Observing traffic lights and basic road safety would seem to be the best option when it comes to avoiding accidents, but if nothing else, a Shinto blessing in the middle of a crossing is way better when it comes to urban visuals.
Recently, when putting together a set of traditional Japan images, I went back to the photograph of this intense looking Shinto priest from December 2012. A portrait that at the time seemed much better suited to black and white.
Now, however, I’m not nearly so convinced. In fact, if pushed to pick one or the other, I’d probably opt for colour.
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.