Thursday, March 26, 2009

globalization and japan

Globalization is present in Japan in everything from fashion to fast food. Having one of the world's strongest economies, Japan sends its influence everywhere and also brings in many new trends and cultural elements. Restaurants from India, Mexico and everywhere in between are frequented by Japanese people sporting everything from bohemian to American "Grease" style outfits. The global influence on Japanese popular culture is evident everywhere you look, but it is not only the newest trends that are reaching and leaving Japan's borders. Religion in Japan is the result of globalization that occurred as early as 5th century BC when Buddhism came to Japan from China and Korea. The Japanese people currently acknowledge three major religions in their culture: Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity. Japan's origin and political lineage were set up by ancient Shinto traditions. This history is still evident today in many shrines scattered throughout its cities and landscapes, but now one can find many Buddhist pagodas such as those pictured and buddha statues alongside these shrines. These two religions exist side by side in Japanese culture and do not conflict in the eyes of most Japanese. Another religious global influence has been the spread of Christianity which arrived with missionary Francis Xavier in the 16th century. Though it is less prevalent than the other two traditions, Christianity influences traditional and popular elements of Japanese culture. Weddings are often conducted with a Christian priest and vows and jewelry often highlight virgin Marys and crosses. The foreign influence in Japanese popular culture has boomed, but with every visit to a shrine or friends' wedding, we are reminded of the culture than reached these shores without the help of internet sites and TV shows. For more information on the mixed religion of Japan, click here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

photographing japan

children going to new year's event, Nigata, 1956
women harvesting rice, Yamagata 1955

Hiroshi Hamaya, a Tokyo native born in 1915, started photographing people at the age of 15. He went on to be a self-taught freelance photographer from the age of 21 and in 1960, became Magnum's first Asian photographer. His early work focused on the relationship between humans and nature. One of his first collections documented a snow village in Japan in 1946 and from there on he travelled around the world continuing his focus on people and their relationship to their surroundings. He covered the demonstration against the US and Japan Security Treaty but then returned to his original focus and began work on an aerial photo series. He died in 1999 but not without making a huge impact on photography in Japan and worldwide. His black and white striking landscapes and emotion-filled portraits earned him the Hasselblad Award in 1987. Hiroshi captured Japanese and other cultures at their roots, showing the labor and environment out of which our current societies grew. He stated that he has learned a lot about Japanese people by observing nature, and he has surely opened up this connection through his photos. In a world of brightly colored purikura, animae, and bustling streets of a nocturnal Tokyo, Hiroshi Hamaya's photos speak to me and my passion for the natural world and the human connection with it: a connection that technology and artificiality separates more and more each day. Click on the links for an interview with Hiroshi Hamaya and examples of his nature photography.

"I like the idea that my work isn't intended only for the Earth, but for the entire Universe!"


Monday, March 2, 2009

japanese pop culture

Walking into a Japanese arcade, you become lost in a maze of flashing coin machines, spinning colored lights, and claw machines groping for everything from stuffed animals to ice cream. Navigating farther past the horse racing simulator and monster spider war games, you will most likely come upon a collection of photo booths radiating an ambiance of pure white light to which there is no comparison. Groups of girls buzz around from booth to booth while giggles and bells tinkle from every corner. You have entered the world of Purikura, the Japanese version of the picture booth that is a must-do for friends of all ages. For about 400 yen you and your friends can enter a booth, such as the one in the first photo, and take 4 to 6 photos with the backgrounds of your choice. When you have taken all of your photos, you can personalize them on the screen just outside the booth. With the pens provided you can write anything you want and add the ever-so-cute hearts, stars, strawberries, and flowers etc. such as those in the second photo. Purikura was introduced in Japanese arcades in 1995 and continues to inundate Japanese pop culture. One of these booths was one of the first places my Japanese friends and I visited, and I have found it hard to come by a cellular phone not covered in Purikura stickers and backgrounds. The capabilities of Purikura machines varies from simple amateur editing tools to high fashion camera angles and wind machines. More information of the creation and evolution of the Purikura machine can be found here, including this video. Happy editing!