When February 11th (National Foundation Day) rolls round, I always feel compelled to go and photograph the same group of nationalists who gather at Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Exactly why I feel the need to go I don’t know. Photographically, I’ll likely never get the snow that helped create my best shot there back in 2011. Plus when it comes to politics, I find everything the nationalists stand for utterly repugnant.
And yet still I go.
Perhaps it’s simply the spectacle. Their brief, but dramatic appearance is certainly like nothing else I’ve ever seen in Japan. Or indeed any other country for that matter. There’s also the challenge I suppose, as it puts me in the uncomfortable position of having to stand right in front of a bunch of people who have little time for me, and even less for my political leanings. It may even be the fact that despite our differences, it’s hard not to feel at least a grudging respect, as regardless of their faults, they always tone down the rhetoric and solemnly pray for the souls of Japan’s fallen men and women.
Anyway, whatever the reason, or indeed reasons, below are a few of the images I came away with this year. For anyone interested, there’s also a broader selection of nationalist photos on my portfolio site, here.
No snow but still nice work! I’m not sure I’d wanna get so close. Did you have issues with them?
Thanks! It’s certainly more intimidating than shooting regular street stuff, but to be fair, they have never given me any trouble whatsoever. The odd dirty look is the worst I’ve had.
I’m happy you go. I enjoy seeing a different side of Japan.. The guy in the last pic might not agree! 😉
Cheers. Good to hear. No, he didn’t look best pleased, but totally understandable as I was in his way…
Something I find interesting: rather than go for shiny dress uniforms, those guys went for battered looking battle fatigues… I wonder what’s behind that choice.
That’s a very good point. Hadn’t really thought about it before. But yeah, not very appealing, are they? A lot of other groups tend to wear dark blue uniforms. Still nothing out of the ordinary, but much smarter than these.
I was Once you says
In the first photo, the man carrying the over-sized flag. I wondered if subconsciously, he’s attempting to compensate for some ‘inadequacy’?
Maybe, it is without a doubt a very big flag on a very big pole…
I especially like your black and whites of these gatherings. Have you ever engaged any of them in conversation?
Cheers. Black and white definitely gives them a more timeless feeling. And those in the snow I got very lucky with.
I haven’t, no. It’s an unusual event. There’s none of the usual noise and bile. No standing about or posturing either. Instead, they turn up in their convoy of trucks, get in line, then march up to the shrine. There’s a fairly brief, silently observed ceremony, then it’s a march back to the trucks and they are away.
So no real chance to do so, even if I wanted to. And I do, in a way. Not quite sure how I’d approach them, but it’d definitely be interesting to have a quick chat.