As I wrote before; the ability of kids to make the best of these less than ideal living conditions still never fails to impress me: both the strength of the Tohoku people and the underestimated determination and sensitivity of the children themselves.
It is sometimes harder for the adults: the houses are small and noisy;privacy is minimal and they have the memories and the greater sense of loss. But the kids adapt quickly it seems and their happiness must be something that keeps the people who look after them going through bad times that were promised to have been over by now.
Busy on other Fukushima stories that I can’t show you until the client has used them.
Been a great couple of weeks of some quite amazing encounters.
Not been here for a while as have been moving house and other things. New house has rather ancient plumbing (see photo above). Actually this is much more typical of the average Japanese cheap apartment and does make quite an interesting detail shot. Still getting organised: the walls are bare, our clothes, music, books and life is still in boxes. Will get onto sorting that now just wanted to keep you updated.
I’m sorry, it is sad and strange but I do love skyscrapers and I will go along when the queues lessen a bit (about 2018 probably) to enjoy the view of Tokyo from 634 metres. I am very busy at the moment and cannot get along to update my stock images of the Tokyo Sky Tree at my archive here.
Construction work on the 634 metre Tokyo Sky Tree finished on Wednesday apparently. This amazing building will open in May and they are now putting finishing touches to the interior in preparation.
It is the tallest tower in the World and the second tallest building of any kind. It is also a regular stock seller for me. The most popular image is the one above but I have many more images of the Tokyo Sky Trre at my archive here.
OK shameless self promotion over.
The above image took over thirty minutes to get.
I wish I could do that these days when most jobs give the photographer a few minutes at most.
I was trekking in the Annapurna Himalaya in 1995 and passed this school building, which was beautifully carved, when this little boy looked out of the window. Obviously he was enjoying his lessons as he soon turned his attention to the teacher again. But he had looked so good in the window, and this was in a time when I was free of time pressures and well anything that wasn’t exactly what I felt like doing so instead of trekking on, I waited until he looked out again. This he did about thirty minutes later, a quick look first that caught sight of me but was too fast to shoot followed by a second, steadier look a few minutes later when, seeing I was still there waiting with camera ready, caused this huge infectious grin to take over his face.
No reason to put this picture up at all other than I like it.
Actually feel a bit stir crazy in the city of late too and wishing I could be out walking around some mountains again. This images also reminds me of those free-booting days.
Nice day today: four pics in the Guardian newspaper and online in their interactive guide to Tokyo, including the one above of host clubs touts in Kabukicho which is where salarymen go to listen to Korean pop music and see K-pop stars apparently!
Not sure about that
Especially nice section on local flavour as seen by local, Tokyo-based photographers where they featured my name as a photographer/blogger in Tokyo and two of my images and the reasons/ rational I took the shot. Five ex-pat photographers were featured and it is good to appear along with such great work from other well known snappers I both admire and like personally, even though some I don’t know all that well, yet.
A situation i hope to remedy over a pint soon.
Actually that’s not too unbelievable when you think about it.
In the long queues for the cafe (above) were a lot of the young otaku men that love this and other teenage idol groups.
Indeed the whole Akiba weirdness is big business now (the Nomura Institute, in 2004, estimated the spending power of Japan 2.85 million otaku as 290 billion yen) and also a source of soft power that pushes Japanese popular culture and exports abroad, a cause that was championed by the unashamedly geeky ex-prime-minister, Taro Aso.
Don’t get it myself, though some of it undeniably attractive, it is would be hard to freely admit that anywhere else than Japan. Though by many accounts the Otaku’s love of cute, erotic and animated alternative realties is increasingly becoming popular in other countries too.
The myriad and multi-level stores of Akihabara can be difficult to navigate for the uninitiated and it is difficult to know exactly what is and isn’t there. So about 50 business got together at the Belle Salle Akihabara event hall over the 8th and 9th of January as a sort of one-stop-see-it-all festival to all the place has to offer. (above) Electronic stores, that first gave the areas it obsessive character, set up shop next to toy, and hobby stores selling everything from remote-controlled helicopters to bikini-clad figurines and Roman armour. Visitors could also drive model trains, race scaletrix cars, shoot replica guns or watch robots fight. Downstairs idol groups performed on a small stage and a couple of maid cafes set up shop around a square of folding tables serving bottled drinks.
