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It’s after midnight and the ground is still shaking. Prayers for all those affected.

Sometimes we get a shake-up to bring us back to reality. This earthquake today — the largest I’ve felt here ever. The sound of things breaking; people running. I happened to be in Shinjuku, right by Yodobashi Camera, looking at a sushi display in a window. It was rolling. I turned and saw the signboard for a 270-yen izakaya, beating like the woofer on a stereo.

Then I noticed people: Streaming out from offices; the Yodobashi workers holding down the wares; cooks and waiters holding up each other and looking to City Hall, swaying. Buildings looked like a scene from “Inception.” I ran for the sturdiest one in sight, or tried: I damaged my Achilles heel badly a week before in the Tokyo City Marathon.

The word “repeatability” then came to mind. I had read it somewhere, and after a year focused on running, a year when I gave up almost every other activity, I understood: What did it mean to run 42 kilometers one day, if I couldn’t run to safety in the middle of an earthquake?

Some things I noticed as it happened:

  • Tokyo people are much more physical then they initially appear. I saw lots of people locking arms and holding hands. Especially women, who were also the first to laugh between the shocks. Businessmen suddenly had helmets on.
  • The people at Yodobashi Camera, who I always assumed were wage slaves, are actually very dedicated. They helped customers out and held down the goods, and were back on their bullhorns even during the aftershocks.
  • The Chinese waitresses at the conveyor sushi shop in the underground mall are a lot more tech-savvy then me. They came up with their TV phones tuned to the tsunami in Miyagi, while Japanese were still watching the buildings around.
  • The phone system stopped. I was waiting for the “are you safe” robo-call from my company but it never came. Instead I got a “push” from the Huffington Post: “Huge Earthquake Strikes Japan.”
  • It was impossible to get a taxi. I ended up going home to find my room rearranged and the gas on switched on. Just then an aftershock came. I got on my bicycle and rode to work. I remembered there was canned bread and bottled water there. I reached my desk and the safety call finally arrived.
  • I found myself with a half-charged camera and without my press armband. I swore I would never let such a thing happen. It did.
  • While Shinjuku was still shaking I walked up to the fifth floor of Yodobashi Camera to buy new brushes for my electric toothbrush. On the way back down I joined a crowd in front of the large-screen, high-definition TVs, watching the brown tsunami swallowing northern Japan. I was amazed by the crispness, the clarity. I cried.

the people’s festival

There are festivals everywhere at this time of year, so it’s not odd to see these lanterns strung up in most neighborhoods. They identify the sponsors and you can tell how well they are doing by how many lanterns they hang.

Usually they are small local businesses. Near my place, though, it’s a bit different. These lanterns are for Uniqlo, the retail clothing chain run by Japan’s richest man leading the Japanese economy in its deflationary “race to the bottom:”

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This one is for the Japanese Communist Party:

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recently

kesselI don’t have to go out and look for photography — it finds me. Or that’s how I’ve felt these past couple of days. Yesterday, for example, I was on the subway when a middle-aged businessman sat next to me. He looked absolutely ordinary except in one way: he was studying this most appetizing catalog of photography books.

I couldn’t control my curiosity and had to ask him where I could one.

“You can’t,” he told me. “At least I don’t think you can in Japan.”

He then explained that he’d just gotten back from Germany and a book event. His suit told me that he was in the printing business, and not publishing.

“Do you work for Dai-ichi (No. 1) Printing?!” I asked, impolitely.

“Dai-ni (No. 2), actually.”

He looked hurt, but went on to explain that his firm printed Masafumi Sanai‘s 赤車 (Sekisha, ‘red car’), which was judged one of the top 10 books at the Kessel forum. (I noticed that the Sanai book was chosen by an art professor rather than a photographer, unlike some of the others. I will let you guess my opinion of the work from that).

By coincidence I had recently picked up and looked through Sekisha in a bookstore. It really is beautifully printed and I told him so. The businessman then surprised me by telling me exactly where I had seen it: at the Aoyama Book Center in Roppongi. He knew because it was the only place in Japan that was physically selling what has been declared one of Japan’s best recent photo books.

It reminded me again of how small the of world of contemporary art photography really is. We imagine that such works are seen by millions, when actually the number is in the thousands. It has to be, because these days books for even major names are printed in the low thousands or even high hundreds.

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That was yesterday. Today I saw what I think is an increasingly rare sight — the “street photographer,” like this fellow above, at work.

I am fairly sure he was a street-shooter, even though he was in violation of one of the cardinal rules of genre: Never put yourself in a situation you can’t easily escape.

Seriously, though, I find it admirable that someone of student age is actually out taking photos of strangers — that is to say of an outer world that might snap back —
when many contently photograph the dishes in their sinks or the tiles in their bathrooms (or for that matter their red sports cars). That is to say objects, from which we are to meant to read (or not read, which is a statement as well) an inner world.

I also liked his hat. I’d love to wear something as characteristic, but find that the brim sometimes gets in the way of a good shot.