Thursday, December 27, 2007

My Sticks

For christmas dinner this year Mitz invited a group of friends and asked me to cook a chicken (I went one better and did a turkey as well, but used too much flour in the gravy).

After photographing some chopsticks the other week for a presentation set brochure, I had an idea to continue the theme and asked our friends to bring the chopsticks they use at home to christmas dinner. My plan was simply to snap them holding their chopsticks as they usually do.

There is a correct way to hold chopsticks of course, but like the knife and fork there are many other ways in use. There is also a huge variety of designs and everybodies hands are different. I thought it would make an interesting series.

On the day however I found myself with so little free time as to be un-amusing, despite getting up at 5:30 in the morning, so the final pics shot on the run are far from satisfactory. The difference between the exposure required for the sticks and the hand, and the resulting effect on the background light will take a little more fine tuning and time for each shot, but for the moment the following four snaps should give you an idea of what I am heading for.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I know, I know.... the lighting is off.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Dashing Blade - The Final Cut

Nagoya does Okinawa

As you may or may not know I live in Nagoya, a city situated in the middle of the Japanese mainland. I do not live in Okinawa. There is a surprisingly large amount of people in Nagoya who are not from Okinawa and it has often been noted that with it’s conservative character, Nagoya is very unlike Okinawa (unless you count the modern architecture which is the same everywhere).

Despite not being Okinawa, the number of Okinawan dance groups and music clubs in this region is astounding. The style is prominent enough to be included into the Nagoya parade each year, it has it’s own events throughout the prefecture and a network of supporting committees run by volunteers with a level of dedication that would shame most governments. What is it about the music of Okinawa that provokes this kind of involvement?

Okinawan music can be simplified into three groups. Minyo (folk music), Eisa (festival music) and pop music, with famous solo and group artists such as Natsukawa Rimi and Orange Range.
The reservoir of Okinawan Minyo is added to at the staggering rate of three to four hundered new songs a year. Try to find any other region in Japan with a folk scene like that.

The Jamisen, the Okinawan shamisen, is shorter than it’s mainland counterpart and covered with snake skin rather than cat skin. During the war, people used whatever tins and wire came to hand to make their Jamisen and continued to make music.

The singing style is melodic, and singers modulate their voices to accompany the sanshin. Songs cover everything from being a taxi driver to lost love. They are used as a lullaby for the children and some have all the moral content of a fable. At their roots they are of course a social tool, but as the popularity of Okinawan Minyo has increased, it has become a much appreciated art form, with tickets for the live events priced accordingly.

Eisa began with the Okinawan hand dancing style. A distinctive and slightly batty looking dance, but certainly less daft than the round and round dance done to the theme of Top Gun.
With the improvement of the local economy in Okinawa after the war came the drums. The Eisa moves at a fast pace and encourages people to join in. It is a style that has proven to be immensely popular on the mainland, and in the same way that tribal drumming took off back home, the Eisa encourages 一体感 (いったいかん), a sense of common identity. In this sense it is not unlike a Bon-Odori on uppers.
The spread of Eisa is probably due to the spread of Okinawans into the mainland workforce after Okinawa was subsumed into “Japan”. Like Irish folk music in the U.K it seems to attract and involve people from all walks. It is a mark of the tenacity of the Okinawan people that, like the Irish, they suffered the persecution and prejudice of the mainland but won through with their positive and danceable music. The colder winter months are traditionally off periods for the Eisa groups as they are outdoor festival types, Okinawa being the semi-tropical region that it is. Sadly, the pop group Orange Range has yet to take a break of any significance, but one lives in hope.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Dashing Blade

My friend asked me to take a few photos of a travelling knife. Obviously inspired by the story of the travelling garden gnome, the knife is being circulated around the readership of the web page 'Blade Forums', and recently arrived for a brief visit to Japan.