It was tacky, cheap and terrible yet I imagine if you’re into the the Otaku culture and the whole Akiba thing it must have been heaven there. Myself I couldn’t really join in as manga, animation and idol groups don’t do much for me. Photographically it was also a little dull, and a little crowded to take pictures, more of a trade show that hid all the good stuff behind the backs of lots of unattractive men. Couldn’t get close to the idol groups as the fan were dancing and wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the maids (as is always the case though did sneak the one above). I stayed a short while and then left to walk around the streets a bit more. There is more of the same outside and though it is equally hidden away when you go looking it looks better.
Anyway all for now, too tired to write better.
One of the many curious juxtapositions you often find when out shooting in Tokyo.
Norman Tebbit‘s (in)famous words to the unemployed of Britain in the eighties. Funny that it was that decade that gave kudos to all that we we now find abhorrent in the oft-unearned and “rub in your face” conspicuous wealth of bankers and multi-national elites. As the wheels of capitalism turn through a time of belt-tightening and forced austerity, that everyone except those that still see poverty as a character failure, seems to understand; I am, as always, pleasantly surprised to find Japan doing it just a little differently.
Today I went to the the finacial capital of Tokyo, the Bank of Japan and the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Places that despite being the engines of a troubled, to be fair, but still formidable economy seem to have none of the aggressive pride in excess that the Meccas of money in New York or London deem necessary to motivate themselves. I think I’d never see a banker in London ride to work on a on a bike for example.
Of course Doric columns are an affectation, lending European gravitas to such businesses and in Japan are wonderfully pretentious. Indeed the veneration of the market with western classical ideas and architecture is just a little pathetic when you consider that Japan was the trail-breaking tiger of the Asian dominance of the economy we’d all better get used to in this next century. But then history has always sat at odd angles on this land that does not quite know where it belongs. What is inescapable however is the fact that there are reasons Japan has been able to hang-on and tough-out what has been a difficult twenty years of stagnation and ineptitude. Not least among these is the fact that a Japanese stock broker or banker does not consider it beneath him to ride a bike to work. Can’t quite explain how important this self-effacement is to the potential of running a country and massive, globally significant economy. There are more and more worrying problems in Japan that cut this one advantage off at the knees to be sure but I just wish the high-earning people in the UK, who are selfishly worrying about their bonuses would take a leaf from the Japanese and be a tad more humble in their hubris .
True in the eighties Japan went mad with celebrations of easy money, and the lost decade, since the bubble burst, has stretched to twice that time as people refuse to deal with the fall-out from that. Yet while ordinary people in my country make impossible choices about their limited finances (food or house or education) I just wish the rich would get on their bikes a bit and work-out how to make the obscene amounts of wonger they believe essential to placating the more gentle skills of wealth creation we are meant to reward them for, would find a way to generate wealth for all of us not just themselves.
My sons were lucky enough to run out on the field with the Yomuiri Giants at Tokyo Dome on Friday. How you might ask, considering I know nothing about baseball and care even less (I’m English, we don’t have baseball in the UK), did my kids get to meet these superstars of the Japanese sportl?
It is all down to Ultraman, as most things in their young lives are at the moment. Being members of the Ultraman Fan Club and the whole Ultraman franchise having some connection to the Yomuiri Giants, nine kids were chosen to run out onto the field, and keep the places the players stand warm, before the game started. Of course they got to meet their heroes. No not the players but the numerous ultramen who joined them on the field and greeted the kids in the tunnels of souvenir stalls and restaurants that many spectators visit during the interminable three hours a baseball game lasts. All in all a good day and further material for my Japanese heroes project like the menacing portrait of Ultraman Zero above.
