Archives for posts with tag: Fukuoka

I’m currently winding up a week-long business trip to New Brunswick, NJ, and I didn’t bring my camera this time. Thing is, I learned some time ago that this particular series of meetings involves being locked away in hotel ballrooms, which are generally not photogenic, and since New Jersey in November is not a welcoming climate for this thin-blooded, hothouse flower of a Southern Californian, there’s little allure to wandering the undoubtedly charming streets outside. Other business trips, however, have offered more photogenic opportunities both inside and out. I take my job very seriously, of course, but in any business trip there can usually be a little time to venture outside a bit to see what’s up within a block or two of the hotel. So today, some examples, in no particular order, of some of the photos I’ve taken wherever my work-related travels have taken me…

Glazed clay Buddhas lining a wall of the White Dagoba, Beihai Park, Beijing

Glazed clay Buddhas lining a wall of the White Dagoba, Beihai Park, Beijing (meeting of conference organizers)

Interior of Aldred Building, Montreal

Interior of the Aldred Building, at 509 Place d’Armes, Montreal (board meeting series)

Elevator bank and walkways of the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, Georgia.

Elevator bank and walkways of the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, Georgia (board meeting series).

Chihuly, "Ikebana Boat" at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Chihuly, “Ikebana Boat” at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (conference)

Plaza surrounding the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, Indianapolis, Indiana

Plaza surrounding the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Indianapolis, Indiana (conference)

Farmer selling dates by the side of a country road north of Beijing, China trip II

Farmer selling dates by the side of a country road north of Beijing, China trip II (conference)

Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts.

Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts (board meeting series) Setting up for a wedding photograph at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka, Japan

Setting up for a wedding photograph at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka, Japan (conference)

Today’s low-tech randomizer brought me to a series of photos taken during a business trip to Fukuoka, Japan in March 2012. The three photos here really expressed a lot of “Japan-ness” for me. Let’s see what they are…

First, this is just somebody’s front porch. I was walking around sidestreets in the city and came across this home. With the paper lantern, bicycles, architecture, and umbrella, it dredged up fond (but now disturbingly distant) childhood memories of storybooks and National Geographic articles about Japan. Obviously, Japanese culture cannot be boiled down to a doorway somewhere in Japan’s sixth-largest city, but for me it was a strangely expressive moment.

doorway in Fukuoka Japan with bicycles, umbrellas, and a paper lantern

Next, a detailed view of Jotenji Temple, built in 1242:

Jotenji Temple roof

And finally, sticking with the temple theme, the Tochoji Buddha is the largest seated Buddha statue in Japan (10m, or about 33 feet high) . The title of this photo, “Big Buddha” is absolutely not disrespectful: there is a sign at the foot of the stairway leading to the statue that reads: “Big Buddha is Upstairs.” This photo is also contraband: I was asked (after taking the photo) to please not photograph the Buddha. Given the absence of signage prohibiting photography, and there having been no direct request to actually delete the photos I’d taken, and having made a generous donation to the temple restoration fund, I don’t feel particularly bad about it. (Hm, it appears we have met the Ugly American, and he’s closer to home than we’d care to discuss.)

Big Buddha

(All photos were taken with a Nikon D90)

There’s a Harry Chapin song that goes, “All my life’s a circle / Sunrise and sundown.”  And there’s a folk hymn made famous by the Carter Family, among others, that asks, “Will the circle be unbroken…” Dead or Alive described how “You spin me right round, baby / right round like a record, baby / Right round round round.” Blood, Sweat & Tears told us about the Spinning Wheel (that’s got to go round), and Tommy Roe’s head got all Dizzy (and it’s you, girl, making it spin),  and the Lion King reassured us all about the Circle of Life (which, of course, keeps great and small on the endless round). So many songs about circles.

Well, enough of that. If it’s not obvious by now, I’m obsessing a little bit about circles. Last time, I wrote about a recent trip to Japan, and I’m still thinking about that trip, for a number of reasons. So while I was looking at my photos from the Great Japanese Adventure, it occurred to me that there were a lot of, well, round things.  An unusual number of photos that featured circles, or circular objects.

Now admittedly, my compositions often tend toward the geometric, whether or not they’re abstract. I’ve frequently caught myself carefully cropping in the viewfinder, trying to split an image precisely between, say, wall and sky, or to catch just the exactly right angular perspective on part of a structure.

(I like cropping in the viewfinder, by the way. It’s helpful, at least to me, to think about what the final image will look like as a photo (photo qua photo, as one might have said back in graduate school, when one was pretty much utterly unbearably smug and self-important, as opposed to what one is now, which is–well, never mind that). That is, I may be looking at reality, but the viewfinder helps me think about the art I’m finding in the reality. But more on that some other time. For now, it’s all about circles.

And of course, I’m not opposed to circles on principle.  I have been known, from time to time, to capture circular compositions over the years.

But this many circles in a one-day photoshoot—that’s something sort of new and unexpected for me.

Now, it may be that there are just more circular things in Fukuoka than anyplace else, although that seems unlikely. It may be that in my cultural and linguistic panic (described previously), I sought the homey, snuggly, psychological comfort of round objects more than hard-edged angularity. Or it may just be utterly random, one of those little happy chances that sometimes occur without need for elaborate explanation. That’s probably the most likely explanation, but where’s the fun in that?

In any case, it is—to me at least—an interesting bit of kismet that for whatever reason my eye gravitated toward round stuff in Japan. Oh, I took my share of hard-angled geometric shots, of course, but the raw ratio of round to angular in this collection is…surprising. I’m open to suggestions regarding why this happened. A general bored disinterest is also, of course, always welcome.

Anyway, make of it what you will, here are Some Round Things, fresh from Japan:

Decoration on the gate to a Buddhist cemetery

Manhole cover in an alley. Fukuoka, Japan.

