Sorry for the silence on here recently, a lot has been going on. There were assignments galore taking me up and down Japan on a bullet train, back to Tohoku many times, and across Tokyo more times than should be allowed.
Today, is the 67th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, by American forces. In my time in Japan I was fortunate enough to visit both Hirohisma and Nagasaki, and to meet survivors of both those dreadful days in 1945. Perhaps the story which most stuck out was that of Kuniyoshi Sato, Akira Iwanaga and Tsutomu Yamaguchi. All three men were friends at the end of WW2, and were in Hiroshima when the first bomb dropped on 6th August 1945, they then struggled back to Nagasaki only to be there when the 2nd bomb dropped on August 9th. Miraculously all three men survived and in 2005, myself, Richard Lloyd Parry of The Times and fixer Kyoko, met them all to do interviews and hear their extraordinary story. It was truly a privilege to hear those stories first hand from the men. Sadly, Yamaguchi-san passed away in 2010.
So, Saturday came round kind of fast and myself, and two good friends, Greg and Byron, made our ascent of Mount Fuji. All 3,776 metres of it, the highest land point in Japan. The weather was with us all the way, and we summited and descended still in our tshirts. The sunlight above cloud level was stunning clear, and testament to that is the sunburn we still have.
The mountain was in fine form, still with snow in broken patches on the upper levels, and around and within the crater itself. The ascent was challenging enough, but easily manageable at a steady and comfortable pace. We set of at 4.30am so there was no rush, and summited just after 10am. This gave us plenty of time to enjoy the view from above the clouds, looking out over what appeared like Heaven. We ate our snacks, we visited the volcanic crater and we responded to Tweets via our phones and thanked people who had been kind enough to sponsor us and show us encouragement.
Our short and sweet 48hr fundraising had raised approximately 350 GBP for Sightsavers charity, enabling some more people in the developing world to have operations to save their eyesight from diseases which could easily blind them. So whilst we all had fun on the mountain and enjoyed the view, it was made all the more special by the kind donations we received and knowing that some good was going to come of the day. So thank you to all who donated, and if you’d like to see and read our donations page it can be found here at Uphill Challenge on Mount Fuji. The page is still open for donations.
And here is a picture of the torii gate through which you ascend and reach the summit. This gate tells you “you’ve made it!”.
“Your are wise to climb Fuji once & a fool to climb it twice”, so goes the old Japanese saying. Well, in my time here in Japan I’ve climbed Mt Fuji once, on a photography portrait assignment for The Times newspaper. But tomorrow, I aim to climb the 3,776 metre mountain a second time, for charity (You can donate here via this link, it is all very safe and easy and secure, Uphill Challenge on Mount Fuji) .
Some people ask me “why ?”. Well, why not ? It’s there, I’m privileged to have a home in a location where, on a clear day, I can see the mountain from my sofa, or from rooftop garden. Fuji-san is always there, I always photograph it on clear days. I’ve passed the mountain many times as I traverse the length of this country on the shinkansen bullet trains. The mountain has a perfect shape, it’s how a kid would draw an imaginary mountain. And I like a challenge. It’s good to test yourself, do things outside your normal routine.
Tomorrow, I will climb it with two friends, Greg McNevin with whom I work, and also Byron Kidd, who was my marathon running training partner when we both did the Tokyo Marathon a year or two back. We’ve decided to climb the mountain one day before the climbing season officially begins (we have some personal time constraints), and at the same time we thought we’d give ourselves a second challenge of trying to raise a little sponsorship money for Sightsavers charity.
I choose Sightsavers for quite obvious reasons. I’m a photographer, I need my eyes, I value my sight, and I value the rich experiences I’ve had in life brought to me by my ability to somewhat look through a camera and take images that others find merit in. I’ve been lucky. But not everyone is blessed with good eyesight, and that is where Sightsavers come in. They are an international charity who work with partners in the developing world to eliminate avoidable blindness and promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. To me that is a cause worth supporting. I like to think many photographers would see the merit in supporting such a cause.
This is the third time I’ve tried to raise a little money for Sightsavers, previously I used my running races as opportunities to fundraise, and many of you readers, family and friends have already donated and donated generously. And Sightsavers themselves are a decent bunch to raise money for, they know their manners, they’re polite and helpful to those raising money for them. They make it enjoyable to fundraise for them.
So, hence I climb Fuji tomorrow with friends, hence I’ll try to raise a little more money. I appreciate times are hard, economies are suffering, photography budgets are being slashed and we’re all not getting as many assignments as we’d like. Times are tough, no doubt about it. But I try to always remember that no matter how tough it is for me, there are others in this world who have it much, much tougher. I can’t imagine being in the developing world, having an eyesight disease that for the sake of a few pounds/dollars/yen could be cured, and whilst having that disease I need to gain an education or support my family, can you ? That would be tough, that makes my life look very comfortable in comparison.
