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Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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ICAN …. can you?

I had expected to be posting on a different subject, but changed my mind when I learned that the Nobel Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

Having visited Hiroshima a number of times, the first time being six years ago to the day, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize award to ICAN resonated with me. Prior to my visits I was, like many people I expect, horrified at the potential for nuclear weapons to be used again. However, spending time at the site of humankind’s single most horrific act focused my understanding on how truly horrific the use of nuclear weapons was and can be. From that moment I have strongly believed that the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must continue to be told and it was most pleasing to hear this sentiment echoed by President Obama during his speech at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on 27 May 2016, when he said: “But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change.”

Technology has taken great leaps forward since 1945 and the destructive power of today’s nuclear warheads is many times greater than the weapons used in 1945. When considered alongside the current emergence of leaders apparently more driven by ego than wisdom, ICAN’s work is timely.

Can one person make a difference? Can you or I effect the destruction of nuclear stockpiles? The answer is, of course, no! But just as it takes many stitches to make a blanket, you and I combined can, over time, make a difference. We cannot rely on politicians acting independently to make such a monumental change. The self anointed “political class” lack the moral fortitude to take the lead. If it is to happen they must be dragged by the undeniable weight of public opinion to act and perhaps this is what President Obama during his Hiroshima speech was alluding to with the words: “Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.”

The photographs I have chosen are a combination of historic photographs and photographs of paintings made by survivors almost 60 years later of their memories from 6 August 1945. The clarity of those memories reflected through their art talks directly to the impact on their lives. I have also included links below to a series of posts I made on Hiroshima in August 2014.

https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/08/07/time-and-place-hiroshima/

https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/08/15/hiroshima-peace-museum/

https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/08/25/peace-park-memorials-hiroshima/

https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/08/30/shukkeien-gardens-hiroshima/

Thank you for reading and I hope you will consider your position on this important issue.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

 

 

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Osaka Castle

On flicking through the subjects I have covered in this series of Japanese posts, it became apparent that I had given little attention to Osaka, due mainly to having spent very little time there. However, like many visitors to Osaka, I did visit Osaka Castle – the subject of today’s post.

Now that I reflect a bit more, my experience of Japanese castles is also quite limited, having visited only three, the others being Kyoto and Himeji. Of these, the standout is definitely Himeji (https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/11/18/himeji-castle-a-reminder-of-feudal-times/). I do not like to speak negatively about such important and magnificent buildings, but I did find the restrictions on photography imposed at the Kyoto and Osaka Castles to be disappointing, as much of the most interesting subject matter was within the restricted areas. Notwithstanding such restrictions, they are worth visiting.

I travelled to Osaka Castle by train and the walk from the station through municipal parklands builds one’s curiosity through early glimpses and as one gets closer, the scale of the castle and surrounding moat (its first line of defence) is most impressive – if not majestic. Entering through the gates (pic 1), one’s eye is immediately drawn to the magnificence of the dry-stone walls, which are quite captivating in their own right. Once inside the castle grounds, one becomes more aware of the towering edifice that is Osaka Castle (pics 2 to 4). I wish I could include internal shots, but much as I dislike photography restrictions I do respect the right of operators to impose them. Climbing to the highest level is recommended for the views over Osaka (pic 5) and the appreciation that the castle was very strategically positioned from a defensive perspective.

The inclusion of pics 6 to 10 is somewhat of an indulgence, but during my visit I was quite taken by the geometric patterns of the stone walls around the castle. In fact, I distinctly remember comparing the visual impact of the castle walls to more contemporary structures utilising acutely angled aperiodic tiling as a surface treatment. Of course a major difference is that the castle walls relied on manual planning and construction techniques, whereas contemporary structures benefit from the use of sophisticated computer-aided design, fabrication and building techniques. It does, therefore, seem appropriate to conclude with pic 10 “An Artisan’s Mark”, which shows an example of how the stonemasons of the day marked their contribution to the construction of Osaka Castle.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Contemporary Architecture in Japan

We depend on buildings for so many aspects of our daily lives such as shelter, safety and places of work, study and recreation to name a few. They are perhaps the most dominant mark that humankind has made on the planet and all buildings, regardless of size or function, started as an idea in someone’s mind. Architecture gives form to these ideas and when we travel to new places, we bring with us a natural curiosity about the architectural forms we will encounter.

