The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Posts tagged “Japan

Radically Different

helmet with a hopeful message at left wing demo in Tokyo

helmet with a hopeful message at left wing demo in Tokyo

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

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

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

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

A left wing demo in Tokyo

A left wing demo in Tokyo

Sorry it has been a while since I posted here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later

Damon


More Snow

Heavy Snows in Yokohama Heavy Snows in Yokohama Heavy Snows in Tokyo Heavy Snows in Tokyo Heavy Snows in Tokyo Heavy Snows in Tokyo Heavy Snows in Tokyo Heavy Snows in Tokyo

Though the sun is shining as I write this, this weekend has been another one of heavy snows and freezing temperatures.

It’s not as wet and windy as the weather in the UK apparently or as cold as it has been in North America this winter. Indeed walking through Ueno Park on Friday  it was quite beautiful to be honest.

Do hope that Spring is going to arrive soon however.

Later

Damon

 


Ultra Special New Year

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Spent New Year’s Eve with Ultraman at Tokyo Dome.

My sons love this character and, as I have said before, there is something to be said for studying the genre. Certainly the influence of this benevolent alien and his brethren on the lives of Japanese boys is immense. I am surprised my sons haven’t grown out of it yet. Then again though the event was nominally for the kids I noticed quite a few adults got a buzz from watching and meeting their heroes in the flesh. Indeed even I get a little smile on  these days when I get to shake hands with Ultraman Zero or Mebius.

Anyway my ongoing project on Japanese heroes has a few more images added to it and my boys had a really good time, that’s them in the bottom right of the top photo shouting at one of the monsters.

I had a pretty good time also.

Have a happy New Year everyone.

Talk soon

Damon

Some more images of Ultraman at my archive here:


Greetings Earthling

dc yokohama 201312286663 dc yokohama 201312286705 dc yokohama 201312286714 Wakamaru Communications Robot

Been a very busy Christmas with the kids so not had much chance to shoot or write here.

Out yesterday with my sons at the Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum (Gijutsukan) where they got to fly a helicopter and a jet-liner simulator. Crashing both! They also travelled into space (Sola in the second photo) and under the sea and learnt all about energy saving and generation including some unashamedly pro-nuclear power propaganda. Small museum but quite cheap and fun.

The longest time was spent with Wakamaru a bright yellow communication robot that doesn’t even attempt to cross the “Uncanny Valley” but did again made me forget for a second that it was just a walking-talking tape-recorder and genuinely worry that my sons’ constant questioning must have begun to annoy it. (last photo)

Will be going again, without the kids, as I want a turn flying the helicopter and airliner too.

Anyways as I said busy which will explain the late Christmas wishes: Hope you had a good one!

Will get my New Year‘s message in early  at least.

Hope 2014 is a great year for you all. Talk soon.

Damon


More Protests

Anti TPP protest Anti TPP protest Anti TPP protestAnti TPP protest

Been a busy week of protests in Tokyo. The draconian State Secrets Bill has seen some energetic protesting. I will go into this in more detail later when I can use pictures and write more about the massive threat to Japanese democracy this stupid law entails.

In the meantime have a look at some images and an informed and informing write up by Rob Gilhooly here

 

But today was another day of protests against the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP. As I wrote before this issue unites the ire of the left and right so is quite hard to get an angle on.

Today’s protest genuinely seemed like a mix of all those against it. There were the Hokkaido farmers Union leading the march with red jackets and bandanas and artist and activist, Yohei Miyake bringing up the rear with musicians and dancing. many of the people seemed quite ordinary not too many activists or the usual left-wingers and right-wingers. Indeed a facebook group that hopes to educate people about the TPP and create debate had invited many right-wing, LDP voters to express their anger at Shinzo Abe and they marched quite happily alongside people that didn’t share the same politics at all.

Emboldened perhaps by the week long protests against the secrecy laws that could be used to hide the details of this globalising trade pact as well as the troubles at Fukushima Daichi and the re-militarisation of Japan it was demo of resigned passions allowing it to be quite lightly policed. It is still a subject about which I need to understand a lot more however.

