The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

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Darkest Hour

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I have shot so many images of Shibuya crossing over the years but none like this one. I took this image on March 15th 2011, exactly seven years ago with a journalist from the Daily Mirror called, Tom Parry who was in Japan to cover the March 11th earthquake and tsunami.

Shibuya is one of the most iconic views in Tokyo: a collection of electronic craziness, famous throughout the world. It is the cultural centre of a city so sprawling and so diverse in character that calling it merely a Mecca for youth culture misses the point. The stoicism of the dog, Hachiko, who waited outside the station for her master to arrive home from work each day, even after he had died, is as important a metaphor for the character of the Japanese as the bizarre fashions and hedonism so usually associated with the place. Shibuya is where Tokyo comes to have fun and forget the stresses of ordinary life but is also, it seems, where it comes to find itself.

It was the perfect place indeed to take to take Tom and interview people about their reactions to the disaster. It was also a place where, as a photographer, I could visually show the effects of the tragedy on people’s lives in Tokyo before heading north into the devastation of the tsunami coast the next day. Due to the damage at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station, and the ensuing panic, all Japan’s nuclear reactors had been turned off and much of Japan was switching off lights, escalators and all manner of electrical extras that eased the life of its citizens to save energy.  The usual bright lights of Shibuya crossing were dimmed as we arrived, climbing slowly up the stairs of the station to the street. The giant, energy-sapping TV screens, that surrounded us were dark and silent. I had never seen this place like that before and it looked apocalyptic enough even for a British tabloid. The interviews however; four days after the events to the north, and in the epicurean streets of Center Gai showed a capital dealing annoyingly well with disaster.

“They’re all too bloody happy.” Tom said to me as we looked around for people to talk to.

To his credit, and because he is a good journalist, he reported that fact, finding something admirable in the ability most of the salarymen and fashionable couples we interviewed had for getting on with life as it needed to be lived at that moment: bringing a little light to the darkened streets. Other papers, in my homeland, told a more terrible and less realistic story, created at a greater distance of course. The thing is it it was still Shibuya and though there was definitely a difference: I had never seen the crossing so dark and quiet before or the street so humble, it was still the city of stubborn pleasure, of optimism, of looking ahead.

One year later the Daily Mirror sent Tom back to cover the first anniversary of the disaster and I was able to show him Shibuya in all it brash irreverence. He liked it more and yet he found it familiar too.

Later Damon

 


Fifty

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The very first Ultraman TV show was broadcast on July 17th 1966, making today the fiftieth birthday of this iconic hero.

Originally made by Tsuburaya productions in its studios in Soshigaya Okura, which still celebrates its connection to the franchise with themed streetlights and statues, the company was sold in October 2007 to Japanese advertising agency TYO Inc.

Bandai, the main licensor of merchandise for the Ultra Series later acquired a 49.9% stake in the the company and now produces the shows and movies as well as a plethora of toys and souvenirs old and young alike can buy.

Before I came to Japan I had not heard of Ultraman. His popularity was centred much more in Japan and Asia or  with a certain minority of determined fans in the US. Having two sons though quickly made me an expert on his various incarnations.

I first got to know Ultraman Max who as the main character on TV as my eldest son began his interest in the series and we went through his various annual changes together. Each Christmas it was easy to get a new plastic figure or a new monster. and though most did look vaguely similar to me, even I managed to distinguish a few of the types. I remember best the likes of Ultraman Mebius and Zero though who became the Ultramen we saw most frequently in the last flurry of youthful pleasure my kids took in this fantasy before their developing  maturity forced them away from it.

Not that they have completely given up on Ultramen, they may no longer play with the toys but neither have they been able yet to sell or give away their collections.  Both are still increasingly passive members of the Ultraman fan club and have even had the chance to meet their heroes on various occasions. Highlights have included running out on the field with the famous Yomuiri Giants, who use the characters of Ultraman as a another mascot, going to an Ultra monster-themes restaurant in Kawasaki and appearing as extras in the TV show and movies with Ultraman X. Even I did that;  pretending to run from monsters in the shopping streets and malls of suburban Kanagawa. And it was great fun too.

As I have said before there is something to to said for studying the genre and understanding its greater sociao-political or cultural abstractions so while I still have the excuse of my children’s interest I am going to continue shooting this very important part of Japanese popular culture.

Meanwhile. happy 50th birthday Ultraman

Damon

 


New Kids On The Block

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dcjj -201606031262.jpgThere was a protest this Friday outside the National Diet building by a group of high-school studentts called the T-nsSOWL.

That catchy name stands for “Teens Stand Up to Oppose War Law” and is a small group of teenagers determined to follow the success of last year’s SEALDs movement in calling for Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe to reverse the changes he made to Article of the Japanese constitution. They would also like him to quit.

