Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Natsu Matsuri in Koganei - August 2009"

I used to check out a local summer festival (natsu matsuri) every August that was held near my apartment, but for the past few years haven't done more than walk by one summer event or another without attempting to take part in it. But after editing some video I took at the 1991 Hibarigaoka natsu matsuri, I got motivated and spent some time at a similar event held in Koganei near Higashi-Koganei Station on the Chuo Line.

The nicest thing about it for me was that it was held on a field of healthy grass & clover. That might be the expected location for an outdoor festival, but every one (that I can remember off-hand anyway) that I've been to since my first experience at one in 1984, has been held on asphalt! Either on streets or in parking lots. So... the experience of the grass, which was nice to walk on, nice to look at, cooler in August than asphalt, and nice to sit on, was quite nice.

After walking around a little and feeling a bit out of place in my dated packaging and business clothes (among the yukata-clad women, children, and families with small children), I bought a beer, some gyoza, and a few sticks of yakitori (from three different food stalls), and as I began consuming those, I looked down at the inviting green grass, checked that my trousers were a darker color (so I wouldn't have to worry about grass stains), and gratefully sat down.

The combination of being on the friendly living earth (that didn't care about my dated external packaging and out-of-place clothing) and the beer & food got me into a much improved state of mind, and I relaxed and looked around. It then became a moment similar to those experienced during childhood summer vacation trips to the mountains, a stream in a valley, or some other pleasant outdoor place. (I should explain that having this sensation on a field shared with hundreds of other people was only made possible by the contrast of my typical mega-city life of always being in plant-less spaces and walking on asphalt and concrete, etc.) The other component of the moment was feeling that I was a part of the natsu matsuri. Not that I was doing anything in particular, but even just buying food and drink is partaking of the moment/event, and watching things in person is vastly different from seeing them on an electronic screen.

So... I looked up and noted a beautiful afternoon sky, with multi-color clouds... and looked over at the new station (they are rebuilding Higashi-Koganei Station as part of a track expansion construction project), noting the out-bound trains coming in at roof-line on the completed half near the festival (the opposite side of the station still has the in-bound rails on the ground).

The station. Something seemed very optimistic about it. A modern design and with more tracks to speed things up on the over-crowded Chuo Line. Thinking of car culture cities (and there are many of them in Japan too, by the way!), I felt grateful for the constantly evolving Tokyo train system. Mind you, I don't particularly enjoy myself on the trains, but they get me wherever I want to go in the city and I'm happy not to have to own a car.

The music - ranged from traditional to foreign (performed by locals), and the sound quality was okay, if a bit over-amplified at times. I found it was best to be either behind the stage, or at least at the back edges of the sides. Straight ahead was painfully loud for some of the performances.

As it grew dark, red & white lanterns strung up all over the grounds (radiating out from the center stage), glowed first against a very colorful sunset, and then against the night sky, with the moon rising behind the stage....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Sakura (Hanami) - 2009"

The cherry blossom viewing season in Japan is vastly over-photographed, but I still decided to cover it myself this year, and I've finally put together a collection of photos from this week-and-a-half period when I ran around with my camera photographing things. I'm not especially happy with the results, but I think they show (somewhat anyway) many of the types of scenes you typically see when going about Tokyo during that time of year. I deliberately put in some non-sakura photos just to show some of the backdrop (and thus contrast) with which Tokyo residents view the sakura flowers every spring:

"Hibarigaoka Natsu Matsuri - August 1991"

Back in the video time machine - to August of 1991 to see the annual shotengai (shopping street) summer festival (natsu-matsuri), complete with taiko drums, kimono-clad (well... yukata actually) dancers, and children having fun at the food stalls, goldfish pool, etc. As one of the last shotengai natsu-matsuri events before the Parco department store opened (it was in the beginning stages of construction when this video was taken, but not opened until October of 1993), and before the full realization of the depth of stock market woes had sunk in, it feels a lot more optimistic and fun than some later ones there I experienced. Basically, from this point forward, business began to fall off on this shopping street, particularly once Hibarigaoka Parco opened. I think they still have this (I haven't been by there at the end of August to see it for myself for about eight years now), but there are fewer stores on that street now and business isn't very good for most of them (I went by and spoke with a couple of the shopkeepers there last winter), so there's less money to spend on events like this. Also keep in mind that the scenes depicted in this video are basically the Japan of one generation ago - the little two-year-old kids at the festival (there with their siblings and parents) are now twenty-year-old adults (twenty is the legal age of becoming an adult in Japan):

"Inbound Chuo Line - August 2009"

Some mundane views out the window of a Chuo Line Tokubetsu-Tsukin-Kaisoku (Special Commuter Rapid Express - the very fast-sounding name actually just means that there are very few stops; the train has to run slow because of the high number of trains on the tracks and the limited number of stations where they can be passed). Of interest in a factual way is a view of a Tozai Line subway diving underground just after Nakano Station, and just beyond that, train maintenance sheds and then some views of Shinjuku's high-rise office buildings.

Oh - and one other thing might be interesting for people interested in Tokyo's train system. The video opens with a train running beside the train the video was taken from at almost the same speed. I imagine that two passenger trains running side-by-side at the same speed isn't all that common outside of Tokyo... or am I wrong? If there are many systems like this in other mega-cities, let me know. I know a fair bit about the Tokyo trains, but not much about other cities' trains, other than in San Francisco, where I used to live:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Sunday, August 09, 2009

"Another August Day... Another Trip to 1991"

I stayed up late last night watching a documentary movie - woke up late today, and then revisited 1991 again via a July 27th, 1991 video of taking the first train from Nakano Station, and then taking a few more trains and ending up in Toride (on the Joban Line). Other than that, I just did some things around the apartment, and now here I sit writing this, shaking my head at the time - 9:12 p.m. Where did all those hours go? It's hard to say, but as for the video, here is an edited version of it ("Tokyo Sunrise (Nakano to Toride) - July 27th, 1991"):

And here is the same text I posted to YouTube to explain it:

Starting off before sunrise, I arrive at Nakano Station with the dawn, and take the first Tokyo-bound Chuo Line train. Getting off here and there, I eventually arrive in Toride. Several views of the orange morning skies from the train windows, some with the window open. One view of a couple of late nighters asleep on a morning train, which they probably waited for after missing the last train the night before.

