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July 2004 - Nebuta Matsuri, AomoriThis was the first edition of PhotoGuide Japan's new home page design called the "Billboard Look." A dramatic change from the "Stripe Look" that was used for many years previously.

Photo caption: One of my all-time favorite festivals, the Nebuta Matsuri is held in early August in Aomori in northern Japan. I give this picture the honor of being the first to be featured in this newly designed home page.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono

JAPANESE:

新しいHPデザイン!
ご覧のとおり、当HPのトップページのデザインを新しくしました。完全にCSSでレイアウトされていて、表など全く使っていません。画像が大きくて「ビルボード風」と名付けました。自分でデザインを考えて作りました。

写真:ねぶた祭り、青森
この写真はやはり大きければ大きいほどインパクトが大きい。一つの忘れない日本のお祭り。
写真: © Philbert Ono.
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Aug. 2004 - Flame for AthensCollage of photos I took on June 6, 2004 when the Olympic Torch Relay came through Tokyo.

In the middle is table tennis prodigy Ai Fukuhara speaking after she anchored the torch relay and lit the cauldron you see at Tokyo City Hall.

On the right is another runner who carried the torch across the Olympic Bridge in front of the Olympic Swimming Pool in Harajuku. Pictured in the background is a large Olympic sculpture at a shopping complex in Harajuku.

Japan brought home an unprecedented haul of 37 Olympic medals (16 gold, 9 silver, & 12 bronze). The 16 golds match the number received at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The medal count ranked 6th among all participating countries.

One thing I couldn't understand was the public apologies by the Japanese athletes who didn't win any medal or a gold. No need to apologize for doing one's best. The men's team gymnastics event was my favorite Olympic moment. When Tomita landed perfectly and everyone knew Japan bagged the gold. See photos of the Olympic torch relay here.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono

JAPANESE:

アテネへの火と夢
2004年6月6日に開催された都内の聖火リレーの写真コラージ。聖火ランナーの最後は愛ちゃんでした。撮影したのは、出発点の東京ビッグサイト(長嶋 一茂)、銀座(橋 幸夫)、浅草(古賀 稔彦)、表参道(一般)、とゴールの都庁都民広場(福原 愛)。岩崎 恭子と小谷 実可子も撮りたかったけどどこで走るか未公開のため、ダメでした。

ニッポンが史上最多のメダルを獲得して大変驚きました。気になったのは勝てなかった日本人選手が「申し訳ない」とよく謝る。全く謝る必要ない。一生懸命頑張ってくれて何が悪い??皆さんお疲れさまでした。40点以上の聖火リレーの写真をアップしました。どうぞご覧ください。
写真: © Philbert Ono.
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Oct. 2004 - Yokozuna Musashimaru's Final Dohyo-iriYokozuna Musashimaru held his retirement ceremony on Oct. 2, 2004 at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena in Tokyo.

He performed his final ring-entering ceremony pictured above. The inset photo shows Konishiki cutting a snippet of Maru's topknot.

With Maru's departure, sumo is without a top-ranking Hawaiian wrestler for the first time since 1968. At least we can take comfort in the fact that sumo is now more cosmopolitan than ever before. In the top two divisions of sumo, we can find Mongolian (including the current and only yokozuna), Russian, Georgian, Bulgarian, and Korean wrestlers.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono

JAPANESE:

横綱武蔵丸の最後の土俵入り
2004年10月2日に両国国技館で開催された断髪式にて。横の写真は小錦がはさみを。1968年以来の36年間に必ずハワイの関取がいましたが、この記録がとうとう打ち切れてしまいました。とても寂しいです。(私はハワイ出身なので。)

でも、おかげさまで現在では史上最多の外国人関取がいます。モンゴル陣に加えてロシア人、グルジア人、韓国人、となんとブルガリア人も(化粧まわしがヨーグルトのもの)。お相撲の人気を取り戻して欲しい存在です。

写真と表紙デザイン:
© Philbert Ono
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Dec. 2004 - Imperial Palace VisitEmperor Akihito waves to the flag-waving crowd at the Imperial Palace on Dec. 23, 2004, his birthday and a national holiday. A similar spectacle also takes place on Jan. 2.

Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 are the only two days when the general public is allowed to enter the palace to greet the Emperor and his family. From left to right is Princess Nori, the Crown Prince, the Emperor, the Empress, and Prince and Princess Akishino. Crown Princess Masako did not appear.

Before we got to see the Emperor and his family behind bullet-proof glass, we stood in line for about 2 hours, went through a bag inspection, body frisking, and crossed the famous Nijubashi Bridge.

We waited 30 min. more in the plaza, then the Emperor and his family appeared right on time at 10:20 am. People waved the paper flags that had been distributed and cheered "banzai!" When the Emperor spoke, the crowd immediately fell silent. He spoke for only about a minute, thanking us for celebrating his birthday and mentioning this past year's numerous natural disasters.

After he finished, everyone waved the flags again and cheered. The Imperial family waved back and soon disappeared behind the sliding paper doors. They were on the balcony for a whole THREE minutes. I thought they would stay there for at least 10 min. Barely had time to mount my telephoto lens.

We were then promptly herded to the exit to make room for the next horde of people waiting to see the Emperor who appeared two more times that day. I was surprised to see quite a few foreigners, including four guys in a Santa Claus suit.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono

See more photos of my Imperial Palace Visit.

