The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

photography

High Places

View from Hikarie Tower in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

View from Hikarie Tower in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

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.

Later

Damon


Idolise

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.

Later

Damon


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.

damon


Nights

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.

later

Damon


Setting the Scene

Chiba Institute of Technology talk

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.

Later

Damon


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:

Damon


Cooler

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?

Damon


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.

Later

Kids’ stuff now

Damon

 


Weekend!

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Good news! It’s Friday!

Actually pretty  busy tomorrow

later

Damon


Heavy Sunday

Kanda Festival, Tokyo

After a busy few weeks, both physically and mentally in Fukushima, it was not perhaps the best idea in the world to visit the Kanda Matsuri on Sunday.

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.

Images of some of the Japanese matsuri I have visited are available at my archive here.

Later

Damon


Architecture

Tokyo Supreme Court

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.

Later

Damon


Taliban Orang

Tama Zoo, Hino, Tokyo, Japan Sunday, March 24th 2013

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:

Busy

Later

Damon


Second Anniversary

Japanese earthquake March 11th 2011

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.

More images of the Great East Japan earthquake’s effect in Tokyo here.

The effects of the tsunami in Iwate Prefecture, Japan March 2011

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.

In Kamaishi (above) we interviewed some people whose stories will stay with me forever.

More images of the effects of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami at my photoshelter archive here.

Arigato Farm project

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.

More images of the Fukushima exclusion zone here.

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


Back Storey

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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 .

later

Damon


SHO Time

Japanese Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. Thursday February 7th 2013

Portrait of Japanese rap artist SHO a.k.a. S.Time in Shibuya the other night.

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…

Speak soon.

Damon


Gothic Lolitta

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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.

Later

Damon


Japanese Architecture

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The man above is the famous Japanese architect, Tadao Ando.

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.

Damon


On A Wheel And A Prayer

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.

His sense of balance and co-ordination will make him a good rock climber one day if I can get back into it myself.

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).

Got to get the photos sorted and sent: it was a dark hall and many will need to be de-noised as I was shooting on a high iso because the unicyclists
were moving fast.

Good fun day out for my shutter finger though.

Later

Damon


A Million Green Bottles Standing…

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.

Later

Damon


Bang My Own Drum

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 CEOsFukushima 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.

Later

Damon


Maintenance

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.

Damon


The Chin Chin Densha

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.

Later

Damon


It’s Beer O’Clock

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.

Yummy!

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.

Talk later

Damon


Over There

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.

Damon


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