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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
One of the problems of having been in the same city for so long is that on photo safaris it is easy to end up in a place you have already been. On Friday, as I was wandering around enjoying the wonderful Autumn light, I found myself in Aoyama Cemetery again.
I was last there about six or seven years ago and the views, as you would expect of a cemetery, had not changed that much. One advantage of being in Tokyo though is that it is never really boring and there are always new pictures to find if you look. As I walked around looking for something I had not seen before I found these two monks talking in the cemetery temple. I didn’t get too close preferring not to disturb them and shot from a distance with the shrine roof and doorway providing a frame for them.
Nice little encounter on a short but magically lit day out.
Busy at the moment, more later.
It is All Hallows’ Eve, an ancient European festival of remembrance that is more or less meaningless to most people these days. But it is known as Halloween and celebrated very energetically in many countries, especially in America (and since the movie ET also in Britain) and even in Japan where the young dress up in costumes and put on rather macabre make-up and parade noisily around places like Shibuya enjoying this totally strange, borrowed piece of culture.
I have shot it a few times and it is fun, the crowds all seem to have a good time and the costumes reference Japanese popular-culture icons and for some reason lots of nurses along with the usual vampires and monsters.
Anyway sending images off to agencies and such like thought I would just share a few portraits from tonight here with you.
It is probably going to be occupying my time a lot over the next 6 years but am beginning to shoot some of the preparations for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The controversial main stadium will be built from and over the remains of the 1964 Olympic National Stadium in Shinjuku. I was there last week looking for some of the preparations going on.
A lot of the work is being carried out behind walls and truthfully not a lot appears to be happening as of yet but am sure I’ll be seeing and photography a lot more activity around the capital as the infrastructure come together.
There are many stories related to the preparations for this Olympics, not least the fact that money is being poured into the event when many in Tohoku are still suffering the effects of the 2011, March 11th earthquake and tsunami. Prime Minister Abe’s assurances at the IOC, and elsewhere in the bidding process, that Fukushima nuclear disaster is under control is also something that has a lot of people wanting to show the world the opposite truth. There are people in Tokyo that are similarly angry at the effect the Games will have on their lives.
Hope to find quite a lot to shoot but for now some images of the demolition and remodelling of the National Stadium Tokyo in readiness for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Interesting report on efforts to save the Nakagin Capsule Tower in the Japan Times here.
Have seen and photographed this unusual and very original building a few times as I walk past it on other photo missions. It has a interesting history and was a unique experiment in finding an answer to housing in a crowded city with limited space.
It may not be to everyones taste but I do hope that it is able to be saved. Even the follies on our architectural evolution are better for us to keep, as we can learn from them.
Think I might have to take a return trip there, with more purpose, just in case, as is unfortunately likely, the developers win and this bizarre addition to the Tokyo skyline disappears.
This man can often be seen in Shibuya doing this. I thought he was drunk and exhausted at first but having seen hims few times it now appears that it is some sort of performance art, perhaps a comment on the somnuambulant nightmare that is a salaryman’s life .
All I know is it must be very tiring to stand like this for long, yet he seems to be able to look relaxed and sleepy while doing it.
Just one of the many wonderful and weird things you can see in Tokyo.
An Englishman’s house my well be his castle but unless you are very rich it is unlikely to look much like a castle. In Japan the very, very ordinary life of some salarymen could very well start and finish each day in a house that ticks all the right fantasy palace boxes however.
Amazing architecture is one of the great pleasures of wandering around this country and especially Tokyo. While a lot of the urban vistas you’ll see might be humdrum and even ugly, dotted here and there among the endless screes of concrete are some truly mind-boggling buildings like those above which I shot in Azubu in May.
Architectural experimentation combined with a pragmatic use of, often very limited, space (see top photo) means that buildings can take on very unique shapes. In my 12 years here I have seen a lot of these follies. I have even sought out some of the more famous ones for a shot or two. I once thought of getting a photographic collection of them together purely for the stock value alone but never really followed through on it. The effort involved in seeking-out each oddity jarred with my serendipitous photo-farming habit on my free days. Plus I didn’t think there would be enough return on it.
