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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today the unnecessary election for the lower house in Japan takes place. For the first time in almost two weeks the streets are quiet as the campaign trucks are n longer allowed to shout-out their noisy endorsements of this or that candidate through the large loud-speakers that are seemingly attached to each and every one of them
The election is unneeded because it is almost impossible for the incumbent Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to lose. He has called this election at a time when the opposition parties, especially the main opponent, The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) are so disorganised that they cannot even stand enough candidates to contest every seat. Many voters it appears will not waste a vote in agreement with them. Not that this means they will switch allegiance to Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who remain scandal-prone and unpopular, at least with the young. With no acceptable place to put your mark of support, turn-out is predicted to be incredibly low.
The main reason this election is having so little impact on the imaginations of the electorate however is the fact that Abe came to power only two years ago and is offering nothing new this time around. He still has over half his original term to serve and though he has insisted, to a pliant media, that this vote is a referendum on his economic policies, called Abernomics, a victory today will also give him four more years and a tenuous mandate for what is probably the real reason behind the poll: the pursuit of his nationalist agenda.
Four days ago the State Secrets Law came into effect. There were protests of course but almost no one in the mainstream domestic press reported on them, or on the details of this draconian legislation, because of the need for election coverage to be seen as fair. On a day when people are being asked their opinion on one issue that affects them, namely the lie that this election is about a sales-tax increase, many do not realise that their rights to seek opinions or information; or their rights to ask questions about much more serious topics, has just been removed.
For example almost all information about nuclear issues in Japan can now conveniently be classified as a State Secret. After the accident at Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station on March 11th 2011 a majority of the population are understandably sceptical of the the nuclear industry and the technology itself. Abe is pro-nuclear and sees it as a cornerstone of Japan’s economic recovery, and perhaps future defence agenda. Safety fears about restarting the reactors can motive broad cross-sections of the population to protest. Now however, though there may be genuine problems with the businesses running these power stations or the continued problem of contamination in Fukushima, reporting on it or talking to reporters about it just got much riskier and more difficult.
Going off-message is not going to be allowed on issues of war-time guilt or future power-projections either with the white-washing of Imperial-era atrocities from media histories and school text-books or changes to the constitution that would allow a proper military and also permit it to take part in collective self-defence with allies like the US.
All in all this is a very important election in Japan. Abe will win that is a surety but the clever game of political timing in calling this snap election is a ruse clear to everyone who cares to look. There is the small chance that it could all back-fire on him though. The lack of energy in the electorate is particularly noteworthy and the sense of disenfranchisement they may feel with an unpopular leader is at best unpredictable. Many in Japan are feeling emboldened with their protests on nuclear issues and Article 9 and Abe will not face an easy path to his desired “Beautiful Nation” when his mandate is as fragile as this election will probably leave it. At this moment there is little dissent in his own party against his leadership but it could become a precarious authority weakened by each embarrassment of unpopularity and we might even see moves to un-seat him soon after the election or at some water-shed moment of policy change in the next four years.
Let’s hope so.
Anyway I got to photograph the man on Friday night as he was electioneering in Saitama. Needed a longer lens though. Last time I shot Abe was just after he quit at Prime Minister the first time. He was in Shibuya on some anti-foreigner platform with one of those “here to day – gone tomorrow” political parties and there was no security as he was a bit of a joke at that time. I was able to stand very close and take pictures and as he looked directly at me and questioned my existence, I was able to do the same back.
Friday was a bit of an LED day for me.
First I headed off to Ichigaya to shoot the Crystal Buddhas at the Ruriden in Koukoku-ji temple. Each of the 2,000 plus Buddha statues that line the walls of this octagonal mausoleum is carved from crystal and lit with a colourful LED light. When I arrived the lights weren’t on and I stood in the dark a while wondering if I would get some shots. Only the larger Buddha statue at the back of the hall was illuminated. After about 10 minutes a temple worker came into the place to do some work and turned on the lights for me. Suddenly I was surrounded by colours. The hues changed from autumnal reds, yellows and oranges to pink and purple and the ubiquitous blue. Quite an amazing place which has been making the news recently.
Then I took a train, with blue LED lights on the platform in an effort to reduce suicide to Nakameguro to photograph the most obsessive collection of blue LED lights I have ever seen.
The Japanese invented the blue LED and are extremely proud of that fact. Recently also they seem to have put blue LEDs into or on to almost everything. It’s a mania of sorts. Must admit the blue canyon over the river in Nakameguro was very spectacular though. And very popular with crowds lining the banks and bridges to take snapshots or selfies.
Rather too tired and busy to write a journalistic travelogue of my day. Will try and add more details when I have time but just wanted to share these photos for now.