Daruma Fair

The Japanese New Years Break ended and with it the throngs of people pouring through temple grounds.  However, before it ended I made a visit to the local Haijima Daruma Fair.  I have noticed Daruma dolls, also known as Dharma dolls, at temples and even gifted one but this visit brought more understanding about the doll and its cultural significance.  The doll is a papier-mache hollow figure modeled after the "Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism."  The dolls are typically a red painted bearded man (Dharma) but vary in their price, color, and even actual hair or facial expression details.  I always believed the doll was a toy but had it explained to me in a greater detail at the fair.

The dolls is purchased blind if you will, meaning there are no irises painted on the eyes.  They Daruma are considered a powerful talisman for good luck and used to encourage this luck throughout the year.  First, you craft a wish or goal followed by painting the first iris on the eye.  Once your goal or promise is achieved you may then complete the Daruma and paint in his other eye.  The larger the Daruma the more important, powerful or difficult the goal and vice a versa.  At the end of the year people bring their completed dolls to the temple grounds to burn them and to purchase the new luck for their goal or resolution.

I know many people who love making to-do lists and feel great satisfaction crossing items of the list once accomplished.  I even know people who write achievements on the list they already finished for the sheer satisfaction of crossing it off.  If I am honest, I am both of those people.  The dolls were not my goals nor my wishes going into the fire but there was something much more visceral and symbolic than my extra lines crossed through a to-do list.  I like the idea of a physical manifestation of your goals to keep you visually accountable to your intentions.  As a result, I picked up a Daruma for myself and already gave him a wink for this year.  I will be planning my own bonfire this time next year on a Dolomite camping trip perhaps heres to him going up in flames.

If your interested in creating your own conflagration of achievement I know my buddy at Unique Japan can ship the dolls worldwide.

Jesus in Japan

Christmas is over but hot on its heals is a Jesus story in the new copy of the Smithsonian magazine.  Inside the January issue is an article accompanied by a couple of my images from a story they sent me on during the summer.  This gig was hands down the strangest matsuri (festival) I have attended in Japan.  The Christo Matsuri is a celebration upon the alleged burial ground of Jesus Christ.  As folklore would have it Jesus of Nazareth settled in the north of Japan with a wife and three kids as a garlic farmer and died at the age of 106.  The entirety of the convoluted lore is a humorous read and I wont try to convey it here, grab a copy of the magazine.

The early morning festival itself lasted all of an hour beginning with what appeared to be community awards and culminating in a group of female dancers doing traditional dance around the burial site.  After the official ceremony people mill around for snacks and a visit to the one room museum on site and then it is over.  As quickly as everyone arrives they pack it up and head down the hill until next year.  While the festivities did not yield powerful imagery I thought I would share out of the sheer respect for the kitsch of it all.

Made in America - Crashed upon Globally

I am currently working on a set of personal/campaign images for Organic Crash Pads and was lucky enough to spend yesterday working with the wonderful and powerful Akiyo Noguchi (2009, 2010 Bouldering World Cup overall champion. Second overall in 2011, and again in 2012.)

Akiyo-chan drove over two hours from Yokohama to meet us in Shirotai, she spent almost two hours getting into makeup and then proceded to pose while hanging on a V7-8 as if it were a ladder.  As photographers we are all gifted our career by those who are willing to stand in front of our cameras but yesterday I was humbled watching Akiyo work to create our images. O-sama, domo arigato gozaimasu.

Other people who must be thanked are my wonderful makeup artist/wife and friend Nobu-san for allowing us into his gym to do makeup before heading into the mountains.  Incidentally, Nobu is also part of this project.

One of my favorite memories from the day came at the end, when we returned to the gym to remove makeup.  Our 9 year old climbing friend Nana was there and when she realized who was coming in you could see here through the door jumping up and down as if Christmas arrived early (that is probably not a culturally appropriate analogy but lets roll with it),  truly adorable to watch her giddiness around her idol.  Akiyo was lovely and gracious signing her chalk bag and posing for pictures, class act.

More shoots to come and Obe-san as soon as your new pad arrives your next!  For now, here are some more images from our amazing day in Shirotai with Akiyo-chan.

Pink on the Wind

It is always with a mixture of melancholy and spring anticipation that I watch the pink succumb to the wind and yet the Sakura have all but dropped.  We never did get to throw our own Hanami party this year but I  thought I would share a few images from a short evening I spent last week in Ueno park prior to its soggy rain out. Regardless of the rain I had a wonderful evening and I would like to say thank you to everyone who invited me onto their tarps, fed me and kept the beer and sake flowing.


While the world marveled last week on its new population of 7 billion people I decided I needed a way to illustrate our new vastness.  This quoted text from Wikipedia seemed like a good place to start.

"The Greater Tokyo Area is a large metropolitan area in Kantō regionJapan, consisting of most of the prefectures of ChibaKanagawaSaitama, and Tokyo (at the center).  A 2007 UN estimate puts the population at 35,676,000,[4] "  (The current number 37,730,064.)  "making it the world's most populous metropolitan area by far. It covers an area of approximately 13,500 km² (5,200 mi²),[5] giving it a population density of 2,642 person/km² - which is somewhat more than twice the population density of Bangladesh. It is the second largest single metropolitan area in the world in terms of built-up or urban function landmass at 7,800 km² (3,000 mi²).[6]"

Japan is approximately the size of California in land mass but still manages #10 on the most populated countries list and Tokyo's population is close to the entire population of the Roman Empire (AD 300-400).  It will be interesting to watch how the world adapts to the new space, agricultural, and industrial challenges of a planet hosting this level of human diaspora.  The following aerials attempt to illustrate the sheer sprawl that is greater Tokyo.  From the air I could view the population horizon in a manner impossible from the tight-knit street level of the city. I  scheduled a future dawn flight, even though my pilot informed me the city has yet to return to its full force illumination in the wake of last years tsunami and subsequent power shortages.  For now this hazy mid-day flight was an amazing glimpse at the worlds largest city and possible a sign of things to come.