So it was with my visits to Japan and although I was probably more interested in Japan’s older and more traditional buildings, I also found much of interest in its more contemporary architecture. In my last post on Shinjuku I featured a few examples, two of which are shown again here along with other selected buildings.

I have chosen to open the post with two shots (pics 1 and 2) of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum as a reminder of Japan’s diligent and ongoing commitment to world peace and as a reminder of the extensive rebuilding that was required post-war. The domed glass roof shown in pic 1 reminds me of Hiroshima’s famous domed building that stands as a monument to the horror and folly of atomic war. Similarly, the striking shadows at pic 2 invite visitors to the museum to contemplate past events as they wend their way down to the museum via the gently curving walkways.

Also utilising a lattice structure, the aptly named Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower (pic 3) in Shinjuku houses three tertiary educational institutions (as identified in my previous post). To the bottom right of the photograph one can glimpse the adjoining dome structure, which, viewed at street level, is reminiscent of a golf ball half buried in a bunker. I’ve never really thought of buildings as “eye candy”, but this particular building jumps out and demands to be viewed.

Not far away, also in Shinjuku, one finds the towering Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (pics 4 and 5). This truly is a colossus and although I did not find it very appealing aesthetically, its scale commands attention. The more visually appealing part of the complex is the semi-ringed structure shown at pic 2, itself of considerable scale as can be gauged from the solitary figure traversing the forecourt. Although it is an illusion I like the way the forecourt appears to be sloping away from the building.

Probably what most surprised me about Tokyo’s commercial towers was their scale and solidity. Compared to skyscrapers in cities such as New York and Chicago, the buildings in Marunouchi opposite Tokyo Station are not particularly tall. However, they sit so solidly on the ground to appear unshakeable, thus bearing witness to how architects have designed buildings to survive in an earthquake ravaged land.

As a demonstration of scale, one of my favorite shots is that of the three glass towers (pic 7), which was shot from a viewing area atop the Kitte Shoka shopping centre. The solitary figure highlighted at street level (bottom right of shot) hints at our physical insignificance, yet we must remember we are looking at the product of human imagination and construction.

Tokyo’s tallest structure is Skytree (pic 8), which, like other tall structures dominates the skyline. I recall one day being in Ueno and on impulse deciding to walk to Skytree. No maps or GPS navigation was required. All I had to do was look up and follow my nose. The structure is so dominant it did not even allow one the excuse of practicing Japanese by asking for directions. During that walk I took many photos along the way with Skytree in shot and perhaps I will post a “Finding Skytree” blog at some stage.

I mentioned Kitte Shoka a moment ago, which is a relatively new shopping centre directly across from the Marunouchi entry to Tokyo Station. As shown at pic 9, the internal design is interesting with the shops arranged on several floors following a triangular layout.

One of Tokyo’s most striking buildings is the Tokyo International Forum (pics 10 to 12) located near the boundary of Tokyo’s CBD and the Ginza shopping district. The building functions as a convention and exhibition space and is the outcome of the first international architectural competition held in Japan in 1989. Inside the building is especially magical and teases visitors to open their imaginations. Designed in the shape of a sailing boat, one could equally imagine being Moby Dick swallowed by a giant whale, or even being held within an inter-galactic spaceship.