Later

Damon


Illumination

Yomuiriland rollercoaster, Tokyo, Japan

Yomuiriland rollercoaster, Tokyo, Japan

Looks like the energy saving measures that came in after the March 11th 2011 earthquake and tsunami are long forgotten at Yomuiriland near Tokyo.

Feeling a bit like Christmas there.

Busy as lots happening in the Japanese news lately so talk soon.

Damon


Still Fighting For Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s hoping he is.

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

Later Damon


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


Breaking Bad

Actor, Taro Yamaoto speaking to crowds outside Tamachi Station as he campaigns for the House of Councillors election in Tokyo, Japan Friday July 12th 2013 The election will ake place on July 21st.

Actor, Taro Yamaoto speaking to crowds outside Tamachi Station as he campaigns for the House of Councillors election in Tokyo, Japan Friday July 12th 2013 The election will ake place on July 21st.

Anti-nuclear activist, Taro Yamamoto stated his intention to continue as a politician on Tuesday, despite facing censure in the Diet for handing a letter, out-lining the situation in the Fukushima clean-up, to Emperor Akihito at a royal garden party last Thursday. This taboo breaking action has since caused a storm of protest from commentators in the media and politics who found the action arrogant and disrespectful.

By personally giving the 79 year old Emperor such a letter, Yamamoto San ignored several strict protocols against drawing any member of the apolitical monarchy into what is by default a political debate. Calls for harsh punishments from other politicians, especially in the pro-nuclear, ruling LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) and members of the far-right, might now cause problems for the career of this independent lawmaker who was only elected to the House of Councillors in July. Indeed some politicians, that might have been considered natural allies such as Kazuo Shii, leader of the Japanese Communist Party and a noted anti-nuclear campaigner himself, have also questioned the thinking behind Yamamoto’s action with Kazuo San saying that “[Yamamoto] did not understand the constitution.”

The former actor has said, he regrets causing the Emperor any trouble and that he was not sufficiently aware what the consequences of his action would be. For example he says he did not expect the delivery of the letter to be so widely reported and has accused the media of allowing his actions to be used for political purposes that attack him and the anti-nuclear movement. He strongly denied intending to use the Emperor to further his own political purposes however saying he only wished to inform him of the situation affecting Fukushima residents and the health issues of those that are tasked with the clean-up there. Criticising some of the politicians now calling for him to resign he pointed out that many of them saw nothing wrong in using other members of the Japanese Royal Family to help Tokyo secure the 2020 Olympic bid. A fact, he argues, that was much more overtly political and thus unconstitutional.

The letter apparently remains unread as it was passed quickly onto to Grand Chamberlain, who was accompanying the Emperor and Empress as they met some of the 2,140 guests in attendance at the biannual event. If it was a pointless act that crossed boundaries of taste and legality and could effectively end his political career, why, you have to ask, did he do it?

Taro Yamamoto moved into politics when his acting career ended after he made his support for the anti-nuclear movement that grew in Japan after the March 11th nuclear accident in Fukushima public. It was not your usual celebrity band-wagon jumping: in fact, in a industry where famous people do not usually have opinions and certainly not ones that might be considered damaging to companies, like TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company – the operators of the Fukushima plant) that fund the media with their huge advertising budgets, it was a spectacularly reckless move.

Though the first opinions he expressed on Twitter, were perhaps understandable in the aftermath of the events that shocked the whole country; his subsequent treatment by the media seems to have galvanised a more determined and combative approach to the unique issues of nuclear energy and safety faced by an earthquake-prone Japan.