Last July the hawkish Abe “reinterpreted” Article 9, which forever forbids Japan to undertake aggressive military action except in defence of the nation, to allow the Japanese armed forces to take part in collective self-defence. What this means is that the Japanese military can come to the aid of allies even if Japan, itself is not itself under attack. For many Japanese this is anathema and they fear Japanese soldiers getting dragged into foreign wars in support of the US. There were massive protests against this “reinterpretation” last year. Despite this Abe pushed the change through the Diet.

The Student organisation, SEALDs (Student Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy) energised the protests last year, bringing the protests to the attention of the mass media where their issues could be openly discussed as a social phenomena. Japanese youth are often seen and generally portrayed as feckless and politically apathetic or naive. SEALDs to a greater or lesser degree changed that image and one of their leaders, Aki Okuda even met with opposition leaders and spoke in parliamentary committee meetings.

Okuda san was present last night, leading moral support, when T-nsSOWL gathered outside the Diet to voice their own concerns about the direction Japan is going. The Upper House elections which take place later this year are the first that teenagers will allowed to vote in since the voting age was lowered from 20 to 18 last summer. The group is determined to galvanise the extra 2.4 million voters this change has created into a force of that will keep Japan peaceful.

How successful they will be is hard to gauge. Certainly the protest attracted the media who surrounded the site of the demo. What it didn’t attract however were the teenagers whom it hoped to inspire. I could only see four actual teenagers and the crowd of 200 or so people was mostly made up of the usual older protesters that still gather outside the Diet building most Fridays to call on Abe to resign. Indeed the warmer weather has reinvigorated the usual anti-nuke protests in front of the Prime Minister’s residence and their angry calls often drown-out the teenagers. Though this was one of their first protests and this embryonic group may yet grow into a force as vocal and influential as SEALDs were it was also hear to escape the feeling that these teenagers were very, well, teenagery: They looked bored, they checked their iphones and their hair during the chants; and the protest slogans and logos seemed borrowed from the only slightly deeper convictions of the SEALDs movement.

Early days yet and it will be interesting to see how Japanese high school students will use their newly given voting powers in the up-coming election. Less then a third of people in their twenties voted at the last election and generally the young in japan feel that politics doesn’t apply to them. Perhaps this group will inspire those people to get politically connected again. The dissatisfaction that has galvanised youthful support for progressive candidates in many countries: from Jeremy Corbyn to Bernie Sanders is one that the young also feel here. The need to protest about something being wrong with their lot in life obviously is keenly felt but who will take up the challenge on a level that seriously threatens the establishment here has yet to find a face. Several politicians came to talk at the SEALDs demos: riding the wave of support the organisation generated to mark out their difference from the black-suited norm. A couple of law-makers spoke last night too and each congratulated the teenagers on their desire for change. Yet after these speeches the chants the high schoolers made were the same: the endless dirge of anti-Abe vitriol which no-one really expects him to listen to or be troubled by. Even the faces of the teens showed that resignation and I am left wondering why young people, given the power to mould their world for the first time in their lives, are not thinking of new ways to affect that change.
Later
Damon


Here Comes the Sun

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As Japan recovers from another destructive earthquake in the the west at Kumamoto, I am thankful for one small thing: in the latest disaster at least there were no tsunamis.

The tsunami that followed the March 11th 2011, magnitude 9 earthquake in Tohoku caused most of the problems, including the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station when the back up generators were destroyed by the wave.

Since then support for nuclear power has decreased significantly and though companies like Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) are determined to restart the 48 existing power station, all of which were moth-balled after the disaster, and even build new ones they have also had to accommodate the growing consumer demand to find alternative ways to generate the huge amount of electricity Japan uses.

After the earthquake  Japan attempted to limit its electricity usage and many areas experienced rolling black-outs as the sudden switching off of all Japan’s nuclear power stations meant the country couldn’t generate enough power to keep going. Though people stoically accepted this as necessary at the time, memories are short and the lights are fully on again in Tokyo.

But there have been some moves towards generating electricity from more renewable sources and one logical reimagining of the rural coastland of Tohoku can be seen in the large solar energy farms that are being built there above the salt-damaged fields.

Agriculture is the number one industry in Tohoku and desalination projects started on some areas of the coast just days after the tsunami. Indeed most of the 1,800 hectares of damaged farmland around the city of Sendai in Miyagi had been cleaned, cleared of debris and made ready for planting by the spring of 2014. As part of the desalination process pumping stations powered by solar panels were set up by Sendai City Government. This combined with a switch to new methods of farming and a preference for growing vegetable over the traditional rice crop has seen parts of the Sendai coast actually become a more profitable farming area than it was before 2011. A lot of the north east coast of remains damaged and derelict however.

There are physically differences of course: massive earthworks are raising the level of the land and infrastructure to protect it from the next inundation and to compensate for subsidence caused by the quake. Also the shorelines are now often home to dykes topped with walls, barriers and lines of sapling trees that will comb the power out of any future tsunamis.