Unluckily for me I was wrong apparently because French photographer, Jeremie Souteyrat cleverly used the lack of any competition from me and has now published a book called: Tokyo No Ie – Maisons de Tokyo in which he shows a beautiful collection of his photos cataloguing many of the strangest and most interesting examples of this architecture in Tokyo.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in architecture, Tokyo or photography. It is a great work of art: just the feel of the pages says quality and the photos shine with curiously addictive depths. Even if the urbanity they show is grey and grimy, you will find yourself looking around them, examining every corner of the frame. The focus is of course on the wonderful and bizarre constructions that are the artistic purpose of the book but this is also street photography; more is happening in many of the pictures and you can get an interesting glimpse into parts of Tokyo that many people never go.
So I now no longer need to shoot these type of buildings as Jeremie has cornered the market I think, buy the book though and see why I won’t stop. They are just too interesting a find on a day out. As you trudge the suburbs of Tokyo on a free day or find one on the way to another photo job, that invariably takes place in some boring tower of concrete and glass, they put a smile on your face.
Feeling the air of Autumn now in the morning. A different smell and taste here when you wake up. Where I live the mountains are not exactly close by but on certain mornings you are very aware of them.
I spent a lot of my twenties in the mountains both in the UK and abroad. Cold, hard snowy peaks or forested slopes all over the world were places I sought out. Mostly the exposed rocky ridges of temperate ranges where I would test my nerve on climbs to be true but later, as my ambitions drifted eastwards towards Asia, I found myself in tropical forests too. The air is very different in the jungle but there is an unmistakable familiarity to any vertical geography and even in the crater lake of Danau Maninjau in Sumatra, Indonesia above, despite the palm trees and monkeys, the fishermen and the hideous insects, I felt at home.
This is an old photo I took one morning when I walked down early from the lodges I was staying in the middle of the forest. I wanted to shoot a bit around the edges of the lake itself and enjoyed the refreshing, early-morning temperatures as I descended through the trees that a few hours later would be humid hells. I loved the moist, cooling lake breezes when I arrived and the light as the sun burned the sky and brushed detail into the forested slopes that surround the lake . Maninjau is an amazing place and if you ever have the chance I highly recommend going there.
Off to work in the very urban Tokyo now
New website on its way soon.
Got to find time to set it all up before the great unveiling. Please be patient.
If you want to see my portfolio at this moment please visit my archive site.
Will update you all as soon as I can.
A day waiting at Haneda airport for my family to arrive back in Japan.
They are spending another day in a hotel in Vietnam though as the airline slowly brings them home, minus two cases so far.
Haneda International Airport has won awards for decor and themes which recreates an Edo-era village where the shops and restaurants are.
Today they also seemed to have an Edo-themed festival on with people walking around in period costume including the ninja above; dance performances and festival games and snacks.
Fun day really wish my boys could have seen it but they do get to see Ho Chi Min City at least.
Bit of a dancing weekend all told.
Not me of course, but lots of summer festivals with traditional dancing. All very photogenic.
The high-light was perhaps the Awa-Odori matsuri in Koenji on Sunday where the streets were packed with tourists and dancers all enjoying themselves. Not much to write, very busy with other jobs: lots of planning, selling, and as my family come back to Japan on saturday, cleaning to do.
Just thought I’d share a few photos with you from Sunday.
Great day walking around today with my friend Chris Willson from Okinawa, taking a few shots and visiting a few sites in Tokyo. One of the most distinctive places we came across was The National Art Center in Roppongi. Definitely an interesting building that let’s you take lots of abstract details in its wavy-lined windows and walls. Not this picture though which more of an architectural overview.
It was very hot today and at times we had to hide away from the sun in cafes and drink and drink.
I did forget my thirst a bit when I saw lots of Doraemon on display at Roppongi Hills.
And we finished the day with a bit of traditional culture at the Bon Odori matsuri in Hibiya Park.
A pretty good day all in.
On my way back to Japan from the UK earlier this week I had to spend the night in Doha airport. I was there for seven hours (slightly too short to get a free hotel stopover}. I arrived just after midnight and until my flight to Tokyo left at 7:50 I was free to rest and stretch my legs outs. It was a mostly sleepiness night as you can imagine. I was unable to sleep on the chairs like the passengers waiting to return home in the top photo, so I ended up walking around taking a few photographs.