To conclude this post that, in reality, has not even scratched the surface of contemporary Japanese architecture, I have chosen three smaller scale structures. Pic 13 can be found in Ginza and is included simply for its elegance and distinctly Japanese aesthetic. At pic 14 I have shown an external staircase attached to the FUJI television headquarters building in Odaiba because, for some reason, I felt compelled to include something brutal. In my opinion this staircase met that need. Finally, the vertical garden at pic 15 seemed an apt way to acknowledge that there is always room for nature amidst the concrete and steel.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Shinjuku

Most visitors to Tokyo probably think of Shinjuku for its nightlife and for its brightly lit thoroughfares ablaze with all sorts of neon signs. However, this is only one part of Shinjuku’s character and in this post I have focused not only on Shinjuku’s streets, but also on its role as a daytime business centre and the tranquility offered by the magnificent Shinjuku Goen park.

Shinjuku’s skyscrapers are prominent whenever one has a birds-eye view of Tokyo from locations such as Tokyo Tower and other vantage points. They are equally impressive from ground level and in this post I have drawn attention to three buildings that caught my attention. The first is the gargantuan Tokyo Metropolitan Government building (pics 1 and 4) that occupies three city blocks. Its scale has to be seen to be believed and it serves a useful role in getting one’s bearings when moving around the area.

The second building is the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower (pics 7 and 10), which is actually a vertical campus with capacity for 10,000 students. The tower houses three educational institutions: the Professional School of Fashion (Tokyo Mode Gakuen), the Special Superior School of Technology and Design (HAL Tokyo) and the Medical College (Shuto Ito). Adding further to the appeal of the building is the adjoining dome structure at street level.

The third building selected is the Sompo Japan Building (pic 13), which is said to resemble Mount Fuji with its flaring sides. The building is the headquarters of Sompo Japan – a major Japanese insurance company and I was quite surprised to learn it was constructed in 1976, such is its continuing aesthetic appeal today.

Readers will no doubt be aware that Shinjuku is also host to the world’s busiest train station used by over three million people per day. What is perhaps less well known is the presence of Shinjuku Goen Park within easy walking distance of the station, which offers an opportunity to relax in a tranquil setting unaware of the hustle and bustle outside the park’s boundaries.

To demonstrate Shinjuku’s diverse nature I have chosen to intersperse my photographs across the three subject areas of tall buildings, street shots and the park.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Looking for Old Tokyo – Kagura Cobbles

Kagurazaka is located close to Tokyo Central and given its past as a prominent entertainment district, I had hoped a visit would yield further examples of old Tokyo. This was not to be the case. Whilst I’m sure that with more time one could find some interesting links to old Tokyo, including a number of surviving geisha houses, the Kagurazaka I found was that of a rather fashionable and western-friendly district.

The beauty of travelling is that even when one does not find what one expects, the unexpected is nevertheless interesting. Kagurazaka seems to pivot around its shopping street, which is closed to vehicles around lunchtime each day, thus creating a relaxed pedestrian mall. However, apart from enjoying the relaxed environment, this street held little interest for me.

The interest lay in the side streets and alleys that lead away from the main street and then meander in the manner one comes to expect when walking in Japanese districts where the urban layout seems reminiscent of times past. Indeed, venturing into the side streets is a tad similar to Kyoto’s Gion district where, although the modern world has shouldered its way in, the street layouts allow one to imagine life in the glory days.

For this blog I have selected photographs consistent with my two main impressions of Kagurazaka. My first and strongest memory was that of the cobblestoned streets and alleys, a street surface that may be cursed by cyclists, yet is invariably appealing in the aesthetic sense and immediately creates atmosphere. Although today’s cobblestones are unlikely to be original, they succeed in slowing the pace of life a little and at the same time hint at the district’s interesting past.

My second main impression was that the district felt western-friendly, predominantly due to the variety of restaurants tucked away in side streets. I later learned that Kagurazaka has a reputation for being Tokyo’s French Quarter and is home to two French schools. The accompanying photographs show a small selection of the eating and drinking establishments in the area.

Visitors to Japan will certainly have noticed the very popular pachinko parlours and may have also noticed the smaller and more discreet TUC shops included in pic 7. As the title “Cashing in” implies, these venues allow players to exchange their pachinko tokens for cash, thereby getting around Japan’s gambling regulations. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, pic 8 shows a small street shrine allowing people to worship or seek some respite from a busy day.

