I love Japanese festivals and especially ones that involve carrying a mikoshi around. A few weeks after I arrived in Japan I was wondering the streets of my neighbourhood when I stumbled across the local Aki Matsuri or Autumn festival. Now I was new in Japan and that day I learnt a lot of new words for the mayhem of these events: Words like mikoshi (portable shrine), tabi (festival jackets), “washoi!” (which as far as I know means nothing and is just chanted when people are carrying mikoshi during the festival) and even the word matsuri (which means festival) itself. It was such a magical, unexpected pleasure in a country that was leaving me, at that time, quite lonely, bored and poor. I could join in the fun of the festival without spending money and it had all the colour and unfamiliarity of the travelling life I had just left behind when I moved here. In short it was best day in Japan up to then and I have had a soft spot for this part of Japanese culture ever since.
The Kanda matsuri is one of the three great Shinto festivals of Japan and takes place on odd numbered years in the streets around Kanda. I had never been to it before and it made the news this year as it was returning after a four year hiatus caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku on March 11th 2011. I just had to go.
Also friends of my sons had relatives involved in the matsuri so we could really join in. Indeed I could not avoid joining in.
I have carried a mikoshi before and know from that experience that firstly they are really heavy and secondly that I am apparently genetically unable to get into the rhythm of the carry due to the fact that I am just that bit taller and my legs that bit longer than most of the other people I’m having to share the burden with. If you can’t get the “washoi!” beat going as you carry the mikoshi you can guarantee some nasty shoulder bruises in a very short while. My first experience found me under the sharp-edged wooden beams, that support the mikoshi’s weight, performing some very ungainly, bandy legged waddle in an effort to lower my shoulders to the same level as everyone elses. This of course also made my thighs scream in pain and my hips twist uncomfortably.
Those memories were still fresh when I was pulled from the crowd by well-meaning but obviously sadistic new friends and thrust under those same, sharp beams yesterday. I tried to get the rhythm I really did: I held onto the man in front and even a mumbled “washoi!” left my lips. The person behind helpfully and perhaps angrily adjusted my posture every time my head dropped a little too far or my arse stuck out a little too much. But try as I might I just couldn’t get the same bounce in my step as they could. My legs had to bend that bit more to travel the same vertical distance as theirs; there was a delay: I couldn’t move up with the ups and down with the down as well as they could and the weight of the mikoshi smashed again and again and again and again into my shoulder.
My sons were smiling at me, proud and photographing madly. Yet I was in agony. I stuck it out as long as I could: I wanted to make them proud of course, but my clown legs meant clown feet spread wide and as we moved the mikoshi around a corner I couldn’t follow the shuffled steps; my feet seemed seven sizes bigger and caught on the heels of the man in front and the toes of person behind.
It hurt, I looked like an idiot and though they smiled and said “don’t worry” I am sure my accidental removal of most of my neighbours footwear, multiple times, was somewhat annoying.
But at the rest stop the food and rink was generous and friendly. My kids and their friends had a ball. And I was free now, having done my part to photograph, up close, with my mikoshi colleagues.
Exhausted and bruised but a great day out all the same.
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.
Rather lonely looking orangutang in Tama Zoo yesterday.
Reminded me of images of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
Was busy yesterday but wanted to remember something about the events of two years ago on this blog. Amazing how life goes on so normally; how we are busy; how we worry about different things now when just two years ago yesterday our minds were concentrated on one event only.
The power of the earthquake was shocking, even in Tokyo. In the photo above you can see old and young, men and women bedding down in the foyer of a bank, late at night. The bank had stayed open to let people trapped by transport stoppages, find a place to rest. It was an humbling day of collective stoicism that has forever changed my view on the Japanese.
A few days later while working in Iwate with the Daily Mirror journalist, Tom Parry I met people picking their lives and losses out of the mud of the tsunami. I had never met people who just had the ability to carry-on like that before. Memories were strewn across the flattened coast and for those that survived, harsher ones replaced them. It was as I said at the time, on my first day there, a day of boats in fields and houses in the sea, and also one of a recovering hope in human nature and respect for the raw power of nature itself.
What I didn’t do at the time of course was visit Fukushima. the earthquake and tsunami caused the now famous problems at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant. At the time fears of imminent nuclear catastrophe kept most sensible people away. Mis-information and out-right lies by the government and TEPCO worried and falsely reassured us in equal measure. Only a few months later as the borders of the 20 kilometre exclusions zone shut tight did I venture to its edges and record the struggle the people of that area are having as they adjust to the new reality. It is the elephant in the room: a massive, ugly thought that invades all references to the place. It is fear and loss. Perhaps not as clearly understood and obvious at the tsunami damaged towns along the coast. But even sadder in some ways. Among the poisoned fields are places that are still beautiful, still missing the people that could so easily return to them if the “beep! beep! beep!” of the Geiger counter didn’t advise them of the opposite.
