Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fireworks in Takasaki

My summer vacation is, for all intents and purposes, already over. On Monday I have to report back to work. I want to puke just thinking about it. And I actually LIKE my job. Can you imagine my misery if I happened to hate what I do for a living? Ouch!

But I'm not ready to let summer go just yet. Though compared to previous years, it was a cold, wet and nasty season this year. Where's this global warming, I want to know?

So let's hold on to the best bits of Japanese summer vacation time! Matsuri, hanabi, kakigori, mikoshi, choco bananas and other street food... Yukatas and fans and elaborate hairdos...

I like almost all of them. Except maybe for yukatas and choco bananas. I can't stand bananas. And I'll pass on elaborate hairdos simply because I have very little hair.

But my favorite, I guess, would be hanabi. Fireworks...

Oddly enough, usually I don't get a chance to watch them... There's always something unexpected and unplanned happening on the same day. Either a thunderstorm, or hail, or a sick friend who needs to be taken to the hospital ASAP...

So this year I was very happy that it didn't rain (well, almost), and that I could be in the right place at the right time.
The place was Takasaki. And the right time? Just take a look at these photos.



and more:


These here looked like sunflowers, right?





There were also thematic visuals as well. I missed Anpanman and a few others. All I managed to shoot was this cute heart:


And a jellyfish!






And just normal, standard issue fireworks, as well...



And more!






And more!





I don't know how to take nice fireworks photos. So I was just doing my best trying to point the camera in the right direction.





Which is not as easy as it sounds.





And considering that I was really, really stupid and didn't use a tripod, just a monopod, I think I did a pretty good job.





But hey, I never claimed I was smart.
Sometimes I just get lucky!
Yay me!!!


Overall, I was very surprised at how friendly, relaxed and laid back the summer festival in Takasaki was. It reminded me a lot of Kanuma Aki Matsuri.

And speaking of Kanuma... that's the next hanabi I am hoping to see later on this year!








Sunday, August 17, 2014

Random thoughts (with Yasukuni in the background)

I am so sorry that this blog has been left to rot for another year. I really need to do something about it. Otherwise, it will turn into a once yearly Yasukuni update webpage. And that is not my intention.

Hopefully in the coming months I will have more energy and drive to update it on a more or less regular basis.

In the morning - still not so many people.


But yes, speaking of a Yasukuni update… I have another one for you.
It would not be August 15th without me trying to see what was going on at the most controversial Shinto shrine in all of Japan.

But today, I will not write about the controversies. That you can find in any western media news outlet.
I will not write about what Yasukuni is and why it’s so controversial. That you can find on wikipedia, and I’m too lazy to copy/paste wiki paragraphs here. You can find that on other blogs about Japan.

Paying their respects to the war dead.


I’m not going to describe what was going on at Yasukuni on August 15th in 2014, either. That you can see in the photos I’m going to post.

What I will talk about today is what popped into my head while I was at Yasukuni and watched the press folk at work.

White doves waiting to be released.


You see, I like public events. I like traditional events. I like cultural events. I even like religious events. I like 5-in-1 the most.
I’ve attended a fair share of matsuri (traditional Japanese festivals) and at those matsuri I’ve had a fair share of interactions with the Japanese media. I’m saying “Japanese”, because very few foreign reporters make their way to our provincial events. The only exception is the Toshogu Spring Festival in Nikko. You can see one or two foreign press guys there.

Steady, steady... It's just a bird, not a baby panther.


And it’s interesting to see how unfazed by the hordes of amateur hobby photographers the Japanese pros are. In fact, what you can see, is a very unofficial symbiosis of sorts between the press crowd and the little people shooting for fun and pleasure. I’ve experienced this myself. On numerous occasions the pros let us sit and shoot in their shadow. They let us follow their cameramen. They let us shoot from the same locations. There were even times when they allow us to shadow them all the way to the special press only posts.

It might be just a bird, but dad, it just crapped on my shoes!


In return, they expect the same. And I am happy to oblige. I know that what is fun and games for me, is a day of work for them. I know they need to deliver quality shots and that kindness begets kindness. The pros seem to know it as well. (The old retired grandpas with their fancy cameras fighting to the death for the best shooting position, on the other hand… that’s another story).

Multi-tasking.


The only times when I could witness gaijin photogs at work was at Kanamara festival (the pink penis matsuri in Kawasaki city) and at Yasukuni-jinja. And the difference in general behavior, manners and attitude towards the public at large and the subjects being photographed could not be more stark when compared with their Japanese press colleagues.

And... fruuuu....


Wait silly bird! You're flying the wrong way!


Why is that? Why are the western press guys (they're almost always guys – middle aged, beer-bellied and sweaty from lugging all that equipment around) such rude, entitled asshats? For it seems that only that kind covers the two events in Japan that I also attend.
Are they that unsatisfied with their work? Would they rather be somewhere else? Shooting something else? Are they failed paparazzi who didn't have what it takes to hide in the bushes behind celebrity homes and now must slog as press freelancers? Yet at the same time still showing the oh-so-refined paparazzi attitude and sense of asshattedness?