Yet is is the changes in the people that are more telling. Not all of the problems Tohoku faces were caused by the events of five years ago. The rural communities in this area, and indeed all over Japan, are ageing and disappearing as younger generations move to the cities for work and find their ambitions thwarted by such bucolic backwaters. A lot of those that survived the tsunami have themselves moved inland or even further afield; many will also retire from the plough sooner rather than later.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) amended the Agricultural Land Law, the Forest Law and other related laws shortly after the March 11th disaster in an effort to relax restrictions on the usage of abandoned forest and farmland. It also gave financial assistance to encourage the development of renewable resources for power generation that would localise energy supply and make these communities more disaster-resistant. As an example of this, in April 2014 the installation of solar PV systems on crop-producing farms was allowed for the first time. This “solar sharing” system allows farmers to instal solar panels above fields that are used for cultivation. It had previously been prohibited even if the land was fallow and unproductive.

The total acreage of abandoned farmland nationwide is estimated at about 400,000 hectares, and through the changes in these rules it is hoped that local economies, especially in Tohoku, will be revitalized as farming communities which cannot farm due to age or the effects of the tsunami sell or lease their land to alternative  energy producers or work directly in the construction and running of the the facilities. This seems to be happening: Eurus Energy Group began operating two mega solar projects in Miyagi and Fukushima in March 2015. The Ishinomaki-Hebita Solar plant also began operating the same time. These are important symbols of the recovery of the affected regions.

Infact solar power could be a major factor in reshaping the future of Tohoku. The next century had promised an emptying landscape and provincialism, even without the destruction wrought by the events of March 11th but as the importance of farming diminishes and with continued investment from Government agencies and academics keen to take advantage of the unique, start from scratch situation of the area it could become a major producer and exporter of renewable energy. Not just solar: plans to invest in wave and wind power along with biofuels and geothermal energy are all being worked on now by clever people and brave locals with nothing to lose.

Time to go back and keep reporting on this I think.

Later

Damon

 


Okawa School Memorial

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On my trip north at the beginning of the month one of the most harrowing places I visited was the Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki. Though quite removed from the shocking destruction of that large city and far inland, in a wide river valley to the rural north, it spoke of the power of the March 11th 2011 tsunami more than any place I have yet visited on the Tohoku coast.

The thing is you cannot see the ocean from the school; the valley is all fields, wooded hillsides and bucolic peacefulness. It feels safe and far removed from any danger. A perfect place to build a school in fact and it was that sense of security perhaps that led to delays in evacuating the children after the earthquake struck at 2:46pm, a delay that cost 84 staff and students their lives when the tsunami later swept up the valley.

Today there is still a lot of anger about the indecision of the teachers, who apparently waited 50 minutes in the playground after the quake before eventually deciding to move the kids towards higher ground that was much further away than the hillsides that rise just next to the school. The blame for these delays has led to law suits and suicides.

For some parents and relatives the school buildings themselves are a sore reminder of their tragedy and they have called for the remains of what, in its day must have been an amazing place to come and study, to be demolished.

Over sixty percent of Ishinomaki residents however want to keep the ruined school as a memorial to those that died. This dilemma appears to have been solved for the moment. In a news conference on Saturday March 26th the Mayor of Ishinomaki, Hiroshi Kameyama set out his plans to make the school into a monument to the victims of that day.

“It is an important place to remember and mourn the victims as well as educate people about disaster preparedness and pass on what transpired.” He said. Adding that there are no plans to reinforce the building or attempt to repair any of the damaged structures.

“To raise awareness about disaster preparedness, we need to keep what we have as it is.”

He plans to shield the ruined classrooms and gymnasiums with trees as a compromise for those that cannot bear to look at the building where their loved ones died and build a memorial park around the site.

While I can understand the pain the parents of the children who died must feel, I am glad they are keeping the school. It is a beautiful place despite the tragedy that overtook it. Yet I think there must also be many happy memories associated with the walls and playgrounds here that have not been entirely wiped out by that destructive black wave and it is important to think of those also. Mostly though we need such memorials to remind us not to under estimate nature, nor take it for granted that beauty is always benign. I can understand why the teachers thought they would be safe here: it feels safe, it feels relaxed; nothing much could or should happen in this wide, quite valley surrounded by fields and trees. But nature is unpredictable and this ruin with its ghosts tells us we must never forget that. As I have said before.

More images of Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki at my archive site here.

Later Damon


Recovery

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I went back to Tohoku this past week to shoot events around the fifth anniversary of the March 11th 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Busy days visiting the radioactive fields of Fukushima and the amazingly tidied-up Ishinomaki before heading north to Kesennuma and Minami Sanriku. The last two are places I’d not been before. In 2011 I had headed down from Morioka with Daily Mirror journalist, Tom Parry, interviewing survivors in Iwate. We made it as far south as Rikuzentakata which along with Minami Sanriku were places famously wiped from existence by the tsunami and places that will forever be a shorthand for tragedy. Five years later my thoughts on reaching Rikuzentaka still affect me and seeing Minami Sanriku, the other small coastal town synonymous with the worst of that day, was moving.