JAPANESE:

一般参賀
2004年12月23日の天皇誕生日に初めて一般参賀のため皇居へ。朝8時過ぎから2時間ぐらい並んで待ってやっとこの広場で天皇陛下が現れました。でも天皇一家のお出ましはたった3分だけで終わった。あまり早くてなかなか写真を撮れませんでした。ちょっとがっかり。(雅子さまが出なかったことも残念。)

二重橋を渡る前に手荷物の拝見(飲食が禁止で飲料を捨てた)とボディチェック。紙の旗は皆に配られた。外国人も結構来ていました。(サンタクロース姿の人も。)お正月にいつも東京にいないため今回天皇誕生日にした。

昭和天皇がまだ生きているうちに参賀したかったなー。

写真と表紙デザイン:© Philbert Ono

もっとの一般参賀の写真はここ 一般参賀の写真はここ。
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April 2005 - Cherry Dance, KyotoIf you're lucky enough to be in Kyoto during the month of April, don't miss the annual Miyako Odori or Cherry Dance performed by some 64 geiko and maiko (apprentice geisha) dressed in beautiful kimono. This is Kyoto's biggest event of the year and a national institution. This year, the 133rd Miyako Odori will be held (first performed in 1872).

There are four shows daily during April 1-30 at the Kobu Kaburen-jo Theater in Gion, one of the prime geisha districts in Kyoto. With so many shows, it is fairly easy to obtain tickets priced from 1,900 yen to 4,300 yen. Even the maiko themselves are required to sell a large lot of tickets.

The dance consists of eight plays showing the different seasons of Kyoto. The last act is the most colorful with the cherry blossom motif. Photography is permitted but no flash. My only complaint is that it's too short. It lasts only about an hour. But this is what the geiko and maiko practice hard for, and it's a great honor to appear in this dance. They are the best.

When we think of geisha dances, most of us think of the Miyako Odori, but Kyoto actually has other geisha dances such as the Kyo Odori at Miyagawa-cho Kabuki Theater during April 2-17 (3 shows daily), the Kitano Odori on April 15-25 (2 or 3 shows daily) at Kamishichiken Kaburenjo, and the Kamogawa Odori during May 1-24 (3 shows daily) at Pontocho Kaburenjo Theater. Each dance represents their respective geisha district.

And did you know that Tokyo also has geisha? They are in Asakusa, Kagurazaka, and Shimbashi. I bet you didn't know that they put on annual geisha dances either. Well, the Kagurazaka geisha will hold its annual Hana no Kai dance on April 16 this year (2 shows), and the Shimbashi geisha performs their annual Azuma Odori at the Shimbashi Embujo Theater on May 28-31 (2 shows daily).

Unfortunately, the Asakusa geisha don't hold annual dances for the public. The last one they had was several years ago (which was very nice!). However, they do appear or dance publicly at major festivals in Asakusa such as the Sanja Matsuri in May and Tokyo Jidai Matsuri in Nov.

This cover shot is a composite image taken a few years ago. The cherry blossoms (not real) hanging from the ceiling has been "lowered" in the picture. It's actually much higher on stage.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono

JAPANESE:

都をどり、京都
国宝と言えるほどのをどりだと思います。133年も続いていて素晴らしい。数年前に撮った合成写真です。

同じ4月に宮川町と北野の京都のをどりがあります。そして5月は先斗町の鴨川をどり。

ところで、東京も芸者さんのをどりがありますよ。(東京にも芸者さんがいます。)4月16日に神楽坂の「華の会」そして新橋演舞場の「東をどり」は5月18〜31日。残念ながら、浅草の芸者さんは毎年にをどりを開催してないが、浅草の祭りに見れます。

写真と表紙デザイン:© Philbert Ono
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June 2005 - Expo 2005 Kaleidoscope, AichiGlobal, global, global. I hope you like this word because if you visit Expo 2005 in Aichi Prefecture, you'll see it everywhere: Global Loop, Global Commons, Global Common 1, Global Common 2, Global Common 3, Global Common 4, Global Common 5, Global Common 6, Global Tram, Global Village, and Global House.

Over 120 countries, Japanese companies, local governments, and international organizations have pavilions at this "Nature's Wisdom" world expo not far from Nagoya.

It is actually Japan's second Universal Exposition (the first was Expo '70 in Osaka). The site is within an hour's train ride from Nagoya Station, but it will take longer to actually set foot inside the gate due to the crowds and security check. From Nagoya Station, it took me almost 2 hours to actually get inside the Expo.

I went on a weekday in May and even then, it was very crowded. Spent most of the day in the uncrowded international pavilions, then spent the evening entering government pavilions like Japan, Aichi, and Nagoya (taking about 20 min. each). To enter the popular corporate pavilions, expect to wait 2 or 3 hours. (I don't think any pavilion is worth waiting that long.)

One expo highlight is the exhibit of a frozen mammoth (head with tusks, and foot) unearthed in Russia in excellent condition and brought to Expo 2005. It was easy to see it with a reservation ticket (seiriken) which you can obtain near Global House where the mammoth is.

I've seen many expos in Japan, and without exception, this expo is mainly entertainment, amusement, and corporate and international PR. The site also has large tracts of greenery and water, but few people have the time and energy to walk around those areas. It's impossible to see everything in one day, so if you have only one day, prioritize the pavilions you want to visit.

Although the 4,600 yen admission ticket is somewhat steep, it's worth going at least once. Just to see what it's like and ogle at the crowds. To avoid the crowds, go on a rainy/stormy day. If you go during the summer, I wish you luck with the crowds and heat.

