Tsuwano, Shimane: Photo museum and more

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the small town of Tsuwano in Shimane Prefecture turned out to be a real delight. Surrounded by mountains, it feels like a Swiss resort in the Alps. It has traditional buildings and the famous Taikodani Inari Shrine. Very photogenic place easily accessible from JR Tsuwano Station (JR Yamaguchi Line).

Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum
Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum

Right near the train station is the Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum (桑原史成写真美術館) that exhibits photos by documentary photographer Shisei Kuwabara who is from Tsuwano. The museum also houses the local tourist information office. So it should be your first stop when you arrive. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/r8cR2ueCayM2

Shisei Kuwabara (b. 1936) is most famous for his Minamata disease photos (like W. Eugene Smith).

Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum
Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum
Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum
Inside Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum.

The Shisei Kuwabara Photographics Museum has only one exhibition room, not huge, but it’s large enough. The museum was originally a documentary photo museum and they asked Kuwabara if they could rename it in 2004. So it exhibits mainly his photos, although it does not preserve or possess his photos. So it’s just an exhibition space. The exhibited photos change periodically. Open 9 am–5 pm, closed on the third Thursday in Jan., April, July, and Oct. when they change the exhibit. Admission ¥300 for adults.

Website: http://www.town.tsuwano.lg.jp/kuwabara_photo/info.html

Anno Art Museum
Anno Art Museum

Right across the street from the photo museum is an art museum dedicated to another local artist (illustrator) named Mitsumasa Anno. Anno Art Museum (安野光雅美術館) opened in 2001 to show artworks by Mitsumasa Anno who was born and raised in Tsuwano.

The first floor is the main exhibition space of Anno Art Museum. The second floor has an old-style classroom (from 1920s design), planetarium, and library.

After seeing the museums, enter Tono-machi road (殿町通り) lined with traditional buildings. You can enter a few of the buildings like the Japan Heritage Center (small local museum) and the Tsuwano Catholic Church (津和野カトリック教会) dedicated to Saint Francis Xavier who visited Japan as a Christian missionary in 1549–50.

Japan Heritage Center’s display of Sagimai White Heron Dance.
Tsuwano Catholic Church (津和野カトリック教会)

At the end of Tono-machi road, there’s a road going to Taikodani Inari Jinja, one of Japan’s Top Five Inari Shinto shrines noted for many vermillion torii gates along the path to the shrine. This is Tsuwano’s main attraction.

Taikodani Inari Jinja
Taikodani Inari Jinja

Similar to Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Taikodani Inari Shrine has many vermilion torii gates on the way up to the shrine. If you cannot walk up, there is a road for cars that goes to the shrine as well. The path of toriis zigzags up the hill. It’s fun to climb up and enjoy the views.

Taikodani Inari Jinja
Taikodani Inari Jinja
Taikodani Inari Jinja’s Haiden Hall.

The shrine worships Uka-no-Mitama, a deity associated with food and agriculture, and the goddess Izanami. It is Shimane Prefecture’s second most popular shrine after Izumo Taisha. 

If you’ve come this far, you might as well also see the remains of Tsuwano Castle which is a short hike from the shrine. Or walk to novelist Mori Ogai’s birth home across the river.

Tsuwano Castle
Tsuwano Castle on a mountain.
Mori Ogai'
Mori Ogai’s birth home (森鴎外旧宅).

To see the main sights of Tsuwano, give yourself at least one full day. You should arrive in Tsuwano and stopover the night before. I loved Tsuwano. Laid back and not crowded. Really worth a visit.

More Tsuwano photos here: https://photoguide.jp/pix/index.php?cat=351

Japan’s first nude poster

by Philbert Ono

In 1922, Torii Shoten (鳥井商店), the forerunner of Osaka-based beverage maker Suntory, made this poster to promote its “Akadama Port Wine” in Japan. Dubbed “Japan’s first nude poster,” it became an instant sensation.

It has become one of Japan’s most iconic and classic images. Any book about Japan’s advertising history or photographic history would include this historical poster. The nascent start of the “sex sells” concept in Japan. Needless to say, thanks to this poster, they sold a lot of this wine.

The poster was also very controversial during a very conservative period in Japan. The “nude” model was Emiko Matsushima (松島栄美子), a stage actress. A young woman posing like this was unthinkable and taboo in those days, and she was subject to police questioning for obscenity and other public harassment. She was even disowned by her siblings and all her relatives. Poor girl.

