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.

New Years Shishimai

2013 is upon us and after I a non-eventful New Years Eve, 2 and 4 year olds need their sleep, I headed out on the 1st to see if I might find local images at the temples.  New Years and New Years Day are arguably the most important holiday in Japan, though you might think otherwise if you have ever tried to drive during golden week, so I went feature hunting.  Unfortunately, the local temples here in Fussa don't see the two million visitors that Meiji Shrine sees on the first day of the year.  Knowing I could not make a trip to the city I thought I might find a quiet image locally as people made their important trips to get their Omikuji (years fortune) or make their first prayer.  After my third visit to a temple and still nothing impressive I heard drumming in the distance and headed off to find the source.

Instead of temple imagery I found a Shishimai ceremony going from house to house driving out evil spirits with lion dances.  I am told this is a rare site in cities these days, I was just happy to have found something to play with.  I only caught their last three houses and never quite caught the quintessential lion image I wanted.  Imagery aside, I love the idea of waking on the first day of the year to the sound of drums and flutes and a lion costume undulating and chomping his wooden jaws in my home or business consuming evil spirits in the air or even nibbling them off of me.

I did not make resolutions this year.   It is going to be a big year for my family and business as we prepare to move and start another chapter of adventures and images but whatever the year brings I am happy to have had it ushered in by a lion dance and the sound of early morning japanese drums.

Good Luck to all of you in 2013,  it should be amazing!

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.

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.

Crushing Xmas

My family is here in Koh Tao, Thailand for Christmas vacation and while the trip is fundamentally very Thai, those of you who have traveled here will know what that means, we are having a wonderful time together and for Christmas Eve I was even able to get away and shoot a Muay Thai match.  I have always wanted to shoot one of these bouts and while I would have preferred to shoot with more lighting then a couple fluorescent bulbs, definitely with strobe and in the heart of Bangkok it was still great fun to hear the Yuletide roar of the local crowd go up in response to the dull thud of foot and knee crushing abs and ribs well into the night.