It is hard to put a score to tragedy but Minami Sanriku has perhaps an unluckier tale than other places: with the names of it victims so well known and their memorials still so stark and raw even as the landscape around it changes forever.

Jin Sato, the mayor of this towns escaped to the three-story building of the town’s Crisis Management Department or Bōsai Taisaku Chōsha (in the picture above) when the earthquake struck at 2:46pm He was one of only 30 people, from a staff of 130, who managed to reach the roof as the tsunami engulfed the town a little later and only ten of those survived as the water washed over the top of the building. Two day later however he was organising the recovery of his town and set-up a headquarters for disaster control at the Bayside Arena in Miyagi. Many people in Japan hailed him as an ispiration.

 

The most famous hero of Minami Sanriku though was a 25 year old employee of the town’s Crisis Management Department called Miki Endo. Her job was to give disaster advice and warnings over the the town’s loud-speaker system from the Crisis Management Department’s building. These warnings, telling people what to do and where to go to escape the tsunami, are credited with saving many lives and she continued to give them even as the tsunami overwhelmed the building and killed her.

There was talk that the steel frame, that is all that remains of the building, would be demolished. Huge stepped islands of brown earth rise across the valley now, like Mexican jungle pyramids. These earthworks are raising the town up higher, safer from any future tsunami. The Crisis Management Department building stands these days in a valley of dust with the earth reaching skywards behind it and diggers and cranes drone busily above. But looking at that red metal frame I saw only its missing walls; the doors through which 120 people left this world and noticed the fragility of the building’s thin tower of aerials where ten others clung desperately to stop themselves getting swept away. I hope they keep the building the way it is as a both a reminder of the power of nature and the bravery of people like Endo San.

Later

Damon


Developments

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Been working on a few photo stories about development in Tokyo. Lots of the older areas of downtown Tokyo are being demolished and rebuilt as modern consumer towns. Those these areas might be more attractive to younger families and women the loss of traditional Shotengai, or shopping streets is a shame. Equivalent to the High Street in the UK, the atmosphere and diversity of these areas is one that would be more attractive to foreign visitors. Japan tends to see the modern, identikit shopping and residential complexes that it is building over once lively, uniquely local communities as more favourable though. It is a cleaner image to show the world and one that is more familiar to the increasing number of tourists that are visiting.

As Japan readies for the 2020 Olympics it is easy to imagine more of these towns springing-up. The image above shows the plans for that most individualistic of places, Shibuya. While they provide high concentrations of employment and convenience for visitors, and it is true that a lot of the tradition, small, family-run shops that give shontengai their charming character are now run by people happy to sell up and retire, it is a shame that they will be replaced by international brands and large national chains housed in towers of glass and concrete. However beautiful these might end up looking.

Anyway it is a developing story in many areas of Japan and one I am sure to be following more.

Later

Damon

Update: To see the fruit of my labours with the Journalist Richard Smart and the Urban land Institute magazine, down load the app here and have a read.


Happy New Year

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Been a busy year all told, my last post outlined some of the work I had been doing. Now I am relaxing getting some much needed down-time and preparing myself for what is promising to be a very busy 2016. Started well with a cold night of ringing the temple bell 108 times to see in the new year (in the photo above). Each yearI have done this something memorable and photogenic has happened in the spring. Let’s hope the luck holds this year.

To all the people who follow and read my increasingly infrequent posts (that is rather oxymoronic don’t you think?), a Happy New Year and I wish you all the best for 2016.

Damon


Sweeping

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Hello been a long time since I posted as it has been a very busy year.

Now the summer is really over it is a lot more comfortable to walk around in the city and take photos. so thought I would give you a quick update on what I have been doing.

The image above is from Ofuna in Kanagawa and shows the Ofuna Kannon-ji temple with a temple worker sweeping up autumn leaves. Just on of those quiet little vignettes of Japanese life that you can come across when out for the day.

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Last weekend myself and my colleagues at Japan Street Lens were asked by Sigma and the United Nations to photograph the “Turn the World UN Blue” campaign. This campaign celebrated the 70th anniversary of the formation of the UN by illuminating with blue light over 200 monuments and buildings in 60 countries. I photographed the Tokyo Skytree with a 12-24mm lens loaned to me by Sigma. Have to say I was very impressed with the quality of the lens and have used it a bit. The Kannon statue at the top is taken with it too.