Emiko was the prima donna of a musical troupe (赤玉楽劇座) created specifically to promote Akadama Port Wine. The troupe went around Japan for a year to entertain wine retailers and customers. She was originally from Tokyo and worked as a stage actress before her famous gig.

Afterward, she moved back to Tokyo, married an NHK employee before World War II, had a son, and lived out her final years quietly in an apartment in Takadanobaba, Tokyo. Shortly before she died in 1983 at age 90, her nephew took a picture (below) of her posing with her famous poster at home.

Emiko Matsushima in 1983 with the famous 1922 poster of herself. Source: Sankei

Not much is known about the process of making this iconic shot. Torii reasoned that no matter how good a product was, it would be no use if people didn’t know about it. And so apparently he was in favor of a sensational PR campaign.

The photographer was KATAOKA Toshiro (片岡敏郎) who worked in the company’s PR department. Kataoka was already well-known in the advertising business as exceptionally talented, progressive, and innovative. He was the one who formed the musical troupe to promote the Akadama Port Wine.

He rented a photo studio in Osaka for a total of six days in May 1922 and took many shots of Emiko starting with her dressed in a kimono. Then he posed her in her underclothing, and eventually topless. Kataoka took about 50 to 60 shots per pose.

The final poster was made in a sepia tone with only the red wine standing out in color. The poster later won 1st place at a world poster contest held in Germany.

Akadama Port Wine displayed at the Yamazaki Whisky Museum in Osaka.

Suntory was founded in 1899 as an imported wine shop named Torii Shoten (鳥井商店) in Osaka by Shinjiro Torii (鳥井 信治郎). It mainly sold Spanish wines, but they didn’t sell well in Japan. So Torii produced his own sweet wine named “Akadama Port Wine” in 1907 (still sold today as “Akadama Sweet Wine”).

Akadama Port Wine was the first product made by Suntory. “Akadama” means “red ball” in reference to the sun (like on the Japanese flag). Helped by this nude poster, Akadama Port Wine sold well in Japan and Torii used the profits to try and make whisky. And the rest is history. Suntory now makes just about anything you can drink besides alcoholic beverages. Soft drinks, coffee, and even mineral water.

The company was renamed Kotobukiya in 1921, and then “Suntory” in 1963 after its main whisky. The name “Suntory” comes from “Sun” and the founder’s name “Torii.” The “Sun” comes from the “Akadama” red sun.

If you are in Kyoto or Osaka, I highly recommend taking a tour (only ¥1,000) of the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, a short train ride from JR Kyoto Station. Reservations are required. The distillery also has a museum, whisky-tasting bar, and gift shop. Great for whisky fans.

Tour inside Suntory Yamazaki Distillery.

 

 

 

 

Japanese buzzword for 2017: Insta-bae

NHK TV program about the Instagram boom.

At the end of each year, a major Japanese publisher of reference books gives an award to the year’s most popular buzzword. The Japanese press gives this wide coverage to reflect the current times. Thirty words have been nominated for this honor in 2017 and one of them is photography-related.

It is “Insta-bae” (インスタ映え) which basically means “taking photos to show-off on Instagram.”

On the morning of Sept. 16, 2017, NHK TV in Japan aired a very interesting program about the Instagram boom in Japan. It was a discussion among a few celebrities and social media experts. They talked about the major aspects and issues about Instagram use, especially by young women in Japan.

The keywords for popular Instagrammers were “Kawaii,” “Kolorful,” and “Kako” (digital filters/enhancement). That’s what you need to focus on to become an Instagram star. One example they showed was a girl named “Nano” who used a pink theme to show confections. (Her Instagram wall is pink.)

The motivation behind Instagram is to show something “Right now,” “Only here,” and “Only me.” It’s about instant, fleeting, and unique moments plus You, the star. Vis-a-vis other conventional social media which was more about “Anytime,” “Anywhere,” and “Anybody.”
They also mentioned that a whopping 40% of Instagrammers and social media users in Japan were going on trips and to restaurants mainly to post photos on social media. So it’s creating economic ripples as they buy train tickets, food, etc.

It’s a great way to publicize products and businesses and for marketers to see current consumer trends and preferences. Many amusement facilities have set-up picture-taking ops or backgrounds just for these Instagrammers. Like a water park providing mermaid costumes for girls to wear for Instagram photos.

The social media experts also cited major differences between Instagram and Twitter. On Instagram, at least in Japan, there is a culture of praising each other. Post on Instagram and people will give you compliments. While on Twitter, you can be subject to flaming or criticism. (“Your makeup/hair looks ugly today!” etc.) So Japanese users seem to favor Instagram over Twitter.

insta2

Renting fake friends for a fake party photo.