Taro Yamamoto seems always to have followed his own, sometimes reckless, sense of personal morality and appropriateness. An article in the Japan Times earlier this year, profiling his burgeoning political ambitions, showed how his belief in social responsibly was instilled in him at a young age by a strong mother who would force him to donate a percentage of his New Year Money (Otoshidama) to good causes and regularly take him and his sisters away to The Philippines or elsewhere to work with the poor. In the same article he is aware that his celebrity also gives incredible weight to the message and is something he can use to embolden the anti-nuclear agenda, saying: “I really need to do acting work as well, so I can stay in the public eye and continue drawing attention to nuclear issues.”

After failing to win a seat in the Lower House election in late 2012 Yamamoto and an army of 1,200, mostly young volunteers, steeled themselves for a run at a seat in the Upper House elections this summer. The hard work of campaigning in the summer heat and on the internet finally paid off however and he was elected as a Tokyo Councillor on July 21st. Running as an independent he succeeded in securing a seat without having to make any deals or compromises with larger or more established parties and politicians; putting him in a position to take his anti-nuclear message to the heart of government and hopefully have it listened to.

Obviously the realities of politics have proved more exacerbating for Yamamoto than he imagined. The ruling LDP are determined to control the debate on the nuclear energy. The idea is being propagated that the nuclear crisis is under control; the areas affected by contamination are being cleaned and thus Fukushima is ready for re-population and the people to get on with their lives. With a compliant media parroting the party line and the diversions of a successful Olympic bid, where the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe promised a global audience the crisis was “under control”, the stories of the the 150,000 people that had to evacuate the countryside around the the Daichi plant and the corruption and ineptitude of the operators before the accident and, now, in the clean-up process is slowly disappearing from people’s consciousness.

Taro Yamamoto did not enter politics to get rich or carve out a career in industries that lobby the power people like him gain after election. He would have been more admired and richer if he had remained an actor. He seems to care passionately and genuinely about the situation in Fukushima and appears determined to keep the debate current. But though he declared that he was “no longer alone” when he won the election it is possible that he found his voice much smaller than he had predicted.

There was a moment after the tragedy in March 2011 when the anti-nuclear message resonated widely. But the voices have grown weaker now, the touristing rebellion of many of the older protesters has moved to a grudging acceptance of the inevitable return to routine or even a full embrace of the new, comforting propaganda. Those that still passionately hold the hope they can make a difference can be found outside the diet building almost every Friday; but their numbers are shrinking and their motives and characters are being mercilessly othered in the press.

Questioning the official line is going to become more difficult as the voices against it grow weaker. Soon, new laws, being rushed through by the LDP will limit an already anaemic journalism’s legality in uncovering political secrets and this will further remove the options of arguing against the government’s agenda: that Fukushima will lose its notoriety nationally and ultimately internationally also.

Yet many know the Fukushima clean-up is cosmetic at best and a down-right lie at worst. Many know that the money and motivations to find alternative energies and rebuild the Tohoku coast is instead being diverted to building more nuclear power-stations or into nationalist projects such as Antarctic whaling.

Taro Yamamoto recklessness in breaking a taboo and trying to inform the Emperor of the plight of his people could be judged ill thought-out and punishably impolite; yet it is more likely a brave, calculated risk designed to change the narrative. He has worked too hard to throw away the advantage he has by actually being in power. Of course the demands on his resignation may grow too vociferous to ignore. The notoriety he now has may yet backfire and put an end to a new and promising political movement. But he has at least kept the subject of the problems in Fukushima in the public’s mind a little longer and though the path to this kind of influence over the electorate has been an unconventional one we may be seeing a new kind of politics emerging here, one that needs to challenge and change the normal, acceptable, appropriate and traditional ways of wielding and deferring to power. One can only hope that Emperor Akahito might rattle his own bars a little too someday.

There is a petition site here to support Taro Yamamoto’s actions.

More stock images of Taro Yamamoto at my archive site here.

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


Blown It All Away

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

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

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

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

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

Very busy.

Damon


Wet and Yellow

Typhoon hits Tokyo

Typhoon hits Tokyo

Big typhoon on its way called Wipha apparently whatever that might mean.