Doha is a busy airport the planes take-off and land through-out the night. It is also a very modern and quite beautiful place that is kept shining by an army of itinerant workers.
I would see them wondering around, little more than shadows among the shining marble and sparkling opulence, sweeping, dusting, tidying-up and tidying-away. Nearly one and a half million migrants work in the tiny Gulf State of Qatar; making up around 94% of the total population. While the 6% of native Qataris live with one of the highest per-capita GDPs in the world many of the Asian migrants that work for them are treated very badly. Those in the construction industry especially have been abused, underpaid and and even killed in accidents with a regularity that created a global outcry and has taken the gloss from the controversial 2022 World Cup preparations.
I didn’t have time to leave the airport and learn more about the lives of such workers in Qatar. It is a story that Qatar is keen to not have told also so it probably wouldn’t have been easy to follow up. But the almost invisible cleaners that kept Doha airport gleaming were a constant presence throughout my night wandering around the place.
A quick trip out to Hanada International Airport in Tokyo yesterday, to see my family off to the UK.
After they had taken off I walked around the airport taking a few photos.
It was he first time had been here. I’d been to Hanada before of course but not the International Terminal which I remember opening, with much fanfare a few years ago. I was quite impressed: it really is a nice place, with a good, vary large viewing deck; fun shops, including the largest Scalextric track I’ve ever seen. The building is modern and airy and it is just really good for photos. (see above).
I am waiting now to hear my family are safe on the ground and happily ensconced with my British family and I can relax.
Busy day today.
Had a nice little shoot on Friday last with the Japan Times.
Well I say “nice little” job but actually the logistics were quite difficult and not a little intimidating.
I had to shoot a portrait of rape survivor and activist, Catherine “Jane” Fisher as she handed a copy of her book to staff at the American Embassy.
The rub of course is photography at the American Embassy is not allowed. Also as the book details her 12 year fight for justice and a grudging, official acceptance of the truth in the case of for her rape by a US sailor in 2002, the embassy staff were not likely to be that accommodating to me recording what to them was not a newsworthy event. At least not news that they wanted to be too widely distributed. Indeed the American military and other government authorities have acted throughout her struggle with a degree of obstruction that is mind-boggling:
For example the US military police quickly handed over the investigation of the crime to the local, Kanagawa police, as the assault had happened off-base. This may sound like a good idea but anyone who knows the Japanese police service will know that this would leave Catherine in the hands, and at the mercy of, the seriously inept. So it proved when she quickly understood that the idiot officers around her, at best, didn’t know what they were doing in such a situation and wasted time measuring the location of the crime or insensitively asked her to re-enact the harrowing events with a sniggering policeman. All while important physical evidence was allowed to be lost. At worst they didn’t believe her and actively accused her of lying.
Of course, due to agreements the US government makes with many countries where its armed forces are stationed, this pantomime of truth-seeking was also totally toothless because the Japanese police have no jurisdiction over US military personnel. When US servicemen commit crimes overseas they are routinely tried in US courts and sentenced much more leniently: that is if they are tried at all. The man who raped Catherine was quickly posted back to the US where he was given an honourable discharge which absolved the military authorities of any responsibilities to pursue the case.
That Catherine had gone up against such odds made her someone that I really wanted to meet. On the phone the night before, as we discussed how to get the photos the paper wanted, I had promised to “do her justice” and she had laughed at the unintended pun.
With the editor`s warning ringing in my ears about not getting arrested, I met Catherine near the embassy and tried to work out our battle plans
Some sort of guerrilla shoot had been suggested to get around the photographic restriction of the place and the sensitive subject matter but as we talked and walked close to where the shots would need to be taken it became apparent that the suggested locations were going to provide none of the imagery I, and more importantly the paper, wanted. It was clear I needed to get closer, which is my usual working style anyway.
How to do this without getting stopped was something I wasn’t quite on yet though. Was I was going to ask permission or shoot and hope I get away with it? I hadn’t yet decided. To a degree it depended on the friendliness of the embassy staff members that had arranged to accept the book at 10:30am. If they looked nice I might be able to negotiate a quick shot. If they didn’t I had two further options: shoot under my arm, silent mode, sneaking a photo that might or might not work; or shoot until stopped and apologise hoping that they didn’t ask me to delete the photos. It is after all always easier to apologise than ask permission. But at the embassy I wasn’t sure that particular photographic truism would hold.