Of course it isn’t always raining. Indeed the weather here is usually quite good until typhoon season in early Autumn. The latest typhoon, called Talus, has wreaked havoc and left at least 20 dead in Western Japan over the last few days. Short sharp rain showers hit us regularly, causing localized flooding, but over-all we have gotten-off lightly here in Tokyo.
In this typhoon at least.
Quite an eventful year so far in this country. Definitely one of the most productive and interesting of my nine here. Also one of the most worrying and difficult. I have been moved and inspired by people I’ve met this year, from tsunami and earthquake survivors and those other Japanese struggling to make the best of their lives despite the mounting difficulties this country faces; to other snappers and journalists that are pushing and searching out stories to keep the rest of the world interested in the people that make up this very interesting place.
I’ve been equally exacerbated and embarrassed too by the stories some of those same journalists have told of the shenanigans and deceits of selfish politicos and businesses here. It’s hardly news to us that live here but these dishonesties were mere rumour and whispers before, believed of course in the way it is always easy to believe the worst about someone so far removed from your own lifestyle, but it was in a barely acknowledged way. It may have been true, indeed it probably was but seeing it presented as cold, hard fact, in black and white, on pages and websites that have worldwide reach due to the kleptomaniacal pull of Fukushima’s tragic keywords, has been like having some prejudices reinforced and yet also an eye-opening time of new understandings and empathy. It has also been a good time to find again that sense of unknowability that first drew me here as an explorer and was my sole emotion that first morning all those years ago.
I do hope to be doing some more writing, more in depth analysis and reporting of events and ideas from here in Japan on the blog when I have time. Apologies for the rather short posts of late. Just not really getting any thoughts together in a structured way recently. There’s a lot happening, there are things that are keeping me exploring and learning everyday, that I hope to share with you one day soon. But there are also things keeping me tired and mute and those limiters have the upperhand at the moment. I will post more when I can.
Not been here of late, been very busy, sorry about that. Indeed I’m working my socks off. Not exactly reaping the benefits at the moment but hope to. Still luckier than one of Tokyo’s Homeless in Ueno Park above. More images of homelessness in Japan in my photoshelter archive here. Cliched I know but they sell surprisingly well.
More to tell later.
Hope it was a good summer for you all.
It is Fuji climbing season again. Can’t imagine myself heading up anytime soon, not got the time or fitness these days but if you are have a good trip.
And make sure you stick to the right path.
Little boys are monsters, they like the weird and wonderful, the grubby and dangerous of this world. In Japan summer will find hundreds of these little monsters in every park and area of scrubland searching out and collecting other monsters that are all of the above adjectives. Bug hunting is a manic past time for Japanese youth, and not only boys. As I have said before, the Japanese countryside rewards such explorations well with insects the like of which I imagine are usually available only to those that live in the tropical jungles of the Amazon and Africa.
I, for one, am very impressed as seeing some of these insects had been a childhood ambitions itself, now fulfilled. Sometimes I am even a little scared by what we find though. For example does anyone know what that many-legged thing above is by the way? I’ve never seen anything like it before, it was huge (this is taken with a 17mm lens that doesn’t get that close!!!) and it was eating another largish insect.
Good fun for adults and children alike. We have quite an insect zoo going now.
Update: It’s a geji geji or Japanese house centipede. Nasty and fast apparently but also considered one of the good bugs as it eats cockroaches and moths. Hope never to find on in my house though.
Lack of sleep stopped me sorting these images yesterday but it was worth it for a morning at my favourite festival with by good friend Chris Willson.
The Hamaorisai matsuri in Chigasaki celebrates the rescuing of a Shinto relic that was washed ashore on the beach here in the 19th Century. This year the blessings the sea affords this country have been mixed. It is not easy to forget anywhere on the coast these days that this ocean was the same one that swelled and crashed ashore in a black wave of destruction following the great east Japan Earthquake on March 11th. Even in Kanagawa the effects of that day could be felt and not only in the worry locals expressed about living near the coast but also in the fact that despite an approaching typhoon and large waves (plus viciously strong undertow that knocked one woman near me off her feet and carried her several tens of metres out in a few seconds) there were no police around to stop people taking the mikoshi into the surf. Previous festivals where weather conditions had been similar had meant humourless uniformed men stopping everyone getting wet but this year as one festival official told me, all the police were in Tohoku helping with the tsuanmi clean-up and this mad, wonderful matsuri was allowed to do its thing.