See more photos of the Aichi Expo here.
Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono

JAPANESE:

地球博の万華鏡
主催者は本当に「グローバル」という言葉が大好きですね。会場内になにもかも「グローバル」と名付けている。5月の平日に行ったけど、とても混んでいた。名古屋駅から行って会場に入るまでに2時間弱かかった。

人気のパビリオン(待ち時間が2〜3時間)に入れなくても、その混雑の写真を撮るだけで面白かった。

日中は、混んでいない国際パビリオンに入って夕方になって日本、愛知県、と名古屋市のパビリオンに入れた。マンモスも当日の整理券で簡単に入れた。(残念ながら、マンモスは撮影禁止。)

4,600円の入場券は高いけど、一度は行ったらいいと思う。
愛・地球博の写真はここ。
写真と表紙デザイン:© Philbert Ono
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Aug. 2005 - Fukagawa Hachiman Festival, TokyoWhat a hot summer it was this year. Aug. 14 was a scorcher as well, but at this "water-throwing festival," we received temporary relief by getting sprayed (fire hose) and splashed (buckets) with water.

The full-scale version (hon-matsuri) of this festival is held every three years, and this year was it. We saw 56 mikoshi (portable shrines) paraded along the streets near Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm for the festival's climax. If you missed it, you'll have to wait until 2008.

What you see above is a bunch of people in a pool of water on a flatbed truck using plastic buckets to splash water on each portable shrine that passed by.

A lot of water was expended this day, and I cringed a little when I thought about places like Shikoku where they were having a serious water shortage. Fortunately, Tokyo did not have a water shortage this year.

Since I live near Fukagawa, it's easy for me to see this festival held since the 17th century. It is one of Tokyo's Big Three Festivals. I already have a detailed photo essay here. Sorry, but I have not yet uploaded pictures of this year's one (nor the one in 2002). Maybe later.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono

JAPANESE:

深川八幡祭り

今年が3年に一度の本祭りで大変の盛り上がりでした。暑い日に水が掛けられるといい気持ち。

僕は、これで4回目の本祭りの撮影。毎回に必ず違う場面を撮ろうとします。今年は、早く起きて初めて朝7:30の56基の町神輿の連合渡御のスタート時を撮りました。あんな早い時間も既に大勢の人がいて驚きました。

天気にも恵まれて理想的な祭り日和だった。今年の本祭りの写真をいつかアップするつもりです。(2002年の本祭りの写真もまだアップしていません。)1996年の本祭り写真はここ。

写真と表紙デザイン:
© Philbert Ono
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Nov. 2005 - Tokyo Jidai MatsuriTokyo's Festival of the Ages is held annually in Asakusa on Nov. 3, Culture Day, a national holiday. It is one of Asakusa's three biggest festivals (the other two being the Sanja Matsuri in May and the Samba Carnival in Aug.) It attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

Asakusa is well-loved by all. It is perhaps the most popular remnant of Tokyo's past. It has a very long history, beginning in 628 when two fishermen brothers snagged a golden Kannon statue in their fishing net in nearby Sumida River. A wealthy landowner told them about the statue's religious value and built a small temple for it. That temple grew into today's Sensoji, the heart and soul of Asakusa.

The Jidai Matsuri is essentially a costume parade depicting various periods in Tokyo's history. It includes dramatic performances such as the Golden Dragon Dance, White Heron Dance, and fireman acrobatics. My personal favorite is the Oiran Dochu courtesan procession that you see above.

Only the oiran, an elite courtesan, was permitted to hold a courtesan procession during the old days of the Yoshiwara licensed quarters. She is dressed in her finest and escorted by a good number of people, including these two young attendants in front of her called "kamuro." In the old days, the kamuro were about 7 or 8 years old and sold into a brothel to assist the courtesan and learn the trade.

I have uploaded over 140 pictures of this festival, showing all the historical periods and characters that appear in the parade. It's a complete photo guide to the festival. Most photos were taken in 2004 and 2005, with a few taken in earlier years. See Tokyo Jidai Festival.

東京時代祭

京都にも時代祭りがありますが、やはり江戸は平安京と違う歴史を歩んできたので東京版の時代祭りはそれなりの特色がある。金龍の舞、江戸町火消、徳川家康、歌舞伎、水戸黄門、黒船来航、とこの表紙写真の吉原おいらん道中。

ただ今、この祭りの140枚余の写真をアップしました。完全版で行列に現われる全ての組を写真で案内しております。勿論、英語で。参加者は30組で合計1600名。

掲載されている写真はほとんど2004年と2005年に撮ったもの。その前の年の写真も多少にあります。どうぞご覧ください。
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Jan 2006 - Sapporo Snow FestivalAnybody from Hawai'i would recognize the giant snow sculpture above: It's a replica of the Iolani Palace (complete with coconut trees and a statue of King Kamehameha), Hawai'i's most famous and historic building in Honolulu.

Held during early February, the Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido is Japan's biggest festival in winter with 2 million visitors. At the main venue in Odori Park in central Sapporo, giant sculptures of snow are built by the local Self-Defense Force personnel, taking about a month with countless truckloads of snow hauled to the site.

Years ago, I spent a memorable winter in Sapporo and photographed the snow festival before, during, and after it was held. Not many people see how they construct (and later destroy) these frosty works of art, so I've uploaded some of the pictures I took.

By an incredible coincidence, one of the giant snow sculptures turned out to be the Iolani Palace. Being from Hawai'i, I was just totally thrilled. It was to commemorate direct flights from Sapporo (Chitose) to Hawai'i.

Thus, every year, one or more of the giant snow sculptures depict a famous building outside Japan. In Feb. 2006, a few famous buildings in Australia will be featured. International and local organizations are also invited to build smaller snow sculptures.