The most unusual of the restaurants shown was “Hajimeno Ippo” – Tokyo’s first garlic restaurant. Whilst I doubt I would be paying a visit, it seems well placed in the French Quarter and I believe it can often take some time to get a booking.

Revisiting Kagurazaka for this blog post has made me realize that I will revisit in person when next in Tokyo to look for those old Tokyo remnants I sense are there to be found.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Looking for Old Tokyo – Kyojima

How well do you really know your city? Perhaps the answer depends on the size and population as much as any other factor and for those who live in large cities, I suspect there are many areas that are rarely visited. I know this applies to my life in a city of approximately 4.4 million people. Extrapolating this to a sprawling metropolis such as Tokyo suggests that vey few Tokyoites would have an intimate and comprehensive knowledge of their city. For tourists and short-term residents, the challenge of seeing the range of cities within a city is even greater.

One of the things I was keen to do when visiting Tokyo was to visit areas where “old Tokyo” could still be seen and experienced, though I freely admit that I was barely able to scratch the surface. The plan was simple: catch a train to areas of interest and wander around.

This will be the first in a series of “Looking for Old Tokyo” posts, starting with Kyojima, originally designated as a farming area according to old shogunate law. This heritage is most visibly experienced, quite delightfully, by strolling through Kyojima’s narrow winding streets that follow the pathways through long gone paddy fields and irrigation channels. This was aptly described as Kyojima epitomising Tokyo in the sense that Tokyo is a city that has never had a plan, a city centre or any visible order.

Kyojima is also described as an accident waiting to happen. It sits at sea level; has many older style wooden houses; and is susceptible to earthquakes given its alluvial soil. Add to these a lack of firebreaks and its narrow streets and one gets the picture that it would not be the place to be during a major earthquake. Despite all this Kyojima has survived not only earthquakes, but also escaped the firebombing of Tokyo during the Second World War; hence its appeal to those looking for glimpses of old Tokyo.

Kyojima is nevertheless showing signs of change, as will be seen from several of the photographs, yet maintains strong elements of the earthiness of a shitamachi (low town) where the buildings show the inventiveness of residents’ use of available materials to make repairs.

I had expected to find an older demographic and was not surprised to come across the three people waiting for the bus (pic 1) – one of my favourite shots. However, a short while later when wandering through the streets I met an English woman who now resides in the area. She explained that the area is becoming increasingly attractive to younger people due to lower rents and property prices compared to other parts of Tokyo.

People are also being drawn to Kiyojima through the proximity of the Tokyo Skytree, which towers over the area (pic 2). Skytree is Tokyo’s tallest building and a popular destination for local and international tourists, with many venturing further afield to explore the adjoining areas.

Kyojima lacks green open spaces, yet there is no lack of greenery on view through pot plants on or outside almost every building. Readers may also notice the presence of bicycles in most shots and there is no doubt that cycling and walking are the preferred forms of local transport.

I will let the photographs tell the rest of the story and will end by saying that I left Kyojima feeling happy. I found it to be an engaging place with a friendly atmosphere and what I would term a “village feel” where people know and care for their neighbours. Progress is already encroaching as it inevitably must, but I hope the spirit of old Tokyo continues to live on here.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Concrete Buildings

Concrete must surely have a claim to being the most important and indispensable building material of modern times. Its ubiquity is, however, not met with universal acclaim, with opinions varying along the spectrum of beautiful to ugly in relation to its contribution to our streetscapes and urban environments.

I will leave individuals to decide where they stand on this subject and perhaps, like me; you find examples of each within your local environments.

Concrete is, however, the common factor between the photos chosen for this post, which grew from my desire to share a few photographs of a rather interesting house in Harajuku (Tokyo). The shots are by no means an attempt to document the range of concrete structures one finds in Japan – they are simply shots of buildings that appealed to me.