The sidewalk next to the embassy wall is closed and you are only allowed through on embassy business. After explaining we had a meeting Catherine and I walked up to the gate and waited in front of a policeman who was checking each person in and out.
We were a bit early but I had my camera out in my hand. I wanted the policemen to see it, to understand it was part of me and both it and I had a purpose there. In preperation I had a wide angle lens on and had set the iso a little higher than the sunny weather needed, so that I could close down the f-stop and get more depth of focus, and I had put the motor drive on high speed so that I could get a lot of shots in the short time I was expecting to be allowed. I didn’t take any photos while we waited of course: I didn’t want any rules explicitly voiced that I was intending to soon disobey. From where I stood I also couldn’t see any signs saying photography wasn’t allowed though I knew they were around somewhere. Most importantly I made a point of standing outside the line of the embassy grounds and on Japanese soil where photography, technically, is still allowed.
At ten-thirty two women came through the security building and down to meet Catherine. They looked quite young and open as they approached but they didn’t smile at all as we greeted each other. Catherine handed over the book and as she explaining the message written inside I shot 4 or 5 images. The embassy woman, who was holding the other end of the book, quickly asked why I was taking photos and Catherine, bless her, just carried on explaining the meaning of her message to the ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, as I shot some more. Eventually the embassy woman looked quite angry and asked me to stop, I tried to explain that we wanted a record of this event but she said the embassy didn’t as it was not an official embassy action.
That was the end of my hand over images. Which the paper probably wouldn’t be allowed to use anyway.
A curt goodbye and the embassy staff were gone. But I still needed a portrait of Catherine holding her book “as close to the embassy as possible”. As the police had said and done nothing during my earlier shooting I decided to risk a few more shot right here on the embassy’s doorstep. I got Catherine to hold-up another copy of her book and started to shoot a few quick portraits. This time to policeman intervened and said it wasn’t allowed but I mangled some Japanese back at him about a portrait being okay and carried on shooting. Japanese police generally get confused easily by people arguing back and my unclearness had the desired effect. I shot 5 or 6 more images with the US embassy and the police in the background and then we quickly got out of there.
I was actually quite nervous and even shaking a bit: you don’t fuck with he US embassy lightly, but thankfully the shaking didn’t affect the photos. I was also carrying Catherine`s quite heavy handbag, so that she looked less encumbered in the shots, which made my arms heavy and sway a bit as I moved around. All in all it was a bit of an effort actually but I got an okay shot (top photo) and the Japan Times used it on Tuesday in two articles about Catherine and her book. (Though look at the photos in the photo viewer, not at the top of the page which is looks rather green and flat for some reason)
But is was also fun. I like a challenge as a photographer. The portraits I took of Catherine later were technically better because they were less rushed and better lit: the sun was high and strong as we stood outside the embassy but using flash, to even out the skin tones, would have been pushing my luck a bit especially when even using a camera was a risk I wasn’t sure I was going to get away with.
A good day in all photographically and personally as I got to meet and spend time with a very strong and interesting woman.
Busy talk soon.
A good day out on Friday, just wandering aimlessly around taking pictures of whatever I came across. Just like I used to do back when I shot photos while travelling. Indeed it did feel a bit like travelling again as, though I ended up in some familiar places like Azubu, Shibuya, Ebisu and Roppongi, I hadn’t been to some of them for quite a long time and it was good to see them fresh again. Istarted the day off with a visit to my sons’ school to watch them practising for their sportsday. You can see my Sola on the far left of the top picture.
It was a hot day and the Friday night ciders with good friends went down very well after a good day out.
Nothing much else to write, busy as always just wanted to share some shots.
Going to be heading out again today. Something I want to shoot
Do love just wandering around sometimes though seeing what catches my eye like the view from the Hikarie Tower in Shibuya. Love High buildings and the views you get.
You shouldn’t do this to a Ferrari.
Am I right?
Working a few other stories at the moment, just something fun to keep you entertained while I shoot and scribble away.