I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Summer Festivals in Japan –

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In Japan, summer is synonymous with festivals.

Of course there are festivals held in every part of the world, but there is something about Japanese festivals that makes them stand out from the rest.
Needless to mention, one of the most striking features of summer festivals in Japan is the traditional Yukata.
Watching hundreds of men and women in Japanese traditional attire is an unmatched visual treat.
Here are some of my favorite summer festivals that I attended this summer in Tokyo.

1. Mitama Matsuri

One of the biggest Obon festivals, Mitama Matsuri held at Yasukuni Shrine is a festival that honors the soul of the dead.

In the daytime, there were many traditional dance performances around the shrine area; however the best part of the festival came alive at night when nearly 30,000 lanterns lit the way to the shrine.
I was surprised to discover that another major attraction in this festival was the haunted house.
The Mikoshi parade, the paintings and the dances made this festival very different from the other festivals in Japan.
It was grand and festive, yet very calming and peaceful.

2. Tōrō Nagashi

Having loved being around lanterns in Mitama Matsuri, I could not miss a chance to see another lantern festival Tōrō Nagashi.
Tōrō means lantern and Nagashi means cruise or flow.
No points for guessing, the festival consisted of paper lanterns floating in water.

Around 2,500 lanterns were set afloat on the Sumida river in Asakusa to guide the souls of ancestors to the spirited world.
One could also write a wish on a lantern and release it in water.
The brightly lit river was a perfect spot for photography lovers.
I too tried my naïve photography skills and was fortunate to get a few good clicks.

3. Fireworks Festival

Summer in Japan would not be complete without attending fireworks festival, popularly known as Hanabi.
Fireworks are held at many places in Tokyo throughout summer, but Sumida Fireworks Festival undoubtedly tops the list.

In addition to being most famous, it is also the most crowded festival, hence in order to reserve our spots, we reached a nearby park much before the fireworks’ schedule.
We munched on snacks while patiently waiting for the fireworks to begin.
It started raining heavily in the evening so we stood with raincoats and umbrellas, keeping our fingers crossed, hoping the fireworks don’t get cancelled because of rain.
Luck was on our side, as we eventually witnessed the most incredible fireworks of the season.
The beautiful and colorful sky was definitely worth all the hassle.

4. Himawari Festival

I have always been amazed by flower festivals in Japan.
I love how bunches of flowers are planted and grown in such stunning patterns, be it the red Kochia in Hitachi Seaside Park or the purple Wisteria in Azalea Flower Park.

This summer I attended another flower festival – the Himawari Festival.
Zama city, the place where this festival was held, was painted yellow with over 400,000 tall sunflowers.
There were decks set up at various heights in the plains that offered breathtaking panoramic view of the yellow sunflowers contrasting with the blue sky.

Summer has not yet ended and I am looking forward to upcoming festivals like Koenji Awa Odori, Brazil Samba Carnival and so on.
Who would like to join me for them?

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I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Capturing the surreal –

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As I mentioned in my introduction for English Avenue, one of my hobbies is photography.
As I got more into photography different aspects began to appeal to me more than others.
One particular aspect that I’ve become obsessed with is geometry in photography – either in the form of lines or symmetrical patterns.

Life’s Treadmill.

However, geometric photos alone can be a little boring – they need a human element to bring the photos to life and to give the photos a sense of scale.
Often just a lone figure is great but, occasionally, more than one depending on the scene.
Also, the combination of geometry and the human element give the photo a kind of surreal look – hence the title of this blog – Capturing the surreal.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Around this time, one of my English students introduced me to the work of Giorgio De Chirico – an Italian artist whose art influenced the ‘Surrealists’ – a cultural movement that began in the 1920s.
I found his artwork to be both inspirational and beautiful and I wanted to try and create real life photos that were similar to some of his artwork.

The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street by Giorgio de Chirico.

I began searching Tokyo and the surrounding area for forms of geometry I could incorporate into my photography.
I’d often spend 30 mins to an hour before sleeping doing google searches or searching Pinterest for locations I could use.
I found some amazing locations – not only in Japan but around the world and started making lists of places to visit.
As I got more into geometric photography I also started to notice patterns and lines in my everyday environment that I hadn’t noticed before.

Stepping out of the shadows.

The one downside to this type of photography was the time I would sometimes have to wait for the right person to step into the frame.
Sometimes I’d go to a location and no one would be there to step into the frame, which was pretty frustrating.
Another aspect that I was keen to combine was shadows.
This provided another problem as it meant I was dependent on the right weather as well as the right time of day for the location to be in the light and not the shade.
However I did learn that a few locations would work just as well in the rain or just after the rain.
A further problem was being able to get the right vantage point (height) so that I could show the sense of scale – a problem I’m still dealing with regarding some locations.

Rain check

‘Capturing the surreal’ is an ongoing project for me and I’m really looking forward to being able to add some locations I’ve found further a field in Japan and abroad.

And, as a final note, if you have any geometric location recommendations please let me know.
I can be found on these links:

https://www.instagram.com/laurence__bouchard/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/drzzz/
https://www.facebook.com/laurencebouchard2015

*Below are a few more images:

Some lines have to be crossed.

Out on the tiles.

From a jack to a king.

Detour.

Life through bars.

Untitled.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Japan Should Change Its Traveling Ways –

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If you’re coming from another country, particularly the U.S., Japan is a relatively easy country to navigate.
Best of all, with the JR Rail Pass, it can be very affordable, which includes use of the bullet trains (shinkansen).
You can go wherever you want in Japan for just a few hundred dollars.

If you live in Japan, however, it’s another story.
Travel within Japan can be prohibitively expensive, even among foreign residents.
Of course, a big reason so many foreigners move to Japan is to explore it, so the irony of the situation should not be lost on anyone.