The Harajuku Wedge is my name for the building shown by pics 1 to 4. It was a few minutes walk from where I was living and I remember my first view being the angle shown at pic 1, where it looked more like a freestanding wall. As one moves around to behold the view shown at pic 2, the shape changes from a sliver to a wedge and clearly becomes a residence cleverly utilising a small footprint. The dominant use of concrete is further seen from the detail pics (3 and 4), where the use of other materials and plantings soften the raw harshness of the concrete. I never tired of looking at this building on my walks and for me; it serves as a good example of innovative architecture.

The Nagano Cube (pic 5) may lack the visual impact of the Harajuku Wedge, but it begs the question of whether it represents an emerging style in a country where space is always in short supply. Cubes tend to be divisive in architectural terms and are another of those “love or hate” design options. Nevertheless, the style maximises space; would appear to be energy efficient judging from the array of solar panels on the roof; and seemed to blend reasonably well with its neighbours.

A different look altogether is what I called Asakusa Chic (pic 6) where the use of industrial materials, including concrete, have been used to create a residence that integrated nicely with its residential/industrial neighbourhood. I wish I could have seen inside, as I distinctly remember wondering if this may have been the Tokyo equivalent of warehouse conversions. My final Tokyo inclusion is a Ryotei (high class restaurant often involving entertainment by Geisha) in Mukojima (pic 7), an area of Tokyo where older style buildings can be found due to the area being less heavily bombed during World War 2. Whilst the building presents as rather conventional, its style is nevertheless distinctly Japanese and consistent with the generally discreet external appearance of such establishments.

Downtown Osaka (pic 8) was shot from my apartment window and perhaps most clearly shows the ubiquity of concrete, as well as the boxy, space efficient styling. Despite this, I still find the view interesting and to borrow a friend’s observation, the colourful billboards and street advertising found in Asian countries brings life to otherwise bland scenes. The second Osaka image (pic 9) is a building in the Dotonbori area, where the more fluid shapes within the external steel staircase adds an (almost) art deco feel to an otherwise plain concrete structure.

To conclude this little sojourn into the world of concrete, pic 11 was shot at Kyoto’s Garden of Fine Arts. In reality the name is somewhat misleading in that the garden has no plant life, nor does one find works of fine art. Instead one enters an imaginative space where popular works of art have been reproduced within an open-air gallery of concrete, steel and glass, which perhaps will become the subject of a future post.

Is there a moral to this post? Well, to be honest, it started as a simple desire to share shots of a building that caught my eye and held my interest, but morphed into something a little more. As a material, concrete can rightly be described as dull, boring, bland, plain and any other number of similarly uncomplimentary terms. It has, however, become our building block and when used imaginatively has the potential to add interest and beauty to our lives. It reminds me of an old saying that: “a good tradesman never blames his tools”.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Hiroshima Peace Museum

In my last post I described Hiroshima’s Dome Building as the most enduring symbol of the catastrophic events of August 6, 1945 when an atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima. Today, looking across the Motoyasu River from the Dome Building, the wasteland has been regenerated in the form of the magnificent Peace Park, at the end of which and in a direct line of sight to the Dome Building lies the Hiroshima Peace Museum (pic 1).

Peace Museum approach

Peace Museum approach

For those readers who would like to see vision of the Peace Museum soon after its opening, I suggest watching a classic French movie titled “Hiroshima Mon Amour”. As the title implies, the movie is set in post-war Hiroshima and the opening scenes contain some interesting footage, including a walk through the Peace Museum and some early footage of the Peace Park during development.

A visit to Hiroshima is incomplete without visiting the Peace Museum and my advice would be to allow more time than you may expect. Given the historic event it exists to portray, the Museum is confronting in the way it provides an accurate and objective account of the events of August 6 1945 and thereafter. In fact, the objectivity and lack of rancor in the presentation of the story is commendable and refreshing. The horror and atrocity is, of course, recognised and discussed, but most importantly the emphasis shifts to the need to learn from what happened and ensure that history is not repeated. It is a museum that should not be rushed and can be visited more than once.