Thinking I'm posting too many 1991 (and 1990) videos, I posted a 2009 video (from May) of the ticket gates at Kawasaki. I was there waiting for a friend and the sight of so many people pouring through the gates seemed interesting, so I recorded a bit, edited that, and titled it: "Kawasaki Station Ticket Gates - May 2009":

The text I posted to explain it is:

Kawasaki Station is - among countless other stations in the greater Tokyo area (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, & Chiba) - quite busy during rush hour. This was taken at around 6:40 p.m. on a weekday evening in May of 2009. It gets to a point where you start to feel dizzy trying to take in the ceaseless flow. Water flowing by is a smooth blur, but people flowing by provide enough things to focus on, that the constant mixed motion becomes disorienting....

And that's about it. Those 1991 videos.... Sigh.... The thing is, I spent so much time and effort recording those pictures & sounds at the time, as I look at them again, I'm catching a bit of the old video passion that drove me in the early nineties, and feel like doing something with the material. Thus the YouTube postings. I suppose they bore most people to tears, but if they're interesting to at least a few people, I guess that makes the effort worth it. Also I'm personally very interested in documentary material, so I think they have value for anyone wishing to understand how Tokyo was at the time I recorded them.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"Multi-Clouds, Nishi-Ogikubo, & Inbound Night Trains"

July 29th was one of those days where I had what felt like profound thoughts at the time, but by the time I sat down in front of a computer to pound them into electrons, things had gone ordinary again. In any case, the dual-layer clouds, with a nearly stationary layer up high and a swiftly moving lower layer, all overlooked by a half-moon visible now and then in blue gaps in the clouds, were quite interesting to watch in the evening, as I relate here (with a few photos that don't do the scene justice):

After watching the clouds a little in Ebisu, I went over to Nishi-Ogikubo and took some photos there of a retro-drinking area.

"Inbound Tokyo Night Train - July 1991"

In this video, I take a Seibu-Shinjuku Line train from Tanashi Station to a station near Nakano-ku (not Nakano Station) and then take a bus towards Nakano Station, stopping midway to visit a friend for a quick hello before heading out for a day of video recording (the video ends on the night streets of an area of Nakano-ku after getting off the bus). If you have noticed how crowded the trains in Tokyo can be, this video shows how empty they can be if you're traveling in the opposite direction from the main flow! Going into central Tokyo late at night, the train is almost completely empty. The trains zooming by in the other direction, by contrast, are mostly full.

Regarding the bus ride: After my comment about my last night bus video that the voice seems to be the same for the different bus companies, I think I may have been wrong about that. Listening carefully to the recording in this video from a different bus company, the voice is of the same style, but I think is a different person.

Incidentally, one viewer of this video wrote:

"This video is especially surreal. Maybe it's the empty nighttime that does it. But I think, you'd been drinking..."

I responded to this with two messages, first this one:

"Tokyo is weird that way. One hour you're a sardine and you wonder how it is you came to be living in such a high density city, and the next you're in an empty train car. It really can be weird. Drinking? Why? No - I think I may have had a beer *after* this at my friend's house, which happens just after the end of the video though. - LHS"

- and later with:

"Okay - I'll go ahead and take the "drinking" comment as an insult then. It's interesting how you pair insults with compliments and then the insults almost don't seem like insults. I might even try that the next time I want to insult someone. - LHS"

[If I sound overly touchy in my reply, please keep in mind that I've had several similar comments from this same person, who often pairs insulting comments with compliments - so this isn't the first time.]

I suppose the viewer might watch the views out the train window, where the camera operator (cough-cough) is obviously hanging out the window, and come to the conclusion that someone could only be hanging out the window if they are under the influence of alcohol. But anyone who knows a dedicated photographer won't be surprised. Photographers will go to great lengths in the quest for interesting images! Some of these attempts turn out, and some don't, but if you really want to take interesting images, you have to try....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Saturday, August 01, 2009

"Tokyo Night Bus Ride - July 1991"

August 1st, 2009 - Just when I'm feeling used to summer being here and happy that it's not winter - thinking that last winter is long gone and next winter is far in the future, the calendar clangs into August and I look ahead and see September (shudder) on the other side. Best not to look ahead too much at times like this!

My time machine travels to July 1991 continue (via video & sound recordings I made at the time). In: "Ikebukuro to Hibarigaoka - July1991", I sat right behind the driver (engineer?) of a Seibu-Ikebukuro Line train outbound from Ikebukuro, and recorded him accelerating away from... Shakujikoen Station with independent power and braking controls (they are often integrated into one control lever these days). The clip ends when I get off the train in Hibarigaoka:

Later that same day, I went back out and took a late evening bus. The "Tokyo Night Bus - Hibarigaoka to Tanashi - July 1991" video clip starts near the bus (terminal) stop in front of Hibarigaoka Station. The bus had (as most buses did at the time) a manual shift transmission, with the type of (recorded) announcement that all the buses I used back then played (is it the same woman who made all those recordings?)

The clip shows scenes and sounds from the time, beginning with the walk to Hibarigaoka Station, and then finishing with the walk to Tanashi Station (on the Seibu-Shinjuku Line) when I get off the bus on the other end of the ride:

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon