All posts filed under: Japan

100 Kobudo Kata Challenge at the Karate Kaikan, Okinawa

A few pics from today’s 100 Kobudo Kata Challenge at the new Karate Kaikan in Tomigusku, Okinawa. The event was organized by James Pankiewicz of the Dojo Bar in Naha. The welcoming message was given by Toshimitsu Arakaki, 10th dan Matsubayashi-ryu karate. Participants spent 2 to 3 hours performing a hundred kata with various weapons including bo staff and sai. Congratulations to all that took part, it was great to see people actively helping keep Okinawan traditions alive. I also got to take a few new “Beyond the Dojo” pics of Arakaki sensei outside of the new Karate Kaikan building. Arakaki-sensei demonstrates a technique with two sai, while also reminding me that “Iron Fist” isn’t just something from comic books.   Gear: Pentax 645Z with 25mm lens. Profoto B1 with softlight reflector white.

Practice, practice, practice.

Last weekend I met up for a collaborative test shoot with photographer Jennifer Buchanan of Sunshine Soul Photography. Jennifer specialises in couture portraits of high school seniors, and is great at producing timeless images of the young ladies before they venture out into the big world. Jennifer arranged for two high school students Sierra and Savannah (and their parents) to meet up with us in Motobu. In exchange for their time, we’d give them a few photos they’ll hopefully love. Jennifer and I took turns photographing the girls. We offered each other tips, watched how we posed the “clients,” compared the gear we use, but above all we could just practice. Practice, practice, practice. Practice, and a lot of it, is required to become proficient at any skill. One theory states that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” is required to master something. Concert musicians are well known for playing hour after hour after hour. (Two thumbs up for the movie Whiplash). Sometimes it’s not the gear that is holding us back, but the limited amount of time that we spend practicing …

Hatsuko Machida 6th dan Uechi-ryu Karate

Hatsuko Machida  町田 初子 is ranked 6th dan in  Uechi-ryu karate 上地流 空手. She teaches at the  Ageda Women’s Dojo which is unique in Okinawa for offering women only karate classes. She explained that many of her students had not been allowed to study karate when they were young so now embrace the opportunity to do so. Many of the ladies are over 50 with the oldest still training at 78. Machida-san was a student of Takamiyagi Shigeru (1935-2014) who encouraged her to set up her own dojo and help spread karate to more women. Machida sensei’s class also uses the nigiri gamae (握りえ構え)  ceramic jars that strengthen their grip and forearms. After shooting in the dojo we took a short walk to the local park to get a shot of Machida sensei training outside. All images shot with the Pentax 645Z with the 90mm lens (indoors) and the 25mm lens (outdoors). Lighting with the Profoto D2 (indoors) and Profoto B1 (outdoors) with a Softlight Reflector.

2016 Highlights

2016 has been an great year with a mix of photography and putting in the groundwork for future projects. Cherry Blossom The year began with cherry blossom in Okinawa, and a few months later I was whizzing around mainland Japan shooting cherry blossom in Himeji, Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo. 2017 should be another epic year for cherry blossom pics as I run a Kyoto Workshop  in April while the trees are in full bloom. Karate The Karate Masters Portrait Project continues although at a slower pace. In 2016, I shot images for James’ new clothing brand Okinawa Dojo of Life. The Guinness World Record for the most people performing a kata was broken, and Sensei Higa took on the minotaur of Zakimi. Marine Life Didn’t spend much time shooting underwater this year, but have made new contacts with the Churaumi Research Center so it’s been great to document some of their work monitoring the migration of humpback whales. In 2017 I hope to get pictures of other monitoring programs including coconut crabs and turtles. Life on …

“Kid” Yamamoto Portrait Shoot

Portrait shoot with MMA fighter Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto on friday night. Yamamoto is perhaps most famous for his 4 second flying knee KO to Kazuyuki Miyata back in 2006. Pentax 645Z with 90mm lens. (I had brought a black background but spotted the Japanese flag in the gym so changed my plan). 2 light setup. Profoto D2 with gridded 4×1 softbox as rim light (back left), Profoto B1 with gridded softlight reflector as the main light (front right). Air remote trigger. Huge thanks to Ben of Capoeira Academy Okinawa for setting up the shoot, and Shawn Miller and Yuki  for assisting. Some BTS pics and video!

Bodybuilder Hidekazu Taba

Hidekazu Taba is a champion bodybuilder. Several years ago I saw him compete at the Pacific Muscle Classic on Camp Foster. He won his weight class, he won his age group, he won overall. In other competitions, he’s repeated the feat. He dominates Okinawan body building, and he does it at age 67. For a long time I’ve been hoping to photograph Taba-san and yesterday I visited his home to take a few pics. Taba-san began bodybuilding around 40 years ago after seeing a Tarzan movie. He hits the gym for a couple of hours, 5 days a week. Unlike many bodybuilders who bulk up and then cut weight (shred?) for competitions he stay lean all year. The reason is that he’s not trying to peak for a single event, but has to be ready for local competitions or festivals all year. He’s very happy that his grandchildren are proud to have a super cool oji-chan. I’m looking forward to shooting more photos of Taba-san training at the gym and at competitions. Images shot with …

Guinness World Record Breaking Kata

On October 23rd 2016 the Okinawan karate community attempted to break the record for the most people performing a kata. The record had been set in India in 2013 with 809 people. The Okinawan attempt on the record was a resounding success with 3793 confirmed participants. There was also a one of the biggest congregations of karate masters. I have photographed most of them for the Karate Masters Portrait Project so it was great to be able to say hello to so many of them. 2017 will have the opening of the Okinawa Karate Kaikan (training center), and with karate a demonstration sport at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, I expect that a mass kata performance may even become an annual event. If so, hopefully next year will be even bigger!  

Stamp of Approval

This week, Japan Post released a set of postage stamps to commemorate Karate Day in Okinawa. The series of eight stamps is made up of Okinawan karate masters of different styles. The bottom right image is of Yoshitaka Taira, 10th dan World Matsubayashi-ryu (Shorin-ryu) and is one of the photographs I shot for the Karate Masters Portrait Project. Pleasingly, this is the second time one of my images has been used on a Japanese stamp. The first was around 12 years ago when they chose my photograph of Kabira Bay to represent one of Okinawa’s beautiful landmarks. In all that time the price of a postage stamp has only gone up two yen!

Robot Restaurant, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Looking for a surreal experience that combines J-pop, anime,  taiko drummers,  carnivale, and robots. Of course you are. The Robot Restaurant is located in Kabukicho, the entertainment district in Shinjuku. The target audience was once the salarymen, but now it’s packed with international tourists. There are four  90 minute shows every evening. It begins with guests gathering together in the bar area, where a “robot” band plays Michael Jackson, The Eagles and Sting. My guess is that they originally played the themes from Astro Boy, Gundam  or Doraemon. After all the guests have arrived you are ushered into the theatre. The main performance takes place in four 20 minute segments with  10 minutes breaks  which allow the cast to change, and the robots to reset. The guests meanwhile can refill on drinks and popcorn. The show itself is a bit like watching a live action mixture of Power Rangers, Transformers,  and Japanese music video. It should have been moronic, but everyone was having a great time. It doesn’t seem odd that you’re waving glow stick and booing …