On my way back to Japan from the UK earlier this week I had to spend the night in Doha airport. I was there for seven hours (slightly too short to get a free hotel stopover}. I arrived just after midnight and until my flight to Tokyo left at 7:50 I was free to rest and stretch my legs outs. It was a mostly sleepiness night as you can imagine. I was unable to sleep on the chairs like the passengers waiting to return home in the top photo, so I ended up walking around taking a few photographs.
Doha is a busy airport the planes take-off and land through-out the night. It is also a very modern and quite beautiful place that is kept shining by an army of itinerant workers.
I would see them wondering around, little more than shadows among the shining marble and sparkling opulence, sweeping, dusting, tidying-up and tidying-away. Nearly one and a half million migrants work in the tiny Gulf State of Qatar; making up around 94% of the total population. While the 6% of native Qataris live with one of the highest per-capita GDPs in the world many of the Asian migrants that work for them are treated very badly. Those in the construction industry especially have been abused, underpaid and and even killed in accidents with a regularity that created a global outcry and has taken the gloss from the controversial 2022 World Cup preparations.
I didn’t have time to leave the import and learn more about the lives of such workers in Qatar. It is a story that Qatar is keen to not have told also so it probably wouldn’t have been easy to follow up. But the almost invisible cleaners that kept Doha airport gleaming were a constant presence throughout my night wondering around the place.
A quick trip out to Hanada International Airport in Tokyo yesterday, to see my family off to the UK.
After they had taken off I walked around the airport taking a few photos.
It was he first time had been here. I’d been to Hanada before of course but not the International Terminal which I remember opening, with much fanfare a few years ago. I was quite impressed: it really is a nice place, with a good, vary large viewing deck; fun shops, including the largest Scalextric track I’ve ever seen. The building is modern and airy and it is just really good for photos. (see above).
I am waiting now to hear my family are safe on the ground and happily ensconced with my British family and I can relax.
Busy day today.
Had a nice little shoot on Friday last with the Japan Times.
Well I say “nice little” job but actually the logistics were quite difficult and not a little intimidating.
I had to shoot a portrait of rape survivor and activist, Catherine “Jane” Fisher as she handed a copy of her book to staff at the American Embassy.
The rub of course is photography at the American Embassy is not allowed. Also as the book details her 12 year fight for justice and a grudging, official acceptance of the truth in the case of for her rape by a US sailor in 2002, the embassy staff were not likely to be that accommodating to me recording what to them was not a newsworthy event. At least not news that they wanted to be too widely distributed. Indeed the American military and other government authorities have acted throughout her struggle with a degree of obstruction that is mind-boggling:
For example the US military police quickly handed over the investigation of the crime to the local, Kanagawa police, as the assault had happened off-base. This may sound like a good idea but anyone who knows the Japanese police service will know that this would leave Catherine in the hands, and at the mercy of, the seriously inept. So it proved when she quickly understood that the idiot officers around her, at best, didn’t know what they were doing in such a situation and wasted time measuring the location of the crime or insensitively asked her to re-enact the harrowing events with a sniggering policeman. All while important physical evidence was allowed to be lost. At worst they didn’t believe her and actively accused her of lying.
Of course, due to agreements the US government makes with many countries where its armed forces are stationed, this pantomime of truth-seeking was also totally toothless because the Japanese police have no jurisdiction over US military personnel. When US servicemen commit crimes overseas they are routinely tried in US courts and sentenced much more leniently: that is if they are tried at all. The man who raped Catherine was quickly posted back to the US where he was given an honourable discharge which absolved the military authorities of any responsibilities to pursue the case.
That Catherine had gone up against such odds made her someone that I really wanted to meet. On the phone the night before, as we discussed how to get the photos the paper wanted, I had promised to “do her justice” and she had laughed at the unintended pun.
With the editor`s warning ringing in my ears about not getting arrested, I met Catherine near the embassy and tried to work out our battle plans
Some sort of guerrilla shoot had been suggested to get around the photographic restriction of the place and the sensitive subject matter but as we talked and walked close to where the shots would need to be taken it became apparent that the suggested locations were going to provide none of the imagery I, and more importantly the paper, wanted. It was clear I needed to get closer, which is my usual working style anyway.
