10 Sept 2015

Japan diaries I: the human factor

My plan to visit Japan started some 8 years ago, when I accidentally got in contact with its culture through a casual encounter with a Japanese student back in my home country, Spain. I was starting my career as teacher, and this harmless meeting soon led to a reduced (but increasing) number of Japanese (and other Asian) students that not long after became friends. This linguistic interchange quickly spread to gastronomy, culture and cinema and, inadvertently, a seed sprouted that was never going to stop growing ever since. I first started learning the language. Subsequently I became culturally active and started researching about their cinematography. I then began seriously considering the possibility of moving there if any job opportunity appeared. However, an unexpected job offer came from South East Asia first, and seven years later I'm still working and enjoying this beautiful part of the world; much closer to Japan than ever before, definitely, but, for different reasons, I had never made the final jump to visit Japan directly. Until this past summer, that is. I finally packed a small bag, I took my 2 cameras, and I saved 3 weeks to see as much as I possibly could of the country that started my Asian pilgrimage. And to honor the beginnings of this long delayed dream trip, I will start with the people.

The way up to Himeji Castle, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
All-terrain faith, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Prayer, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Overcrowding, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Terraces over Kamo river, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Picnic in Kamikochi, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Japanese people is hard working but they know how to enjoy their leisure time as well. They are firmly devoted to their cultural heritage and traditions yet they are forward thinkers, decidedly shaping their country towards the future in new, multiple ways. Whatever path they might follow, it rarely seems a random, uninformed choice, rather a conscious decision in either direction. These are only a few observations that I gathered through my short three weeks in the country, and they surely don't represent at all the multitude of perspectives and ways of thinking that the Japanese possess, therefore they could be labelled as simple stereotypes; my intention is never judging nor describing, I see myself more as a simple observer taking some personal notes (in the shapes of photographs) from which to create my own impressions.

The breeze and the wood, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Urban golf, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
A morning at the gardens, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Almost there, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Construction and drizzle, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The tunnel, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
It was the beginning of July, in the middle of the wet season, so days of clear, blue skies and intense, at times unbearable heat followed others when a mass of thick, grey clouds covered the whole sky and a drizzle that run from mild to intense darkened everything around even in plain noon. The humidity, though high, was tolerable, since I'm already used to it from my years in South East Asia, but the changing weather conditions forced me to be always on guard and ready for any eventuality. I wouldn't allow rain to stop any of my planned trips (after all, I had been waiting 8 years for this trip and I knew the season we were in from the beginning) so I rather took it as a challenge to adapt myself to the environment and make the most out of it. Needless to say, the one element that was present throughout my whole trip, wherever I went, either coming down from the sky or quietly flowing down a mountain, was water. Japanese people embrace the element, merging with it wholeheartedly.

Summer paints water meals under Mount Kurama, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Observatory, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Summer refreshment, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The discovery, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The glance, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Even under the rain (except for a typhoon that decided to cross paths with me and forced me to reschedule 3 days of my itinerary), the best way I found to get to know, explore and discover the country was, by far, walking. And I was never alone, for Japanese, much like Europeans (and in total contrast with South East Asian dwellers), love walking whenever the skies allow it. Through forests or on asphalt, through wooden paths as well as by cobblestones, I always found people walking, leisurely at times, on some other occasions on a noticeable hurry, and I could not help but to capture many of those moments as I, myself, kept on walking.

Zig-zag, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Romance between the drizzle and the kid, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
A glimpse of green, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The way in, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Walking trough layers, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Japanese are widely known, as well, for a feature that defines their culture and their art very clearly, and that is their love for a quiet, meditative observation of the world around them. Be it in literature, gardening, cinema or cooking, Japanese value the importance of small things and enjoy devoting time to observe them. I, myself (and I guess this is a treat shared by most photographers) enjoy spending time silently admiring the beauty of everyday objects and events (a dancing branch, a wrinkled stone, a storytelling cloud) therefore I found those usual sights to be of a rare, deep emotion. Those people, sitting or standing on their own, totally absorbed in a faraway contemplation, moved me in ways I had not expected.

Recess, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Serenity, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
In the edge, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Days were normally long, since I always tried to wake up early to make the most out of my time in every location, so normally I was already exhausted by nightfall. During the whole trip I carried along my 2 cameras, each of them paired with one of my two prime lenses (my old, trusted GH3 with the hefty Nocticron, and the diminutive GM1 with the PanaLeica 15mm, which has become my everyday lens without questions ever since I purchased it a year ago). Even though this whole setup fit comfortably in my small Lowepro Passport Bagpack, along with my other, indispensable staff (umbrella, book, wallet, raincoat, cap, sunblock, tablet, chargers), I still felt a bit tired by the time I returned to my guesthouse every night after sunset, therefore all my night outings (while hunting for a nice dinner, for some drinks or for a relaxing bath) where only accompanied by the GM1 in a tiny Lowepro Spectrum 50 camera bag that I carried attached to my belt. I didn't want to lose a single opportunity yet I wanted to walk as light as possible for once, so this small combo allowed me to do just that: enjoy my trip free of any weight, while being able to capture photographs at the same time. I must confess that my nights were usually short, but they ended up granting me two of the most precious memories I will always carry within me from the whole trip: a few great new friends, and some of my best captures. (For the images of landscapes and monuments from this same trip, click here and here).

Bouncing bag, empty basket, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Metaphoto, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Meeting point, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Curiosity or fear?, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm


  1. Wonderful pictures of wonderful people, in a beautiful country. Thanks a lot for all this pictures, that remind me of all the good memories I have of Japan.

    1. Thank you! I knew Japanese people were wonderful before I visited the country, but being there made me reassure it and love it even more!

  2. Beautiful pictures. Sangay from Bhutan.

    1. Thanks a lot Sangay. I hope I have the chance to visit your country soon, it's one of the places I really want to see for myself!