Again here I have met people that though angrier (this was a man-made disaster after all and identifiable individuals and companies are culpable), are nevertheless just struggling through; just trying to make the best of what is left them, and are even succeeding in that it seems, like the Arigato Farm Project of Iwaki in the image above which is trying to make farming a local, reliable business again.
Their stories will be occupying me for the foreseeable future. Because as we move on from that time and the memories dim; the fears, empathy, anger and sense of awe at both the power of nature and our own human strengths we felt will fade also. It was a horrible time and I hope to never repeat it in my life. Yet it was a time I ma glad I lived through and got to experience first-hand for the very real understandings it gave me on the priorities of my life and the futures of the world we all inhabit. I hope never to forget those feelings
As I am lucky enough to call him a friend, I know most of the back story outlined here in this piece about photographer and film-maker Adrian Storey, also known as Uchujin
But just in case the name is new to you have a read and check out some of his amazing work at the uchujin website .
His ambitions clear in the globe he’s carrying.
Love who can run into in Shibuya.
Nice guy, wish him luck with World domination.
Busy at the moment but…
The above image was in the Guardian on Friday in a travel piece about Japan’s fashion tribes.
The famed Harajuku Sundays are a thing of the past it seems these days. I haven’t been there for years but hear that the craziness has moved on somewhere else.
Images of the cos-play scene in Harajuku and the various different fashions tribes in Tokyo still sell regularly though which is nice. Realistic licensing rates with Alamy stock though have also, it appears, moved on elsewhere .
Nice start to the day however.
Now I wish the building behind him was one of his award winning designs as that would be the perfect portrait but it is just some apartment building in Roppongi that happened to be behind Ando San as he joined ex-governor and Prime-Ministerial hopeful(less) Shintaro Ishihara and his erstwhile deputy, Noaki Inose, electioneering in Tokyo on Friday. I did try to frame some architecture into my night-time portrait. The lighting on the election van was dramatic enough to not need too much flash and Ando San knew how to pose and look enigmatic and genius-like. He is quite a distinctive looking character anyways.
It was a bonus to find him there as i though I was just shooting Ishihara. A surprise too. indeed I am generally surprised when intelligent people like Ando San find any common ground and have anything to do with Ishihara. Reading a little bit about Ando san and how the Japanese aesthetic and sense of identity has shaped his architectural designs I get why either he or Ishihara would find benefit in supporting each other though.
I may not like his friends but I do like what Ando San can do with some concrete and a well lit place because it is so different from what most other Japanese architects do. He makes extraordinarily interesting and gentle buildings that compliment the natural environment rather than dominate it. The heavy, blunt hideousness of the concrete apartment behind him in the image above is the usual.
I have to be honest, not being involved in architecture, I knew nothing of him before my friend, Tomonori Ogata (who is surely destined to be one of the greatest of the next generation of Japanese architects) turned me on to him.
It was good to finally see him in the flesh and get a nice portrait even from a distance.
Busy. More to follow.
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.
Christmas belongs to Heineken in Shibuya it seems. Rather nice display of green bottles by the beer company at a Heineken wish place whatever that is. Good for abstracts though.
Taking some shots of the upcoming Japanese elections too. Will post them as and when I can.
Going to start on a bit of a marketing blitz to get some more photo work. Feel like shooting some new stories that grab my attention more. Still like the older (literally in the case of Sugamo) stories in the usual places but feel like finding something new. I also want to make my photoshelter stock archive of Japanese images, and a few other places, work better for me better for me too by making it a bit more diverse. Though Japanese pop-stars, and CEOs; Fukushima nuclear contamination issues, Left wing protests, right-wingers at Yasukuni Shrine, transvestites carrying a big pink penis and little plastic yellow ducks racing down a river in front of Mount Fuji does sound quite diverse as I write it.
Time to bang my own drum a bit.
Shots from the very infrequent sunshine yesterday.
This is near my house and was shot quickly while the sun actually shone a little hazy light on my world for a moment as I walked to the station on route to Tokyo for some photography that never really happened due to bad light all day.
Glad the day wasn’t completely wasted though.
Tokyo hums to the constant movement of trains and cars. Modern transportation keeps the city’s population of 8, or more, million moving in smooth, clean, though often crowded commutes. Yet there is one charming anachronism in the high-tech and mobile metropolis: the Toden Arakawa line tram. Sometimes known as the “Chin Chin Densha”
The line is Tokyo’s last remaining street-car service and runs from Minowabashi to Waseda. Once part of an extensive tram network in the capital the line was named in 1974 when surviving parts of the older network were combined to cover the present route. The oldest part of the line still in operation opened in 1913 however and despite running outside the popular, central destinations and indeed having large parts of its network covered by alternative forms of transport has managed to avoid closure so far. This happy fact is due in part to efforts by passengers and people who live along the line to save it from closure. Not many forms of public transport generate that kind of love.