It's cold, but quite fun. We learned the hard way that it's important to use a wooden frame within the sculpture (like the metal rods in concrete) to prevent the sculpture from collapsing. (Nobody told us that until our snowy work of art broke and we had to build it again.)

In 2006, the festival will be held during Feb. 6-12.

I have uploaded over 80 pictures of this festival. See them here.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono

-- Japanese --
札幌雪まつり

日本の最大の冬まつりは、やはり札幌雪まつりである。2月上旬の開催期間中になんと2百万人も訪れるそうです。

僕も何年前に札幌に滞在して巨大雪像の作り、展示、と破壊をカメラで収めた。大変印象的でした。

ちょうど僕がいたとき、ハワイにあるイオラニ宮殿の巨大雪像も作られて大変ラッキーでした(僕はハワイ出身)。上の写真がその宮殿です。

80点以上の雪まつりの写真をアップしました。どうぞご覧ください。

写真と表紙デザイン:
© Philbert Ono
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Jan. 2006 - PHOTOGUIDE.JPSymbols of Japan

The Japanese flag, Mt. Fuji, a geisha in Kyoto, a torii gate, and cherry blossoms.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono

Project in Progress

WELCOME to PHOTOGUIDE.JP! You are witnessing the start of a new and ambitious project initiated by me, Philbert Ono. This project aims to introduce Japan in pictures and in English. This site will expand greatly over the coming months and years.
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April 2006 - Kagurazaka GeishaLiving dolls, that's what they are. The makeup, hairstyle, kimono, and song & dance all combine to make the geisha Japan's ultimate artisans and entertainers.

Every spring, we are treated to public dance performances by real geisha in Tokyo. Yes, Tokyo. Kyoto is not the only place in Japan where you can see geisha. We also have some in Tokyo. Not as many as before, but just as beautiful, elegant, and spellbinding.

I know they are just normal women underneath it all. But still, all that makeup and costumes really overwhelm you, especially when you see them up close.

Kagurazaka is a neighborhood in central Tokyo built on a gentle slope, and it happens to be one of Tokyo's geisha districts. (The others being Shimbashi and Asakusa.) There's a busy main drag of shops and restaurants, and when you step into one of the small side streets, suddenly you're in a quiet and different world with high-class, Japanese-style ryotei restaurants where the geisha work.

Kyoto is well-known for geisha dances in spring. But Tokyo also has its geisha gem in Kagurazaka. For the 8th time this year, they performed their annual "Hana no Kai" geisha dance on April 8. This year, they gave three shows instead of the usual two. And all three shows sold out. Kagurazaka has been receiving quite a bit of media attention lately, increasing its popularity.

The cover photo above is a scene from their first number called "Fuji Murasaki" (Wisteria Purple). Wisteria is a purple flower that hangs down from a vine or branch. It is another symbol of spring, especially the month of May when they bloom.

As you can see, they don't use sophisticated background sets like their Kyoto counterparts. But they don't need it anyway. The plain background actually makes the geisha stand out even more. And the relatively small size of the hall (about 400 seats) makes it more personal and friendly. For a mere 2,000 yen, you can sit anywhere in the hall, even on the front row and feast your eyes on the colorful, wish-it-were-longer, eye-candy spectacle. (It lasts for only about an hour.)

The geisha in Shimbashi also hold their annual dance performance called "Azuma Odori" in late May at the Shimbashi Embujo Theater. However, that hall is too large (over 1,400 seats) and the tickets cost between 1,500 yen and over 7,000 yen. I saw that show once, from the cheap seats way up on the 3rd floor. I was almost the only one on that floor. There were too many empty seats and the geisha were too far away. They need to advertise more. Not too many people know about these spring geisha dances in Tokyo.

After the performance, the Kagurazaka geisha came out into the lobby to thank us for coming. Posing with them was a great photo op. Photos here.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono

--Japanese--
神楽坂芸者「華の会」をどり

生きているお人形さんである。神楽坂の芸者さんが今年も恒例の「華の会」をどり(弟8回)を4月8日に開催されました。写真は、「藤むらさき」という奇麗なをどりからのシーンです。

昨年までは、2部(一日に)の公演しかなかったけど、今年は、初めて3部の公演にして3部とも券が売り切れたそうです。400席しかないホールではちょっと小さいかもしれないが、僕はちょうどいいと思う。ホールがあまり大き過ぎると(例えば、新橋演舞場)、親しみ感が失われる。でも明らかに見たい人がもっといる。来年からは、できれば二日間以上で一日に2〜3部をやったら嬉しがる人が沢山いる。

写真を見れば分かると思いますが、実に優雅な芸者さんとをどりでした。京都の芸者をどりは有名ですが、東京にも本物の芸者をどりを毎年の春に楽しめるのはとても嬉しい。京都へ行かなくても見れる。京都と比べると神楽坂のをどり舞台の背景は地味だけど、全然気にすることではない。かえって地味なバックが芸者さんの姿をよく引き立てる効果もある。意外に奇麗です。

一時間のをどりはちょっと短いと観客として思うけど、たったの2000円で見れるので大バーゲンだと思う。むしろ自由席で、一番前にも座れる。公演のあとにも芸者さんがロビーに出てきて観客の見送りをする。これも嬉しいサービスです。芸者さんと一緒に写真を撮ったりできる。芸者さんが目の前にいると圧倒されますね。

僕は今年でこのをどりが3回目です。毎回外国人の友人を連れて行ってます。"Very beautiful!"といつも言うんです。僕は、桜と同じく、芸者さんのをどりを見ないと春の気分になれません。東京の無形文化財に指定してもいいぐらいです。写真はここ

写真と表紙デザイン:
© Philbert Ono
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Aug. 2006 - Yamato Awa OdoriThe Yamato Awa Odori is held on the last weekend of July in the city of Yamato in Kanagawa Prefecture. Yamato is easily accessible from Tokyo.