I'm a bit lost as to the fascination with knives, guns and the like. After a brief period of interest during my teens, and the purchase of a particularly fine sheath knife in a scary weapons store in South Africa, I lost interest. No real need for them in daily life, although I understand the interest in good workmanship.

However, it was fun taking some snaps of the blade yesterday, trying to give a Japanese feeling to the pictures. Only half successful, but cause for much laughter at our home party last night as non-knife fanatic friends joked about the oddness of sitting a knife upon a pole in a Japanese garden.

In retrospect I could have worked a lot harder to produce more images like the first in this post, rather than putting the knife into a very un-knife-like setting and snapping away. The knife remained, for the most part, as incongruous to it's surroundings as the gnome was to Big Ben, but without the joke appeal.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Behind the Kabuki theatre in Fushimi, Nagoya, stands an automated puppet display at the entrance to one of the small shopping streets. Unexpectedly, as this is a puppet display on the open street, there is an "Automated External Defibrillator" attached. These have become quite a common site in train stations lately, but having one on the open street?

Well it may say something for the quality of Kabuki in Nagoya (my first experience of Kabuki was stimulating, confusing, but not quite heart stopping) or the amazing local mechanical dolls. Perhaps the patrons of the Fushimi shopping streets are of an average older age, or maybe the local tebasaki (fried chicken wings) or kushi-katsu (deep fried pork on sticks) is of a cholesterol content beyond McDonald's wildest dreams?

This is so far the only outdoor AED I have seen. My wildest imaginings could not begin to include one of these on the streets of England.
"Watch this boys.... Oi, John....."
"Ere, look at'im twitchin'"

But there is more. Perhaps a story of tragedy or simple forgetfulness, for just behind the AED from where I stood, placed neatly on the granite surface, were a pair of black brogues.

Where the back has been bent down suggests that they were (are?) the property of a man who was having to remove his shoes more regularly than most. They were obviously well used, but in good condition save for the back, suggesting a careful owner. Would a careful owner really leave them at the base of an automated puppet machine at mid-day? What possible explanation could there be?

I have seen plenty of single shoes abandoned on the streets of Nagoya. Enough to suspect that Da-Da is preparing to make a comeback in Chubu. There is no doubt however, that this is the strangest situation, and the only one in which I have seen an abandoned PAIR!

I therefore submit these photographs to you as possible proof of the existance of houseproud human-abducting aliens in the Nagoya area, or the beginnings of a new form of ritual marking the demise of those upon whose gravestone shall be written:

"Additional Explanation Desired"

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sea legs

Last Saturday was the 100th anniversary of Nagoya's shipping port. Amongst the many events held to celebrate the centenery was a visit from two ships of the Japanese National Institute for Sea Training, the Kaiwo-Maru (pictured below) and the Nippon-Maru.

The training institute (it's mission: to seek out new cadets, to boldly show what others have known before) has been an independant institution since 2001, but was originally founded as part of the Ministry of Communication in 1943. It provides practical training for students of various maritime colleges and universities, helping would be sailors (seen in orange posing with a local family below - the kid's smile is priceless) to gain their sea legs.

The Kaiwo-Maru has 36 sails, and was built in 1989. It looked fantastic set against the backdrop of a moody winter sky and drew huge crowds. The Maru part of it's name is a suffix given to most boats in Japan and there are many theories as to how this practice came about:

Maru (丸) means 'circle'. One theories suggests that the ships were origionaly thought of as floating castles, and that maru suggests the concentric circles of defence surrounding the castle. Other theories link Maru to a divine origin, an idea of a return to the beginning after a journey and the idea of the circle representing completeness (the boat being a world unto itself when at sea).

Both vessls will leave Nagoya tomorrow. The Kaiwo-Maru can be seen in Kobe between the 23rd and 29th of this month, while the Nippon-Maru will remain there until the 1st of December.

Friday, November 09, 2007


In Japan, many things change to suit the winter season. Air conditoner turns to air heater, coffee tables become kotatsu (a cross between a table, a sleeping bag and an electric heater), and vending machines everywhere start selling a range of heated, nay hot, beverages.

