The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Japan summer selections 2

The middle of August is called Obon season and is one of the major holidays of Japan. Not that it is totally a rest from office and school you understand being a Buddhist tradition in which it is believed the spirit of the ancestors come back to a family`s home to be reunited with them. So people can be pretty busy at this time of year cleaning their houses and making offerings of foods in front of butsudan or families altars.

Japanese people also try to use this time to return to their family’s graves to honour their ancestors’ spirits in person (so to speak) and the trains and aeroplanes are even busier then usual. For most the holiday amounts to no more than a long weekend and they and are back at their desks on Monday or Tuesday duty done and rushed vacationing over. The very lucky ones get a week or two off and as the duty part takes a day or two at most this is a time when they can also travel for fun, squeezing in a short trip to a beach or the mountains while visiting relatives or taking a short package to a foreign resort. The idea of going out of season when the destination swould be less crowded and cheaper hasn`t really caught on here due to the fact that the employment system doesn`t really allow that sort of thing and the idea of doing something the “wrong” way, as in at the wrong time, just seems strange to many Japanese. 

I have Obon holidays now but no money to go anywhere. I am very much an out of season traveller and it is rather annoying to find that all my holiday from work is going to be at these popular holiday times. Because Obon, along with Golden Week at the beginning of May and New Years, is an expensive time to travel; the bullet trains and aeroplanes are even more packed than usual and most hotels and hostels are full making it difficult to travel anywhere.

But I guess I can photograph the travellers heading away at this time at least (as above).

Busy but back soon.



4 responses

  1. That’s a great illustrative shot. You’ve caught the shinkansen in a great light and by not including the standard shinkansen nose shot it has taken on another new shape entirley. Hell of a picture!

    August 19, 2008 at 12:27 pm

  2. Thanks mate!

    August 19, 2008 at 1:28 pm

  3. I’ve been to Japan a few times and love it. I have been down on Kyushu Island the most but haven’t actually been to Tokyo yetThat is my next destination. I appreciate the tips you’ve given on your site. 🙂 Obon and the shinkasen sound like great things to see.. I will make an effort on my next trip. 🙂

    September 19, 2008 at 6:53 am

  4. Thanks for stopping by Jason. Man you have to get to Tokyo it is wonderful. Personally I would avoid Obon like the plague though: Nothing really happens worth seeing and it is too busy and too expensive to travel or find a hotel anywhere, (except perhaps Tokyo which many people leave to go back to their hometown).
    Out of season is better and better still is to time your trip for one of the “proper” matsuri that happen where ever you are going. The Japanese have a few really big, famous matsuri that are great, crazy and colourful events. These times can also be crowded and expensive but less so than Obon because domestic tourism tends to day trip everything and the massive influx of international tourists that might be expected at similar events in other countries hasn`t, in a big way, happened in Japan yet. Those gaijin that do travel for these things are not the target (again yet) of the greedy peaktime parasite commerce of the west.
    Staspace to watch the event and a seat in a cafe or restaurant will be hard to find, but very few places yet charge you extra for the privilage of a seat or a view. Having said that the idea is catching on slowly that people will pay extra for these these things that used to be down to an early start and luck.
    If your heading this way and need anything let me know.

    September 19, 2008 at 9:23 pm

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