Originating in Tokushima, the Awa Odori dance festival has spread quite far and wide in Japan. Those of us in Tokyo can see it in Koenji and Kagurazaka, besides Yamato.

Its roots lie in the Buddhist Bon dance which is also held in summer to welcome the souls of the deceased coming back to visit us. The Awa Odori in its present form, however, is quite different from the more low-key Bon dance.

It is nicknamed the "Fool's Dance" because the hands are shaken next to the head. In Japan, this gesture means the person is crazy or stupid. The Bon dance has people dancing in a circle, whereas the Awa Odori is a street parade of numerous, highly-trained Awa dance troupes typically consisting of children, women, men, and musicians. The music consisting of taiko drums, flutes, and shamisen is quite infectious.

It's a much more upbeat and lively dance than the Bon dance. One of my favorite Japanese festivals to watch and photograph.

Pictured above is a dance troupe named Chidori-ren. They are members of the Maritime Self-Defense Force based in Atsugi. Last year when I first saw them, they really stood out with an incredible performance. Possible only by being in top physical condition and doing lots of dance practice. They were perfect. See for yourself with my photos here and video here.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono
---

大和阿波おどり

阿波おどりは大好き。毎年の夏に必ずどこかの阿波おどりを見に行く。徳島の阿波おどりは最高ですが、東京の人にとってはやはり高円寺阿波おどりが行きやすい。

近年には地方の阿波おどりも行ってます。その一つが神奈川県の大和阿波おどり。7月の最後の週末に開催されて昨年に初めて見に行きました。これもとても面白かった。高円寺のように混んでいないので写真が撮りやすい。

目についたのは、上に写っている「ちどり連」。男女もすごい勢いで踊って大変印象的でした。この連は海上自衛隊厚木航空基地の隊員である。普通の阿波おどりではなく、本当に特別な阿波おどりをやっている感じでした。体力がすごい。

その写真がここ、そしてビデオもここ。

写真と表紙デザイン:
© Philbert Ono
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Oct. 2006 - Fall Colors, Shiga Pref.Autumn might be a depressing time for some people as the temperature gets colder and the trees go bare. However, like the other three seasons, autumn in Japan has its own unique attractions to look forward to.

Autumn colors are the obvious. Many mountains and temples have trees which turn red or yellow in fall. Huge crowds flock to see the dainty, red momiji maple leaves. In Kyoto, autumn is the busiest tourist season of the year. Many of its famed temples are ablaze in colorful leaves in Nov. And traffic is gridlocked.

Just a stone's throw away from Kyoto is neighboring Shiga Prefecture. After Kyoto and Nara, Shiga has the third highest number of buildings (temples & shrines) designated as National Treasures. Many temples and shrines in Shiga are also well-known for fall colors.

On the east side of Lake Biwa, there is Koto Sanzan, or the East Lake Temple Trio, consisting of Saimyoji, Kongorinji, and Hyakusaiji temples all noted for fall leaves and National Treasures. The photo above was taken at Kongorinji temple.

Have you ever seen autumn leaves when they are lit up at night? Shiga also has a few gardens where you can see autumn colors looking brilliant against the dark sky. Almost like fireworks. Very different from daytime. Check out Genkyu-en Garden next to Hikone Castle, Hyozu Taisha Shrine in Yasu, and Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine to see what I mean.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono

10 YEARS ONLINE!!

PhotoGuide Japan has been online for 10 years. It's been a blast and we look forward to the next 10 years. We thank all of you for your support and encouragement in making us the world's highest-ranked site for photography + Japan (at least at Google).

What sets us apart is our comprehensive and unique content found nowhere else. Our information is drawn from original, first-hand sources in Japan. We also take our own pictures, write our own articles, and state our own opinions.

We are content creators, and we own the content we create. Content is our most valuable asset and we plan to keep creating it for the benefit of all. It is the most important element of the Internet. Content is definitely King.

滋賀の紅葉
紅葉の時期になると京都は大変混みます。交通渋滞も凄い。ところで、隣の滋賀県も紅葉の名所があって多分もっとゆっくり楽しむことができる。

京都と奈良に次いで3番目に多くある国宝の建物は滋賀にあります。それらのお寺や神社に紅葉も奇麗。

例えば、琵琶湖の東にある湖東三山(コトウサンザン)と永源寺が特に有名。湖東三山は、西明寺・金剛輪寺・百済寺を総称している天台宗の寺院。国宝と紅葉はよく似合います。上記の表紙写真は金剛輪寺です。

夜に紅葉をライトアップする庭園もあります。真っ黒の空のキャンバスに色とりどりの葉っぱがとても奇麗。日中と全く違う美しさ。ライトアップするところは、彦根城の隣にある玄宮園、 野洲市の兵主大社、と大津市の日吉大社とか。夜には混んでいないし、癒されます。

写真と表紙デザイン:
© Philbert Ono

PhotoGuide Japan 10周年!

