On the 11th June, I visited the Pola Museum of Art. This museum was opened in 2002 but I hadn’t known its existence until a couple of months ago. Tsuneshi Suzuki had been the former president of the Pola Corporation, one of the Japanese cosmetics giants. He passed away in year 2000, and the museum inherited his collection of art and antiques.
The museum’s collection was impressive. I mean, it couldn’t be compared to the collections of the Metropolitan or the Louvre. But it was a very impressive collection for a private art museum in Japan. The museum had a good number of Western modern paintings such as Renoir and Monet and French Art Nouveau glassworks and oriental ceramics. I really liked the works by Emile Gallé and Daum Brothers.
I visited the museum on Saturday. Surprisingly enough, the place wasn’t too crowded. The most famous piece of art work housed in this museum is probably Girl in a Lace Hat by Renoir. Thankfully, I could ‘monopolise’ it for several minutes without being bothered or interfered by anyone. I personally prefer to keep some distance from a painting to see it as a whole but that simply wasn’t possible in crowded museums because someone would surely get in the way.
Jakuchu Ito is my favourite traditional Japanese painter. A big exhibition had been held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno to commemorate his 300th birthday. It began on 22nd April, which happened to be my mum’s death anniversary. After visiting my parents’ grave in Kawaguchi in the afternoon, I called at the museum on my way back to the foothill of Mt. Fuji. It was Friday and, when I got there, it was still 4:00 p.m.: office clerks were supposed to to be still working. But the museum was ridiculously crowded. It was simply impossible to appreciate art works under such circumstances. And later I came to know that it was the least crowded day in the exhibition period – people had had to wait for hours to enter the museum after that day. I had a similar experience in Kyoto when I visited the Kyoto National Museum to see their special exhibition for traditional paintings by the Kano-School painters in the early Edo period. From those experiences, I came to a conclusion that, in Japan, you should avoid special exhibitions held in big cities because they are always extensively advertised and, as an inevitable result, are terribly crowded. Instead, look up the collections of each museum on their websites in advance and visit them for their regular displays.
On my way home from the Pola Museum in Hakone, I stopped by at Gotenba to shoot fireflies with Mt. Fuji. We were in the midst of the rainy season. As it had been raining or overcast for a week, I had wondered if I wouldn’t have any chance to take photos of Fuji with fireflies this year. Luckily, I could capture this image before the clouds blocked out the summit.
This place had been known only by a small number of people. I came to know it through a local photographer a couple of years ago. When I arrived there, there had already been four photographers waiting for the sunset, and I thought it was rather crowded. But, to my surprise, more and more photographers came along as time went by and the place was swarming with a couple of dozens of photographers at the end of the day.
This is why I’m reluctant to tell you the exact locations for my photographs when I’m asked. There are simply too many people in Japan, and it is part of the Japanese mentality that everyone wants to take the same photos. Nowadays, some websites provide users with locations for uploaded landscape photographs in the form of GPS data and everyone uploads photos on social media such as Twitter and Instagram: even a place like this can attract too many photographers.
There was a novice photographer who tried to capture fireflies by firing the flash, which was a rather typical mishap under such conditions and was of course utterly nonsensical – you cannot capture their lights using the strobe. He devastated photographs taken by the rest of us. So I had to yell out before anyone else got furious: ‘Could you please stop firing the flash? You are messing up our photos.’ My voice was loud but I tried to keep the tone calm. In my opinion, it is important to use polite language in such a case. If you cry out something like ‘What the fuck are you doing? Stop firing the flash you idiot!’ it will very likely to end up in a furious row. I’ve witnessed some photographers (often old male photographers) uttering something like that and causing commotions.
As Japan is rapidly ageing, there’re a way too many pensioners who are not working any more. In the good old days, I had been able to exercise my privilege as a freelance and enjoy beautiful landscapes without being bothered by other people. Not anymore. But as I said, everyone wants to shoot at the same place at the same time such as Diamond Fuji from Lake Tanuki or Mt. Fuji with cherry blossoms and the Chureito five-story pagoda in spring. Many of my acquaintances take photos of Mt. Fuji and my stream on Facebook is flooded with the same scenes taken by different people. To put it the other way round, it is still possible to take beautiful photos of Mt. Fuji without being jostled about, if you avoid such popular places at the most attractive time. Alternatively, you can go to remote places that require hours of hiking to access such as the Southern Alps.
The ageing population of Japan, combined with the declining birth rate, is supposed to be a fatal issue. But do we really need more people in this small archipelago? 127 million people are living in a country smaller than California. The population of Japan exceeded 100 million in 1966—50 years ago. Until then, it had never exceeded 100 million. In fact it hadn’t exceeded 35 million until the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. The country is overpopulated, and too much population is destroying the country’s nature. Many people assume continuous economical growth is necessary. But what will be waiting for the entire human race after more years of continuous growth? Destruction of nature, famine, expanded economic discrepancy leading to aristocracy or fascism. To me, it does look like a balloon being inflated until it bursts. I can only imagine dystopian futures as long as the human race continues this.
Apart from the declining population, of course, the unbalanced demographics are also an issue. One thing I don’t understand is the policy regarding Euthanasia or ‘death with dignity’. Both my parents died of pancreas cancer and both came to know the fact that they had the cancer at stage four, which meant too late to cure. My mum pleaded the doctor to kill her when the pain became unbearable. She knew it was incurable from her experience with my father’s death, and thought it was pointless to just prolong her life in agony knowing that she would never restore acceptable QoL. But, of course, the doctor could not kill her since he would get arrested. The patient wanted to die. Her family also wished peaceful, painless death. The doctor also wished to assist if he could. But we could do nothing. As a result, she lived for a month since she had started to plead for death. What’s the point to add an extra month of agony to the end of her life? The great part of the cost needed for that agonising extra month was paid by the National Health Insurance, for which financially-challenged younger generations have to pay their insurance fees every month. Shortage of physicians is another social issue in Japan in addition to the overwork of nurses, and they’re working hard to extend the life of patients who don’t want to live any longer.
Death is inevitable. It will surely come to me one day. When I’m unable to do anything creative, I’d like to die quietly and calmly. If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. You don’t have to. But how can you impose your belief on others who don’t share the same belief with you and want to control how their own lives end? Our lives are not yours.
By the way, the day I took those photos was my 45th birthday. Many thanks to those who congratulated me.