The world’s largest tug-of-war took place today in Naha City, Okinawa. Two ropes weighing 20 tonnes were tied together to make the record-breaking 40-tonne behemoth. Around 270,000 people came to the city to watch or take part in the event. After karate demonstrations by several masters including Koyu Higa and Ippei Yagi (who are featured in the karate masters portrait project), the kings of East and West were carried along the length of the ropes. There were a lot of gongs, firecrackers, and whistles, then the contest began. Congratulations to the East for their victory. A great day, with a friendly international atmosphere. Thank you to the American Chamber of Commerce for having me as part of your team. Video coming soon.
Another impressive Expo Park Fireworks Festival on Saturday. Very glad I live just a short walk from the event so I don’t get caught in Okinawa’s longest traffic jam of the year. Shooting fireworks against a black sky doesn’t really put the event in any context. Luckily the show started at 8pm and there was still a little color in the sky for the first 5 minutes. This was when I shot the picture above showing the fireworks, Emerald Beach, and the Orion Hotel. Then as darkness enveloped us, I got a few pics of the fireworks and reflections on the ocean. However, my favorite firework photos are still the shots I took at the Miyajima fireworks festival where the floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine could be silhouette by explosions. Saturday’s pics were shot with the Pentax K-1 with the 24-70mm f2.8 lens. The floating torii firework images were taken with the Pentax 67II medium format film camera and Fuji Provia 100F film.
Ohara Hadaka Matsuri a.k.a. the Ohara Naked Festival took place in heavy rain on the 23rd of September. To clarify “naked” is clearly not an accurate description with the participants wearing far more than the fundoshi loincloths seen at the Okayama Hadaka Matsuri. As this is a traditional Shinto festival a priest gave blessings, and somewhat unusually two arrows were launched into the ocean. Teams carried mikoshi (portable shrines) down to the ocean. It was clear that the mikoshi were heavy and the teams looked exhausted as they shouldered the wooden beams. After dunking themselves and the shrine in the ocean waves they returned to the beach, and managed to raise it above their heads. All images shot with the Pentax 645Z and the 25mm lens. Glad both the camera and lens are weather sealed because they were subjected to rain for half an hour.
Riding a tree trunk as it slides down the side of a mountain is as safe as it sounds. There are injuries, and numerous participants have died. The Onbashira festival, however, has taken place for over 12 centuries. Every 6 years, tradition takes priority over health and safety, and with a heady mixture of religious fervor and adrenaline, the men go for the ride of their lives. The kiotoshi (tree falling) part of the Shimosha Onbashira takes place over three days. Friday 8th of April 2016, was the first day, with three different teams riding in the afternoon. Having shot the first team with a 300mm telephoto lens, I switched to the 90mm so that I could put the action in a little more context. When the tree trunks finally comes to a stop, all the members of the team scramble together to celebrate and then start to drag the trunk onwards. The men with white helmets and riot shields at the base of the hill are to stop dislodged stones from hitting the crowds. As …
Onbashira is a traditional log riding festival held in held in Suwa Town, Nagano Prefecture every six years. Tree trunks are dragged from the mountains to the Suwa Taisha Shrine to be raised as sacred pillars. Kiotoshi “tree falling” is where men risk their lives riding the tree trunks down a steep slope. This takes place in two locations, first there is “Kamisha” near Chino, then a few days later there is “Shimosha” near Shimosuwa. On the three days of the Suwa Taisha Kamisha the “tree falling” is followed by kawagoshi “river crossing.” A small rope is towed across the river (in one case by an ugly duckling with swans) which connects to the larger ropes that drag the tree trunk. Dignitaries are carried across the river. Then the brass band wades across! The tree trunk, bedecked with a couple of dozen men, is dragged from the riverbank. Rescue services stand by to try and prevent any of the participants from drowning. An amazing spectacle to witness.
Last weekend was the world’s largest tug of war. It is held each year on route 58 in Naha City, Okinawa. First the two halves of the rope are joined together with a giant wooden pin. Kings of the west side and east side are then carried to the center of the rope. Thousands of spectators including Okinawans, tourists and local American military take part in the event pulling for either the East or West team. I was pleased that this year I could add to my selection of images of the tug of war . I already had a fantastic overview shot from 2010, but it was great to get some POV shots from the center of the action. The above shots were all taken with the Pentax 645Z and the 25mm lens held above my head on a monopod. The photo below was with the Pentax 645D and 55mm.
Dancing in the streets at the 33rd Asakusa Samba Festival in Tokyo. 22 teams including local Japanese and Brazilians bring Samba to the roads around Asakusa Shrine. The event is watched by around 500,000 spectators so the streets do get a little crowded. Some participants went with the iconic sparkly Carnival outfits, while others wore costumes more representative of their region in Japan. This is why you have dancing okonomiyaki. Overall, a fun event, very different from the traditional religious festivals that I usually cover. Maybe I should start checking out the prices of flights to Rio.
After getting a few portraits and some general overview shots, I started looking for other angles. At one junction, where the mikoshi make a 90 degree turn, I noticed there was an elderly man watching the proceedings from the upstairs window of his home. I waved at him, pointed to my camera, and a few minutes later I was also watching the festival from the upstairs window. It turns out Kawauchi-san has lived in the same place since he was a kid. He watches the parade every year, and was quite happy to have some company for a little while. It was great to be able to look down on proceedings. I was able to capture a good selection of images I wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. I even had enough time to shoot some video. A huge thank you to Kawauchi-san for happily letting a stranger into his home, and even giving the stranger a bottle of cold tea on a hot day in August.
On Sunday 17th, Fukagawa Hachiman Festival reached its peak. Festivities began with blessings from the Shinto priest outside the shrine. Dozens of mikoshi were carried through the streets, the participants getting soaked by far more bystanders with buckets of water. As with yesterday, it was great to know that the Pentax 645Z and lenses are properly weather sealed. The camera was splashed several times, but there were no issues. However, there were some professional water soakers that I needed to stay clear of. Numerous member of the Tokyo fire departments were there to drench the groups with water. There’s weather sealing, and there’s being hit by a firehose sealing. I wasn’t going to test the latter. My goal therefore was to try and get in close to the groups without getting soaked, or crushed underfoot by a team of mikoshi carriers. And a bit of video
Fukagawa Festival a.k.a. The Water Throwing Festival held at Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine, Tokyo. Participants throw buckets of water at mikoshi (portable shirines) as they are carried through streets in one of the great Shinto festivals of Tokyo. Not everyone chooses buckets of water, there were plenty of kids with their super soakers happy to join in the fun. These are shots from the Saturday, the day before the main festival. Going a day early allowed me to get a feel for the festival, work out the angles, and prepare myself for the following day.