Dangerously good fun.
Eldest son played rugby yesterday for the first time. (That’s him about to score in the top image and chasing hard in the second). He wasn’t bad at all, indeed he was amazingly good: scored three tries and more importantly had a great time. Rugby is not a big sport here in Japan so it was wonderful to see it being enjoyed by quite so many kids including, most surprisingly, a large number of girls. This is a country where girls are smothered in cute from the earliest age, the “kawaii” lifestyle and image is sold and pushed upon them mercilessly. Heartened to see some girls not buying it and getting down to the rough and muddy struggles of a rugby game and sometimes being tougher than the boys. Still think that is cute though.
Indeed Japan seems less enamored of cute than I once imagined, as a recent commission to shoot various “kawaii” mascots proved to me. There are not as many cute, cuddly, often strange characters representing things and products out there as there used to be. Celebrity endorsement is all the rage now it seems.
Some powerful pics by Shiho Fukuda, who just got accepted to always interesting Panos Pictures photo agency, of the miserable lives of the Japanese salarymen and their families. These black-suited icons of Japanese industriousness are the people that, through incredibly hard work, pulled Japan out of the ruins of the war and turned it into the second largest economy in the world.
Yet no-one thinks to thank them much these days. Indeed as the economy tumbles their lives are getting increasing fraught and unpleasant. Ignored at best they are often abused, over-worked and as they get older or the need for them shrinks they frequently find themselves considered disposable. And that’s not just their companies either but often by their families as well.
I don’t want my sons to live this kind of a life.
I was spending time with these fascinating people to photograph and write a travel piece on Siberut and loved it there. Especially in the Malargue Uma (stilted house/lodge cum village) where I was made to feel really at home by Susui’s father.
The Siberut Islands are more famous for their surfing than traditional culture. But they have been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve because the ancient and unique culture of the Mentawai people is struggling to survive the modernizing and intolerant attentions of Jakarta. One way they are doing this is through tourism. Jungle trekking to spend time with these people is preserving the culture though of course the reality is that due to deforestation and Indonesian government subsidized immigration from Java and Sumatra the culture many tourists experience may actually be more of a performance than reality these days. But that is true many places not just here.
It is not an easy place to visit, the jungle saps an explorer’s energies with sun-scorched equatorial heat during the day while the nights are interminable airless and malarial. Even just moving around is a chore when the roads are mere walkways made from bamboo logs. Stepping off those slippery thoroughfares, even an inch, is to find mud and thorny undergrowth. Indeed the mud is waist deep in places. It is not for the faint-hearted and quickly turns any Indiana Jones dreams you have into sweating nightmares of nature’s indifference to you.
As I said, I loved it there though and wish I had a chance to head back. Not because the culture is disappearing, though that may be true, but because the Mentawai people are amazing. I remember particularly Susui going off to school in the morning. It was a 20 minute or so walk through the jungle to the government village from her Uma in Malargue. I’d walked that path many times and always ended up, scratched, sweating and covered in mud. Yet Susui’s uniform was as clean when she arrived at school as it had been when she left her home. Not even her shoes were muddy and that is when it struck me that whatever changes might happen in this place the skill that the Mentawai people have for living in this forest of theirs will never change. Susui might have gone to school and learnt new things and new horizons for her ambitions. She may even have left these islands altogether to study and work in Sumatra or even Jakarta but where ever she is now she will always know where her home and her people are and be comfortably tripping along the logs of real or urban jungles, avoiding the mud and other bad things. I hope.
I have been shooting the extreme ends of the Japanese political spectrum (both left and right) for a few years now have become a familiar face at these events. Today though due to increasing police heavy-handedness and under-handedness regarding the radical left‘s protests against Tepco, one organizer actually wanted to know a lot more about me before letting me into Hibiya Park Hall to shoot. Luckily people I knew there vouched for me and I could get in without any more suspicions. Inside I shot the same old people making the same old speeches, expressing the usual anger felt at the regular enemies: capitalism, profiteering wars, public service privatizations and the unfair working conditions imposed on increasingly indentured and un-unionized employees by the vampiric business-owning classes.
