A photographic tour of Japan

From elaborate festivals to iconic bullet trains, MR Ranganathan’s photographs showcase the myriad moods and hues of Japan

“Japan is shaped like this,” says MR Ranganathan, drawing a semi-circular arc in the air. “Spring settles in the South first and slowly makes its way to the northern parts. And the marker of this movement are the sakura blossoms,” he points to a photograph of a group of people picnicking under the shade of the grand pink umbrella.

This picture is part of a 400-strong collection that the founder of Japanese learning school ABK AOTS has captured during his visits to Japan over three years. It is a slice out of daily life in Japan: its culture, festivals, people, architecture, and Nature. Each picture comes with a two-line description, a nugget of information giving a glimpse into the Japanese world.

Sakura travels

A photographic tour of Japan

“For two years in a row, I went to Japan in time for the sakura viewing season, called Hanami,” says Ranganathan. From March to May, as Spring sweeps the country from Okinawa in the South to Hokkaido in the North, the wave of sakura blooms spread accordingly, city by city, until the whole country is bathed in pink.

His photos show the sakura blooms in various settings: a close-up of a flower, the view from the Indian embassy, groups of friends sitting under a tree, to avenues lined with carpets of fallen flowers. Of the latter he says, “This one was taken at Miyajima island, off Hiroshima. It’s a natural island in the middle of a freshwater lake. Walking through this place, feels like entering a tunnel of sakura.”

Even though there are huge crowds that gather during Hanami, he says, “The big difference is that they throw their rubbish properly at designated places. Once the crowds clear, you would have never known a party had taken place there!”

Connecting lives

A photographic tour of Japan

In another section of the display, locomotives take the pride of place, with a special focus on steam engines and the iconic shinkansen (bullet train). In one of the pictures, two men stand near the tracks, pointing towards a board, comically loud expressions on their face. “This is called the shisa kanko method. It’s basically pointing and calling attention to the signboards or the indicators to reduce accidents.”

In another picture, Mount Fuji towers in the background as two shinkansens are just about to cross each other. “My friend Mahendra and I spent five hours waiting for this exact moment to occur. Unfortunately I couldn’t capture it. But later, Mahendra went back and did,” he says. His friend’s pictures of Mount Fuji in various lights of the day are displayed too.

Ranganathan has also clicked overhead shots of bridges such as the Kintaikyo bridge (a wooden bridge with no nails), and the curiously X-shaped Sakura bridge. The pictures show the urban landscape of Tokyo, with the buildings jostling for space. “See how close they are to each other? Maybe that’s why the Japanese say they are a co-dependent community.”

A photographic tour of Japan

In celebration

“They walk through fire. It’s seen as a cleanse or purification process,” says Ranganathan, about the people who participate in the Buddhist festival of Hiwatari, held traditionally at the Takaosan Yakuoin Temple atop Mt Takao.

A photographic tour of Japan

Less scary, but equally boisterous is the 300-year-old Danjiri Matsuri festival, held in Kishiwada, Osaka. Local carpenters from over 34 neighbourhoods come together to form teams and prepare a wooden float, which they race through the streets. “Making the narrow turns from one street to the other, dragging the four tonne float looked dangerous,” he recalls.

He proceeds to show a picture of the Kiyomizu-dera (temple). Inside its premises is the Otowa waterfall, which has three streams of water flowing down. “It is said you can only drink water from one of these streams: one is for longevity, one for success and one for love. Drink all, and you will be considered greedy.” Speaking of love, it also houses a pair of ‘love stones’ kept 18 metres apart. “Legend has it that if you are able to cross the distance between them blindfolded, you will find your true love,” he says.

The photo exhibition is on December 13, 14 and 15 at ABK AOTS Dosokai on Nelson Manickam Road, Aminjikarai. Call 23740318 for details. Entry is free.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 4:02:33 AM |

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