Oops! Somebody didn't know they were supposed to wrap the tip of the flag pole in black cloth.



I don’t know the answers to those questions. What I do know is that some of the rudest and most ignorant examples of gaijin press photogs flock to Yasukuni every year.

But still, props for being brave enough to carry a flag.


A swine of a man from the European Pressphoto Agency stood out last Friday as a prime example of such behavior.
Sorry, my man, it’s really not my fault that you can’t get a good spot and don’t know how to frame a shot with what you are given. The other 12 guys apparently could, but you couldn’t and you had to take out your anger on me. Not nice. As a Japanese woman standing next to me observed, you acted like that towards me, because, like you, I am also a foreigner. So the societal norms you have to observe while dealing with the Japanese, did not apply. And as other people who witnessed your behavior noticed, you would have never dared to speak to a Japanese person like that.

Right-wingers are always proud enough to carry flags.


I took your photo, but don't worry, I am not going to post it here. Unlike you, I still have some pretense of decency left in me.

But what happened to the handsome uyoku? Every year they are getting uglier and uglier.


And ignorant? Oh yes. While shooting the WW2 cosplayers in uniform, one foreign press guy apparently didn’t realize that it’s a very common sight (the dressed up muppets are there every year), and upon noticing that a gaijin woman was standing next to him, tried to be friendly and asked:
“Your first time in Japan?”

It was getting more and more crowded as the day progressed.


I didn’t know how to answer, because considering my trips to Tonga and Korea this year, it’s technically my second time in Japan. This year. So instead, I answered with a question:
“Your first time at Yasukuni?”

He:
“Yasu…? Oh, you mean this place here? Yeah!”

And then you people wonder where the garbage in the media comes from.
Now you know.

Of course the muppets were there. Since Abe didn't show, these guys were the main attraction.


When I got tired and it was time to visit the nearest Starbucks (that lime cooler was sending secret telepathic messages to me), I started walking towards the subway entrance (Kudanshita).
The crowd was much larger than earlier in the morning and there were more cops in full riot gear (there were none when I arrived in the morning). There were also more foreign press guys documenting the occasion.

Yep, he's there every year too.


And these guys.


One of them took a shot identical to mine. He, with his massive pro gear, me – with my smartphone.
With an air of superiority he looked over my shoulder to see my photo and seeing that I was editing it for social media, he got visibly aggravated;
“You can’t just go ahead and immediately post it on the internet!” he said.

And why not?


Matching white shirts, nice. But couldn't they coordinate the trousers as well? Fail.





This only proves what most people on the planet already know – that the traditional media guys are sooooo out of touch with the social media, they might as well be in a different galaxy. They have no clue where the action’s at. The entire revolutions have been fought on social media, but apparently this pro press guy still thought he should have first rights to the picture.

Nice t-shirt, dude.


I understand he was working. I understand he wanted to sell the photo. But guess what? By the time his photo hits the news outlets, it has been taken a bazillion of times by amateurs and posted a bazillion of times on Facebook, Instagram, and a bazillion of blogs, not to mention Twitter.

First stop for most people - temizuya to ritually purity themselves. Just be glad there's no Ebola in Japan.


One of the news outlets that does understand that is the Tokyo Bureau of Agence France-Press. They were instagramming the events as they happened. But that photog apparently didn't work for them. Oh well…

I finally got me a proper goshuin book. Yay me!


The contrast between the Japanese media guys and the foreign media guys was quite clear. The Japanese press folk seemed a lot more relaxed and chilled. They understood the Japanese obsession with taking photos and were surprisingly accommodating. They didn’t scream at the public or told the public to get lost, because they wanted a clear shot. Somehow they managed to get the photos they wanted without acting like entitled, PMSing primadonnas.

The cops were ready.


The paddy wagons were ready.


I don’t like everything about Japan. I complain plenty. But one thing I do like about this country is the politeness (forced or genuine) that the Japanese society is so famous for. Life is hard as it is. Why make it harder by acting like jerks? Especially in situations where simple “please?” would suffice?


And here's the highlight of my Yasukuni visit. Just look at those cool bikes!

Awesomeness!!!

Thank you for reading!!!
See you soon!!!






I'll do my best to post a new entry this week!
Ciao!

Friday, August 16, 2013

At Yasukuni-jinja on August 15th

Hello world!
Remember me?
No? It's ok. I know, it's been a looooong time.

But today is a day as good as any to resuscitate this poor excuse for a blog.
soooo... here we go!

Yesterday was August 15th, and if you wanted to experience a side of Tokyo not very often seen by foreigners (or locals, for that matter), the place to be was Yasukuni-jinja. Yes, the controversial shinto shrine.

True, the shrine is there all year long, but on August 15th (the anniversary of Japan's surrender in WW2), the circus comes to town.

Yesterday was no different. At least on the surface. At least to a casual observer. But if you'd been to Yasukuni on other 15ths of August, you could tell that this year it WAS different. How?