Walking to school yesterday I saw this empty can of soup perched on a wall. Oshiruko is a soup made from sweet adzuki beans and is often eaten during the winter months. This vending machine version offers real beans inside (つぶ入り)and claims to have a home-made flavour or feel to it (手作り風), which explains the picture of the old lady.

I am no fan of the adzuki bean. Although a Brit, and a big a fan of Baked Beans with my full English breakfast, the sweet adzuki bean is not something I have taken to at all. The texture and the sweetness seem at odds with eachother, but it is as unavoidable in everyday life here as green tea (a drink with which adzuki based snacks are often served and which I do like).

So have courage to venture out on those cold winter days. A stomach warming, hand warming beverage of your choice is available now at the vending machine near you.... if you happen to be in Japan.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Autumn Love


" Autumn has caught us in our summer wear.... " (Philip Larkin)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The Tsubaki (not to be confused with Tsubaki, Tsubaki or Tsubaki) is known as 'Camellia Japonica' in English. I found these seed cases on the road side on Sunday.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Statisticaly speaking

Here are some of the stats from my hit counter this month that detail how some poeple came to visit 'Japanese Light'. Sad but true, the posts that mention anything vaguely pant-like will bring the hits.

Getting visited and receiving comments gives me a warm fuzzy feeling of contentment, but porn searched visits are like the experience of having everyones attention until you realize you have a huge zit on your nose.

My fault for mentioning the P-word I suppose. Sorry, move along now, nothing to see here, move along.

cartoon porn
roricon (roricon = lolicon = lolita complex)
roricon pics
anime girl taking off pants
anime undies
blogspot roricon
completely free cartoon porn
english cartoon porn movies

A late postcard from London

A picture from London that I thought I had lost, of the houses of parliment taken just after light up on a sunny summer eve. Very postcard like.

That evening I met a Russian student who had travelled down from Scotland where he was studying to be a doctor. He already spoke perfect English and was learning Japanese to be able to visit/study/work in Japan (the Japanese evidently having a good reputation in medical circles).

More on Japanese medicine as experienced by ordinary folk in the future I think. For now, just the memory of a very rushed summer in the U.K, and a few days happy snapping.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Autumn's long night

秋の夜長 (あきのよなが ) Aki no yonaga means 'Autumn's long night'. It is a phrase commonly used to describe the longer night times in this season.


A member of the Chindon-ya performance group at the street performers festival on Saturday.

This year was the 30th anniversary of the street performers festival in Osu Kannon, Nagoya. Amongst the many and varied performances was a Chindon group from Osaka.
I saw them there last year for the first time. A real, working Chindonya!
You can find out what a Chindonya is by reading the link here, but I thought it would be more interesting to show you what they write about themselves, and have spent a couple of hours (cough... long hours) translating the first section of their promotional material from this page.
Although not a professional translation, I think it retains some of the flavour of the original that should help give you a better idea of what a Chindonya is and does. Excuse any strange wording.

“You want and exciting atmosphere for you shop opening or sale.
At the lively beat of the drum, your counter will quickly take on a festival feeling.
For a business unsure of how to liven trade, the Chindon group is the answer. People gather from far and wide to hear the sound of the Chindoya!
Similarly, by performing a circuit in local residential areas, the Chindon group can help to show the sincerity of the storekeeper, make people feel more personally attached to a local store or business and at the same time make it the word on everyone’s lips.
During such promotions we can also listen to the needs and requests of residents, and report these back to the store or business. The Chindon group is, after all, an information medium for the local area.
If you decide to favor our group with your business, you get the youngest, freshest and most content rich group in Japan! We are number 1!
Just one call and we will fly to anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world! Contact the Chindon group information center now.”