Now I’ve heard all that before, in case you missed the grammatical hints in the last paragraph to such, and today, as at almost every other demo I’ve been to, the calls for revolution went heeded but totally unconsummated once again. A kind of intellectual, huffing and puffing anger is the usual reaction of those assembled to the inequalities that exist in the world they, and we, inhabit. Such indignation wasn’t always so ineffectual however: in the 1960s and 1970s the heady atmosphere of violent revolution in Europe and The US also inspired the young left here. Those were crazy days: people died, people killed (or not as the case may be) and a more physical, visceral anger boiled in dangerous ways that were both unpredictable and uncharacteristic of a Japanese populace that by and large was politically apathetic. Despite the fact that for many of the radical left the days of storming those barricades are now long gone, the fear of those times is still real in the minds of the powers that be which is why the police are, as a rule, all over such gatherings, recording, watching, intimidating and arresting those that rattle the bars the loudest just in case their anger spills over into action.
For so long the opinions of the far left have stood way outside the acceptable range of Japanese political relevance. When things were good the radical left’s calls for working-class revolution seemed irrelevant at best, after all everyone in Japan was meant to be middle-class. At worst they were a dangerous inconvenience that people couldn’t understand and didn’t want to. Many thought those that held such beliefs were ungrateful of the education and luxuries of modern life that hard work had enabled them and were wasting their time thinking these destructive thoughts.
But now as people slump themselves into their sofa after a 60 or 80 hour working week to watch tabloid TV channels erase critical thought or news that that finger-points ineptly at the causes of the nuclear crisis some of the old arguments the left has been making for decades seem to be making sense at last. Granted the message may have been subdued a little; become middle-aged and more comfortably absorbed, but the ineptitudes, corruption and simple arrogance of the people that, through actions designed to make money or through inactions designed to save face, have caused the problems Japan now faces, ordinary people are also getting angry. This may be a cynical lunge for mainstream support by the left and I readily argue that many on the left just like disagreeing with anything any government of any hue will ever say. Ever. But the message that nuclear power is bad and that the vested interests of those that lead in not changing anything about the industry, now resonates strongly in the hearts of Japanese people both those from the far-left inside Hibiya Park Hall but also in the minds of the ordinary Japanese who would never have found much common ground with such company before. That is perhaps why the police and secret service are even more keen to keep the messages from spreading and have become even more repressive in their actions when policing these legal and often justified demonstrations. I had no problems today but I know people who have found shooting such demos more difficult recently. Some have even been threatened with arrest just for being too close with a camera which is unacceptable in a supposed democracy.
Perhaps that is why the man on the door wanted to know more about me before letting me in. The message is getting heard and agreed with, of a sorts, at last and no-body wants some bad press ruining that. It was uncomfortable for me, I have no wish to be known too much by the right, left or the police. I may share many of the opinions of the left but not all. I generally respect the police’s right to investigate those that present a danger to the country but not when I know I am almost certainly on the same lists and under the same scrutinies as the old men and old women that come to these demos in hope of instilling a change they perhaps can no longer make themselves. Maybe it is an innocent hope these days, a hope that somethings will be done better, fairer, more generously. Their manifesto still scares the right but there is a hope that their (truthfully) rather endless talking about it might just seep out to energize the young into calling for that change in a way every Japanese person can lend voice to. Then the powers that (mis)lead this country will have to be accountable, will have to mean what they say. Like the tears that flowed as the people from Fukushima got up on stage to tell their stories, they will have to care about something other than their own position and wealth and then perhaps, such tears will not have to be cried again at the next tragedy caused by greed.
The tears, unlike the anger sometimes, were real.
Sorry for the silence, been very busy trying to work out a return to Iwate sometime soon, had a few ends to chase and images to send out; and have also been using my spare time to make my new archive work better for me. You can see some of my images at my photoshelter site here, not much at the moment but am adding to it when I can.
