Japan

Posted by Ellen

That's what they call this roller coaster in Yokohama, Japan.

Posted by Ellen

In the mid-nineteenth century, the area around the northern Japanese city of Towada was designated as imperial ranchland, devoted to raising horses for the samurai cavalry.

The most famous of these horses was probably First Frost, which Emperor Hirohito rode for propaganda purposes during World War II. The U.S. Navy claimed to confiscate First Frost but actually left it with Hirorhito's personal property. Admiral "Bull" Halsey had promised to ride Hirorhito's horse when the Americans arrived in Tokyo, so another all-white horse was substituted for a ceremonial ride through town, for propaganda purposes.

Towada recalls its heritage with bronze horses spilling out onto a main street designated officially as Government Administration Road, nicknamed Horse Road. There are also 151 cherry trees along the road.

Posted by Ellen

Artists Jordan Lloyd, Dana Keller, and Sanna Dullaway try their hands at colorizing photographs from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They've got a new book out titled, appropriately enough, Colorized Photographs.

Above is Walt Whitman, who posed for the camera in 1887. Below are Japanese archers photographed circa 1860, and below that is a sunset viewed from the Tennessee state capitol building in Nashville in 1864.

These three images suggest some of the difficulties and limitations of colorization, even in the hands of talented artists. Walt Whitman in color looks a bit like a painted portrait we may have seen in a museum. The Japanese archers in color look like they're from a movie we're pretty sure we saw but can't quite remember. And while color probably adds visual interest to the Nashville scene, it doesn't really add to our comprehension of the historical situation documented in that photo–and the blaze of color in the sky arguably distracts the viewer from the drama and rhythm of the composition, which was originally rendered with an eye toward black and white simplicity.

Still and all, there's something about photographic revisionism that gets us interested all over again in how the world used to look.

Posted by Ellen

Photographer Trey Ratcliff called this picture "The Infity of Tokyo."

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Japanese macaques, native to much of the country, are the world's northernmost species of non-human primates. They can tolerate below-zero temperatures (F) and spend months at a time living in the snow.

Some but not all of the snow monkeys congregate in and around hot springs during the wintertime.

Posted by Ellen

Japan's Mount Fuji, just before dawn.

This is a pretty spectacular photo, with the features of an iconic landscape dwarfed by a skyful of stars and clouds and hints of daylight. Modern cameras can capture this sort of scene more or less routinely if they are set up to stare into the night, lens wide open, without blinking or moving for, in this case, twenty seconds.

The human eye could drink it in at a glance, if only we were there. But we weren't there, sadly. This morning, we must make do with the picture, and fortunately it's a picture that rewards a slowly wandering eye with pleasant little discoveries in the realms of shadow and glow, detail and hulk, pattern and emptiness.

Posted by Ellen

If you happen to need the bathroom while you're in the Tokyo Airport, be sure to allow plenty of extra time so you can study up on the operating instructions.

Posted by Ellen

Natsumi Hayashi calls herself the Yowayowa Camera Woman, yowayowa being a Japanese word for weak or feeble. "Since I'm yowayowa," she says, "it's really heavy to carry SLR cameras around."

She lives in Tokyo with two cats and is devoted to her art: photography, "mainly levitating self-portraits." Levitating self-portraits done the way Hayashi does them are not easy to pull off. The levitation part is straightforward enough: she jumps. But catching herself on camera mid-jump, in a pose that looks levitation-like, floaty and non-jumpy, requires a little technique and a lot of patience.

Hayashi says she puts her camera on a tripod and composes the shot, setting the focus for where she plans to do her jumping. Her shutter speed is very fast, to freeze motion. Her camera can be set for a ten-second delay, allowing her ten seconds to run from the tripod to the jump location; at precisely the right fraction of a second, just before the shutter clicks, she leaps into the air.

Then she goes back to the camera and does it again till she gets it right. Her internal clock must be pretty damn good by now, after working on levitating self-portraits for more than a year, but even so, it is hard to predict exactly which part of a jump the shutter will happen to record, and perhaps hard to anticipate what that part of a jump will look like, composition-wise.

Also, after all that jumping, if her legs were once a bit yowayowa, they are surely yowayowa no more.

Posted by Ellen

Skiing in the dark in Japan.

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Posted by Ellen

Kaido Hoovelson needed a stage name if he were going to get anywhere in the world of professional sumo wrestling; the name that stuck is Baruto, Japanese for Baltic.

Hoovelson was working as a nightclub bouncer in Estonia when his judo instructor suggested sumo as a good career move. Young men who are accepted into one of the "stables" of aspiring sumo wrestlers live and train together; they learn sumo technique and its cultural dimensions, and they get plenty to eat. Of course, newcomers--especially newcomers from foreign countries--could expect to be assigned chores, such as washing the clothes of the older wrestlers, and they would have to be tough enough to deal with hazing as well as wrestling.

But for Hoovelson to really succeed as Baruto, then first and foremost he would have to learn Japanese. His first word was "Itai": ouch. All instruction was in Japanese, as was all interaction day and night among the wrestlers in his stable. Within a couple of years, he became fluent enough to give TV interviews at tournaments, which turned out to be a good thing because he rose quickly to sumo stardom,  even gaining his own fan club among young Japanese.

Beginning in the 1990s, a few foreigners have been among the 800 professionals working their way up the sumo ranks; two Hawaiians and a Mongolian have become champions of the topmost tournament league,  Baruto, professional sumo's first Estonian athlete, is in the top league now and among the contenders for the overall championship.

In a profession of huge men, Baruto is among the tallest--6 foot 4--and as heavy as the heaviest--about 360 pounds. He has thrived on the Japanese meat stew that the wrestlers eat several times a day, but he has also sought out Western restaurants for a taste of home. In a Russian restaurant in Tokyo, he met Elena Tregubova from Vladivostok, the daughter of the proprietor. They were married last February, and Baruto insists he'd like to have five children with her.

A sumo match begins with several minutes of pacing and scowling. The actual fighting may last only a few seconds. It's all over as soon as one wrestler pushes the other out of the 15-foot circle or forces him to touch the mat with any part of his body other than his feet.

The picture shows Baruto participating in the ceremony associated with a sumo tournament. This video shows a match last month in which Baruto  (in blue) needed only about 3 seconds to win; you can discern the finer points of his technique in the slow-motion replays at the end of the clip.