Monday, October 22, 2007


In June I wrote a post titled OAP (for Old Age Photographers) in which I used the phrase 'Rotographers' (Rojin (= old people) + Photographer). It is a phrase and an image that I find myself looking for at every festival I attend in Japan now. The silver year snappers, the retired generation who may be one of the last generations to enjoy the retirement benefits of the governments after war promise of employment for life.

Here are a few of the snaps of these photographers that keep the mid-range digital SLR market from stagnating:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The test of a photographer

Out of interest, I dropped into the head office of the Asahi Shinbun, one of Japan’s national newspapers, to find out what would be involved in becoming a staff photographer.

The young lady sitting alone at the reception desk was very kind, and after I had explained that I wanted to ask some advice about becoming a staff photographer she immediately phoned upstairs.

“There’s a gentleman in reception who would like to know how to become a staff photographer. Yes, Yes, Oh, he’s a foreigner by the way. Yes, thank you.
(looks at me) One of our photographers in on his way down to talk to you. Please wait in here.” “This is going very well”, I thought.

I was shown into a small waiting area and after only a couple of minutes was greeted by the photographer. I explained why I had dropped in and asked if he could give me some advice. Looking a little wary, as if he had not quite decided whether my language ability was up the explanation, he began to describe the application process.

Each applicant for a position within the company is required to take a ‘Nyu-sha shiken’, an entrance examination and a health check. After the test, comes an interview, and after that for the lucky few another interview and the chance to show ones portfolio. The brick wall in the process for the non-native Japanese speaker however comes right at the beginning. The test!

The test is a mixture of language ability, historical and general knowledge, reason and mathematics. It is unrelated to the position you are applying for. It requires a level of Japanese that even the top level of the Japanese proficiency test does not prepare you for and the mathematics test is at least A-level (high school) standard. It is difficult, and it is a test based on the Japanese system of education.

I do not know what it takes to become a staff photographer in other parts of the world, but to become a company employee in almost every large Japanese company you would have to take the test. This could be the point where I start whining about the Japanese system and the way it discriminates against foreigners etc but I will not for two reasons. Firstly, the level of ‘discrimination’ that I as a westerner experience is nothing compared to the experiences of other nationalities. The second reason is even simpler. This is just one of the things that makes living in Japan so interesting! Challenges you never expected. I suspect this is the reason some people stay for a long time, because they still didn’t overcome all of them.

Some people, the photographer told me, are hired because of their track record, and sometimes freelancers are used for specific tasks, but with an unusual hint of realism in my voice, I think that a staff position with a Japanese newspaper in any role is out of my reach….
…for the moment.


A defeated samurai general roars his challenge to the conquering army during a battle re-enactment held as part of 'The Parade of the Three Heroes' for the Nagoya Festival last weekend.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Private Population

Campaigners outside kanayama station, Nagoya, on Saturday afternoon, calling for support for the democracy movement in Myanmar (Burma). One of the Japanese volunteers spoke of the difficulty of obtaining the support of the Japanese people. While the Japanese media has been working overtime to report the death of journalist Kenji Nagai, the subsequent repatriation of his body and his very well attended funeral, the Japanese people themselves seem reluctant to show open support.

The volunteer spoke of a protest held in Nagoya two weeks ago to highlight the oppression of the people of Myanmar by the current millitary junta. A total of 70 people attended. He was dissapointed with the turnout, comparing it to rallies held in London and New York.

He reasoned that the Japanese people were disinclined to involve themselves on a personal level with a problem outside their boarders, adding that even the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents provoked little response from the people themselves. This may or may not be the case, but Nagoya is known to be one of the most conservative areas of Japan, and perhaps not the easiest place to provoke a such a public response.

The military junta of Myanmar still continues to round up opposition, and seems to be targetting people like Kenji Nagai, journalists who wish to show the world the truth.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


A quickie from the world of advertising media. The commercial below was the winner of the Cannes Lions grand prix award for film advertising this year. It is a commercial for the Unilever Dove brand and was (cleverly) released on Youtube before anything else. Youtube as marketing? You'd better believe it!