Today’s photographs are mostly shots of Museum exhibits, including a number of archival photographs on display in the Museum. The pictures tell the story. The model at pic 2 shows the hypocentre of the blast as the red pole just to the right of the Dome Building where, it is estimated, the temperature would have approximated 4000 degrees Celsius. One can also note the intersection of the two bridges to the left of the Dome Building forming the T that was the target point for the Enola Gay’s bombardier.

One minute following the explosion, the mushroom cloud photograph (pic 3) was taken by Russell E Gackenbach; a crewman on the Necessary Evil, which accompanied the Enola Gay. It was reported by Russell Gackenbach that the crew’s return journey was made in silence after witnessing the event.

Whilst there is no need for further description of the pain and suffering depicted by pics 5 and 6, the obvious tenderness of the Red Cross nurse and the gratitude of her patient at pic 7 is a heartwarming image of the human spirit.

The series of shots (pics 10 to 16) titled Memories of the day give an insight into the minds of survivors and are particularly compelling when one considers the drawings and paintings were made decades later. One hopes the process of graphically sharing their recollections provided some level of comfort to the contributors, yet their clarity of memory is a frightening reminder of the lasting effects of traumatic events.

On a more positive note, pic 17 shows a 1956 photograph of Japanese students seeking support for the establishment of a Children’s Peace Monument. Their efforts were successful and photographs of the monument will be shown in my next post.

An ongoing role of the Peace Museum is to monitor nuclear testing internationally and via the Peace Watch Tower (pic 18) located in the Museum foyer, to display the number of days since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the number of days since the last nuclear test. At the time of posting this blog (August 15, 2014), the current figures are 24,923 days and 49 days respectively.

I strongly recommend anyone visiting Hiroshima to spend time visiting the Peace Museum and the other memorials within the Peace Park. Although the history is dark and sombre, its purpose is to advocate for an end to nuclear arms and a brighter, less oppressive future for all. I have never before written a comment in a Visitors Book. However, during my first visit, I commented to the effect that all newly elected politicians should spend a few days there before taking office, in the hope that they may better understand the futility of war. Perhaps the hope is futile, but who knows!

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Time and Place (Hiroshima)

Please take a few moments to dwell on the first photograph, rather than dismiss it as merely a bland image of another Japanese street, free of litter and showing people going about their business in an orderly manner. View it as a photograph of time and place – two variables that have such a defining influence on our lives. Where would you rather be: the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time?

The T intersection

The T intersection

Everyone in the photograph was safe in that place and time. However, at the same place at 8.15am on August 6, 1945 the cyclist at the centre of the pedestrian crossing would have been the target for the bombardier on the Enola Gay, the US bomber assigned to drop an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. A moment that changed the world forever!

The target point was the T-intersection more clearly shown in the archival photograph at pic 2, in which, coincidentally, a cyclist is at almost the same position. Today the two bridges forming the T look much the same and it is easy to forget the historical significance of the place. However, we should not forget how significantly life changed in a blinding flash, a memory poignantly captured by a survivor’s words reproduced at pic 3. From the archival images at pics 4 and 5, one can gain a sense of the destruction, as well as identify the most enduring symbol of the event – the Dome Building.

I was unprepared for my first visit to Hiroshima and the range of emotions one encounters by spending time in the proximity of the Dome Building. Despite having seen images and documentary footage and having a general understanding of the history, it was nevertheless a surreal feeling to be standing at the site of such a horrific event.

Although one tries to imagine what it would have been like, this is, of course, impossible. Some things are beyond imagination. The overpowering feeling was that of sorrow and if one is honest, a feeling of guilt by association of being a national from an allied nation. This took me by surprise. History positions the bombing as a necessary evil within the overall context of an even more horrific war, an argument that can be grasped intellectually. However, when standing at the scene, humanism outweighs intellectualism.