Clock on the facade of the Hakata rail station

Incense urn at Tochoji Temple

Roof of Jotenji Temple

“Japan,” someone told me, a few days before I left, “can be an acquired taste.”

Well yes.

Sensory overload, to put it mildly. I do not speak Japanese (well, other than a mangled arigatou gozaimasu and the occasional konnichiwa, which, while rendering me unfailingly polite, somewhat severely limits my normally sparkling conversational skills), so I found myself suddenly, virtually illiterate upon my arrival in Fukuoka, some 550 mile southwest of Tokyo on the island of Kyushu. Fukuoka is the eighth largest city in Japan (metro population 2.5 million, which makes it roughly the size of Chicago, the third largest city in the U.S.).  Perhaps as a result, the city is not really focused on the tourist trade, so helpful non-Japanese signage and speakers were not in the abundance they might be in Tokyo, for instance.  (Although the Convention and Visitors Bureau says Fukuoka is second only to Tokyo for convention business in Japan, so what do I know?) Still, the city was clean and attractive, and literally everyone I came into contact with was warmly polite and pleasantly patient with my hopelessly incompetent efforts to navigate my way around. Local residents happily participated in various spontaneous acts of international street mime (it’s astonishing how much information about local-versus-express trains can be communicated without words) and responded in a friendly and helpful way to my mute map-pointing and no doubt hysterically amusing pronunciations of place names.

The dominant language at my work-related functions was technically English. I say “technically” only because the subject matter was well outside my scope of comprehension—I was there in a staff capacity to support one of our sponsored techical conferences, not as a subject matter expert. The presenters, while obviously brilliant and eloquent, were talking about the theory, design and application of computer networks and distributed computing and information systems, referring to PowerPoint slides that that might as well have been in Kanji (and occasionally were) for all they made any sense to me.

Keynote Presentation with PowerPoint slide

Prof. Shoichi Noguchi presenting the Day 1 Keynote, "The Design Principle of the Robust Information and Communication System under the Great Natural Disaster" at AINA 2012, Fukuoka, Japan

But the conference was well-attended and smoothly-run; the banquets and dinners were delightful and collegial; the organizers and participants cordial and very interesting to talk with. I was able to do some operational good, solve a problem or two, hear some important concerns raised, and generally managed to not get in anyone’s way or unduly embarass myself, so I’d call it a rousing success.

But sensory overload, to say the least. I was very much a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by signs and announcements and graphics and flashing neon things and television broadcasts that made very little sense to my parochial mind. Where signage was in English, it was often in very random English, seemingly selected for how the words looked more than what their normally-intended meaning was. (The same presumably goes, perhaps, for all those Kanji tattoos that are so popular amongst the denizens of Southern California; oh sure the tattoo artist says 愚か means Luck and Prosperity, but you can’t run your bicep through Babelfish once it’s inked.)

I don’t like being illiterate. I really, really don’t. I’m not illiterate when I’m at home. It makes me nervous. I’m not xenophobic, but I am all about words, all about the ongoing narrating of my life that goes on somewhere in the back of my brain, so I suppose I’m naturally illiteracy-phobic. For a guy who loves photography, I’m still all about the words (those of you who bravely plow through these blogs know that by now).  If I’m all about words for the most part, then I’m pretty lost without them. In Europe and South America I may not speak the language but I at least recognize the letters as words, and the convenience of common Latin and Nordic and Romance roots makes the experience a little less like being on another planet. Combine the linguistic illiteracy with an accompanying cultural illiteracy (the book I read about Japanese history prior to my trip proved to be little help at all when, at dinner one evening, I was served a still-very-much-alive squid, its tentacles waving about as chopsticks descended) and I was very much adrift.

Like any other business trip, though, I made sure to make some time for me and the Nikon to wander about. And Fukuoka, while not necessarily a tourist magnet, has a lot of remarkable treats to offer the wandering photographer. And pictures, as we know, can be worth more than words—a comfort to the struggling foreign illiterate.

I also found that it helps, when feeling overwhelmed by a culture and language well beyond one’s comfort level, to go small. That’s often my tendency in photography, anyway: Look for patterns in the details, for pieces of the whole that make sense on their own, and focus on that. Vast landscapes, wide-angle street scenes—those don’t tend to be my interest or, particularly, my forté. Focusing more on the small stuff helped me feel more comfortable in a very large and confusing place. Looking for pattern and detail helped isolate the cacophony of image and sound around me, and eased me more gently into my environment.

Roof beams, Tochoji Temple, Fukuoka, Japan

Door to Buddhist Cemetery in Fukuoka, Japan.

Incense sticks in a large bronze urn, Tochoji Temple, Fukuoka, Japan

Green demon-mask at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka, Japan

Conveniently, it was the beginning of cherry blossom time in Fukuoka, which provided the opportunity for different details. (Even more conveniently for the detail-minded, it was not yet full-blown cherry blossom time, so there were no breathtaking vistas of low-hanging pink and aromatic floral clouds lining park paths and creating landscape temptations.)

Cherry blossoms in Maizuru Park, Fukuoka, Japan

Of course, that’s not to say that some things weren’t well worth the risk of standing back and taking in the whole picture. Sometimes, I suppose, one has to take a deep breath and be very brave and look beyond the micro to face the big, scary world outside the details. There’s a lot to be seen in bits and parts and pieces, in the close-in and carefully-framed; it would seem, though, that there’s also something to be said for sometimes standing up and taking a good look around.

Setting up a Shinto wedding photograph at Kushida Shrine, Fukuoka, Japan

Orange pagoda tower at Tochoji Temple, Fukuoka, Japan

Samurai warriors in Maizuru Park, Fukuoka, Japan

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