With world politics shifting increasingly to the right, this group of nationalists visiting Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on National Foundation Day now don’t seem quite so out of step as they did in 2011, when I first photographed them. Images that back then benefited enormously from some unexpected snow, meaning that unless the weather is especially inclement again, I’ll very likely never top them. But photographic challenges aside, it’s a scene I feel compelled to return to year after year. Each time being a chance to take in the unusual spectacle, and pick out some familiar faces. A familiarity that fortunately hasn’t bred contempt; instead, it simply increases my fascination, as well as giving rise to more than a few questions.
Questions such as: Who are these men and women?
What drives them to such extremes?
Do they genuinely believe in the revisionist view of World War II they adhere to?
And perhaps most crucial of all, what do they actually hope to achieve?
Regardless of whether it’s hot or cold, fine or otherwise, this old Buddhist monk is almost always stood in the same spot. A display of patience and commitment that is nothing short of incredible. He diligently prays. Rarely seems to receive offerings. And when unintentionally provoked by an impolite foreigner, the displeasure he showed was characteristically fleeting.
Well, old style udon, soba and ramen. All of which — somewhat unusually perhaps — are served up daily on the grounds of a shrine. And not just any old shrine either, but the famous, or indeed infamous, Yasukuni Shrine.
Traditional Japanese festivals often require a lot of effort, but the pay-off is that they are almost always a tremendous amount of fun.