Indeed we at JSL have being quite a lot of work with Sigma this year. Earlier in the summer I spent a long hard day filming tutorials for the Sigma USB dock and Optimisation-Pro software. I am somewhat embarrassed to be in front of the camera but the result is quite good mainly because the film-makers at ZEO were amazing: very talented and very patient wit my many mistakes. Have a look here. As part of process of filming I had to use the USB dock and software on lenses that Sigma had lent me for familiarisation. I had a 24mm, 1.4 Art lens and a big telephoto zoom, 150-600mm F5-6.3 Contemporary lens. I had to shoot some photos with them to put in the tutorials and show how the USB dock could improve them. Though to be honest they were pretty good to use straight out of the box, especially the 24mm 1.4 art lens which I truly love. Anyway some of the images I took from the summer are below:

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It was an eclectic summer from surfing and sunflower festivals to model shoots and temple details . Glad I could put the lenses through their paces though. Only wish i could have kept them.

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The last few weeks have been busy continuing to record the struggles and demonstrations against the Japanese governments reinterpretation of the unique Pacifist constitution which will allow it to send Japanese troops overseas to fight in wars for the first time since WW2. This year has sen the rise of the youth protest movement called SEALDs which drew worldwide attention to a new, media-savvy form of student activism in Japan. As Japanese young people are often reported as being politically apathetic it was certainly an interesting phenomena to find international titles interested in Japanese politics and my images of them. Even the domestic media here couldn’t ignore the protests as they usually do.

It remains to be seen if this movement has any staying power and how deep and thought-out their convictions are. Already the streets around the National Diet building are empty and quiet on the usual Friday protest night. With the passing of the bill the protests seem to have lost their anger but they certainly seemed to be able to draw on a deeper, general unhappiness with politics from the population at large, including the older people and even some frustrated politicians that have coat-tailed SEALDs’s popularity to find their own voice heard for perhaps the first time. The ultimate effect this summer of discontent will have on Japanese politics is, as yet, unpredictable however.

Of course I have also been shooting anything I hear about if it sounds interesting like the Kyogen plays I was lucky enough to go to last week, hopefully not for the last time.

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All in all a very busy years so far. Hope this keeps you up to date.

Later

Damon


Summer Fun

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In Japan summer means fireworks. This year we haven’t been to any big displays, as we did a couple of years ago, But many people also buy some smaller explosives such as sparklers and Roman candles and go to the local park to set them off. The kids love it and the smell of gunpowder is a constant companion on summer evenings.

Been very busy these last few months so apologise for the lack of posts on here recently.

Later

Damon


Sealing Their Future

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A large demo by student activist group, SEALD (Student Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy) took place on Friday night in Tokyo. The anti-nuke die-hards can still be found outside the National Diet Building almost every Friday and this demonstration continued more or less where that one left off. Though the size of the anti-nuke demos are considerably less than before, when people were calling such massive displays of outrage at the government the Hyacinth Revolution,  I was still impressed that four and a half years on from the March 11th disaster at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant, people still turned up to protest their hope for a nuclear free Japan. Especially, as I have written before, both sides seem to be aware that the protests are futile.

The SEALD group is composed of mostly younger protestors and though it grew from that same anti-nuclear activism, it’s focus is broader and mostly against the right-wing and nationalistic policies of Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

Japan has a long history of student activism and at times the energy of the young radical has caused seriously problems for the Japanese establishment. I have done a fair amount of work with student radicals like Zengakuren and covered the issues at Hosei University, where political activism has been, often violently, suppressed.

The SEALD group is new, and new to me, but they seem determined, intelligently so, to demand a change in Japanese politics. How these young people will go about getting their demands heard and acted on with a government as single-minded as Abe’s is something that is going to be interesting to watch play-out. At this moment the students are policed lighter than the more radical activists at Zengakuren.  But as they find their voices bouncing from the walls of the Kantei unheeded though, I wonder if they will remain so polite.

More images of the SEALD demo in Tokyo on July 11th at my archive site here.

Been a busy few months so not had time to write here as much as I would have liked.

Will try and write more soon.

Damon


Pilgrims

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Had a photo shoot down in Matsuyama in Shikoku last Thursday. Took the opportunity afforded by someone else paying for the flights to spend a couple of extra days there trying to get a feel for the Eighty-eight temple pilgrimage that has been a photo ambition for years.

Unfortunately the weather didn’t want to help me so much and my explorations ended-up being quite limited. You really need more time, and a car, to truly get a feel of the beautiful scenery the pilgrims walk through on the 1,200 kilometre long pilgrimage route.

Well not many pilgrims walk the route these days, and certainly not in rainy season, but did see a few come through the very beautiful Ishite Temple which is just outside Matasuyama. By far the biggest group I saw though were on a bus tour doing the whole pilgrimage in a week.

I loved my time in Shikoku though and would love to get back and spend more time photographing the pilgrims as they tramp between the temples. Not in rainy season though next time.


Salarymen

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Been a very busy few months so not had a chance to write here for a while. Not all the jobs have been photo related either. A potential photo clients has even turned into a different sort of employer as I have started doing some tourist guiding for them.

