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Asakusa at Letters from Japan

Archive for the ‘Asakusa’ Category

Photography Tour to Japan #12: A Bath as bounding experience   no comments

After a long day of exploring the countryside of Japan, what we look forward to is a trip to the Onsen or hot spring. It is a public bath and the hot spring is rich in minerals.

In every city we traveled through we had opportunities to dip ourselves into hot bath tubs at the end of the day. Wearing Yukata, a Japanese robe, sometimes we walked together to the Onsen. Even though there were those who were not used to the idea and a little hesitant at first, this eventually became a daily routine.

Strange enough, it is almost hard for me to think of this as a part of daily life at this point as I am so used to taking showers. Even though I went out of my way to find a Japanese deep bath tub for my apartment in the US, I rarely use it to be honest. But getting back to this custom was such a great thing.

In Wajima, there is even a hot spring to just dip your feet in. Literally called Ashi Yu, foot bath, this city run facility is located in the middle of town. This is, of course, one of the few tourist attractions in the city, but it is also a place where locals go. It is a locus of the community where people gather and feel very comfortable talking to one another.

One of the participants pointed out that privacy issues at the public baths are interesting and can be a little strange. On one hand, everyone is naked and seems quiet comfortable. At the same time, the sound of the ocean is pumped into the women’s bathroom to overcome the sounds of what women do in the bathroom.

There is a Japanese expression, “Hadaka no Tsukiai.” It can be literally translated to “naked relationship,” and it refers to a trusted relationship among the same sex. I would assume that it came from this tradition of going to a public bath and having conversations about the many affairs in one’s life.

This trip is about bonding with other participants as well as the locals as much as photographing beautiful scenery.

Written by projectbasho on September 13th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #9: If you were a cat…   no comments

Posted at 12:49 am in Asakusa, Japan Photo Trip, Kanazawa, Wajima

If you were a cat, Japan would be a pretty good place to be.

We have come across many street cats during the trip. Most of them are very well taken care of and just hanging around where they feel comfortable. If you walk in the neighborhood small streets and alley ways, you will come across at least a few cats every a half hour.

They are friendly and a part of each of the neighborhoods we have visited. The encounters with these little creatures in the back streets certainly make the walks more enjoyable. Here are the some of the cats we have encountered during our trip.

At Omi Market, Kanazawa

Asakusa, Tokyo, Photo by Jeri

Nanso Collection, Wajima

In paddy field, Kami Ozawa, Wajima, Photo by Jeri

Alley, Kanazawa, Photo by Jeri

Written by projectbasho on September 12th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #4: Who’s who   no comments

Posted at 9:32 pm in Asakusa, Japan Photo Trip

Everyone for the Japan photo trip has arrived safely and we are heading to Asakusa.

There we will stay at a hotel one night with a view of all of Asakusa from the 14th floor. Tomorrow we will visit Tsukiji Fish Market and explore Asakusa before we head to Kanazawa on a sleeper train. Tonight we will go out for a little welcome dinner at an izakaya.

An izakaya is a pretty typical Japanese snack bar and drinking establishment. While, Yakitori (grilled chicken on skewers) is perhaps the most well known food served, the menus are really quite diverse. These bars are popular, casual, and relatively cheap places for after-work drinking. My sister and her friend are joining us tonight as they want to meet those who are participating in the trip.

On the way to the restaurant, we came across something interesting to photograph the entire group.

Let me introduce those who are participating in our very first photography trip to Japan. All of them are from Philadelphia, and most of them have taken a class at Project Basho previously. Some of them, I haven’t seen for some time so this trip is a way to reconnect. It is such a great pleasure for me to be traveling with a group I already know.

Far left: Scott has taken a couple of classes this year and is a relative newcomer at Project Basho. He is an archivist at a large corporation in Philadelphia. Partly because of his job, the angle of his interest in Japanese culture is a little more academic and historical. He wakes up early in the morning and takes a 45 minute walk with his camera before we eat breakfast.

Left Center: Cindy has known Project Basho from the very beginning. She took a couple of classes at our previous location, but lost contact until this trip came up. She was the first to sign up for the trip with such excitement, and was very anxious whether this trip was actually happening or not. Now with everything
happening accordingly, her happiness has been radiating from her face since her arrival.