おかげさまで当HPが10周年を迎えました。インターネットって本当に面白かった。emailとホームページ、e コマース、ADSL ブロードバンド、オークション、携帯のiモード、CSSデザイン、PHP+MySQL、ブログ、Wiki、写真と動画の共有サイト、SNSなど凄まじい展開ばかりでした。僕もこれらのトレンドとテクノロジーにほとんど乗りました。

デジカメの普及もホームページのコンテンツに大きく貢献しています。僕もデジタルに夢中で3年前からフィルムは全然使っておりません。

PhotoGuide Japanのコンテンツもこつこつと追加したり更新したりしてきました。まだまだ不足している部分もありますが、現状のままでも比較すべきものがない。

今後も皆さんのご支援、応援、ご指導をよろしくお願いします。10年前にHPを立ち上げて本当によかった。これからの10年間にもとても楽しみにしております。
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Jan. 2007 - Plum PairJapan's warm winter this year is making plum blossoms bloom much earlier than usual, a far cry from last winter's cold temperatures and large snowfall.

The first flowers to bloom in the new year, plum blossoms have the sweetest smell of all the flowers I know in Japan. The white ones are extremely pacifying. There are also pink and red ones, and each have a different sweet smell. There is an incredible variety of ume plum blossoms.

The plum blossom is deeply entrenched and beloved in Japanese culture. You often see it depicted on New Year's postcards, food, paintings, woodblock prints, and fusumu sliding doors. It is part of the auspicious sho-chiku-bai (pine, bamboo, and plum).

You can see plum blossoms during Feb. to early April, depending on region of Japan. In the Tokyo area, Kairakuen Garden in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture and Yoshino Baigo in Ome, Tokyo are most famous.

Wakayama Prefecture is also nationally famous for ume plums (for eating). Minabe town in southern Wakayama has huge groves of plum trees on mountain slopes. The smell is sweet.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono
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April 2007 - Sakura, SakuraThe cherry blossom is Japan's most venerated flower. You haven't seen nor experienced Japan until you see the cherry blossoms.

My favorite flower to photograph. No matter how many years we live in Japan, we never get tired of seeing these fragile and fleeting flowers.

If you're a visiting tourist, it can be tricky to time your trip when the flowers are in full bloom. In central Japan, they usually bloom from late March to early April. Every year, the flowers seem to bloom at a slightly different time, making it unpredictable. They always bloom earlier or later than usual, depending on how cold/warm the winter was. Changes in the global climate is really affecting the cherry blossoms.

Even if you're here during the sakura season, it can be frustrating. Half the time, the weather gets windy or rainy just when the flowers are in full bloom during the critical 2- or 3-day peak period. There are also nice sunny days, but it could be on the day after you leave Japan or when you have to be at work.

In Tokyo, there are many places to see cherry blossoms. Every year, I make it a rule to photograph cherries in places I've never visited before. We can only visit so many places during the peak period of only 2 or 3 days. After that, the petals fall off rapidly.

This year, it wasn't so good weather-wise during the peak period. I counted only one blue-sky day in Tokyo. The other days were overcast, rainy, or hazy due to yellow dust blown from China. On overcast days, I shoot the flowers when they are lit up at night such as at Ueno Park, Chidorigafuchi (excellent lighting, but horrendous crowds), Sumida Park, and Meguro River.

On sunny days, visit Rikugien Garden, Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, Koganei Park, Sotobori Canal, Inokashira Park, and ICU Campus in Mitaka.

And if you are in Kyoto in April, don't miss the Miyako Odori Cherry Dance by geiko and maiko.

Sakura vocabulary:

Sakura - Cherry blossom.
Sakura zensen - Cherry blossom front, where the cherries start to bloom in Japan from Okinawa to Hokkaido.
Kaika - First flowers to bloom. In Tokyo, a tree in Yasukuni Shrine serves as the official barometer for declaring that cherries have started blooming in Tokyo.
Mankai - Full bloom.
Hanami - Outdoor party or picnic under the cherry trees where people eat, drink, and be merry.
Somei-Yoshino - Most popular variety of cherry blossom with full-looking clusters of flowers on the branches.
Shidare-zakura - Weeping cherry blossoms.
Sakura Matsuri - Cherry Blossom Festival.
Yo-zakura - Cherry blossoms lit up at night.

Cover photo (Rikugien Garden weeping cherry tree) and page design:
© Philbert Ono

さくら、さくら

今年の都内の花見日和はほとんどありませんでしたね。青空がバックでピンクの桜花の撮影はほぼ絶望的でした。くもり、雨、黄砂などに勝てないので今年は満開の夜桜の写真を撮った。

都内では、千鳥ケ淵の夜桜が最高だけど、混雑も最高。九段下駅から並んでいるの。上野公園も提灯はあるけど、まだ暗い。人も多いけど、道が広いため大丈夫。大型の花見でしたら最高。

あと、隅田公園も夜桜見れる。あまり印象的ではないけど、意外と混んでいない。夜の花見は余裕がある場所。そして中目黒の目黒川にも行った。夜にも奇麗だけど、川の両側の道路に車が通るので危ない。歩道がない。ゆっくり鑑賞できない。車のクラクションがうるさい。桜期間中だけ道路を歩行者専用にしたらいいな。座れるところもなく花見もできない(禁止されてる)。何のために桜を植えただろう。

来年は六義園の夜桜を撮影したい。

写真と表紙デザイン:
© Philbert Ono
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Jan. 2007 PHOTOGUIDE.JP - Akashi CastleA noted castle in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture. More photos here.
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May 2007 - OiranJapan's best-dressed woman: The Oiran and Tayu courtesan from the Yoshiwara licensed quarters in Edo (Tokyo). Today, we can only see her persona in folklore, kabuki plays, movies, and festivals like the Ichiyo-zakura Matsuri held in early April north of Asakusa.

This festival's highlight is the Oiran Dochu procession when the oiran and her entourage parade along a back street to a stage where she performs in an Oiran show.

I enjoyed her gorgeous costume and show. Real glad to see people still preserving the culture of the oiran. It looked quite authentic.

