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Ishidori photos

The photos from this year’s Stone-bringing Festival (Ishidori) are available at Asia Photo Connection. The Stone-bringing Festival is an event that is probably over three hundred years old. I’ve written about this before (Tag: Ishidori), and there is also some good information about Ishidori on Wikipedia. I’m making this information available for free in the hope that you’d find it useful and would buy my photos. Which reminds me, buy my photos.

Clicking on the picture below will take you to a gallery of my Ishidori photos on Asia Photo Connection, and my Ishidori PhotoShelter gallery from previous years.

The lower portion of a portable-shrine and it's town-members at the annual Stone-bringing Festival.

The annual Stone-bringing Festival (Ishidori Matsuri) at Kuwana City is the loudest festival in Japan.

Ishidori video

Ishidori is the Stone-bringing Festival, an annual Shinto event held on the first weekend of August. It is reputed to be the loudest such festival in Japan. It is not well known, but a very lively festival, and perhaps a best-kept festival secret. The festival apparently dates back to over 300 years, and involves more than 30 portable shrines representing each of the wards (or towns) within Kuwana City. Photos for this festival are being processed and should be available soon at Asia Photo Connection.

In the mean time, here’s the preview.

Homepage picture: Kuwana City Ishidori

The current homepage picture was taken in the Kuwana City Ishidori. “Ishidori” literally means ‘stone-bringing’ festival. It’s an all weekend Shinto religious festival held annually in Kuwana City in mid summer at night.A man marks his town's portable shrine cordon in a crowd of onlo

It’s history is a little uncertain, but probably dates back about two or three hundred years. Each town or ward in Kuwana City has a portable shrine. Each portable shrine has a large drum and Japanese style cymbals. They beat out a traditional rhythm non-stop, for the entire duration of the procession, lasting for about six hours on Saturday and Sunday evenings. They follow a set route around the town. This route can vary from year to year, as it is said that it is lucky for the businesses to have the festival pass by their shop fronts. So, in consideration of these businesses, the route is varied each year. Along the route there are intersections, where there can be four portable shrines that meet. In concert with each other they would play the traditional drum and cymbal rhythm with extra energy and zest. This can last for up to 10 minutes, before they quieten down slightly, and move on, allowing the next shrines behind to have their moot. The Kuwana City festival is said to be the loudest in Japan.

Eventually, at somepoint in the night, they portable shrines make their way to a local Shinto shrine and hand over a white stone. These stones were previously gathered from a nearby river perhaps some weeks before hand. It is uncertain as to why the Kuwana City festival is unique in that they bring white stones to the shrine, instead of rice-balls, which is the norm in other places in Japan. It is thought by a local high school teacher and Ishidori enthusiast, that at one time rice might have been quite scarce, and the local people might not have been able to bring their annual rice-ball offerings to the shrine. So, it is possible that white stones were accepted in place of rice-balls.

Once these portable shrines make their way to the front of the Shinto shrine, they perform the drum and cymbal rhythm in earnest for the Shinto priests. Once the priests are satisfied, they give their blessings to that town or ward which is represented by the portable shrine.

I have many photos of this event on both film and some in digital. It is a night festival, held in the humidity of summer. Consequently, the quality of some images is a little compromised. However, other images can be made available upon request under Rights Managed licensing.

Summer festivals

It’s that time of year when many towns are starting to have their festivals. It’s a time when the heat forces people to become nocturnal, don their light weight happi or yukata, and relax and enjoy life in their communities. See here for summer festival photos like this one below. Japanese festivals often involve a parade of portable shrines, food stalls, cold drinks, and hanging out with family, friends, and neighbours. Learn more about festivals like the Kuwana Ishidori, Nagoya Dance Festival, Nara Lantern festival, the Osaka Tenjin Festival.

Buy this photo.


Buy this photo. Nagoya Dance Festival Gallery.

5 Great reasons to be in Japan this summer

There’s usually plenty of reasons to be in a major city like London, Melbourne, or New York during summer. Though, I’ve heard Parisians tend to evacuate their city in summer. Anyway, summer seems to be the time when office workers discover a world outside their buildings, uni students discover life after exams, communities look over their garden walls and discover they’ve got neighbours. As you’ll also soon see, Japan is a land of superlatives. Here’s the top 5 reasons why summer in Japan is great.


