The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter


Yasukuni Aug 15th 2007 

Here I am in one of those pointless pockets of unusable time that I wrote about before. I have a little over 20 minutes to eat before the next student and normally I wouldn’t even switch the laptop on for this short moment but it is getting frustrating to not write what I want to. I want to write about Wednesday at Yasukuni. Of course it is now almost a week after the event that I wonder if I should even bother. Old news and all that. 

But I met some great people and had a very interesting day on Wednesday and I want to tell you about it. It was the anniversary of the end of World War Two and Yasukuni seemed to be the place to be. So along i went woth what appears to have been most of the photographers working in Tokyo. But there is so much to tell you: I wanted to tell you about the way I think it is strange to celebrate a defeat but then I would have had to compare it to that Dunkirk Spirit thing and it would take some explaining that I`m not sure I`m up to. I wanted to tell you about the old men who dressed up and marched down in old military uniforms with their plastic guns and wooded swords. I wanted to tell you that, frankly, they are very silly and childish;  kind of cos-players for adults with no imagination. They may deny the similarity and talk of culture, history and other such weighty subjects but they are definitely as divorced from reality as the girls over at Harajuku. But, and it`s a big but, I wanted to tell you how scary their ignorance was.  I wanted to tell how one man with captains stars and round glasses smiled and posed for an Italian photographer friend of mine but when I asked if I could take his picture frowned and demanded to know where I was from. When I said England he started talking of Mountbatten`s assassination in terms both blunt and gleeful. He posed of course because he loved the attension but he hated me for my country whereas I rather like his. I wanted to tell you how I thought about pretending to be German after that but it never came up again.

I wanted to tell you of the other old men I met who asked me if I was American and didn`t mind me being English even though they prefered American; who whispered  “Fools” at the marching men, but quietly, oh so quietly, because they had fought before and seen enough and didn`t want to fight again with younger men in black shirts and flag hung boiler suits who didn`t get and didn`t understand. 

I wanted to tell you how the museum was crowded with pretty girls with stupid, though passionately historical, boyfriends pointing out their prejudices.

I wanted to tell you how annoying wide angle is when the faces under the flags don’t let you get too close. I wanted to tell you how the day was too hot and surprisingly boring for really good pictures or how in every photograph there seems to be another photographer. I wanted to tell you about some of those photographers too: like Eric Rechsteiner who asked me “Young man what agency do you work for?” at our first meeting and who I later christened Lawrence of Yasukuni on account of his turban.

Or Androniki Christdoulou who is a brilliant photographer and a really nice and smily and gentle person. I don`t know her well but you would never imagine her to be quite like that from her sometimes dark images.

Of course there was the great and talented and `bravely close to the powerful looking nationalist`s face while he`s marching` Pierre Olivier; and it was also good to catch up with David Coll Blanco again after nearly three years.

I also met the supremely talented Pawel Jaszczuk from Poland and Paolo Patrizi who looks less like a pirate than the last time we met so it took me a minute. Or  Gianni Giosue, also from Italy, who can charm nationalist very easily whereas I, obviously, cannot.

Talking of charming I also wanted to tell you about the surprisingly local to me Robert Gilhooly ( he lives only two stations away) who is inspiringly professional but really approachable. Of course having other photographers come up to you all the time while you`re working is really annoying so i didn`t speak to him as much as I would have liked. And then there was the equally inspiring  Bruce Mayer who has a passion for all things Yasukuni.

But I haven`t got time to tell you all about those things, the twenty minutes ran out and I`d only gotten halfway down this page. The rest was written late into the night so not so many words. No the day was good but these notes and the picture above are all I have for you so far so you`ll just have to imagine it.

I`m off to Fukushima for a well earned holiday with the wife and kids from Wednesday so see you in a week.

Take care



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