Dokoka - Japan on Film

An old houndstooth fedora hangs from a plastic hook, rocking back and forth to the motion of the northbound Shinkansen express from Kyoto to Tokyo. The hat’s brim is lifted in the back, down in the front, and a curious emblem adorns the loophole presumably used to hold a feather. The emblem is a tree with drooping branches above a Japanese symbol I’m unable to translate. I’ve got a window seat on this afternoon trip to Hakone where my wife and I will be spending the next two nights basking in Japanese tradition at a Ryokan, which is a hostel of sorts with tatami mats, futon beds, pillows for sitting, and a natural hot water Onsen for tranquil escapes from reality.

At 200 MPH, I stare out the window of the bullet train at blurred farmland and slanted cityscapes disappearing as quickly as they come into view. It reminds of the elasticity of time, the importance of how time is observed and the rate at how quickly it passes. It is one of the reasons I chose to bring film with me on this October trip, as a reminder to slow down and take my time, to focus on the experience rather than the presentation of the experience. I wouldn’t know if I got the “right shot,” but it wouldn’t matter, because rather than fiddling in the pixels of perfection, true contentment flourishes in the natural imperfections of reality. The persistence of time is not something one can control. Instead of manipulating the experience, film photography allowed me to organically capture in crystalline grain the raw brevity of transient moments, without constant distracting judgment.

The photographs here were captured on Ilford HP5+, on either an Olympus Mju-II or Mamiya 7II, and scanned with an Epson V600. Aside from contrast and exposure, all photos are unedited, imperfections are welcome.

- City & People -

The nerves in my right eye exploded into an unsettling array of red squiggles. Maybe it was insufficient water and sleep, or maybe it was Shinjuku. The city is overcrowded, lights and noise litter the atmosphere, and my constant desire to look at everything has left my pupils in a state of exhaustion. But alas, I'm here, and it's more than I had dreamed.

Shinjuku upon arrival (Olympus Mju-II)

Street Food in Tokyo (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Loosely protected by bone and wit, an immeasurable array of possibility is constantly broadcasting from our electrically charged minds. Of circumstance and consequence, possibilities are played out in all directions, yet our fleshy vessels mobilize in only one direction. Like ghosts in transit, we live as smears in space time, a blur of what is and what could be.

Ghosts in Transit (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Photographing as life happens reveals an almost effortless beauty in the mundane. In many parts of Japan, cleanliness is king. Although trash cans are rare commodities along the sidewalks, the streets remain remarkably litter-free. I wanted to find a way to photograph this cultural trait of cleanliness when I discovered this scene in on some random side street in Tokyo. Cleaning supplies neatly displayed next to artifacts of a night well spent.

I wonder if the broom and mop were similarly curious of me and my intent, my face shielded by glass and metal, my crouched posture, an unusual encounter, and possibly a moment of beauty in the mundane traits of a photographer. 

Broom and beer (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

I didn’t have any problems photographing people in Japan. Japan is a major world producer of cameras and photography equipment (all of my cameras were made in Japan), so I guess the acceptance of camera use makes sense. Either that, or I just felt extraordinarily confident due to the language barrier. Worse case scenario is I have a confrontation in another language and just apologize for being American. Thankfully, that never happened.

Looks can be deceiving - especially white humanoid rabbits, a symbol of sexuality awkwardly positioned in the curious realms of Tokyo’s audacious underbelly. (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

(Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Everywhere you go, people are in the streets, destination unknown. I particularly like this photo, the young boy walking on his own, stripes on his jacket echoing the lines on the asphalt. Kawaii girls in heels, and the woman on the right uncertain of her photographic demise.

Fashion Forward (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Fashion Forward (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Hip (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Hip (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Takeshita Street (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Takeshita Street (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

In the fashion districts of Tokyo, it’s not difficult to spot trend setters. I sat on a bench and waited for the couple above on the left to pass me. It’s as if they were posing for a picture, ready for any moment a paparazzi might bombard them.

Passersby under plastic shields (Tokyo) (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Passersby under plastic shields (Tokyo) (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Guy crossing (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Guy crossing (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Girl crossing (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Girl crossing (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

It’s possible we’ll never see each other, we’ll never know each other’s names, or that we both own the same goose- neck desk lamp. Striped concrete pulses like the ticking of a metronome, a repetition of familiarity, a place of missed encounters, a bridge for ghosts. Generations of rare circumstances have brought us to this moment - a moment which passes without us knowing. Life goes on.

Here, where you once were... (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

A picture snapped of a picture snapped. Pushed to 1600 (Kyoto) (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Kids in Kyoto (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

It costs a fee to get into the museum but the guard will happily take your picture outside of it. In fact, he almost grabs the picture-taking device from your hands and gleefully makes you pose for the photo.