5. Sumo in Nagoya

Nagoya is Japan’s fourth largest city, and is conveniently situated between Tokyo and Osaka. The Nagoya Summer Grand Sumo Tournament is held for the 15 days (from Sunday to Sunday) in the middle of July.

For this sumo photo, and others like it, see the Sumo gallery at my PhotoShelter portfolio. This is the hottest sumo tournament. Really, you’ll be sweating a lot in the stadium. You’ll need to pay inflated prices for cool drinks, but fans are free.


4. Festivals

There’s lots of them. Everywhere, almost every weekend from about the end of July to mid to late August. Look up some travel related websites to find out what’s going on, where, and more precisely when. There’s a variety of festivals including sea / marine, fire, community, dance, and more.

The Kuwana Stone-bringing festival is held on the first weekend of August, annually. This is apparently the loudest festival in Japan. See here for the Ishidori / Stone-bringing Festival gallery on my PhotoShelter portfolio.


3. Tenjin Festival

This festival, yes another festival, is supposedly the biggest in Japan with possibly a million people gathering in the festival vicinity at some point during the day or evening. The Tenjin Festival is held on the 24th and 25th of July each year.

The men's part of the Tenjin procession.

The men’s part of the Tenjin procession.

For this photo, and others like it, see my agent’s website, “Tenjin Matsuri“.


2. The World Cosplay Summit

It’s usually held on the first weekend in August in Central Park, Sakae, in the centre of Nagoya. The World Cosplay Summit (WCS) is trying to become the central or focal point of the cosplay culture. However, the main rule is that all costumes must be of a Japanese origin comic, animation, video game etc. So no Star Wars, no Harry Potter, no foreign stuff. In short, it’s a big soft-touch diplomacy thing to centralise and promote Japan. That said, it’s still great. Unfortunately, the actual competition performances are bilingual up until the main TV sponsor, Aichi TV, starts to air the competition later in the evening, then all the announcements are in Japanese only.

The Finnish team parading on the Red Carpet on the day of the World Cosplay Summit competition performances.

The Finnish team parading on the Red Carpet on the day of the World Cosplay Summit competition performances.

For this photo, and others like it, see my Cosplay gallery in my PhotoShelter portfolio and my agent’s website, “Japan Cosplay“. One of the Finnish girls admitted to me that she was warned that it would be hot and humid, and not the choose a costume that is inappropriate for the heat. She admitted they thought they made a good decision, but it seems summer in Nagoya is not like summer in Finland.


1. Fireworks

I don’t know why, but Japanese people associate fireworks displays with feeling cooler. Somehow high temperature explosives gives them some relief from the night time heat. Firework displays are held probably every weekend from mid July to late August somewhere in the country. This display in Kuwana city is held on the last Saturday of July. A weekend later Tsu city has it’s display, then a weekend after that is another in Gifu, and it goes on. It’s a time when families bring out the eskies / cooler boxes, with cool drinks, beers, dinner, insect repellent, picnic rug or folding chairs, eat, chat, and wait for the fireworks to begin.

For this photo, and others like it, see my Night in Japan gallery on my PhotoShelter portfolio. Note, this photo was taken a some distance, and with my widest angle lens (at 17mm), and it just fits in the frame.

5 Things about Japan that totally rock

I try to make these monthly lists unique, and without repeating what others have already said to ad nauseam. So, here are 5 things you might not know already about Japan.


1. Trains

There’s lots of them. They’re everywhere. Even if you live here, you don’t really need to own a car at all. I know a family who rents a car two or three times a year, whilst most people don’t bother buying one; otherwise they’re an unnecessary expense. Cities are connected usually by city government-owned subway trains and buses, as well as some private train and bus companies. Then, satellite cities that feed into major metropolitan cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Yokohama have mainly private train companies and Japan Rail (JR). Then cities are linked mainly by JR East, JR Central, JR West, or JR Hokkaido companies. This includes the infamous bullet train (see 5 Things about Bullet Trains).