Certainly to follow the line for it 12 kilometre journey through the oft-forgotten parts of North and East Tokyo is to see a different side of the city. The line runs at street level, close to houses and gardens. The crossing are informal (even dangerous) often involving neither gates, stairs or insistent warnings. The signs advertizing their location have pictures of steam trains on them and the fences along the edges of the track are, in places, overgrown with colourful roses and other forms of verdancy.
Unlike the commuter trains that are usually raised above the heads of pedestrians on elephantine-legged bridges and cliff-like embankments, the scale of the Todan Arakawa Line is human and neighbourly. Perhaps this is why it seems such an essential part of the landscape it traverses. As the cars rattle through neighbourhoods of low-rise housing and ambling school kids they neither annoy nor demand much attention at all.
I love that about this line because if you do take a look at it you will find something special.
Going to shoot more of this I think. Need to get myself a suitable anorak first though of course
Oh, as to the name, as any one who speaks Japanese will know “chin chin” means “penis” and thus could be considered a strange pet name for a supposedly beloved train. Well “chin-chin” also refers to the sound the bell on these trams used to make. Now there is no bell of course, which makes the name a bit of nonsense but somehow seems to suit the ridiculous and idiosyncratic existence of this tram.
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.
I don’t often get to Osaka but I wish I could more often. It is Japan‘s second city and the city has its own unique charms not least of which is a population that is more open, direct and humourous than Tokyoites can seem at times. It is a rougher city for sure, and in places certainly gives visitors a very different perspective on Japan. One of those places in Shinsekai.
Read Justin McCurry’s great piece on the revitalisation of Osaka’s Shinsekai district here for why it is so special and indeed becoming more so.
Last time I was in Osaka I stayed there and must admit it was a great experience. The hotels were some of the cheapest I’ve ever stayed in in Japan but all had fast(ish)wi-fi and the area is, though a little down at heel and even just a little odds in places, is full of energy and interest. Everything Justin writes is on the button. Can’t wait to go back.
Recently Osaka images have been popular searches and sales for me.
Guess I should head back to shoot as soon as I can. Ride this Osaka wave a bit…
Meanwhile some stock images of Osaka above.
Had a busy morning with kids things so kind of missed the big and much anticipated launch of the new Apple iphone 5 at Ginza; like the iphone4S Japanese launch images I took there last Autumn. Could make it, a little late to be honest for good images, for the same event in the store in Shibuya where the people were lined up along the road for a couple of hundred metres.
Each time one of them bought a phone and walked out of the store the staff cheered and clapped. The smiles on the faces of the buyers when this happened said it all really: they felt like celebrities for a moment, the staff fawned over them and they walked tall and proud with their little white logo bag dangling among the slipping bags, camp chairs and other paraphernalia of the true devotee.
I sound sarcastic of course, it was all very nice, if a little American and people seemed to genuinely like spending money after waiting in line to buy a phone. The Apple employees came out and handed out bottles of water. A stack of umbrellas stood at the head of the queue due to a chance of rain and even if you were a dyed in the wool cynic you’d have to admit Apple does not just take your money. When you hand it over, even before you hand it over, they are polite and helpful, happy to go that extra mile and though you walk out of the stores considerably poorer than when you went in, it is probably safe to say you don’t feel you’ve been shaken-down.
When the same event happens in the UK stores later today, I do hope the contractually-required exuberance is just a little forced and ironic though because if people do genuinely believe it really is that much fun to work there (which apparently it isn’t) and if it really is that much of a big deal to buy an iphone (which it isn’t) I am worried about the future of our species and our current place in the world.
I love my iphone, don’t get me wrong and my wife would call me an Apple fanboy. But I am not. I like the things Apple make because they work; I like the iphone more than other telephones because it does what I want, which to her is a strange thing because she sees no differences between them: they all do what she wants from them. Believe me it wasn’t the branding I want, it’s the absence of it. I wanted a phone that was going to do only what I wanted it to do and not have a million unremovable apps installed because my phone company was intent on guiding my every action on the bloody thing into what they though I should need. I have had experience with Japanese software before that seems to be all about turning me into some identikit consumer for the partners of the company who own the code I use. Apple doesn’t do that (yet, though I think the removal of Google maps is a big mistake and I hate the fact that in a year or even less all my stuff will probably not work on my phone because it is not running the latest operating system and I will be forced to upgrade). At the moment, my phone is mine alone and though the battery life is laughable, the and the screen too small to really do much on, and the cost, in Japan at least, exorbitant, I think my phone is great.