Primarily the idea was that I lead photo tours of an area I know well for their clients but as that gets off the ground I have also been asked to lead a few ordinary tourist trips that take in the usual sights.

It has been an interesting peek into a world of luxury travel I could never have imagined myself doing in my ten years on the road, nor wanting to do to be honest. The hotel lobbies have been fantastically opulent places to wait in though and most of the clients have been amazingly nice people and I get to show off this interesting city of mine to those with fresh eyes upon it. Indeed I get to see it afresh sometimes through their eyes also: explaining this or that and realising that perhaps I know less than I thought as, living here, we take so much for granted.

My biggest issue has been finding somewhere upmarket enough to eat. For when tourists want an “authentic Japanese eating experience” my first thought is Saizeriya. 

I am only half joking because cheap, bad food and alcohol is the staple of many an overworked salaryman and I don’t think there can be a more authentically Japanese existence than being one of those. I have never quite taken salarymen for granted, and after the last few months, which have seen me work very long hours and unable to recall days off, even less so. I have always photographed them in fact, at work and at play, and grey suited addition of scale to a city scene, or the obvious locator.

Maybe there is a small collection here that I can get together into some sort of story or artistic ode as Bruno Quinquet has here.

Anyway would just like to share some salarymen shots I’ve taken these last few months. And keep in touch with you all.

Later

Damon


Making Time

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As it has gone midnight I can safely say that, later today, I will be photographing the launch of the Apple watch in Tokyo.

Japan is one of only 9 countries where this long-anticipated and very expensive watch will be sold. Due to Japan’s position far, far to the east, The Japanese will also be among the first people in the World to be able to buy what many are calling the first true smart-watch.

And I am sure they will turn up in droves to do so if the lines outside the Apple Stores for each new iphone model are anything to go by.

Apparently such lines will be rarer for this release as appointments must be made to try out the watch and many are saying, actual, in-store purchases will not be available until the summer as they will be clearing the pre-orders first. Still I will go along to shoot what I can.

The watch is not just being sold as a tech-device though and is set to compete with other, more traditionally  branded timepieces. To this end Apple are opening an Apple Watch store in the up-market Isetan department store in Shinjuku.

The picture above was of the store about a month ago when it was just a big blank wall with the enigmatic “coming soon” message. Tomorrow it should be a much more interesting and busier place.

Now time for sleep.

Later

Damon

UPDATE: The Apple watch release in japan was a rather subdued affair in the end with not much happening at the Apple stores at all and limited crowds at the softbank store in Omotesando where people could actually buy the watches.

Images of the first day of the Apple watch in Tokyo at my archive here:


The Shortest

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Sorry not been here for a while, have been incredibly busy. Always looking for interesting images though. On the way home from the Kanamara Penis Festival in Kawasaki Daishi yesterday I stopped for for a quick stock shot of the world’s shortest escalator in More’s department store. Even shorter than this one I shot a few years ago.

Not as easy to find as you’d imagine as it is almost on the way out of the store and in the basement. And they really don’t make that big a fuss about this record-breaking piece of pointless laziness. Perhaps it’s a touch embarrassing to be famous for, so it is not really that surprising there are no signs or certificates I suppose. It was a fun 5 minute photo opportunity on the way home to file photos though. I like days like that.

More images of the world’s shortest escalator in Japan at my archive here.

Later

Damon


Gentle Brutalism

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Japan has many strange and wonderfully original buildings, Tokyo especially.

Shooting yesterday for a stock brief on Brutalist architecture I did some research and visited a few places to get images of this particular style of architecture that puts concrete and urban impact hard against the eyes and the skyline.

One of the buildings that just about fits into this category is rather small and cuddly-looking Shizuoka Press and Broadcasting Tower near Shimbashi station. Designed by the famous architect, Kenzo Tange, and built in 1967 it is a famous example of the Metabolist school that tried to rebuild post-war Japan with megastructures that also felt organic. No I don’t understand it all either which is why you should read this or this.

This tower is quite small but does have a presence and is a well known and love Tokyo landmark that is a surprising challenge to photograph.

Very busy at the moment, but in a good way.

Later.

Damon


Hard To Believe

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…it is four years since the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku. At 2:46 pm on Friday the 11th of March one of the largest earthquakes to have ever happened struck just off the north-east coast of Japan. the huge tsunami that crashed ashore later killed around 18,000 people and made many tens of thousands more homeless. It also caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant that is still affecting large areas of that prefecture today. Indeed a large number of people are still suffering from the aftermath of this disaster, with many unable to return home as rebuilding efforts have stalled. A dishearteningly large minority are even now stuck in “temporary” housing.

I remember that day well, the confusion of not being able to find out exactly what was happening and where. At the time I did not have an iphone and access to twitter and facebook so information was hard to come by. I walked miles to get to Shinjuku where the large TV screens (above) showed the news.