It was boring. My boggingly boring. And for the most part - very orderly and civilized.

People came, paid respects, clapped their hands shinto style, bowed, and left. Next!



The only half-memorable event was held at 10 AM. In one of the shrine precincts, a ceremony dedicated to World Peace took place. Spectators were handed white doves, and after a minute of silence, at 10AM sharp, the birds, as symbols of peace, were released into the sky.

I'm a poultry fan, so I thought it might be a good idea to saunter over there, push my way through the anticipating crowd and anxious reporters from all over the world, and take a look for myself. This is the same ceremony that we were unable to witness during our previous visit. Why? Because somebody overslept and we were late! Ahem, ahem...

This time I was on time and this is what I saw.


Yep. The birds are all here. The people and photographers, too. All ready already!

At 5 minutes to 10, priests and shrine maidens started handing out the birds. I was repeatedly asked to take one, and repeatedly, I had to decline. The reporter standing next to me was quite unhappy about it, he really wanted to have a shot of a dove-holding gaijin woman at Yasukuni, I suppose. He made his dissatisfaction known by "accidentally" hitting me with his bag and his equipment. Over and over again. I finally put an end to it by pushing myself in front of him. Stupid jerk.


The people around me were holding terrified birds. To be fair, some people were equally, if not more, terrified. Especially one young man who got a special present from his dove.



A second after I took this photo, the guy on the right got shitted (shat?) on. That's what you get for squeezing a pissed off pigeon.


A thoughtful moment of silence...


Ready....




Set...

Go!



Peace to the world, la la la la... Oh, wait. That's a different occasion.


And here they went...

What else?
There were lots of flags:



Some inept uyoku wannabes:



Who didn't even know that the golden knob at the end of the flag pole should have been wrapped in black for the occasion, like so:


Ehhh... what is this world coming to, if a common gaijin knows the August 15th right-wing etiquette better than right-wingers... Shame on you, uyoku boys, shame!


And, as always, Tokyo's finest were at the scene, doing what they're best at - directing pedestrian traffic. In full bunker gear, no less.


This team here, positioned very strategically by the first Kudanshita subway entry/exit, was very helpfully announcing that this exit is for exiting only. To enter the subway, please go 50 meters straight ahead, thank you very much, and we apologize for the inconvenience.


And that was the day at Yasukuni-jinja.
I got me a goshuin (red shrine/ temple stamp) as a souvenir and went back home.



I doubt I'll be back next year.
Honestly, I'd rather play solitaire mahjongg and eat potato chips.

But this trip gave me a much needed excuse to visit the import store at the station in Uts. I bought tortillas and salsa. Yay!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Yasukuni - revisited

Ok, so it's hot. As expected. And humid. Also as expected. And our living room aircon is still dead. Not as expected. We had two different guys coming and looking at it and scratching their heads, and finally this morning we got a phone call that a third guy will show up this afternoon. Hopefully, he can fix it. Because living like this is driving me crazy. We are all holed up in the bedroom again and the cats are getting restless. And frankly, I can't blame them. I'm getting restless myself. I think I might go to the laundromat later today.

But that's not what I was going to complain about. I mean, write about.

August 15th came and went and, even though we did plan on visiting Yasukuni that day, we didn't. Why? Because somebody (hint - not me) didn't feel like getting up at an ungodly hour of the morning. He opened one eye, mumbled something along the lines of "jdkasdjaskjd too early lshfkajf sleep flksdjldjf too hot", then rolled over and ignored me.

He did make it up to me later in the day by cleaning the entire house top to bottom and taking me out to dinner. To MY favorite place. One that he doesn't like. Hah! Serves him right. And what did I do on August 15th? Stayed in the bedroom, naturally. With the aircon on, of course. With two cats for company.

And we could have witnessed something like that instead:


or that:



Yes, those are photos from a few years back, but I doubt if much has changed since then.

Instead, I thought today we might revisit Yasukuni on a less crowded day. On April 21st during its annual spring festival - Reitaisai.

The shrine looked suitably springish:


Unfortunately, the season for cherry blossoms was pretty much over by then. Pity. :(


The priests, all nicely lined up, marched to a roped off area to the left of the main shrine building.
There, they did their priestly things:




It was all very brief and very compact. After that, they retreated to the shrine.

And what about the small crowd of people who came to watch the events? They milled around aimlessly and most of them moved to the other side of the shrine where an open-air concert was going on. Mellow acoustic music, peace-themed, of course.

Some paid their respects and then left:



There were quite a few foreigners there that day and they looked visibly disappointed. Not sure what they expected. Riots? Protesters? Demonstrations? Wrong time of the year, folks.

I didn't visit the garden, but I know it's there. And it's quite nice, actually:



The whole place was very quiet and, dare I say it, even boring.



On my way out, I saw this tour bus. How appropriate, I thought:



And then I went to look for a toilet and a Starbucks. I found both right nearby the metro station.