johnliddlephotography

Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Yoyogi Park (Tokyo)

If you turn right when exiting Harajuku Station and walk up a short incline to the pedestrian bridge over the railway line you will be faced with two choices. To the right is the entrance to Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s most revered shrine and to the left lies the entry to Yoyogi Park. Go right for serenity, tradition and a step back in time or go left for a fun, relaxed community space. My advice is to do both, but today my focus is on Yoyogi Park.

Yoyogi Park has an interesting and varied history. In 1910 the first successful powered aircraft flight in Japan took off and landed on the site of what is now Yoyogi Park. In 1945 it was known as the “Washington Heights” due to the site housing the military barracks for US officers during the allied post-WW2 occupation of Japan.

More topically given Japan’s hosting of the next summer Olympics, Yoyogi Park was the location for the Olympic village for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as well as swimming, diving and basketball events at the Kenzo Tange designed National Gymnasium building. The National Gymnasium will extend its Olympic heritage by hosting the handball events for the 2020 Olympics.

The area became formally known as Yoyogi Park in 1967 and has since become a very popular venue for a wide range of activities. At 134 acres the park is one of Tokyo’s largest and has become a much-loved and used space, particularly at weekends when, weather permitting, the park comes alive with people.

The selected photographs make no attempt to show the natural beauty of the park, though that is significant, but rather focuses on the enjoyment gained from the park by visitors.

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

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Meiji Jingu Shrine

A short walk from Harajuku Station, one passes through a magnificent Torii gate (pics 1 and 2) marking the entrance to the Meiji Jingu Shrine – Tokyo’s most significant Shinto shrine. Flanked by impressive Cypress Pines, one then enjoys a pleasant walk crossing a small stream via an arched pedestrian bridge (pic 3) and passing through two more large torii on the way to the main shrine complex (pic 4) cocooned within a forested area of 175 acres.

By this time the concrete, steel and glass environs of the Tokyo metropolis is out of mind and mostly out of sight. One’s attention is drawn to the classic form and the elemental materials used in the construction of the main shrine building (pic 5), arguably enhanced by the appearance through the misty rain of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building in nearby Shinjuku. This is a leviathan of a building, yet the old and new form symmetry so often found in Japan.

Meiji Jingu was established in 1920 to deify the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. During the Meiji era of 1868 to 1912, the modern Japan was born, with a focus on building international relationships and improving the prosperity and peace of the nation. Whilst it is somewhat natural to think of this period in terms of modernization and westernization, it is worth remembering that Empress Shoken is recognised as the model of the modern Japanese woman.

Sadly the original shrine building was destroyed by allied bombings in 1945, with rebuilding completed in 1958, largely through public donations, with such support demonstrating the importance of Meiji Jingu to the Japanese people.

For non-Japanese it can be difficult to gain an appreciation of shrines, especially compared to Japanese temples where the buildings and grounds are often more inviting, though it must be said that shrines are often found within temple complexes. In my experience, shrines are best appreciated during ceremonies or periods such as in early January when people flock to Meiji Jingu to worship and buy good-luck charms for the year ahead. As in all cultures, ceremony and the associated emotions speak their own language.

The accompanying photographs were taken around the main shrine building at different times on dry and rainy days. Those who have visited Japan will be familiar with the Ema Plaques (pic 10); small wooden tablets that can be purchased at most shrines and left hanging with one’s prayers or wishes. I have also taken the opportunity to share a few more shots of a Shinto Wedding party (pics 12 to 14) taken on an unfortunately wet day. However, the weather did not detract from their spirits and as can be seen from pics 15 and 16, all one needs is a good umbrella.

In conclusion, there is a question I cannot resist posing. Meiji Jingu is one of several large forested parks one finds around Tokyo that provide welcome respite and serve as green lungs within the metropolis. One wonders if today’s city planners around the world would be generous enough and brave enough to deny developers’ pressures to create similar green lungs.

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


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Harajuku Lebels

In my last post we took a stroll through Harajuku and today we visit the Harajuku Lebels at play.

Last time the stroll started by exiting Harajuku Station and walking straight ahead and down Takeshita Street. Today we turn right after exiting the station and head up the hill towards Yoyogi Park, another of the expansive green spaces one finds within the Tokyo metropolis and an extremely popular venue at weekends for people of all ages.

Near the park entry one finds the Harajuku Lebels, who have staked out their play, or should I say performance space for the day. The Lebels are a group of Rockabillies who put on their own rock and roll dancing show to the sounds of old Elvis and other rock classics. I don’t know what they do during the week, though a Japanese person in the crowd told me they are mostly Salarymen who don their Lebels gear at weekends and transform into their 1960’s personas.

They attract a crowd; yet don’t appear to play to the crowd. In fact, they appear to be totally enclosed in their own little magic circle that becomes their world for a few hours at a time. They dance with each other and for each other. Moves are taught and practiced and the camaraderie within the group is evident. Performances have an impromptu, almost jazz like feel to them. Dancers doing a solo routine will be joined by others, from which choreography equivalent to session musicians jamming will emerge.

Black is the preferred colour, most aptly captured at pic 2 where the young woman’s long black hair complements the black on black look perfectly. However, black is not compulsory, as one can see from several photos featuring the tattooed dancer in blue jeans, who seemed to be, if not the leader, the dominant player within the group. As in all areas of life, dominance Invites challenge and in this case, the dancer featured in pics 3 and 4, who, to my inexpert eye, was the best dancer of the day, gave the impression of staking his claim in a friendly way.

Dancing is hot work and the group worked their way steadily through a lot of beer in their own unique style. Beers were distributed by one dancer opening a can and throwing it in a high arc to another dancer who, except for one mishap, would expertly catch the can and quench their thirst. As you may imagine a lot of beer was spilt in the process.

I couldn’t help noticing a couple of other things. Firstly, several of the dancers had wallets or other items in their back pockets (as in pic 13). This is not an unusual sight in Japan, whereas in most places it would be akin to an invitation to be robbed. Secondly, the dancers were doing it purely for their personal enjoyment and nowhere around their magical circle was there hats or tins to collect donations from spectators. Even watching a group of Rockabillies contains cultural messages.

Apart from references already made to some photographs, the selections speak for themselves – a group of friends having fun doing what they enjoy and entertaining others in the process. Sounds like a win/win.

(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.)