Monthly Archives: March 2011

Japan earthquake: An Appeal

It is beyond comprehension. As often as one reaches for the news, for the specifics, the scientific and concrete it simply dissipates at the sight of footage of destruction beyond mortal means.

No words can do justice to the events that occurred here, not immediately. Nor right now, it’s still too close. I wasn’t in the heart of it, I was safe, my building swayed but it did not shudder.

The only real first hand experience I had of it was what many people felt; fear for a friend’s life. However, the people I know who were close to this disaster and continue to remain at the heart of it are safe.

I know this thanks to a global media that has both helped people survive this disaster and also created a perhaps greater impact still. It has multiplied the reach of this tragedy.

For the next weeks and months Japan will dominate every airwave the world over. The terror of tsunami and devastation will be repeated in such a way that this tragedy will long remain in the memory.

This can I hope do more than stun a world for however long the media focus remains on Japan.

Please let it compel you to help in the only way one really can. Give money to those that can help on the ground. Give blood if possible and then when the media cycle ends; remember the people.

A large part of Japan is still standing for two reasons; it planned for this and it was far enough away. The people that were at the heart of this will need more than that. They will need the generosity and kindness of the world. They will need the best we have to offer.

Please give it.

You can donate directly to the Japanese Red Cross here.

For a more sizable list of charities you can donate to see here.

 

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Mind the Flash

Japanese people have mastered the camera pose. Crafted it into a fine art and bequeathed it unto their young in such a fashion that one might even begin to think it genetic, a biological imperative perhaps, an evolutionary tweak that has emerged along with the technology it is bonded to.  Because in the mere instant one has to pose correctly for a photograph, the Japanese are already there, two fingers held aloft in a peace sign yelling, “cheezu!” Meanwhile, I’m blinking like a deer in headlights, stunned by the blast of camera flash.

One photographic incident in particular got me thinking. I was at Fuji Q Highland, an Amusement Park that resides at the base of; you’ve guessed it, Mt. Fuji. Inside are three particularly amazing rides: Eejyanaika (translated to, ‘isn’t it good?’ Ok, not everything translates in a cool way), FujiYama and the mind bogglingly fast Dodonpa.

I was waiting to ride the incredibly fast Dodonpa with a friend whom, repeatedly terrified by announcements over the tannoy as to just how fast this machine is, responded with yelps of, ‘muri!’ or in English, ‘impossible, I can’t do it, argh!’ Once aboard the ride she continued to yell this phrase except for one brief moment that I realized had been the camera flash, only to continue on with her cries afterwards. Instinctively, during an experience otherwise dominated by the excitement and fear of the ride she had twisted, smiled and posed for the camera. I on the other hand was more concerned that my cheeks not tear from my face due to the g-force.

Photography is everywhere in Japan. From high quality camera phones to the ever-present purikura. Photography is incorporated into life here in a way that goes beyond any other nation. The stereotype of a Japanese travel group abroad, all wielding state of the art cameras, endlessly pointing and snapping photographs is a well earned and thoroughly deserved one. While the teenage love of purikura, essentially photo booths with a variety of special effects that can be applied to your group photos are so popular that they can be found with ease almost everywhere you go.

That photography is such a significant part of life here is at times hard to believe, particularly when one considers that the camera industry only began to emerge in Japan in the 1930’s. When of course it was beyond the reach of even the comparatively wealthy as,

“In those days, the average starting salary of a graduate of an elite university in Japan who was hired by bank, the best-paying job, was around 70 yen per month. In contrast, the price of the Leica camera was 420 yen.”[1]

Yet, from those early days has sprung an enormous industry fuelled by a love of technology that is visible in all walks of life and among all ages in Japan. At arcades I have seen young people with staggering coordination in pursuit of the high score on a dance machine and a vast number of people with a mind numbing addiction to Pachinko (a low stakes gambling machine with a resemblance to pinball, without any of the skill). While undoubtedly gaming technologies such as these have had and will continue to have such an affect on us, I still believe that the camera and its simple yet beautiful power to capture a moment will continue to be of greater significance. At least until the day that Wii bowling is entered into the Olympics.

However, the truth is, I can’t help but feel that here in Japan is where technology and society meet first. Through computer games, mobile phones, 3D TVs the Japanese people engage with technology faster and with an aplomb that perhaps only South Korea can beat. As such, if technology and biology are going to crash into one another it’ll happen here long before reaching foreign shores.

While visiting home this summer I met a friend of a friend, a Japanese Doctor no less and I took the opportunity to pitch this very theory to him. Essentially I believe that the response to the camera has become so ingrained at a biological level, that just as one can tell the sex of a child from an ultrasound, that one could also tell the child’s ethnicity… well, in one particular case.

Note: This picture is the fine work of Max Joseph, find his blog here.

This blog post was originally featured on travelblogs.com as a guest article. The original post can be found here.