Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Cherry Blossoms [ Japan I ]

Sometimes as you shoot a photograph you realize it defines something, at least for you, with astonishing precision.

I shot this on the first morning of our recent visit to Japan. I isolated these four figures – and they, with the younger couple gaining on the older couple then framed by them, rearranged themselves as if on cue. Snap!

I shot it outside the Starbucks at Senri-chuo in Osaka. I was waiting for a man whom I intended to meet briefly, without accurately identifying myself. The game was simple: the man is my wife’s father; we had spoken frequently on the telephone, but we had never met face-to-face because he lives in Japan and we do not; and on the following day, as part of a plot hatched by us with his Japanese wife, we were going to surprise him, on his birthday, by suddenly appearing at his table in a restaurant, when he had no reason to suppose we were not in Doña Ana County, New Mexico.

I found a seat near the table in Starbuck’s at which he was going to teach conversational English for an hour or so. I hoped to have a casual "chance" conversation with him. For a few minutes I feared I wouldn’t manage that, but then he was holding the student’s infant. I quickly raised the camera and shot a photograph of him.  I showed it to him, and we spoke for a few minutes. I also showed him the photograph of youth framed by age, and he added a useful observation: that in light of Japan’s dangerously skewed demographics, the photograph of one very young couple and one very old couple summarized an important national fact.

To me, the image was evocative in a less specific and perhaps more poetic way. I was not sure whether the young couple were youthful memories of the old couple, the old couple represented the destiny of the young couple, or the sharp contrast made some other statement, but I sure felt sure it said something.  The journey from youth to age is so short, yet so absorbing to each of us! 

Too, for me its irrelevant context added something. The few moments’ conversation it spawned were fun, of course – for me at the time and after the next day for him too, as at odd moments one of us would recall the irony of our meeting without meeting and make some joke about it. But that has nothing to do with the image as an image.

Anyway, I like the image.  And this is the first of a sporadic series of four or five posts featuring images or experiences from our two weeks in Japan in April, mostly in Osaka.

That first morning also produced these other images:

After my encounter with Donald, Dael and I took the monorail to a park to gawk at the Cherry Blossoms.
Cherry trees, or sakura, symbolize spring, and their blossoms express the brevity and fragility of everything, including us.  On a very basic level, they're beautiful and ain't around too long, so Japanese flock to the parks and streets to view them while they're there.  (In earlier times, excursions organized to view the blossoms were known as hanami.)  They also hold a special place in Japanese culture (on which I'm no expert!), as the subject of countless tanka and haiku.  They are associated with samurai (who were expected to die young in battle) and even the kamikaze pilots of World War II.  They appear prominently in films and novels.  (Even the 2003 Tom Cruise vehicle The Last Samurai featured a brief lecture by the samurai character played by Ken Watanabe on the importance of the sakura.) 

Everyone is fascinated by sakura

These folks, surrounded by sakura petals on the ground,
seemed immersed in their modern toys

This fellow, despite the physical handicap, was still intent on getting a good shot of the sakura.

There was something sobering in the sight of him.  In his intensity to get the shot, he's my brother, of course.  I'm also old enough to wonder whether some time I too may need assistance merely to photograph the flowers in the park.

He reminds me, as do the blossoms, of how short our journey here is, and of how much we prize it.
But I think the photograph way back at the start of this post said that better than I can, so why don't I shut up?

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