After seeing my oiran photos, see my oiran video as well. You can see her putting on (and later taking off) her massive clogs. (I was shooting stills at the same time so some parts of the video look shaky.)

The oiran. My favorite woman to photograph in Japan.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono

おいらん

一番好きな日本人女性被写体である。

超豪華と超奇麗。そのカツラとメーク、その着物と前の帯、でっかいゲタ。歩き方も踊りもたまらない。

4月初旬に裏浅草の一葉桜まつりのメインイベントは花魁道中と花魁ショー。まつりは初めて見ました。素敵だった。一葉桜が満開でおいらんが通る。たまらない。

写真はここ。

ビデオもここ。(写真と同時に撮っていたので多少に乱れがある。)

写真と表紙デザイン:
© Philbert Ono
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May 2007 PHOTOGUIDE.JP - Oiran
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Nov. 2007 - Hokule'a in YokohamaHokule'a in Yokohama

Hawaii's most famous canoe named Hokule'a departed Hawaii in Jan. 2007 and sailed to Micronesia and arrived in Japan in April. It visited Okinawa, Kyushu, Shikoku, Hiroshima, and other places until arriving in Yokohama on June 9, 2007, its final stop. A large crowd (including Miss Yokohama in kimono above) turned out to greet the canoe with the Yokohama Bay Bridge as the backdrop.

What makes this canoe so special and famous is that it was used to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti (and many other places) without any modern navigational instruments. They only referred to the sun, moon, the stars, and ocean waves to navigate through the vast Pacific Ocean or Polynesia. This is called celestial navigation. Extremely few people can do this, and the Hawaiians are learning this skill of long-ago.

They wanted to prove that the original native Hawaiians were able to sail between Tahiti to Hawaii on purpose, and that they did not land on Hawaii by accident. Photos here.


Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono
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Nov. 2007 PHOTOGUIDE.JPHokule'a in Yokohama
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Feb. 2008 - Manga & AnimeManga & Anime

This is a photograph, not a manga drawing. These are life-size dolls of manga characters found at the Tokyo Anime Center in Akihabara, Tokyo.

If you can draw huge eyes and a tiny nose and mouth, you can draw manga.

Those of us in Japan have long known about the popularity of manga comics and anime, even among adults. We often saw them reading comics in trains. To foreign visitors, it was one of Japan's most amusing phenomena.

Fast forward to today, and we see how popular Japanese manga has become outside Japan. I was really surprised to see manga books even in Finland.

There are also many more manga/anime characters than ever before. The simple days of readily identifiable Astro Boy, Princess Knight, and Speed Racer characters are gone forever. We are now smothered by a plethora of major and minor characters of all shapes, sizes, colors, species, costumes, and personalities.

So what's this got to do with photography? Well, we also have people called costume players (cosplayers for short) who dress up as manga/anime characters and pose for photographers at manga/anime fairs. Of course, there are cosplayers outside Japan too.

Pretty amazing when you think that just 15 or 20 years ago, manga/anime was pretty much limited to Japan and a few niche markets overseas.

So, what will be the next Japanese thing to take the world by storm? Pachinko? Not likely.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono
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May 2008 - Lake Toya, HokkaidoLake of the North

Lake Toya is a circular caldera lake formed after the mountain blew its top and water started to gather in the crater. Smaller volcanoes in the center erupted again to form what is now the four Nakajima islands in the middle of the lake seen above.

The whole Lake Toya area is now in the welcome mode for the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit. Welcome signs can be seen everywhere, even at the New Chitose Airport.

The lake's main town is Toyako Onsen, a hot spring on the southern shore. From there, you can take a local bus or rent a bicycle to visit other places around the lake. Don't miss seeing the dramatic volcanic landscapes at Showa-Shinzan/Mt. Usu and Nishiyama Craters which last erupted in March 2000.

Yokozuna Kitanoumi, one of sumo's greatest grand champions and the current chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, is from the Lake Toya area (Sobetsu town). His ring name "Kitanoumi" means "Lake of the North" in reference to Lake Toya. There's even the Yokozuna Kitanoumi Memorial Hall.

Bicycling around the entire lake was very pleasant, seeing carp in the transparent water, cherry blossoms, lakeside sculptures, and nesting swans. And the police were also starting to move into the area to prepare for the next G8 Summit in July.

Lake Toya is an easy train or bus ride from Sapporo and New Chitose Airport, taking 90-150 min.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono
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May 2008 PHOTOGUIDE.JP - Lake Toya, HokkaidoLake of the North

I visited Hokkaido during Golden Week (late April to early May) for a magazine shoot. My visit centered on Lake Toya, the site of the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit to be held during July 7-9, 2008.

I hope the G8 leaders will have time to visit at least some of the many sights in and around Lake Toya which is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park in southwestern Hokkaido. The average tourist will need at least three days to explore the lake, volcanoes, hot spring waters, and even a sumo museum.

May was a lovely time to visit the lake. The cherry blossoms and plum blossoms were out. I rented a bicycle and rode around the lake in one day.

I also photographed some local people doing environmental activities like converting waste vegetable oil to biodiesel fuel, using winter snow to cool a vegetable warehouse, and high school students testing Lake Toya's water quality. The upcoming G8 Summit, which will focus on the environment and climate change, has heightened local interest in the environment.

I also noticed many Chinese tourists in Hokkaido. I found them almost everywhere I went, Lake Toya, Sapporo, and Otaru. Tourist signs were in English, Chinese, Korean, and Russian too.