A local train that services rural towns and feeds to a satellite city of Nagoya. To see this image, and others like it, see the Transport gallery.


2. Unique festivals

How many other countries or communities you know has a penis festival, and can be very open about it? Well, to be more descriptively precise, a fertility festival, the video below shows the male fertility festival, and there’s also a female one held some weeks later (no pun intended). There’s also a Naked Man Festival, a Stone Bringing Festival, Doll Festival, dance festivals, and many other festivals.

A YouTube video of the Tagata Fertility Festival, see here for the Tagata Fertility Festival gallery, and past blog posts.


3. Fishing

Yep, how often do you see someone in a wooden boat, with a huge fire, catch fish with birds. Yes, I really do mean they use cormorants tied to rice hemp lines to dive into the river water, catch some fish, and then come up and cough them up into the boat. The lines keep the birds from getting away and from swallowing the fish. After watching the fish catching display, you can retire to a nearby restaurant to sample these fine hacked up aquatic cuisine. Cormorant fishing is done in various places including Inuyama, and is a summer thing that usually runs from May to October. The trip costs about ¥2,500 for basically an hour wait and a 20 minute one-run along the river, and then it’s over.

For this photo of cormorant fishing at Inuyama, and others like it, see the Night in Japan gallery.


4. Convenience stores

Convenience stores are everywhere. I heard that at any time (usually) you’re never more than 300 meters from a convenience store. Which is better than what I hear about not being more than 3 meters from a rat in New York. Anyway, in some small towns these small modern general stores serve as pseudo supermarkets, and for everyone a refuge from the winter cold or summer heat. They have a huge selection of drinks, snacks, and even lunch sets, and even hygiene supplies for office staff who were either too busy to go home, or too drunk to catch the last train. Lawsons (pictured) is starting to offer space with tables and chairs, too. Though this is coming 15 years after similar companies were doing the same in South Korea.

For this photo see see it in my PhotoShelter portfolio, and other convenience store photos see my agent’s website via search: “Japanese convenience store”.


5. People leave you alone

Basically, you’re left alone and people don’t bother you. The police are hard to find, mainly because they don’t need to come out of their police stations, unless they really have to. I cannot think of a lazier police force. People don’t pass judgements of you, and so you get an illusion of total freedom. Of course, some travellers and expats mistake this as a license to horse around and behave like juveniles, so please don’t. Tourists and expats have been banned from the famous Tokyo fish markets already. If you have tatoos, cover them with plasters or t-shirts. Don’t wear tracks suits or sports suits in public, people usually wear these as pyjamas. When my family came to visit, people somehow sensed they were tourists and were very warm and welcoming, and helpful. For me? Maybe I look like a local now, and so nobody cares.

For this photo of a naked guy giving a pink ribbon to a high school girl, as a policeman watches on, and others like it, see the Naked Man Festival gallery.


There’s of course many more things, but this is just a taste. You’ll have to come and see the rest for yourself. There are thousands more photos at my PhotoShelter portfolio, and my agent’s website. Also, 5 Ill Conceived Things in Japan coming next month.

#POTW 20Jan 2014 Food in Japan

This is an interesting Photo of the Week. Japanese people pride themselves on their food. It’s almost as if anything about food is a profession, hobby, interest, lifestyle, but least and last of all, a means to live. There’s even a large magazine industry just on local eateries. There are many, many tv programs playing all day long about food, home cooking, restaraunts, and eaties in various locales around Japan. They’ve even gone so far as lodging an application with UNESCO to have certain Japanese foods list as intangible cultural assets (News on Japan). In short, food is a national obsession, one that is so ad nausem that I do everything possible to avoid it. As a consequence, I don’t have much choice of photos for this story, but they’re good.

What’s the story? In the Oxfam Food Index, Japan is ranked only, only 21st. Despite the near-extreme obsession with food the Japanese have, laid back Europe out ranks Japan.

For this photo, and others like it, see my agents website, and my PhotoShelter portfolio.