My friend is 'in advertising' in a Japanese company and attended the festival this year. He is fascinated with the 'other side of the coin' approach to advertising that can be seen in commercials such as this and many other commercials from abroad.

In Japan, the t.v commercial is very often a very direct thing, with occasional imports from abroad adding spice. This years festival has, for him at least, provided another avenue of ideas to explore. It is possible that in Japan we may see the growth of commercials that must be contemplated, that require more audience participation so to speak. I am no weather reporter, but that seems to be the way the wind is blowing.

Anyway, back to the clips in hand. Sit back and enjoy the first, and then crack up and enjoy a very very well produced parody in the second.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nakagawa Dusk

The Real Me

Mars Base

Autumn is a time to watch the skies.
"Japan has four seasons, what about your country?" is one question that any foreigner living in Japan is likely to be asked. Certainly the transition from summer to autumn here is a very clear one. One day it is warm, the next it is cool. The autumn fruits, the falling leaves, the fantastic sunsets and the ever changing clouds.
Yes, my country has four seasons, often in one day.

Monday, October 08, 2007

No parking signs

I don't remember ever seeing signs like this in the U.K, or anywhere else outside Japan.


While you are on line....

Funny place the internet, travelling without moving. You can even be in two places at once!
While you are here then, you might also consider being here as well.

Chris Willson is an Okinawa based photographer who uses medium format (big) film to record images from all over Japan. There are some beautiful images on the Travel 67 site and Chris has just added a new festivals section to the site gallery. You may find it worth your while being in only the one place to appreciate them fully.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Happy Birthday

Happy birthday Mitsuyo! (25 again!!!)

Friday, October 05, 2007

New Beginnings

Bar Arco of Sakae, Nagoya will be closing at the end of this month. The closure had been predicted for early next year but the Nomura San the bar owner has decided not to wait.

When I first moved to Nagoya I asked a new friend if he knew of any good bars in the city. He took me to Arco. Arco has, for me, over the last 6 years been a place to relax, meet interesting people, dance, drink eastern european liquors, ponder life, rant and rave, learn new vocabulary, pick up useful photography tips.... the list goes on. Simply speaking it was everything a good bar should be. My father even held his 60th birthday there!

Nomura san has found a new space for a new kind of bar not far from Nagoya station near Nagoya's oldest covered shopping street (one of the only areas that survived the bombing during the war). He is planning many exciting things for this new space, and non of them to do with machines that go beep. The second floor is to be converted to provide cheap rental office space for freelancers of all sorts, and may even provide me with an inexpensive studio work space.

I shall be sad to see the end of Arco, but an ending is a time for new beginnings.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007


First in a series for a London based punk rock band Kismetic. Photographs based on songs for their CDs and 'My Space' profile. This one for the song 'Blackmail', which you can hear online if you visit their site.

Having taken this, and a horizontal version, I went back and listened to the song again. Not sure if it's.... hard enough. Still, I like the image and was happy to make use of todays rain.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Advice without the wind

Following a post from 'A photo a day' , I spent 5 minuted reading through handy hints and tips for photogs on the go, published on 'Pop Photo' .

Tips range from the seemingly obvious (but nobody seems to do it):
"Which memory card is full and which is empty? Mark your memory cards in numerical order. Always start a shoot with card number 1, then 2, etc. It keeps you from having to plug them into the camera to see their status."

To the stuff born of experience, trial and errror:
"For shooting on the beach, I cut an X into three tennis balls, insert each leg of my tripod into them, and duct-tape them on. This prevents the legs from sinking into the sand and stabilizes the tripod."
(I'll remember that if I ever get another holiday)

A couple of hints from my cameraman's bag of tricks:
- when exchanging a memory card for a fresh one, put the used one back in the card holder upside down.
- When taking photos in someones house, use 100yen kids socks on the legs of your tripod to prevent getting the floor dirty (not much need for this outside Japan really).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007