It was a strange day with a sense of impending tragedy that the pictures on the TV screens did not help to reduce. Even as we watched whole villages be swept away, the scale of this event was not something we could not even guess at that time and even now it seems unbelievable. But despite the worry in the air it was also a day of reassuring calmness: The office workers stranded by train network closures didn’t complain or demand, they either just resigned themselves to a long plod home or settled into cafes, bank lobbies and hotels for the night, where the people working there just carried on being courteous and serving them well past their usual working hours.

I hope never to experience such a tragedy again but I have to admit I am glad to have lived through what I consider both the best and the worst times of my time in Japan.

I will think of all those who died and had their lives forever changed this afternoon at 2:46 and urge you to do so too.

More stock images of the effect of the March 11th 2011 earthquake on Tokyo at my archive here:

Damon


Waves

Prince William in Japan

Prince William in Japan

A quick shot of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, as he left the Hodogaya Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery near Yokohama today. He had just laid a wreath to commemorate the war dead that are buried there on the second morning of His four day visit to Japan. It appears to be a pretty packed schedule with visits to Tohoku and many other places squeezed into theweekend before he leaves for China on Sunday.

Quite a crowd had gathered for a glimpse of the British Prince, who is travelling without his wife, Kate Middleton, and he seemed genuinely happy to wave to them as he was driven out of the cemetery gates. Mostly old ladies they waved back  and shouted out, “O-uji sama! loudly” I got pushed around quite a bit too as they struggled and pushed forward to get their shots.

The Palace mucked-up my accreditation with my agency in the UK so I was unable get in closer and take more sellable shots unfortunately . Instead I had to resort to looking for crowds and his interaction with the locals. He didn’t do a walk around this morning so this car snap was the best I could get. I’ll be papping him again tomorrow though.

More images from Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge’s, visit to Japan here:

Later

Damon


Old and New

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree

Been incredibly busy the last week or so. Managed to grab a quick evening shot of Tokyo Skytree while out shooting on Monday.

I like this shot as it was taken from near Edogawa where there are many older, traditional houses and buildings which provide some nice foreground for this iconic, modern addition to the Tokyo skyline

Will be posting back soon.

More stock images of the Tokyo Skytree, and its construction, at my archive here.

Later

Damon


Vigil

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It has been a week since the news of journalist, Kenji Goto’s murder by ISIS militants.

Tonight in Shibuya in Tokyo, and in seven other cities across Japan, people gathered to hold silent prayers for his memory and that of Haruna Yukawa who was killed a few days before.

About a hundred or so people got together at 5pm in Hachiko Square. Word had spread on twitter and other social media and those nominally organising the events asked that people use it to remember the lives of the two hostages, and that of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh; The Jordanian pilot shot down in December who was shown being burnt to death in a gruesome ISIS video earlier this week, by not bring their banners and anger to the event.  Some people in Japan blame the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, for the death of the hostages: fearing his growing geo-political reach and ambitions are now making Japan a target for such terrorism. Other fear his relatively obvious naivety and ineptitude when dealing with the hostage crisis last month may have hastened the murders.

It is hard to know how this is true as it should not be forgotten that ISIS are a cruel and unpredictable opponent with perhaps much more to gain in publicity by actually killing those they have kidnapped.

For the most part the people at the vigil stayed true to the purpose; silently remembering those who had died with prayers and candles. Signs proclaimed solidarity with “I am Kenji” or “Je Suis Kenji” out-numbering those that angrily proclaimed they were not Abe.

The vigil finished around 7:30; a small shrine had been built on the floor of Hachiko Square and as the candles were put out friends of Kenji San and Haruna san in the crowd promised that the flowers and messages would be delivered to their families.

In all a very touching and dignified celebration of two lives cut brutally short.

RIP Kenji san and Haruna san.

More images of the silent vigil for Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa in Tokyo at my archive here:

Damon

 

 


A Sad End

 

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dc kenji Goto support rally-201501300742 dc kenji Goto support rally-201501302377A sad piece of news this morning when a new video by so called Islamic State (ISIS) appears to show the beheading of Japanese freelance journalist, Kenji Goto.

His fellow hostage, Haruna Yukawa (who Goto San returned to Syria in an effort to free by negotiating with ISIS) was supposedly killed a week ago; a few days after they were first shown on screen, kneeling in the desert, as prisoners of the self styled Islamic caliphate. (top photo)

At first their lives were to be ransomed for 200 million US Dollars. This amount matched the pledges of non-military assistance Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had made, in a shockingly inept piece of international diplomacy considering he knew Japanese hostages’ lives were at stake, to those fighting ISIS terrorism while on a tour of the middle east.