A food stall at the annual Ishidori Festival, the loudest festival in Japan.

A food stall at the annual Ishidori Festival, the loudest festival in Japan.

POTW: 23 July 2012, Summer Festivals

Photo of the Week, Japanese Festival (‘matsuri’)

It’s that time of year when many cities, towns, villages, communities have their festivals, usually before the official Summer Holidays (in Japanese, ‘Obon’), before everyone returns to their grandparent’s homes to visit the family clan, or are held during this time. The festivals typically feature portable shrines, floats, traditional dances, and has the gangster and gangster wannabes manning the food stalls on the side. Often the festivals are held at night when it is cooler, but still due to the residual heat and humidity some still dehydrate and suffer heatstroke. Add to that, the beer consumption is often high, but not binged. It’s also a time when young boys and girls are out scouting for ‘summer love’. Many people, of all ages, wear the summer version of the kimono called the yukata, or festival participant equivalent, the happi. For me, hearing the festival cymbals and drum practice in the weeks leading up to the town festivals is a sign that summer has come. See festival related photos on my PhotoShelter portfolio, Asia Photo Connection, by Henry Westheim agent’s website, and my YouTube videos:

A young woman beating the drum on her town’s portable shrine.

5 things you must see in Japan

There are soooo many things to see and do in Japan, and so this list cannot do this country justice. However, if you have just five things to aim for, put these in that list, and let everything else be added bonuses.

1. Kinkakuji Temple (aka ‘Golden Pavilion’)

Kinkakuji (and by extension, Kyoto) is the number one destination for Japanese tourists, school groups, traveling seniors, university clubs, and more. Many foreign tourists place Asakusa as #1 just because it’s in Tokyo and therefore closer to the airport than Kinkakuji, so Asakusa should be your bonus.

2. A temple & shrine

Any temple or shrine should do. The one pictured below is in some small neighbourhood in a no-where special part of Japan, and all that glitters is often old, and gold. The decorations, aesthetics, and mood, and feeling is quite different to a christian church. Christian churches are criticised for plundering the poor just to fill their own coffers, but reality is religious buildings in most countries are old, and through time gradually accumulate such pretty things. Admire the uniqueness of the Japanese temples and shrines.

The statue of Buddha in Jokoji Temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism.

A statue of Buddha leaning forward ready to help someone in need, inside the Jokoji Temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Japanese Buddhism.

3. A festival.

Any (traditional) Japanese festival. These are typically so different to what you are used to. The locals often dress up in true-Japanese dress, kimono in spring / autumn, yukata in summer, and happi (shirt / jackets) for most things else. As you would see in the Kuwana Ishidori these aren’t parades meant to be watched, but parades meant to be participated in. Also see the Tagata Fertility Festival, the Naked Man Festival, the Nagoya Dance Festival, and more.

4. Todai-ji (The Big Buddha temple, aka Daibutsu)

The Todai-ji is in Nara, the city regarded as the original and ancient capital of Japan. There are many things to see of historical Japan. To journey to Nara, is also to indulge in Japanese history… assuming you read the history section of your guide book on your way to experience Nara. Much of the foundation of Japanese history is acclaimed to begin here. However, you should also consider the Shinto religion’s equivalent to the Vatican: Ise Shrine.

5. Food

It is the signature of any country. The foods, restaurants, the servings, dishes, cutleries, garnishes, and condiments are mostly unique to each country. Mayonnaise and Thousand Islands dressings are internationally common, but the Japanese love to have mayonnaise with lots of things you haven’t dreamt of; similarly the Taiwanese love Thousand Islands dressing with lots of different foods. Have you ever tasted spicy spaghetti bolognese? Well, South Korea is the place for that. Don’t expect the ingredients to be the same as home. Also don’t expect the real Japanese foods to be like the “Japanese food” you apparently had served to you in ‘Japanese restaurants’ in your home country. And for that matter, don’t expect restaurants serving food from your country to really resemble your country’s food. That said, Japan is a very well-off country, and so there is a wide variety of restaurants for you to discover.

Below, a restaurant district in Kyoto, Japan

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