The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

The world is a picture

The other morning I was walking to work when a large Jungle Crow, obviously spooked by my approach, took to the sky with a loud, rattling “caw!” Now these are animals that you can find noisily frequenting any pile of trash in any Japanese city and many people here consider them pests. But to me, at that moment, the sound was one of pure wilderness.

The Japanese have a lovely word called natsukashii (懐かしい) which is often translated at nostalgia. I think the innate sence of loss in that word makes it unsuitable though. Fond memories, as another attempt at interpretation, is better but natsukashii is an adjective that describes more the process of enjoying fond memories than remembering them. To my mind a phrase like “That takes me back” or the more generally descriptive “A trip down Memory Lane” come closer to the idea.

Like many Japanese  emotional words it is not an easy one to translate because this word does not speak exactly for the moment being expressed. There are many words like that in Japanese and that is perhaps the one advantage the language has over English because while we can nominally share the feelings being described at the level of evolution we have simultaneously achieved with whoever we are stood next too; to explain the emotion exactly to anyone who wasn`t actually there and who hasn`t shared a similar history is almost impossible without waxing overly poetical and using a lot more words than the `one` the Japanese find sufficient.

The point of that symantic aside was however that as the crow took to the wing with its call hitting the morning mist and the snap and rustle of its wings stirring the air, I was completely natsukashii.

I am a city boy now you see, but I didn`t always used to be. Indeed far from it, my wilderness resume is quite impressive: I climbed, camped and travelled far from many beaten tracks in my feral youth. And even in the suburban woodlands of my hometown I always managed to find some adventure often just by being out when others slept or crossing that fence that said I couldn`t or wandering that bit deeper into the nature we take for granted and treat so irreverently but which is, in reality, redder in tooth and claw than we usually imagine; even in your own back garden if you look close enough. Anyway part of that feeling came back to me with the sound of the crow. There is nothing like the sound of a crow cawing on a misty Autumn morning to make you feel the loss of that freedom to explore as the wing beats disappearing off into the distance; the echoing sounds of flight and the early morning mist of Autumn wrapping me in…well…natsukashii.


Martin Heidegger the philosopher said: (I paraphrase)” A crucial shift in how the Western people experienced the world was when it became seen as a picture, seperate and detached from the viewer. Upto then people has seen themselves as part of the world.”

These days a crow encounter is a picture for stock or if I can be bothered to get closer and find some original angle it could become a wildlife or Japanese society and lifestyle piece. But for a moment there when I was walking to work, with no camera out because where I live is really, really boring! it reminded me that a crow is also part of  the world which I have become much too seperated from these past seven years in Tokyo.



2 responses

  1. Nice shot of the crow. Funny how what we photograph can stir up emotions and draw us back to our pasts. I get the feeling you have become a bit too accustomed to your surroundings here, much like myself. It sometimes needs something to fly up in front of us to show is there is actually something interesting on our backyards. In the last couple of months I’ve been enjoying photographing rice being planted and hen watch it ripen. I too am a country boy, grew up on a farm, couldn’t wait to get to the big city, now I would love to be back in the country.

    By the way, don’t know if you have heard of Masahisa Fukase, a rather tragic photographer who became obsessed by ravens after his wife left him. Some info here

    Have a good one.


    October 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm

  2. Pingback: Well I’ll be a monkey’s great, great great..nephew « sungypsy blog

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