How to do this without getting stopped was something I wasn’t quite on yet though. Was I was going to ask permission or shoot and hope I get away with it? I hadn’t yet decided. To a degree it depended on the friendliness of the embassy staff members that had arranged to accept the book at 10:30am. If they looked nice I might be able to negotiate a quick shot. If they didn’t I had two further options: shoot under my arm, silent mode, sneaking a photo that might or might not work; or shoot until stopped and apologise hoping that they didn’t ask me to delete the photos. It is after all always easier to apologise than ask permission. But at the embassy I wasn’t sure that particular photographic truism would hold.
The sidewalk next to the embassy wall is closed and you are only allowed through on embassy business. After explaining we had a meeting Catherine and I walked up to the gate and waited in front of a policeman who was checking each person in and out.
We were a bit early but I had my camera out in my hand. I wanted the policemen to see it, to understand it was part of me and both it and I had a purpose there. In preperation I had a wide angle lens on and had set the iso a little higher than the sunny weather needed, so that I could close down the f-stop and get more depth of focus, and I had put the motor drive on high speed so that I could get a lot of shots in the short time I was expecting to be allowed. I didn’t take any photos while we waited of course: I didn’t want any rules explicitly voiced that I was intending to soon disobey. From where I stood I also couldn’t see any signs saying photography wasn’t allowed though I knew they were around somewhere. Most importantly I made a point of standing outside the line of the embassy grounds and on Japanese soil where photography, technically, is still allowed.
At ten-thirty two women came through the security building and down to meet Catherine. They looked quite young and open as they approached but they didn’t smile at all as we greeted each other. Catherine handed over the book and as she explaining the message written inside I shot 4 or 5 images. The embassy woman, who was holding the other end of the book, quickly asked why I was taking photos and Catherine, bless her, just carried on explaining the meaning of her message to the ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, as I shot some more. Eventually the embassy woman looked quite angry and asked me to stop, I tried to explain that we wanted a record of this event but she said the embassy didn’t as it was not an official embassy action.
That was the end of my hand over images. Which the paper probably wouldn’t be allowed to use anyway.
A curt goodbye and the embassy staff were gone. But I still needed a portrait of Catherine holding her book “as close to the embassy as possible”. As the police had said and done nothing during my earlier shooting I decided to risk a few more shot right here on the embassy’s doorstep. I got Catherine to hold-up another copy of her book and started to shoot a few quick portraits. This time to policeman intervened and said it wasn’t allowed but I mangled some Japanese back at him about a portrait being okay and carried on shooting. Japanese police generally get confused easily by people arguing back and my unclearness had the desired effect. I shot 5 or 6 more images with the US embassy and the police in the background and then we quickly got out of there.
I was actually quite nervous and even shaking a bit: you don’t fuck with he US embassy lightly, but thankfully the shaking didn’t affect the photos. I was also carrying Catherine`s quite heavy handbag, so that she looked less encumbered in the shots, which made my arms heavy and sway a bit as I moved around. All in all it was a bit of an effort actually but I got an okay shot (top photo) and the Japan Times used it on Tuesday in two articles about Catherine and her book. (Though look at the photos in the photo viewer, not at the top of the page which is looks rather green and flat for some reason)
But is was also fun. I like a challenge as a photographer. The portraits I took of Catherine later were technically better because they were less rushed and better lit: the sun was high and strong as we stood outside the embassy but using flash, to even out the skin tones, would have been pushing my luck a bit especially when even using a camera was a risk I wasn’t sure I was going to get away with.
A good day in all photographically and personally as I got to meet and spend time with a very strong and interesting woman.
Busy talk soon.
A good day out on Friday, just wandering aimlessly around taking pictures of whatever I came across. Just like I used to do back when I shot photos while travelling. Indeed it did feel a bit like travelling again as, though I ended up in some familiar places like Azubu, Shibuya, Ebisu and Roppongi, I hadn’t been to some of them for quite a long time and it was good to see them fresh again. Istarted the day off with a visit to my sons’ school to watch them practising for their sportsday. You can see my Sola on the far left of the top picture.
It was a hot day and the Friday night ciders with good friends went down very well after a good day out.
Nothing much else to write, busy as always just wanted to share some shots.
Going to be heading out again today. Something I want to shoot
Do love just wandering around sometimes though seeing what catches my eye like the view from the Hikarie Tower in Shibuya. Love High buildings and the views you get.
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.
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.
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.
Photo shoot on Friday took place at this table.
Exciting life of a photographer, no?
Of course there were some people there later too.
Very busy at the moment. Today all is on hold however for my son Taku’s eighth birthday.
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?
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:
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?
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.
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
Good news! It’s Friday!
Actually pretty busy tomorrow
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.
More images of animals in zoos and in the wild at my archive here:
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.