The developing tourism industry in Japan has always had a passing interest for me, which is why I took the image above of some tourists at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Still a relatively new business here it had been growing and was becoming a more important part of the economy with massive government investment and expectations.
Equally important, in my opinion, was the slowly developing detente that was happening between Japan and its Asian neighbours. There is some troubled history in these relationships but with more than six million Asian tourists arrived in Japan in 2010, most from Korea and China, it was becoming increasing difficult for animosity to exist on all sides.
Indeed Asian tourism is now essential to the industry in Japan and with Asia leading the way out of the global recession, particularly the unexpectedly fast recovery of the tourism business, Japan would be foolish to be anything other than welcoming. Its traditional openness to westerners is not going to help it much as only 798,304 people arrived from Europe and 727,200 from the United States in 2010.
Yet due to the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th and even more so the dangers of radio-active contamination from the troubles at Fukushima Daichi Power station tourism numbers this year are in free fall and the business faces an uncertain future.
Fascinating stuff but so much information it has been difficult to fit it all into what I want to write.
Marvelously adapted to the rigours of urban life these once free and rural creatures blend in naturally to all that the metropolis has to offer but often hanker after the countryside. This feeling causes them to return each spring to the cherry tree where they were spawned to wallow in alcoholic excess and have a really good time, forgetting perhaps for a while, the troubles of their existence.
Maybe not this year though as the attention grabbing Gov’nor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, has called on people not to enjoy their hanami parties out of respect for the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
Meanwhile saki makers in Iwate are appealing for people to do the exact opposite, indeed they are pleading with them to go out and enjoy themselves and in the process, hopefully by drinking a lot of saki that comes from the worst hit areas of Japan, they will be able to keep something of the local business going in these difficult times for people that have lost pretty much everything else.
Sounds like a good idea to me. Another foot fault by Ishihara. Bet he still wins the election next week though.
A lot of things are being cancelled but here is a list of 66 things that are still going on in Tokyo courtesy of Time Out.
Everyone’s leaving Tokyo due to more quakes and radiation fears.
Or everyone’s going back for the same reason.
Me I’m north but miss home.
Out today shooting some of the effects of the earthquake in Tokyo. So different to Friday night. Less crowded, less manic; especially in Shibuya where I was trapped on Friday night. Today the massive TV screens that over look the famous Hachiko crossing were shut off to save power. Most striking however was when I went over to see the top of Tokyo Tower which was bent by the whiplash of the quake.
Look carefully at the images above they look kind of normal but are not quite right.
Going to be some sweeping power cuts over the next few day will try to keep in touch when I have power.
The earthquake in Japan on March 11th is looking to be one of the worst in japanese history. By some reports it is the 5th strongest earthquake to hit the earth since 1900.
Anyway you look at it, it is pretty bad here at the moment. Not in Tokyo which is slowly coming back to normal despite what appears to be a regular series of after shocks and a threatening nuclear disaster in Fukushima just a couple of hundred kilometres upwind of us. One friend here commented last night that it was hardly worth getting out from under the table and indeed the streets are eerily quiet as people seem to be spending time with family and stocking up on emergency supplies.
Because there is a distinct difference to that normality these days: people may be out, it’s a Sunday of kids in the park and shopping but it is hard to ignore the news and reports coming from the north, the effects of the Tsunami killing perhaps tens of thousands of people and the knowledge that this very country, Japan, has moved 2.4 metres due to the severity of the earthquake.
There is a palpable feeling of foreboding. It feels like we are in an unlucky time and though no-one will outwardly admit it we are all waiting for the big one to hit Tokyo. I hope it doesn’t and the release of pressure that comes from one big earthquake would ordinarily preclude another big one arriving soon after. The problem is that Tokyo sits on a different fault(s) than the one that caused this quake and we cannot know yet the stress that existed there, or have been added to or reduced by the earthquake on Friday.
Wish the details of this disaster in this picture, that I took in a hotel lobby on Friday night, were still true.
Another earthquake hits as I write this.