- Transportation -

A series of consequential circumstances continually brings me here, to this moment, this electric stream of unending fractility. A passenger on some eternal taxi to a destination elsewhere - looking behind, I reflect, reminisce, and sink in disbelief from the time that’s already passed, never to be witnessed again. Out the window, years turn to seconds as the present moment blooms in technicolor and falls to ash in the same breath. I absorb every sensation I can possibly attain. Each interaction affects everything that follows. Decades behind prescription frames and life is still a blur, filling my pockets with watches, hoping to collect just a modicum of precious time. Ahead, windshield wiper blades tick like the clapperboard of a movie set, syncing the ephemeral with the observable. Infinite expansion of possibility in the distance - a culmination of the turbulent past, the fleeting present, and hope for what’s to come. A blink of the eye, the shutter closes, traffic control for the soul.

Traffic control (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Boat on Katsura River (Kyoto) (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Motion bring a balance of clarity and distraction, connectedness and independence, meditation and determination.

Us in the passing reflection (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Parked scooter near Cat Street in Tokyo (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Train in Ikebukuro (Mamiya 7II Ilford HP5+)

Waiting for the train to pass while trekking the charming neighborhoods of Ikebukuro, I feel unknown forces comforting my wandering mind, begging me to stay, to settle, whispering you belong, here, now, always.

Transportation in Miyajima (Mamiya 7II Ilford HP5+)

Waiting for the train (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+ pushed to 1600)

Public transportation is integral to the Japanese lifestyle, and it operates flawlessly. Some train stations are large as airports, with hundreds of shops and restaurants, and what seems like hundreds of thousands of people. On these late night trains in the outskirts of the city, lone passengers wait for the last line home.

One only exists when observed. Attention is subjective, existence in the palm of perspective. (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

One only exists when observed. Attention is subjective, existence in the palm of perspective. (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

- Temples & Nature -

For me, a trip to Japan was something I dreamed of for as long as I can remember. I was ready to be immersed in the culture I've fantasized about while reading Japanese travel books and watching imported movies, cultural documentaries, and animes amass. Moving to Los Angeles months before our trip to Japan was a sign that now was the time to go. The beckoning lure to visit this enchanting country on the other side of the world is rooted in a desire for my own escape from familiarity and mundane complacency - an itch for more. The significance of this adventure was put into perspective when meeting natives, many on their own quests of edifying discovery. Para-global souls on discrete journey's in a shared sea of undulated revitalization.

Awkwardly, I was a celebrity to some young kids, a tall foreigner they wanted to get a picture with. Some girls traveled to Kyoto from Fukushima to inform others that their town is now safe to visit. These girls were very young when the tsunami hit Fukushima and caused the nuclear meltdown, destroying their homes, contaminating beautiful farmland, and uprooting their peaceful lifestyle in historic north Japan. Hundreds of miles they traveled in an attempt to reinvigorate their local economy by attracting both Japanese and foreign tourists alike. I felt my heart sink as one girl read aloud, in fragmented English, with a persistent and genuine smile, that she wanted nothing more than peace and happiness in the world, and for us to visit her hometown.

Kimono girls in Kyoto (Mamiya 7II Ilford HP5+)

We explored various parks, temples, and sacred areas in Kyoto, Tokyo, Hakone, and Miyajima - all photogenic in their own ways. Below are some of my favorite images and recommended places to visit.

Sanjusangendo Buddhist Temple in Kyoto (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)

Dokoka in Kyoto

Dokoka in Kyoto

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)

Honoring the dead, an ever-burning homage (Fushima Inari Taisha - Kyoto) (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Honoring the dead, an ever-burning homage (Fushima Inari Taisha - Kyoto) (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Katsura River (Kyoto) (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Katsura River (Kyoto) (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Climbing Fushima Inari Taisha in Kyoto (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Climbing Fushima Inari Taisha in Kyoto (Olympus Mju-II Ilford HP5+)

Sulfurous vents in Hakone (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Sulfurous vents in Hakone (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Mt. Hakone erupted about 3000 years ago. Today, the area of Owakudani around the crater is still highly active with hot springs and sulfurous vents. I found myself wildly drawn to the volcanic action at my feet even though the glorious view of Mt. Fuji was right behind me

Statues at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji in Kyoto - old friends, frozen in time (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Statues at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji in Kyoto - old friends, frozen in time (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Hiking the ancient Edo trail (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Hiking the ancient Edo trail (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

A bridge in Kyoto (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

A bridge in Kyoto (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Mt. Fuji (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

Mt. Fuji (Mamiya 7ii Ilford HP5+)

- Onward -

I consider Los Angeles to be quite photogenic. However, Japan is so much more. Shooting film enabled me to slow down and enjoy my surroundings, paying close attention to the everyday aspects of Japan and its people. On this trip, we toured Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Hakone, Hiroshima, and Miyajima. I hope to return again in the future, visit parts of the island I’ve yet to see, and add new perspectives to this collection of photos. Thank you, Japan, for letting me capture you in silver halide. Until next time…

us