Center: Lauren has been a volunteer at Project Basho for almost one year. She was introduced to Project Basho by her friend who also was a volunteer at the studio. She is carrying a 4×5 camera and a pinhole along with her digital SLR. With me she has been learning essential Japanese phrases like “may I take a photograph” and “where is a bathroom?”

Right Center: Jeri took a beginners class about a year ago. Having grown up in San Francisco, she has enjoyed a lot of sushi and particularly loves Ikura, salmon roe. Jeri is very much interested in Japanese culture and language. She is full of curiosity and has asked me many questions about Japanese culture. She is interested in exploring the Japanese countryside during this trip. She is updating her blog with pictures from each location.

Far Right: Tom is a photographer whom I have known since I came to Philadelphia 12 years ago. He was one of darkroom monitors at Temple University where I took a few classes. He is a part of Lightroom, a local co-op which runs another darkroom nearby our studio. He is carrying many cameras from the latest DSLR to a Holga and a Diana. Based on what I have seen so far, I am sure that he is the one who will come up with the most photographs from this trip.

So it is with these good folks that I head off happily to an eccentric izakaya restaurant located deep in Asakusa for an evening of conversation, laughter, delicious food, sake, and shochu.

Written by projectbasho on September 3rd, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #2: Asakusa and Asakusa Portrait by Hiroh Kikai   no comments

This 13-day photography trip to Japan will start in the middle of Tokyo. Asakusa is the first destination for our trip, and the group will stay one night here after a long flight to Narita Airport.

Asakusa was a center of popular culture during the Edo period which lasted for almost 300 years and was the last feudal period in Japanese history. Asakusa prospered as a cultural bridge between Yoshiwara, the red light district and the rest of city. Historically, Asakusa was always the center of entertainment from Kabuki, comedies and movies.

There are two things that come to my mind when I think of Asakusa. Asakusa was, in fact, the destination of my first date when I was 15 years old. I went to Hana Yashiki, a classic and iconic amusement park, equivalent to Astroland Park in Coney Island, with a girl from a neighboring junior high school. I vaguely remember the uncomfortableness that I felt all day long. I was simply too shy to be a good date.

Aside from a blue memory of my adolescence, the other thing that comes to my mind is a series of portraits. There is one notable photographic work which originated in Asakusa. Hiroh Kikai, a Japanese photographer, has been creating portraits of those who come to the tourists-concentrated area of Tokyo for years.

Hiroh Kikai is a photographer from the Yamagata prefecture in the northern part of Japan. Influenced by a background in philosophy and the works of Diane Arbus, he has been working on this project since 1973. Titled “Asakusa Portrait,” Kikai’s portraits show people with peculiarities and sometimes subtle uniqueness against a simple backdrop of the wall in the Senso-ji.

Right now, Kikai’s images are shown as a part of an exhibition titled “Heavy Light” at International Center of Photography in NY. The exhibition attempts to show a segment of contemporary Japanese photographers whose work is fresh to US. In the show, 16 prints of Kikai’s portraits are featured. In the review of the exhibition by Roberta Smith in the NY Times, she particularly noted the excellence of his images.

At the opening reception for the exhibition at ICP in June, I was able to talk to him for a little while. This was a great moment for me as I have been a big fan of his work since I first saw his images in a magazine 13 years ago. I was introduced to him by my friend. He appeared a little uncomfortable surrounded by people who were conversing in English. During our brief conversation, he was very humble despite the fact that he is at the opening at ICP which contains his images and that there were hundreds of people there for the show. He was very cool about it all.

This event got me excited to revisit his images. I have a book titled “Ya Chimata” published in 1996. This is one of the first photography books that I ever bought. Curiously enough, this book was published by a publisher who usually deals with philosophy books. At the opening, I realized that I should have brought this copy of the book for Kikai to autograph.

If we are lucky, our group may be able to catch him while he is working on his ongoing project in Asakusa in September. Just for this reason, I should pack my old copy of his book in my already overly packed suitcase.

Written by projectbasho on August 22nd, 2008