The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Avoiding the crowds

Unexpected stock sale from Hasedera temple in Kamakura yesterday. The pic above is from the same shoot but isn’t the one I sold. Indeed I hadn’t expect to sell anything as when I went there to see if I could get the image requested, the statue of Daikokuten, (one of the seven gods of Japanese fortune) I had come to shoot was completely off limits and hidden behind a curtain at the back of a dark temple hall. I had been told, when I telephoned the temple before I left home, that I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the building but after getting permission to stand outside and shoot the statue I was rather disappointed to find it so un-visible when I got there, even more so when a temple worker told me I couldn’t take pictures. Luckily by then I had taken enough (of the curtain and shadows) and the rest of the building area and set off to explore the other parts of the temple for more stock, including these amazing jizo statues above.

Hesadera temple is one of the most popular sights in the ancient city of Kamakura and, even on my mid-week visit, was thronged with tourists milling around, buying things (as they do compulsively in Japan) and taking photos; or not as the case allowed. I was a tourist, aren’t we all these days? But I hate that label, I have spent a long career not being one and travelling to places where taking a few pictures was not a big deal and your actions were not so policed because you were still a bit of a novelty . But these days tourism is a universal identity (and one of stupidity and easy control at that) and the value of imagery is protected by and profitable to those that own the things people wish to see. Getting harder to take a camera to anywhere the tour buses go these days. And the tour buses go everywhere.

I was born at a lucky and unlucky time, Lucky because it was late enough in the twentieth century to have the ability to act outside my class and travel and see things that would have been impossible without the freedoms of substantial private wealth even 20 or 30 years earlier. And yet unlucky  because affordable airfares and eased restrictions on travel from the countries I wanted to visit and the social expectations of the country I left behind were not enjoyed by me alone. Tourism is now one of the largest industries on the planet and nowhere, not the Poles, highest mountain tops or even outer space is beyond its reach these days.

Makes you wish you’d been born earlier to see the world as it appears in these images. But of course, coming from where I come from, and more importantly where my parents and grandparents came from it would have been almost impossible to travel to these exotic places even if I’d somehow been aware of them.




2 responses

  1. It’s strange, I never had the feeling in Japan of not being able to take pictures. The only thing that prevented me was the crowd in front of the interesting points, rather than curtains. But patience is often sufficient to get the shot anyway.
    Still, I definitely agree on the fact that tourism is little by little “killing the world”. Yes, it may enable to restorate some places, but I’d rather see dereliction than “Disneyland-like” monuments. But what can we do against that? Pray for more respect from the “tourists”, so that there is no need to put too much protection and regulations on everything? Ask for free postcards, so that it should no longer be forbidden to take pictures because it wouldn’t make any concurrence?

    Or maybe just take a different look. Maybe the sights of the 21st century are no longer the monuments or landscapes, but all the processions and ceremonies of visitors and all the activity revolving around tourism.
    And still, it’s always possible to find unspoiled sites. Have you been around Yanaka area in Tokyo? You’ll find a temple with armys of statues whose dereliction makes them even more picturesque!

    July 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm

  2. Very nice shot. Impressive you were able to capture the quiet side of Kamakura without all the tourists.


    August 4, 2010 at 12:11 am

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