Photographed the kids on their way home form Kumon tonight. Bright umbrellas shining in the street lights.

Summer now seems an age away though it still quite warm.

Getting busy some very nice possibilities ahead photographically wise.

Later

Damon


Bravery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Beach Patrol

Japanese policeman at a beach in Ito

Japanese policeman at a beach in Ito

A policeman sweltering in a stab vest (unnecessary in Japan for sure) at the beach in Ito, Izu Peninsular a few weeks ago.

Busy at the moment.

Talk soon

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


Under Pressure

Police kettle operation at right wing protest near Yasukuni Shrine to mark the end of the Pacific War. Tokyo, Japan August 15th 2013

Police kettle operation at right wing protest near Yasukuni Shrine to mark the end of the Pacific War. Tokyo, Japan August 15th 2013

Picture from inside a police kettle near Yasukuni shrine yesterday, as they tried to contain the right-wing activists and para-militaries from attacking the peace protesters’ march.

It was a new  technique the police are using that I have never experienced here before.

Sitting down in bars and cafes; buying drinks and socialising with the uyoku is also another technique I observed yesterday for the first time.

Funny sort of day. Lots of new experiences.

More to come

Off out with my boys today.

Damon


Anjin San

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A mostly good day out to be honest.

Hope to go again next year.

Damon


Smoking Space

smoking place

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

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

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

Off out tomorrow too for some more serendipitous shooting.

later

Damon


Weekend!

dcjj201305310904

Good news! It’s Friday!

Actually pretty  busy tomorrow

later

Damon


Dancing to a New Tune

Anti nuclear protestAnti nuclear protestAnti nuclear protest

One of the interesting encounters I had at the anti-nuke demo on Sunday was with the teen idol group, Seifuku Kojo Iinkai, who were invited to speak and lead the protest march.

They had all that your self respecting teen-idol group should have: They had their strange, fan-boy dancer out front; they had school uniforms on and they had their smiley but very protective management. What was different however is that their songs also had a message, a massage about the the folly of nuclear energy which apparently got them banned from Fuji Rock festival in 2011.

Stronger messages in popular music or the “talento” media mass-production machine are not something that is common in Japan. To attack the companies or products that advertise on the TV or in the magazines; or to go “off-message” at in anyway can find you lost in the celebrity wilderness. Ask the actor, Taro Yamamoto, who angrily tweeted his feelings against nuclear energy after the problems at Fukushima Daichi and has since found it difficult to find work. It was perhaps a growing experience for him though that allowed his interests to broaden into politics and activism. He even stood for the governor of Tokyo.

How much the teenage girls that sing in this group know or believe in the message they speak is debatable. It could be a cynical attempt to exploit a very particular niche. Yet if it is it seems curiously short-sighted and they cannot get reported on in the usual media. They do have a bit of a history with their pop song containing a message also.

Of course no-one in the media in the west knows or even really cares who they are so these images are not exactly profitable. Still it was interesting meeting and learning a bit about them on the day.

Later. got to rush off now to another job

Damon


Nailing His Colours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think history will be kind to Naoto Kan though.

A good day shooting.

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

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

Talk later

Damon


Iconic Birthday

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree, the tallest building in Japan and the tallest free standing tower in the world (at the moment) is one year old today.

Still haven’t been up the thing. Must get onto that the next fine day we have.

More stock images of the Tokyo Skytree at my archive here:

Later

Damon


Little Feet in a Big Mouth

dc Shintaro Ishihara campaigning-201212075381

Toru Hashimoto may now have even surpassed the many and varied faux pas of Shintaro Ishihara but unfortunately I don’t yet have a photo of the Osaka Governor.

You’ll just have to make do with this image of another right wing nut job, the current Tokyo governor, Naoki Inose, who may recently have lost Tokyo its Olympic bid. He also lives in my town and can sometimes be seen jogging around on his tiny little feet.

Busy

Later

Damon

More images of Naoko Inose and photos of Shintaro Ishihara at my archive here:


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