It's been years since I visited Hokkaido. Great to have reacquainted myself with this scenic northern island. Uploaded about 900 new images of Hokkaido.
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Nov. 2008 - Asakusa OdoriThe 23rd Asakusa Odori, a dance performed by Asakusa geisha in Tokyo, was held on Oct. 28-29, 2008 at the Asakusa Kokaido Hall in Asakusa. They gave two identical shows on both days. It was a rare opportunity to see this dance performed only once every several years. The dances were stunningly beautiful. The gorgeous kimono, white faces, splendid colors, and music were all spellbinding.

I had eagerly awaited for the Asakusa Odori to be peformed again. The last time was way back in April 2001 when I still did not have a digital camera. Finally, I can cross off Asakusa Odori off my digital "to-do" list.

Wish they held it annually, but apparently it is too expensive for them to do so.
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Feb. 2009 - Obama GirlsI've never witnessed such a popular US president in my lifetime. I'm proud too, because he was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, not far from where I went to high school. He's wildly popular in Hawaii, and we think of Obama as one of us, a local boy. Ironically, during the presidential campaign in 2008, Hawaii's top political brass (our Republican Governor and senior Senator) did not favor Barack (the Gov wanted McCain and Daniel wanted Hillary). Goes to show how out of touch with the people politicians can be. During Christmas 2008, we were happy to see the President-elect vacationing in Hawaii (it was an annual tradition for him). Too bad he didn't wear an aloha shirt nor any flower leis.

A real twist in the story is happening in Japan, as the city of Obama in Fukui Prefecture started riding on the coattails of Barack's namesake. I visited Obama on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 when they held a special event that included hula dancing by the Obama Girls. Made up of local women from Obama, they aim to promote their city which happen to have the same name (or same pronunciation) as the US president. They cite Barack's Hawaii connection as their reason for forming their hula troupe.

These women spend their own money traveling around Japan and even to Hawaii to promote their hometown. I took pictures and videos of them dancing in an ancient temple where they held the event. The city's main streets are decorated with banners with Barack's likeness. Souvenir shops sell Obama goods too. It's great how a little imagination and effort can revitalize a city or at least bring a lotta PR to itself.

In Japanese, "Obama" means small beach. And it is a small fishing town with a small swimming beach. It made headlines in 2002 as one place where North Korea abducted a Japanese couple (the Chimuras) in 1978. Obama city now hopes that Barack will someday visit them. Wouldn't that be something, a real media frenzy too. Hey Barack, drop by Obama in Fukui (and maybe even Obama Onsen Spa in Nagasaki) when you can.
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July 2009 - Niu Chawan Matsuri, ShigaJapanese festivals, called matsuri, is one of my favorite subjects to shoot. Most traditional matsuri are religious in nature, and the word "matsuri" itself comes from the word "matsuru" which means "to worship." It is a celebration of life, and this is what attracts me the most, as I am happy and grateful to be a human living on this Earth. The matsuri also brings people together for cooperation, fellowship, friendship, and prayers for happiness and health. It is a very community-oriented activity. And Japan has so many of these matsuri that it is impossible to see them all in a single lifetime.

Maintaining and continuing a matsuri's tradition can be a struggle. Many matsuri have undergone major and minor changes over the centuries due to the changing times, modern technologies and conveniences, and practical and economic reasons. Instead of men carrying a palanquin, it is carried on a wheeled cart. Instead of candles in paper lanterns, there are lightbulbs. A man wearing a samurai costume also wears a pair of eyeglasses.

Such changes I can accept (no choice really). But I'm disturbed by changes in the matsuri tradition caused by the ignorance, defiance, and/or arrogance of the next generation trying to take over from the knowledge- and experience-rich elders.

This past spring, I saw a matsuri where a man in his 30s got angry in public at least twice when an elder told him that he was doing it the wrong way. He basically argued, "Why do it the hard way, when no one will see it, and no one will know about it?!!" The elders must take more time to explain why things are done the way they are. And the younger generation must come to respect, understand, and absorb the wisdom of their teachers.

Several years ago, at a giant kite festival, the giant kite was flown in strong winds, but its bamboo frame snapped in half in midair and the kite came crashing down, injuring a few people. Turned out that the bamboo was too green, making it too weak to withstand strong winds. That accident should'nt have happened at all.

Changing demographics is also affecting matsuri. Some of the most beautiful matsuri and arts and crafts are starting to disappear or can no longer be held as before due to the lack of people (children) and money. The Chawan Matsuri held in Yogo, Shiga Prefecture this past May was one such festival. The last time this matsuri was held was six years ago in 2003. They don't know when it can be held again. Compared to the last time the festival was held, fewer sacred dances were performed this year due to the lack of children. The flower umbrella dance (cover photo) was also supposed to be performed by boys only. But they also had a few girls join in since they didn't have enough boys.

Traditional and historical things provide a link to our past and bridge the generations. It helps to define who we are and where we come from. I hope this festival will be held again soon.
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Sept. 2009 - Yamagata Hanagasa MatsuriI currently have over 30,000 images online from all 47 prefectures. They are in coherent photo sets (albums) categorized by prefecture and city/town/village. Here are the latest, centering on summer festivals. And don't forget to see my latest videos too (now listed in the right column).
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Nov. 2009 - Kyoto Jidai Matsuri
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Feb. 2010 - Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 (Iolani Palace)Held during Feb. 5-11, 2010, the 61st Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido featured Iolani Palace as a giant ice sculpture. Especially beautiful when lit up at night.
I currently have over 33,000 images online from all 47 prefectures. They are in over 770 coherent photo sets (albums) categorized by prefecture and city/town/village.
     
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