Boyang Captures Japan

Last week we met world-traveling photographer Boyang through his signature works from various corners of the planet. Today, we begin to share his photographic studies of specific locations.

His words describing this first location: 

There was a reason that I picked Tokyo as my first stop on my year-long travel: it is well-organized, clean, and expensive, all of which would become quite more apparent as I went along in my trip.

In his unique style, we introduce the photo-storytelling of Boyang, as he gives us Japan.

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As someone who likes more of the nature and history side of things, a sprawling metropolis like Tokyo didn’t have too much of a draw for me.

This is not to say, however, I found walking in the streets of Tokyo unenjoyable. Compared to other cities I have visited, walking through the bustling yet orderly, crowded yet muffled streets in the night felt otherworldly unique. In a culture where people put others in front of themselves, the sense of politeness is quite palatable–overwhelming in some cases.

People rarely look others directly in the eye, not wanting to offend by staring. From time to time, though, I would still find them trying to catch a passing glimpse of the others to satisfy that urge of curiosity. Unlike the streets of other countries, rarely would I see someone who is animated or projected; it seems all their actions are carefully thought out, much based on what others would think of them.

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Many train conductors in Japan are very proud of their jobs. They perform each action with professionalism, pride, and vigor, even if it is just acknowledging a signal or checking the schedule to make sure the train is on time.

This sense of pride and eagerness of doing the best job they can are not limited just to train conductors. Many workers, from garbage collectors to tour guides, waiters to businessmen, exhibit this sense of professionalism. It is quite eye-opening to see 7-11 cashiers greet you with fervor and enthusiasm at 2 am in the morning.

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In contrast to the white castle of Himeji, Matsumoto Castle (right, colors inverted) is the counterpart, the black castle. Like Himeji, it is one of the treasures of Japan and has many similar features. But unlike Himeji, it was built on a flat plane (rather than a hill) and it did not survive the Meiji Period unscathed.

Also unique to Matsumoto Castle is a Tsukimi Yagura, or moon viewing room, attached to the main keep. It is rare for a building of war to have such a feature, as it is only used for pleasure and is only built during a prolonged period of peace.

The brilliant white light reflecting over a calm pool during the crisp winter air lit up the castle at night in great detail. It was a memorable experience not just because the serene feeling of sitting alone in the park across the water under the moonlight, but also because of my frostbitten butt that had to endure on the cold concrete waiting for the picture to expose.

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Hinamatsuri, Doll Festival or Girl’s Day, is a yearly Japanese tradition where family pray for the health and happiness of young girls. The symbol of worship is traditionally displayed with a seven-tiered, red carpeted platform filled with dolls. The top tier is reserved for the emperor and the empress while the bottom ones are for the ladies in waiting, musicians, ministers, guards, and other decorations that represent a court in real life.

The tradition started as a way to ward off evil spirits. People would float some of the dolls down a river or out to sea, as a way to carry away the bad fortune and sickness. There is also a belief that if the family doesn’t put away the dolls quickly after the festival, they will have difficulties marrying off their daughter.

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Many people try to capture a glimpse of a geisha when they travel to Kyoto. Perhaps it is the intrigue of the fascination drawn by the mere mention of the name, or perhaps they associate it with a vision of romanticized medieval Japan. Regardless what they think, one can see people with cameras wandering around trying to get a glimpse of their embodied imagination.

Given the mysteriousness of geishas, what most people see on the street are tourists themselves, trying to garner an insignificant yet much desired fame.

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Tsuri doro, hanging lanterns, are traditionally displayed in Buddhist temples in China but were adopted by Shinto temples during the Nara period in Japan. These lanterns, often donated by worshipers, are typically hung around the temple as a way to honor the Buddha. Keeping up with the tradition that was as early as from 700AD, caretakers would patiently light hundreds of lanterns every night during the two Lantern Festivals (one in early February, one in mid August).

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Iwatayama Monkey Park, a small hill located on the outskirts of Kyoto, is the site that hosts about 150 Japanese macaques–also known as snow monkeys. It takes about 15 minutes to reach to the top of the hill, where tourists can feed these “wild” monkeys through a metal fence–or take an ungodly amount of photos and selfies with monkeys doing their usual business.

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The bamboo grove near Arashiyama, on the outskirts of Kyoto, is a popular tourist spot that spurs the imagination of landscapes from the Far East. The small and charming footpath amongst the enormous, swaying bamboo stalks during a summer’s breeze is one of the more memorable moments to be cherished in Japan. The path is only 500 meters long, however, having one want for more at the end of a fleeting journey into a land far, far away.

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Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist sites. Originally built as a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the late 1300s, it has been converted into a zen temple and unfortunately burnt down many times since due to war and arson. Each floor of the temple is constructed based on a different style that reflects the extravagant culture and lifestyles during Yoshimitsu’s times. The current exterior of the first two floors are completely covered by gold leaf, which is believed to “purify the pollution that accompanied death, making it possible for the living to interact with the dead safely in the same space” (Gerhart, 2009).

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The Higashiyama District, or old Kyoto, is one of the few authentically kept historical areas of in the region. With its cobbled walkways flanked by historic, wooden (renovated) storefronts, walking along this short stretch of road feels like a step back in time, where samurai with their swords would stroll down on their way to the castle.

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Himeji Castle, or also known as the white castle, is one of the Japan’s most famous and most visited castles. Dating all the way back to 1333, it has survived through the Meiji period, World War II, and numerous natural disasters to become one of the best preserved buildings from historical Japan.

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Finally, here are some various photos that capture the essence of Japan:

The slow yet steady dripping of water from the bamboo well inside the garden has quite of a meditative quality.

At 高野山 / Koyasan

I feel like this photo summarizes my brief experience with the Japanese people pretty well.

They are a proud, strict, polite, and aging group of people. They do their duties with the highest quality and respect of any place that I have visited, and yet, they do them without any room for flexibility; they are bound by tradition and their unwavering routine.

With an aging populace, a stagnant economy for the last 10+ years, and a growing adversary who holds a grudge against their actions 80 years ago, I feel that Japan is at an important time that will define whether it has already seen the best times, or if it can be the country that all nations strive to be.

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“Never go through life without going on picnics and eating cakes.” -Boyang

Want to see more from Boyang? Follow his travels and photography (and video) on his Facebook page, Forever Lost. And if you’d like to share your story on The Periphery, please email me at Brandon@ThePeriphery.com. We’d love to hear all about your adventure.

What say you?