Journey to mateship
I am frequently invited to the annual farewell of South Island JET (Japan Education Teaching) candidates. The farewell, organised by the Japanese Consular Office, includes a generous afternoon tea, limited formalities and an opportunity to chat to candidates. JET offers a wonderful opportunity for young people to work for one year in Japan. JET was set up by Japanese authorities in 1987 to provide grassroots international exchange between Japan and other countries. To date JET has attracted 66,000 candidates from more than 40 countries. This year’s intake included 21 from New Zealand’s South Island. Two young women told me they were keen to try Japanese whisky. I assured them they wouldn’t be disappointed.
South Island Jet candidates 2019
Following the reception the candidates gather their luggage and board a bus to the airport. They spend a night in Auckland the next day fly to Japan aboard Air NZ. I must admit to feeling a tad regretful at JET farewell events. Not only was I born too soon but, born in 1943, I was brought up with a distaste for Japan.
I recall as a young person visiting Port Lyttelton and seeing train loads of scrap metal awaiting its loading onto a nearby ship with a strange name and registered in port called Yokohama. We thought, ``Our rubbish is good enough for Japan.’’ In our ignorance we never considered our ``rubbish’’ was going to contribute to building one of the world’s most modern and efficient nations. The rest, as they say, is history. My dislike of Japan continued. If us kids came across a vehicle in need of a clean we would write ``Made in Japan.’’ in the grime. That was a great insult. We had no idea Japan would be making motorcars that did not leak oil and were not worn out after 70,000 km.
Then my interest in photography got going. Japan started making cameras. But, of course, quality cameras were made in Germany weren’t they? I recall an early promotion for Asahi Pentax SLR (single lens reflex) cameras. Its slogan was simply ``Just hold a Pentax.’’ That was so futuristic. I picked up a Pentax S1A a camera shop employee proffered. Within a couple of minutes I was hooked and set my mind on purchasing one. Pentax was arguably the front-runner in Japanese camera brands. Pentax looked sleek compared with chunky German-made cameras.
Introducing the Pentax Spotmatic
Nikon, also an early favourite, was initially somewhat cumbersome. Japan modernised the camera with a variety of innovations. Pentax pioneered through-the-lens metering with their Spotmatic model. Another plus was the self-returning mirror meaning the viewing was not blacked out by the mirror when an exposure was made. Also, the aperture mechanism in the lens automatically stopped down to the pre-set value before the shutter operated.
Fuji film would soon challenge those long-time stalwarts of Kodak and Agfa. So I was taking Japanese-made photography gear on board. I had several Pentax cameras before changing my preference to Nikon.
But what about the bastards who made this stuff?
Another big interest –and the reason for photography, was railways. A mentor and doyen of railways, Gordon Troup, had a vast library of railway books. On one occasion he lent me, The Lure of Japan’s Railways by Naotaka Hirota.
Hirota’s photography was an art form rather than just duplicating a view as he saw it. Those days he was regarded a top-notch photographer of railways. He recognised Japanese emotional response to their country’s seasonal changes. Seasons provide abundant changes and beauty in nature which Hirata worked into his photography. The book was published in 1969 by the Japan Times. That was the early days of Japan’s superexpress or Shinkansen high-speed train. I met Naotaka Hirota twice during my Japan travels. One of his ambitions with his railway photography was to build friendships through shared interests in railways and photography. To look at his railway photography is to also experience Japanese culture. He told me about 6000 railway photographs are published each month in Japan. Railway photographers are consequently recognised by the photographic industry. Naotaka was frequently being asked to try out and review new equipment.
For some years I was associated with Makoto Sugiurui an editor of a Japan railway magazine, Tetsudo Journal. Makoto enjoyed working with an English text. He placed several of my stories. Thus, some of those 6000 railway photographs published each month in Japan were my own.
Makoto and I also shared a strong interest in Alpine regions.
Seiichiro Ichikawa was an interesting friend. He was a director of Sapporo Breweries.
I became friends with photographers in Japan. One was Tatsuro Okazaki in Osaka. Tatsuro was an artist with a camera. He encouraged my developing love for Japan and its people. In 2012 I travelled to Japan to photograph the autumn with Tatsuro.
Autumn at a temple in Japan
Temple lady in Kyoto
Moon Bridge Rikugien Gardens Tokyo
I have a Japanese partner and have made friendships with a variety of wonderful Japanese people. In 2004 my partner and I had cycled the length of Japan following negotiations with principals in the World Peace Bell movement to have a World Peace Bell gifted to New Zealand. It has become a striking feature in Christchurch Botanic Gardens. So not only did I learn to become friends with people I was taught to dislike when growing up, I was inspired to found a New Zealand chapter of a peace movement initiated by The World Peace Bell Association with headquarters in Tokyo. Japan has offered me wonderful experiences, friendships and rewarding journeying.
● The World Peace Bell Association in Japan has ties with the United Nations. Two years ago, I was presented with a Civic Award for my efforts in bringing the World Peace Bell to enhance the city of Christchurch.
Roy and the NZ World Peace Bell
NZ World Peace Bell, Chch Botanic Gardens