To the people who emailed me with guesses on the previous photo’s location and for Andy who commented despite not even being able to see the photo on his computer the answer is…Roppongi in Tokyo. If you know Roppongi, and here I hasten to add that I don’t know it that well, the above pic will be more in keeping with the image most people have of the place.
That’s what I like about Japan though the fact that even in the swanky, very upmarket areas of this huge city there is still that rustic, countryside feel to the place. One thing you realise when you have been here any time is that the tourist info cliché of rural Japan is not actually a lie. You are never as far from the rice fields as you think, even in Tokyo; school playgrounds often have them, suburbs can feel like real backwaters at times and many retired people with a spare piece of land or the spare cash to rent some love nothing more than getting down to some hands on “vegetable gardening” and unashamedly call their allotments farms and themselves farmers.
Because this is a country that is: a. In a huge state of denial about the damage corrupt politicians and boom developments have wrought on their once beautiful countryside; or b. a country that still follows a very natural rhythm in which most people are aware of their place in the year much more than in the west. You pick.
Okay so the first one is true but so is the second. Despite the fact that the majority of people spend their lives in air-conditioned offices and homes the turn of the seasons is something that is followed minutely. It is a national obsession and the frequency at which the rest of the culture unfolds. Winter, for example, is a time to contemplate beauty such as Mount Fuji’s littered slopes smothered pure in snow, Spring on the other hand is a time of waiting on winds that herald warmer weather and of course the beloved cherry-blossom whose progress across the country from south to north is likely to knock “real” news off the front page. Similarly Autumn’s colourful footprint of red leaves is updated nightly on the television, the swathe of red leaves filmed long and lovingly as if it were a singular, unique event like a solar eclipse or volcanic eruption rather than an annual display.
Most Japanese will tell you with some pride that their country has four distinct seasons and express shock that some other countries, like England or the U.S. also follow this rule. If you point out that early summer’s rainy month could be called a fifth season they get quite angry and insist there are only four: Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn.
Of course this year Winter didn’t happen, no snow fell and the temperature did not drop below zero for the first time since records began. What this means for the national pastime of cherry blossom or sakura viewing this Spring is anyone’s guess. News broadcast now worry about the early bloom of this pink blizzard of petals being cut shot by a sudden cold snap, or worse the effect on the Hanami parties having to be held earlier than usual without the office juniors (who arrive in the companies from April) being available to sit in the parks from early morning guarding sheets of blue vinyl where much, much later in the evening the drunken salarymen will get in touch with their cultural roots before often-as-not tripping over some on the way to the station. Occasionally too the news programmes worry about global warming and question why the seasons the Japanese love so much and are so proud of have gotten so out of skew.
I will of course be out taking pictures of the parties and a little of the often spectacular displays of petals. I actually feel quite inspired now, have a long list of photojobs to do, contacts to make and places and stories to plan for and shoot. Finding the time for it all will be a mission of course.