So friends, readers, if you’re still with me, how about you help me a little ? Can you spare the price of a coffee, or forgo that one extra beer tonight on Friday evening and donate the few dollars to give a kid the chance of having their eyesight saved? Five pounds, or $8, can make a difference. For example, Trachoma is an infectious eye disease which affects millions of people in Africa and Asia today. Repeated infections scar the eyelids and lead to trichiasis. This is where the eyelids turn inwards and the eyelashes scrape against the surface of the eye causing incredible pain. It can eventually lead to permanent blindness. Your small donation, and it only has to be small, can provide an operation to stop the pain and prevent blindness for someone – before it is too late. How great would that be ?
If you can help it’d be much appreciated by me, my climbing friends Greg and Byron, Sightsavers charity, but most importantly by the person who recieves the gift of sight from you.
The Dance of the Egrets. Such a great name I think. In my time here in Tokyo, Japan, working on photographic assignments for editorial clients I’ve seen some images of these women dressed as egrets, but I was never really aware of where the event took place or when, or why. But it always seemed like something which it’d be nice to see, something pretty, something magical, or graceful.
And on Friday, a few days back, I stumbled upon the event. I knew there was a procession to begin the Sanja Matsuri, or Sanja Festival, and there would be musicians, priests, town officials etc, all in Edo period costume. So I went across town for a look, to photograph. As ever in this freelance photographer job it’s important to walk away from the laptop, the hard drives, Twitter and twatter, and head out into the unknown, and leave yourself open to chance. Leave yourself open to finding images.
Just as the parade was about to begin the heavens opened, it turned dark, the rain fell in sheets. Everyone cowered under awnings. But then it passed, and throngs of Japanese amateur photographers and one or two professionals got to work, shooting photographs of the parade participants as they stood around waiting to begin. There were musicians with big square, boxy hats, some old official looking gents in straw boating hats, a mythical beast or two, and a few geisha which were of course getting a lot of the attention. But it wasn’t really working for me, the backgrounds were messy, too many other cameras around and in my images. So I ambled up the street, to see what was happening on the peripheries. It is here I usually find the more interesting images are to be had.
Egrets. Women dressed as egrets, was happening on the peripheries. Standing as still as an egret on the hunt in the river. All white, under the now glaring post-storm shower sunshine. So I shot a few images, a nice profile vertical shot seeing the graceful form of the headdress, and then the procession began. And every so often the women would stop, and knowing the cue in the music, would do the Dance of the Egrets.
I wandered the whole, short, route of the procession, taking an hour or so. And it finished back in the grounds of Senso-ji Temple, in amongst hordes of tourists and spectators. Jeez, it could be beautiful to shoot the Egrets, or Shirasagi women, there, without all the tourists and with a nice clean background. But it wasn’t to be. So, I made the most of the opportunity my wanderings had been presented with. I used my elbows, my twenty years of editorial and press photography have taught me well how to navigate a path through a crowd, and made my way into the best positions I could find. It wasn’t ideal, the pictures weren’t what they could have been, but importantly they were more than I had at the beginning of the day when I’d closed my laptop and announced that I was heading east to Sanja Matsuri…
So this past weekend here in sunny Tokyo, Japan, we’ve had the Sanja Matsuri, or Sanja Festival. A very crowded, highly attended affair in the Asakusa district of the city. Particularly the festival is known for the parade of mikoshi portable shrines through the neighbourhoods, letting the deity within bless the streets and people, and by jigging the mikoshi up and down on their shoulders, the carriers give the deity strength for another year….
But the festival is also known for it’s heavy Yakuza crime world involvement, and certainly, on Saturday there was much evidence of that. Tattoos a plenty were on display, and I don’t mean ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ on a guy’s knuckles. Chances where it is easy to photograph heavily tattooed yakuza gangsters are not the easiest to come by, so on Saturday, as I ambled through the throngs of spectators I smiled sweetly to myself when I saw some Yakuza climb on top of a mikoshi shrine to have their photos taken. Shy they were not. And then another one arrived. And then another. Then some young men cleared a path through the crowd, politely making it obvious that photographers had to step back a bit, and from behind them ambled a smallish, older man, naked apart from his fundoshi undergarment and white cloth shoes, and his full body suit of tattoos. It seemed the gang leader had arrived. But this didn’t stop the photo session from continuing as more and more inked yakuza were instructed by the higher echelons of the gang to take off their jackets and pose for photos. Soon, under the shockingly harsh and unattractive sunlight, it was like a mob family photo event. And I was there, down the front, shootin’ away…