Almost seventy years later, the Dome Building (pics 6 to 16) stands as a reminder, but not the only reminder. Hiroshima continues to wear the scars in less obvious ways. The resilience of the people is commendable in the way they overcame the trauma to rebuild their city and their lives and the smiles of Hiroshima residents are the most genuine one will encounter. Nevertheless, the city presents differently to other Japanese cities.

Hiroshima is playing catch-up. One does not see the obvious lifestyle signs that one sees in (say) Tokyo and Osaka; one does not see as many glitzy high-rise developments; and even in the general demeanor of everyday life, one detects a more serious approach to life – as if the mission is unfinished. In a subsequent and longer visit to Hiroshima, I became more aware of signs that the city is poised to burst free and flower again. The mission is unfinished and below the surface bubbles a subdued excitement.

We must not forget Hiroshima. What happened there and at Nagasaki must never happen again and I firmly believe that awareness is the key to success. August 6, 1945 was a shocking start to the story, yet the real story is how the negative became a positive through people helping people and Japan becoming a strong advocate for peace and for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Thank you for reading this far and if the subject is of interest, there is a considerable volume of information available online and in libraries around the world. I will be staying with Hiroshima for two or three more posts and I hope you will continue to show an interest. I read somewhere a criticism that Hiroshima was just emotional tourism (or words to that effect). Well, what is wrong with that? It does not hurt us to have our senses awakened to think about important issues. Maybe history keeps repeating because we forget. Let’s not forget this time.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Harajuku

I first heard of Harajuku long before I visited Japan through the term Harajuku girls. The term is used to describe those (predominantly teenage girls) who enjoy dressing in theatrical costumes to take on the aura of real or fictional characters.

In the past Harajuku was a gathering point for this genre, particularly at weekends and although they are still to be seen, it would seem the popularity of garish dressing is on the decline. The area’s popularity inevitably attracted the attention of large international chain stores, which now compete with the edgier independent fashion stores for the patronage of the fashion and trend-conscious youth market. Nevertheless, Harajuku remains very much a youth oriented area and a major hub for youth culture and fashion.

Geographically, Harajuku is a relatively small area roughly covering the area between Harajuku Station and Omotesando, a more up-market area where one can find many high-end luxury brands. At this point, I should acknowledge that those who know Tokyo well would recognise that some of the photographs in this post are within Omotesando. However, geographic boundaries are often blurry and they are included as being more Harajuku in style.

Most people travel there by train and the first view is from the station platform (pic 1) looking directly down Takeshita Street, the must-see inclusion in any visit to Harajuku. Exiting the station, follow the pedestrian crossing (pics 2 & 3) directly to Takeshita Street, which is really more of a laneway with shops (pics 4 to 6) on either side. Be prepared for a crowd if visiting on a weekend (pic 7), though during the week there is more room to move (pics 8 & 9).

It’s a good place for people watching and one encounters interesting casts of characters such as those in pic 8. There is the Salaryman in his business suit seemingly interested in nothing but his mobile phone; the young attractive woman presumably wanting to be noticed and the young guy on the left who maybe doesn’t want to be noticed. This assortment of characters is typical of Tokyo where, no matter what an area’s dominant demographic might be; one invariably finds a cross-section of people from different walks of life, including those with interesting pets (pic 11).

The area also has entertaining buildings worth a second look. We often hear that land is scarce in Tokyo and perhaps one should not be too surprised to find a three-level café built from (or at least inspired by) shipping containers (pics 12 & 13).

Another standout building is The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art (pics 14 & 15), one of Tokyo’s leading contemporary art galleries. I recall turning my head when I first drove past in a taxi upon my arrival and immediately made a mental note to find the place again. As well as attracting attention to the Museum, one must applaud their promotion of art in this way. If one is wondering what the faces are looking at, the answer is on the other side of the street (pic 16). By the way, pics 16 to 18 are what I meant by Harajuku style in Omotesando.

To conclude this little walk through Harajuku I could not resist snapping the photographer on an overpass setting up his large frame camera (pic 19). What was he photographing? The Sunday afternoon crowds outside Harajuku Station of course (pic 20).

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)