On the darker side, users can become obsessed with the numbers game of gaining more “Likes” and comments. Their lives may revolve around social media so much that it affects their work or mental health. They might also go as far as posting fake or staged photos. Like borrowing a friend’s Gucci bag and posting it as their own. Or renting fake friends (¥8,000/person for 2 hours) to pose with you at a fake party so you can post the photos (photo above). Then there are followers who get tired of keeping up with all these people leading “exciting and wonderful” lives. The drudgery of “liking” all these photos…

If you can read Japanese, you can see the complete list of 2017’s nominated buzzwords in Japan here: http://singo.jiyu.co.jp/

They will announce the winner of 2017’s buzzword award on Dec. 1 at 5:00 pm.

UPDATE: On Dec. 1, 2017, “Insta-bae” was indeed selected as a co-winner as Japan’s buzzword of the year in 2017. CONGRATULATIONS to us and our photo world/culture in Japan!! Camera makers are responding to this phenomenon by offering Insta-bae-friendly cameras.

Dawn of Japanese Photography: The Anthology

TOPmuseumDawnPhoto2017

TOKYO PHOTOGRAPHIC ART MUSEUM in Ebisu, Tokyo is holding a major exhibition called “Dawn of Japanese Photography: The Anthology” about vintage/early Japanese photography on March 7–May 7, 2017.

On March 26 at 3 pm to 6 pm, a number of Japanese and foreign experts will give a talk for the “International Symposium: Photography in Bakumatsu Japan” in the museum’s 1st floor hall. Free admission.

On April 13 (4 pm) and April 14 (6 pm), Japan Times writer Alice Gordenker will give a tour of the above exhibition in English. Free with museum admission, no reservations required.

For details, see the official web page in English: https://topmuseum.jp/e/contents/exhibition/index-2577.html

Correct pronunciation of bokeh

Phil Schiller introducing bokeh feature.

If you keep up with iPhone news, you might know about the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus’s camera with the new bokeh effect for portraits. After watching video reviews of the iPhone 7/Plus on YouTube, I’ve noticed that many people are pronouncing “bokeh” incorrectly.

It might be because Phil Schiller (senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple Inc.) pronounced it wrong when he introduced the feature at the Apple Special Event introducing the new iPhone 7 on Sept. 7, 2017 in San Francisco. (Video link here, fast forward to 71:50.)

I want people to know that “bokeh” should be pronounced “bo-kay” (“kay” rhymes with say, may, day, etc.) not “bo-ka” or “bokah” as Mr. Schiller pronounced it. “Bokeh” comes from the Japanese word “bokeru” which means “blur.” “Bokeru” can also refer to a senile person, meaning that the person is not mentally “sharp.”

And don’t ever pronounced it “bakah” or “baka,” especially when you’re taking someone’s portrait. Because that means “idiot.”

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography reopens as Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

20160928_6704After two years of major renovations from Sept. 2014 to Aug. 2016, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography reopened on September 3, 2016 for its 20th anniversary.

The building and location are the same, but the English name (nickname) has been changed to “Tokyo Photographic Art Museum” abbreviated as “TOP Museum” as indicated by their new URL (topmuseum.jp) and logo/letterhead. This is the third time that they changed their  URL. The previous URL was syabi.com. When they changed the URL the last time, it was a pain to update links, etc. Now we have to do it again. This has been a common phenomenon in Japan, among local governments and governmental organizations whose URLs have changed a number of times, wreaking havoc on your bookmarks/favorites. I shall continue to call it the “Tokyo photography museum.” Won’t use any nicknames that keep changing.

20160928_6681

Note that the museum’s Japanese and official (legal) name remains the same as Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography or Tokyo-to Shashin Bijutsukan (東京都写真美術館). And so, only the English-speaking world will be burdened with the task of mentioning both the old and new museum names whenever we write or talk about it during the next several years at least. Like “Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (formerly Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography).”

Entrance hall

Entrance hall at south (back) entrance and museum shop.

The museum’s major renovations included the replacement of lights with LEDs, new flooring replacing the carpeting, a second elevator, and a renovated cafe and museum gift shop. If you’ve visited the museum before, the biggest noticeable change is the 1st floor and the museum shop (Nadiff bookstore) that has moved from the 1st floor (where the main entrance/exit is) to the 2nd floor entrance hall of the south/back entrance.

