The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Receiving End

Photographing in the crowds of angry nationlists at Yasukuni Shrine on Sunday, as I do most years, but this year was by far the angriest I’ve ever seen them and I had to be pulled to safety by the police.

That is not an overstatement!

I wish it was, but the mass of people, within whom I was positioned and you might say “trapped”, were being prevented from directly expressing their anger to the left wing protest that had just gone passed by the police. Stuck there behind riot shields unable to take out their disgust on the group of what they consider traitors was a situation that was causing tempers to really boil in the already oppressive heat of that afternoon; which is probably why a couple of old men had a go at me for taking photos. I was not even taking their photos just the lines of police and a few of the more vocal protesters that were trying to push through the riot shields and attack the left wing.

I had been in a similar situation last year and that was the first time I had ever felt scared at Yasukuni because usually this display of nationalist ire is all bluster and almost a pantomime. Even as other foreigners had been singled-out in the crowd and been pulled and pushed about a bit, it just seemed a general letting-off of steam and I had managed to keep my head down and not become the target of any direct animosity. This year I was not so lucky and the old men who took umbrage at my photography; my position among them (though this something it was difficult to correct in the crush of people) and quite possibly my very existence on the planet were busy yelling abuse at me me and trying to hit me with flag poles and their fists, when the police pulled me out of the scrum.

The men, emboldened by my new distance from them, carried on screaming at me that I had been taking their picture and didn’t even know their names. They didn’t know mine either or anything about me other than the obvious fact that I was not Japanese but irony was unsuitable at that point. This was a day when normal rules don’t apply: like the police not arresting people for assaulting me and instead asking me to leave!

Never felt so much hatred directed at me before and all of it so very irrational because in this year, more than any other, I could have been absolutely anyone: I could have been, for example, a member of the BNP visiting to cheer along with the other racists and construct some kind of international collective of nationlists. Oh well guess racism is not the most nuanced of beliefs at the best of times but really the level of hate was shocking, really really shocking and it is taking a while to recover from the bad feeling I have.

Because I have lost a lot of faith in humans from that experience, I knew the madness was there of course but never really got the level before, the fact that it’s not fear or even a basic dislike of outsiders; or an understandable cultural protectionism, or even the fact that they may have had bad experience with ignorant and rude foreigners before; the fact is some Japanese people really do hate other people for not being Japanese. And I just can’t get my head around that much passion in your accident of identity.

Granted emotions were high on that day but cannot quite believe I share any special (speee-shal as in an adjective of the same species) links with people who feel like that. They of course have no problem with that idea; as far as they are concerned, I don’t come close to being as evolved as them.

More later.


6 responses

  1. Andy

    I like the riot police photo. I tried something similar in France a few years ago when the students were revolting and got threatened with a beating if I didn’t clear off!

    August 17, 2010 at 7:59 pm

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  3. Sorry to hear that Damon-hope your ok.

    It’s human nature I’m afraid. Might even have happened if you’d been japanese.
    Shoot the messenger. Unfortunately ignorant people exist in all cultures, all races and all walks of life.

    I remember a similar incident when I had to deal with a flag waving idiot from the BNP. I may as well have been talking to a plank of wood-trying to reason with the man was a waste of time. He was an old guy too-old enough to know better.

    The truth is that wisdom does not always come with age.
    I’m living proof of that, lol 😉

    August 31, 2010 at 4:44 pm

  4. JR you are a sage among my blog roll; which doesn’t sound like a compliment but is.
    I was okay, the attacks were more bark than bite and they only got really vocal and animated when I was unreachable. I wasn’t hurt but could have been. The thing is these were not your uniformed right wing Uyoku, they were ordinary people, old guys and young, men, women, people that are English students, shop workers, park dog walkers and gate ball players every other day of the year. Yet they hated me this day because I was not Japanese which is ludicrous. By contrast the uniformed Uyoku I had been introduced to a few hours before, wore a swastika tattoo on his chest and fought for the protection of the Imperial system of Japan against foreign influence (even the phone number on his business card was in Kanji), and yet he was the model of generous inclusion when he bought my friends and I a beer and had an, albeit supercilious, dignity that would have thought, (perhaps – I was unwilling to test the theory) such irrational aggression beneath him. His violence was directed and purposeful, pointless of course and and still unarguably and unpleasantly violent, but there was at least some logic to his beliefs.

    September 5, 2010 at 7:43 am

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