appears he is staying now; trying again to keep the anti nuclear  message in the  forefront of Japanese political debate by running for the Upper House elections this month

He has the same passion as before. He strongly believes that the nuclear policies of the Japanese government, especially under Prime Minister Abe are going to affect the future of the country and the people in it. He called the Ministry of Education’s  raising of the limit of acceptable radiation exposure  for children from 1 millisievert to 20 millisieverts a year was “an act of murder”.

Those are fighting words and he certainly seemed to be be more professionally taking the fight to the powers that be. Though his supporters are still mostly volunteer and there is an informality to his politics that makes it accessible and attractive. How can you not like a election hopeful that gives a speech in shorts?

I wish him luck

More images of Taro Yamamoto campaigning in Tokyo Upper House elections in Tokyo here.




Taro Yamamoto succeeded in  securing a seat in a five seat district of Tokyo. I picked up uover 660,00 votes and was the forth most popular candidate or party in the poll. Upon victory he refused to do the usual “banzai” as a celebration, saying that he had done nothing to celebrate yet.

“I will do a banzai to celebrate the occasion when I really end up helping the victims of the nuclear disaster. A thorny path lies ahead of me. Vested nuclear interests will no doubt try to sabotage my efforts.”

Anyway is is still an amazing result for a man that the media mostly ignored until it became apparent he might win and for an organisation that is not an official party yet and relied on the organisational skills of 1,200, mostly amateur, volunteers. So congratulations Yamamoto San!



The cutting edge tech in the organic LED screens that make up Geo-Cosmos globe at the Miraikan museum of emerging sciences says it all really. It is obviously very photogenic also.

Off out again today to Odaiba, I hope. With kids this time. Off to explore the world.

Fun seeing it through their eyes this time.




tokyo parasite museum

You may take some convincing but the Meguro Parasitological Museum is well worth a visit.

Apparently, and not unsurprisingly, it is the only parasite museum in the world and has a large collection of the nasty critters preserved and exhibited. Indeed it pulls no punches for the squeamish and arrays an impressive display against you as soon as you walk in the door.

Upstairs the 8.8 metre long tape worm removed from the stomach of a 40 year old man is truly stomach churning.

The museum is free but is, unlike many other free museums, really nice. The display cabinets‘ glass is clean so your view of some extremely unpleasant looking (and large) helminths is unobstructed. There is a souvenir shop upstairs where you can even buy some sealed in plastic key rings or T-shirts bearing  nematode portraits for that more conversational of presents.

Great place actually and, believe me, I never thought I would write that.



Smoking Space

smoking place

Great day out in Tokyo today. A free day of thankfully good weather and wandering aimlessly taking pics.

Well not completely aimless was following one of my longer term stories here when I came across this smoking room in a building near where I was photographing. Just thought it looked good so a few shots and I walked on.

I like days like today, no stress, no pressure. no great worries regarding clients or radiation or police.

Off out tomorrow too for some more serendipitous shooting.





Good news! It’s Friday!

Actually pretty  busy tomorrow



Nailing His Colours

Naoto Kan at anti nuke rally in TokyoNaoto Kan at anti nuke rally in Tokyo

There was a biggish anti-nuclear protest in Tokyo on Sunday. The government of Shinzo Abe has stated its determination to restart and exapand on the nuclear generation of electricity and around 7,ooo people took to the streets to protest this. Though the Japan Times quoted organisers saying 60,000 people attended this seems way too many. Even the police estimate of 20,000 to 30,000 still seems high compared to my own rough calculation at the site. The police are not known for talking-up the numbers of protesters though; indeed usually they do the opposite so I wonder what the real number was.

Some might say that it is foolish to hope the country will be nuclear free in the future,;Japan has no choice but to use nuclear energy when it consumes electricity at the level it does with no significant natural resources of its own to support it.

True these protests are not of the same scale they were at their height in 2012. But a lot of people still do care that government and industry collusion and corruption created the problems that Fukushima Prefecture and Japan has been dealing with since the earthquake and tsunami of March 11th 2011.

One man, who many people credit for having saved the country shortly after those events took place is Naoto Kan. When the situation at the damaged Daichi plant was at its worst and TEPCO were apparently preparing to abandon it, he is supposed to have  forced them to go in and manage the shut down. Rumour has it that he did this quite forcefully. So forcefully in fact that it appears as soon as was possible the powers in the political system and the vested interests in the power industry got rid of him pretty quickly afterwards.

So even he wasn’t exactly among friends when he turned up later in the day at the protest to speak, he could find some sympathy and gratitude in the crowd of protesters that surrounded the National Diet building.

Still as a politician, despite having nailed his green credentials to the mast most of his political career, it was a brave thing to do. His security was quite light and he was right there in the middle of an angry, motivated crowd that have a visceral distrust, even dislike, of most politicians.

I think history will be kind to Naoto Kan though.

A good day shooting.

More images of Naoto Kan speaking at the anti-nuclear demo at my archive here.

One more gallery to add to my collection of Japanese Prime Ministers past and present.

Talk later



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