It’s a wise move space-wise, but a museum’s gift shop should always be on the way to the exit. Very few people will exit the museum through the south entrance which is on the opposite side from Ebisu Station, the closest train/subway station. Although you can enter the museum through the south entrance without a ticket, they do not sell exhibition admission tickets here. You need to go downstairs to the 1st floor to buy admission tickets.

Entrance hall looking toward the door.

Entrance hall looking toward the south (back) entrance. The museum shop (Nadiff bookstore) is on the left.

Entrance hall

Overhead view of the entrance hall. There are chairs and tables for people to rest or hang out. Admission ticket not necessary.

I’ve said this before, but this large entrance hall is a waste of space. It’s good for exhibition openings and other events, but for most of the year, few people come through here. I was hoping that they would renovate this space better, but looks like it will continue to inflate their air-conditioning bill. A similar problem exists at Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo in Kiba Park that first opened at around the same time. These museums were planned and built during the reckless economic bubble of the late 1980s when people thought the sky was the limit.

20160928_6692

On the renovated 1st floor, this is where the museum shop used to be. The museum shop space has merged with the cafe.

1st floor

1st floor ticket counter

The 1st floor is the main entrance to the museum, the closest to JR Ebisu Station. The 1st floor interior has been completely renovated with new flooring, wallpaper, and lighting. Looks very nice. It’s also the lobby of the museum’s event hall where they mainly screen movies. I bought an admission ticket here and there was a staff person at the entrance telling visitors to buy a ticket at the ticket counter a few steps away. Then another lady at the front of the line told me when a ticket clerk was available. There were only two ticket clerks selling tickets. Then I received a complicated explanation about various ticket prices. I just said “I want to see all the exhibitions and will pay in cash.” (There’s a separate admission for each of the exhibitions and a discount if you use a certain credit card. If you’re age 65 or older, you get a discount. The movie in the event hall is another ticket.) The ticket for all the exhibitions was ¥1,620 in September 2016. Ticket prices vary depending on the exhibitions.

20160928_6688

If you want to see everything in the museum, take the elevator to the 4th floor and work your way down (use the stairs to go down). The 4th floor is the small library open to the public for free. Ticket not required. The library looks basically the same as before. You can read Japanese and overseas photo magazines and books. You can also search for books in the closed stacks with the computer terminal, but you need to read Japanese. No books can be taken out of the library. The 3rd and 2nd floors are large exhibition rooms. Show your ticket to enter the exhibition. The 2nd floor also has the spacious entrance hall and museum shop. The main exhibition is on the 3rd and 2nd floors. Then take the elevator or stairs to the basement floor (B1) where there is another large exhibition room usually for a different exhibition. (Photography is not allowed inside the exhibition rooms.) The 1st floor is where you exit to go back to Ebisu Garden Place or JR Ebisu Station.

3rd floor exhibition room lobby.

3rd floor exhibition room lobby.

20160928_6673

The museum has three exhibition rooms on three floors and an event hall (mainly movies) on the 1st floor. When the museum reopened in September 2016, photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto had an intriguing Lost Human Genetic Archive exhibition on the 3rd and 2nd floors, the basement floor showed World Press Photos sponsored by Canon, and the event hall on the 1st floor screened a movie about Mother Teresa.

Renamed museum.

Renamed museum.

This is what you see when you approach the museum from JR Ebisu Station via the Skywalk moving sidewalk. Go left to enter main entrance. You can also enter from the right side after passing the cafe. It is in a corner of Ebisu Garden Place, a shopping mall.

Museum website (English)
Museum hours
Directions from Ebisu Station

 

Photobook Diner Megutama

Photobook Diner Megutama

Photobook Diner Megutama (写真集食堂 めぐたま)

I finally visited Photobook Diner Megutama in Ebisu, Tokyo. Opened two years ago, it’s a diner with 5,000 photobooks that you can freely thumb through before or after you have lunch or coffee. The photobooks come from the collection of Iizawa Kotaro (飯沢耕太郎), Japan’s most prominent and prolific photo critic and author.

20160327_6530

This entire wall and a smaller wall in the back of the diner is covered from floor to ceiling with photobooks (shashinshu). Quite overwhelming to see inside an eatery. The books are organized according to period. Books from earlier years (including prewar) are on the left. The books get progressively more recent toward the right. The wall in the back has mainly oversize books and foreign photobooks. Notice the ladder for access to the higher shelves.

20160327_6531

The diner has a counter as well as regular tables in the back.