Having convinced the world that they were serious with the cruel death of Yukawa san the demands got strange for a week. The usual videos were replaced with audio recordings that might or might not have been Goto San and obviously photoshopped images helped move the demands on to the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an al Qaeda prisoner and failed suicide bomber, from a Jordanian jail where she is facing the death penalty for terrorism attacks in Jordan in 2005 that killed 60 people. The Jordanian government were surprisingly open to the deal at first, dependent obviously on the additional demand that a fighter pilot of theirs, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh whose plane crashed over ISIS held territory in December 2014, was also released.

For a while, at the end of the week, there was even a feeling of very cautious optimism that Kenji Goto might actually get out of this alive. Rallies of support tried to pressure the Prime Minister to do more to ensure that and an “I am Kenji” campaign started; mirroring the “Je suis Charlie” movement that grew in response to the terror attacks in Paris. As the Thursday sunset deadline for al-Rishawi’s release came and went though the hope began to ran out. ISIS were unwilling and perhaps unable to prove that the pilot was still alive and the deal that people so desperately wished for seemed to stall and then fade.

Over Friday and Saturday the silence from ISIS on the fate of the two captured men was deafening. A last, hopeful rally by around 200 supporters outside the Prime Minister’s home on Friday night (photo 2 and 3) showed how much the story of this man’s life had affected the population. Despite reports, like this one in TIME magazine that many people didn’t care and actively blamed the hostages for their predicament, I feel many people really saw something nobel in the efforts of Kenji Goto especially to help the much weaker, and perhaps judged as much less worthy, Yukawa.

Sunday morning many people who had followed this convoluted drama for the last week or so woke up to find the TV showing a worryingly familiar image on the screen. This time though there was only one man kneeling in the dust wearing that orange jump suit. This time the distracting talk of digital manipulations and them not really being there as captives was pointless. Jihad John roughy held Goto’s neck and angrily told the people of Japan that they were now targets in an “unwinnable war” as he waved a knife around. He then apparently decapitated Kenji San with that knife.

I know not one person who is not sad and angry at this. Kenji san, who I never met, was a good man by all accounts. He cared deeply about the lives of those that suffered and were affected by conditions they did not control. This is probably why he foolishly went back to held Yukawa san gain freedom because he had suffered many unlucky situations in his personal life and been drawn to the danger of reinventing himself as a Military contractor in Syria and Iraq. The world has  lost a good man who died to help a man whose story he felt equally sad as those of the children and women afflicted by war that were the staple of his reporting. I hope we do not forget them as we are bound to forget the man who dedicated his life to telling their stories.

RIP Kenji Goto San

Damon


No to Henoko

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Around 7,000 people turned out yesterday afternoon to protest the construction of a new United States military base at Henoko in Okinawa.

The protest started at 2pm and ended by forming a human chain around the National Diet Building.

The US Military have a long and troubled history in Okinawa. While it is true the islands’ economy relies heavily upon the presence of 28 military camps and other facilities, most locals would rather they were not there. Plans to move the main US Marine airbase away from the suburban areas in Futenma to the much less developed Henoko, 50 kilometres north, are meeting large and very angry protests. The are chosen for the new base is a coastal area with tourist-valuable coral reefs. It is also a sanctuary for the rare dugong marine mammal.  Of course until Shinzo Abe came back to power at the end of 2012, the people of Okinawa had been led to believe that the Americans would be moved out of the prefecture all together to somewhere like Guam. But at the end of 2013 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and then Governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima signed the agreement to build the new US base at Henoko and the resistance started.

Protest have set up a camp outside the proposed site, they take to the sea in canoes and boats to protest the construction and are often met with aggressive and violent suppression at the hands of security by the police and coastguard.

Taking the fight to the heart of the government is a logical step. I doubt Shinzo Abe will listen however.

I went along to take a few photos, as I tend to do at most protests in Tokyo. This one was little different however as I had my two sons with me. A new and eye-opening experience for them for sure (and they were very good too because I didn’t even lose them once in the crowds). This meant, of course, that I couldn’t get quite as deep in among the protestors as usual. Though we did wiggle our way into the main speaking area where many well-known and passionate activists rallied the crowds including Catherine “Jane” Fisher, Mizuho Fukushima and the man in the bottom image, journalist, Satoshi Kamata.

A good day in the end.

More images of the Anti Henoko Base Protest in Tokyo at my archive here:

Damon


A Prosperous New Year

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Been a busy winter break so a belated Happy New Year to everyone.

Avoided the crowds on Thursday the first, instead going off to Kamakura at the weekend to wash some money at Zeniarai Benten Shrine in the hope that it will double this year.

Off out to shoot now. Hope my own photography will be doubly profitable this year.

Talk soon

Damon


Cleaning

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Got an hour to myself, as my boys went out for Christmas events, so took a quick walk to the nearby train-yard to photograph workmen and women cleaning and fixing the trains. Is always quite interesting here and the light was fantastic.

These might be the last photos I take this year so Happy New Year to all my readers!

Later

Damon