But it is a phone at the end of the day, a useful one that enables me to keep in touch with events that are happening in real time which as a photographer ,out and about, is worth the cost alone. Nothing though, nothing, would make me camp out on the street for a week before the shops started selling it. Really have these people got nothing better to do?
The weather is fetid. The ragged tendrils of Typhoon Samba wringing-out squalls and cloud bursts of surreal origins from a sky that is by turns both gloriously clear and evil-tempered with its claustrophobia. Rain falls from cloudless skies one minute and clouds boil up and glower of storms that do not come next. It’s interesting.
Hopefully this all means an end to the summer heat at last. A busy Autumn ahead, would like to carry less T-shirts around on my photo trips. At the moment I am sweating through 3 or 4 a day.
Exhausted but enjoying some time out to shoot and work on stories and think of other ideas. Also meeting up with some friends for a drink when possible.
One of those stories is of course the Sugamo, old lady town, story that has been a constant here for me over the years. Though Japan‘s ageing society has been in the news on and off for years and my collection of Sugamo images has proved surprisingly profitable I never seem to get quite the end to the story I want. Indeed I have not been there for a while in the hope that I would fin again some of the interest I had on my first visit or perhaps an angle or aside that I could explore with some fresh or at the least, rested eyes. End up just re-photographing the Arai Kannon statue at Toganji Temple (above) where people go to wash away their aches and pains.
Never mind, quite a nice day out in its own right, and you never know who you’ll meet there. Will be back sooner than later probably.
Some of the creatures from the last few days.
Beautiful, dangerous and noisy.
And all just a little bit strange and ridiculous. Endlessly fascinated by the animals of this world.
Love a bit of wildlife photography too, every now and then.
No not the fireworks, though some of them were huge, the last ones in the finale actually exploding above the clouds over Tokyo Bay.
No, the noisiest thing was the security and police, constantly telling people what to do. There were crowds true, Japan is crowds, but really was it necessary to have so much high-decibel advice constantly, throughout the whole display?
Even my wife got angry at the Pavlovian nightmare and the guard in the image above is looking angrily at me because I’d told him in no uncertain terms to shut-up!
Nice display, though of course like most popular events in Japan the main experience to be had is other people. And for many Japanese people, the experience seems to be to say they have been somewhere whether they actually see anything there or not.
The display from where we viewed it was obscured by wires and street lamps. Worse still we couldn’t get closer without an expensive ticket and “in the cheap seats”, the authorities had decided it would be a good idea to floodlight the place where we all squatted and stood trying to get a view. Nothing makes fireworks stand out against the night sky like massive event lights shining in your eyes.
And to make it even more pointless for some, the fear of crowded trains made many people leave before the fireworks display had even finished.
Honestly I wonder why people bother sometimes.
Anyway personal favourite photo is the last which looks like the Death Star exploding.
Hope everyone is having a good summer.
Second Son, Taku, taken at Osanbashi Pier in Yokohama tonight.
Little bit of flash next time, and less kids hanging off me causing camera shake and this would be a great place for moody portraits.
Anger (written on the glove) at the woman’s protest outside the METI offices in Tokyo. Other work kept me away from the big protest that followed unfortunately but made some good connections and interviews at the rally of angry woman that took place at 1pm in this long running protest I have written about before.
More to follow when I have time. Slightly annoyed to have missed the main event (the later protest attended by tens of thousands of people was very vocal in is protestations against the reactivation of the Oi powerplant in Fukui Prefecture) due to a paying job. Fukushima news barely sells now which is so very very wrong. But such is life as a freelance editorial photographer in Tokyo.
More images of the bit of the women’s anti nuclear protest I saw here.
A lot of tetrapods on a beach near Iwaki in Fukushima. Some people hate these as an ugly feature of almost all Japanese coastlines. But they did provide some protection when the tsunami struck last year.
Off for interviews with farmers today.
Another job fell through today so headed off down to Kawasaki Daishi to shoot the Kanamara Matsuri of festival of the steel phallus again. Each year is more and more crowded and less and less venerably traditional. Of course the transvestites from the Elizabeth Club carrying their pink phallus are photogenic (as above) but really it was difficult to move there this year. Just too many people a huge number of whom are not Japanese and tend to use the event to perform their own extreme, irreverent theatre of absurdity. Really people as if the matsuri wasn’t strange enough, do we really need Batman’s bollocks? (below)
Did catch with one or two people I know however which was good. Guess we cannot keep away, even though shooting here just gets less pleasurable each time and we promise ourselves we won’t go next year. As above you just never know what or who you will meet.
Busy sorting pics.
Meanwhile some older, less crowded ones of the same matsuri at my Kanamara Penis festival archive here.