Iizawa Kotaro

Iizawa Kotaro

When I visited on a Sunday, I was lucky to find Iizawa Kotaro having lunch there too. After lunch, I talked to him for a few minutes about the collection. He says it’s about two-thirds of his entire collection. Which means he must have a big house to store all those books. He buys about 200 photobooks a year. That’s 3-4 books a week! And yet, he says that he’s not a photobook collector because he buys the books as part of his job.

Although Iizawa is not really a photographer, he is a celebrity in Japan’s photography world (but not quite a rock star). He writes regularly for major camera magazines, teaches, judges, lectures, etc., etc. Very active in many ways related to Japanese photography. Iizawa was easy to talk to, and I shot this picture of him. He encouraged me to spread the word about the diner.

case

The most valuable photobooks are locked up in this glass case. You need to ask Iizawa to open the case if you want to see a book in here.

Full collection of Moriyama Daido photobooks.

Full collection of Moriyama Daido photobooks.

Curry rice. Most meals cost around 1,500–2,500 yen.

Curry rice. Most meals cost around 1,500–2,500 yen.

Food is healthy. The diner also holds meeting and lectures. Iizawa is a frequent speaker. They also raise money for charities like a primary school in Nepal.

Photobook Diner Megutama is a short walk from Ebisu Station (JR Yamanote Line and Hibiya Line), but somewhat out of the way. It’s not in a place with heavy foot traffic. But if you like photobooks, this place is a must-see. Closed Mondays. See the website for hours.

Website in English: http://megutama.com/en/
Map: https://goo.gl/maps/R2u1KNdMTjn

Address:
3-2-7-1F Higashi
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 03-6805-1838
Email: megutamatokyo@gmail.com

CP+ 2016 Yokohama Camera Show

The CP+ Camera & Photo Imaging Show 2016 was held on Feb.25-28, 2016 at PACIFICO YOKOHAMA. The new thing was the CP+ Used Camera Fair and Outlet Fair for camera accessories held on the 2nd floor above the camera show.

Canon booth had these fantastic rhythmic gymnasts doing their stuff for photographers trying out the new EOS 80D and EOS-1D X Mark II.

Canon booth had these fantastic rhythmic gymnasts doing their stuff for photographers trying out the new EOS 80D and EOS-1D X Mark II.

Sony booth was full of people to hear train fanatic/photographer Nakai Seiya give a slide show. Besides his passion, his ordinary and down-to-earth personality has made him very popular.

Sony booth was full of people to hear train fanatic/photographer Nakai Seiya give a slide show. Besides his passion, his ordinary and down-to-earth personality has made him very popular.

Nakai Seiya has become really popular and famous in Japan for shooting trains. He shoots at least one picture of a train every single day (since 2004).

Nakai Seiya has become really popular and famous in Japan for shooting trains. He shoots at least one picture of a train every single day (since 2004).

Nikon booth

Nikon booth

Flowery Olympus models.

Flowery Olympus models.

Epson

Epson

DJI had a netted booth to demo an impressive flyng drone. Supposedly crash proof from dead batteries. It can also lock on to a fixed position so if any wind or bird knocked it, it would return to its fixed position automatically.

DJI had a netted booth to demo an impressive flyng drone. Supposedly crash proof from dead batteries. It can also lock on to a fixed position so if any wind or bird knocked it, it would return to its fixed position automatically.

FujiFilm calls its exploded camera "Decomposition." Sounds rotten, but it wasn't.

FujiFilm calls its exploded camera “Decomposition.” Sounds rotten, but it wasn’t.

jcii

JCII Camera Museum displayed the earliest cameras in history. Camera obscura.

Wet plate camera complete with portable darkroom.

Wet plate camera complete with portable darkroom.

mav

Sony Mavica, basically the world’s first electronic still video camera in 1981 and harbinger of digital cameras.

CP+ Used Camera Fair is held for the 1st time together with CP+. They might do this every year from now on. On the 2nd floor (above the camera show).

CP+ Used Camera Fair is held for the 1st time together with CP+. They might do this every year from now on. On the 2nd floor (above the camera show).

acc

Together with the used cameras, they had an outlet area for discounted camera accessories like tripods, monopods, bags, and more by major brands like Manfrotto, Etsumi, and Velbon.

In Queen's Square is this Minato Mirai Gallery that you will pass by on the way to CP+. Very good (and graphic) exhibition of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb photos. Free admission.

In Queen’s Square is this Minato Mirai Gallery that you will pass by on the way to CP+. Very good (and graphic) exhibition of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb photos. Free admission.

1 2 3 38