Such is the case with me.
I came to Japan for a number of reasons, one of which is to explore the country and to travel within it.
Despite being a resident of upwards of six years, I haven’t traveled anywhere beyond Osaka.
It’s just too expensive, and with not enough return on the investment, it’s difficult to justify the expense.

Visiting the likes of Hiroshima and Kyushu will likely have to wait until I return to Japan as a visitor from the U.S.
I can buy the JR Rail Pass then and go wherever I please.
It will sure be convenient, and I can finally explore Japan in the way I couldn’t when I actually lived here.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?
That’s why Japan should offer the same pass for its foreign residents who contribute their labor and tax money to the country.
We invest more of our time and money than any tourist.
We should enjoy the same benefits.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Bigotry in Japan? –

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News reports about possible racist jeering at sumo wrestler Terunofuji, who hails from Mongolia, has spread quickly among many outlets in Japan.
The sumo wrestler performed in a way that some feel isn’t quite in line with the methods of a true grand champion, even if his tactics are technically allowable.
Still, the incident left a bad taste in the audience’s mouths, and some alleged racist heckling ensued.
The crowd reportedly jeered at him, “Go back to Mongolia!” after he secured a victory.
I’m not particularly interested in sumo wrestling as a sport, but the incident raises questions about the levels of bigotry in Japan.
How much does it exist, and against whom is it directed?
A lot has been written over the years about prejudice in Japan against Japanese-born Koreans.
This is a recurring problem with which Japan has not successfully dealt.
Other possible issues remain, such as bigotry against other minority groups and ethnicities.
I remember seeing a strange video on the Internet several years ago.
It was filmed in Japan, and it showed people protesting Americans.
One man had a megaphone and shouted, “White pig go home!” at some white people.
It was a shocking video, to say the least.
I don’t know to what extent this might represent people’s feelings in Japan.
Like many places, Japan must deal with this issue.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, but this kind of prejudice does seem to exist, as it does everywhere.
I hope a day will come when these problems never have to be addressed again.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Cherry Blossom Season Is Coming! –

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And the question to ask yourself is, “Are you ready? “
In some cases, cherry blossoms have already started blooming, so the answer had better be yes!

Springtime is usually heralded in Japan by the blooming cherry blossoms, which the country is famous for around the world.
They are truly beautiful to see, and some popular cherry blossom viewing sites are often congested with foot traffic.

For example, Naka-Meguro is one such popular destination.
During this season, the area is a veritable zoo of people.
It becomes very difficult to walk around.
So many people want to see the cherry blossoms over Meguro River.
And they are beautiful, for sure.
It would just be nice to see them without so many people around!
The crowds get to some pretty ridiculous levels, and they can be very difficult to manage.
You have to be careful.

In that way, cherry blossom season is both a blessing and a curse.
It’s great to see the nice cherry blossoms, but the crowds can really get in your way.
Be careful when viewing the cherry blossoms this year.
Who knows how many people will be out!

ohanami15

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Christmas in Japan –

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Japan, of course, is not a Christian country.
But Japan doesn’t let that fact stop it from celebrating Christmas.
Like Halloween, Christmas is a holiday that has been imported to Japan, even if the history of the holiday isn’t all that well known among the revelers.
Even in America, Halloween’s roots are pretty much forgotten these days, but Christmas is a completely different story.
It is, by far, the most important holiday of the year.

Families travel great distances to get together.
A lot of money is spent on buying and exchanging gifts. (Other than birthdays, America doesn’t have the same tradition of gift-giving that Japan does.)
Even more money is spent on buying Christmas decorations and Christmas trees.
Most families go all out to make Christmas a special holiday.

That’s why it’s so interesting to see the way Christmas is celebrated in Japan.
Some of the trappings are evident (Christmas lights, Christmas trees, etc.), but missing is the strong familial (and even religious) connotations.
Naturally, not every family who celebrates Christmas in the U.S. is deeply religious, but I think there’s a level of seriousness and importance missing.
Still, it’s a fascinating thing to see.
I guess I shouldn’t even bring up the KFC connection, which still baffles me.

In many ways, Christmas and New Year’s are the exact opposite of each in the two countries.
In America, New Year’s is strictly a party.
There is no other significance attached to it whatsoever.
Christmas (and to a lesser extent Thanksgiving) take care of all that for us.
But, in Japan, New Year’s is as serious as holidays get.
It truly is the Japanese Christmas in that way.
All that’s missing are the trees and decorations!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Donald Trump: A Most Unusual Politician! –

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The nominees have been decided, and the election is set for November.
Donald Trump will face Hillary Clinton in the presidential election this fall, and it is guaranteed to be one of the most unusual elections ever.
While Hillary Clinton is an establishment political figure who has been in the national spotlight for well over 20 years, the same cannot be said of Mr. Trump.

Of course, he is a well known television fixture who has been famous for many decades.
But he is a political newbie.
In the past, he has toyed with the idea of running for president before deciding against it.
Back then, he would have run as a third-party candidate, and his views were much different from what they are today.
He was more of a moderate when he considered a presidential bid in the year 2000, but times have drastically changed his views.

It is difficult to draw any parallels of previous national party presidential nominees.
Ronald Reagan was also an entertainer, but by 1980, he had made a successful transition from actor to California governor.
Say what you will about his policies, but it was clear that his political success was built on his political brand, not whatever success he had as an actor.

Donald Trump is in a league of his own, and he probably wants it that way.
He plays by his own rules.
I, for one, am excited to see how this election plays out.
There is some chatter that the GOP may change its rules at the last minute to deny Trump the nomination, but that might even be more risky than simply letting Trump become the nominee.
After all, how would Trump’s loyal supporters react to such a tactic?

All I know is, we’re in for one heck of a show!