Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Local school festival

Last Sunday my host family took me to see a small festival at a local school (elementary and junior middle school). I had the opportunity to watch a variety of entertainment from all ages (the teachers, parents and grandparents got involved too), the behaviour of the children and their parents and also the chance to walk around a Japanese school.

I’d never previously considered that shoes are taken off before entering the school and exchanged for slippers. I like this idea a lot, and was even more impressed to learn that schools don’t employ janitors and cleanliness and hygiene throughout the school is the responsibility of the students. Photos of toilets being cleaned by students were posted on the wall with messages, presumably as a means of encouragement.

It always surprises me how much effort and enthusiasm are put into these kinds of events. The quantity, quality and variety of the performances, along with relative instruments, costumes and props were all of a high standard. The children were very orderly and no one seemed to have their own agenda of stealing the show or causing chaos. Several different groups of grandparents got up to ring hand bells, sing and even dance. A large number of people attended, and my own host family have no connection with this school but attend such events whether or not they are hosting a foreign student.

Some of the staff members seemed to be very intensively focused, and I can imagine them being quite rigorous in getting the most out of their students. However, the organisation lived up to the stereotype of efficiency, but all the while retained a warm and pleasant atmosphere. 

The conclusion of this post is a continuation of the theme of teamwork which I expressed appreciation for through yakyuu in my last post, and was brought out excellently in the documentary ‘Kokoyaku’. I’m sure if a documentary were made about school festivals in Japan, I’m sure the same theme would resound throughout it, and it is a quality which is comparatively a novelty in my own country that I appreciate more and more with every example in Japan.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


After just watching the documentary Kokoyaku, I reflected on my own experience of viewing a Japanese baseball game. Not being from the United States, baseball is a little unfamiliar; my main purpose of watching the Tigers vs. Giants at Tokyo Dome was to experience the atmosphere and observe the behaviour of the Japanese crowd.

The experience began positively, amidst a vibrant bunch of fans I tried to take some cans of beer in plastic bags. It seemed they were onto this and I expected them to confiscate it, but instead they poured the beer into paper cups for me and threw the cans away! Furthermore, inside the dome, beer is served by incredibly cute girls carrying beer kegs on their backs; watching them hopping and bowing their way through the crowd, I wondered how long they’d survive in the crowd at some of the more heated soccer/football games in the UK….

As also shown in the documentary, the crowd had unique chants for different players. I was in the Tigers stand, and even as things went from bad to worse (eventually they lost this game), the crowd became more positive and supportive. I didn’t understand the chants but from the upbeat tone I can’t imagine they resembled the aggressive, profane slander that supporters in the UK scream at their team to show their dissatisfaction with the performance.

The Japanese crowd impressed me greatly. The held at least as much passion as I’ve seen anywhere else, but to  my awareness it never showed any signs of resulting in violence, to the extent where congratulations were even offered to the victorious opposition.

I don’t pay enough attention to sports, but the documentary in class left quite an impression on me. Viewing this sport from the inside held some surprising elements, but generally it was in line with other aspects of Japan I have experienced. It has granted me the desire to attend a couple more baseball games in Japan, both to watch out for elements that I was unaware of prior to viewing the video and explore these themes further, and on another occasion to get lost in the enthusiasm and join in with supporting the Tigers.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Attempts to put inspiration into practice…

This blog post does not have a particular theme related to Japanese culture. While taking photographs in Nara and of a band and their audience in a live house, I recalled some of the inspirations from the documentaries watched in class; in particular, War Photographer.
In my last post, I acknowledged James Nachtwey for venturing into the action and taking photographs from within the scene. I used this photograph as an example, as it contains the crowded energy and aggression of a protest.

My classmate, Sam, referred to Nachtwey as an ‘invisible man’ in his blog. I think is an appropriate way to describe Nachtwey’s passive presence in an active scene. It is most evident in photos where people are unrestrained in their actions and expressions, often made clear by the fact they are not only looking away from the camera but completely unaware of it.

These two parts of his approach to photography have stuck with me and I have made (some) progress in emulating this inspiration (or at least I would like to think so).

I hope it is not in bad taste to compare my light-hearted pictures with those of absolute despair and depression taken by Nachtwey. However, it is the movement and proximity of the scene that I have focused on. Hopefully this is clear from looking at the above Nachtwey photograph and my next photograph below.

Basically, in Nara, tourists purchase deer biscuits, thinking that all deer are like Bambi, and soon find out otherwise. The moment their wallet comes out of their pocket, the deer surround them and harass them into giving out (or hopefully dropping the whole packet of) biscuits.
While the second picture captures the mad rush and subsequent panic, the first is more successful in involving the viewer in the scene. Other people were photographing these poor women, but I feel they were so involved with the activity that their behaviour was very natural.

I took a lot of photos of this great scene, deer queuing up to receive biscuits from a line of schoolboys; but unfortunately only managed to capture the entirety of the scene from this distance. From this photo I can see lots of available opportunities (e.g. Why didn’t I crouch down slightly to the left and shoot upwards?) Although realising missed opportunities can be frustrating, it is fundamental to progress.

To briefly cover a similar opportunity, I attempted to capture the atmosphere of this live house from within the crowd and (as much as possible) within the band. In such a crowded place it was easy to hold a subdued presence and capture the natural behaviour of pre-occupied people from a relatively close distance.

 James Nachtwey photos from: