HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Category: Featured (Page 1 of 12)

Rum tasting

Rum Tasting

I was asked to host a rum tasting for a customer’s birthday. At first I tried to convince them to taste whiskey, but they were pretty much set on rum. Fine, I like it all. But I had to educate myself on the island spirit. Ranging from light, dark, gold, flavored, spiced, and premium, Rum is, in truth, a kindred spirit to our own small island, Unalaska. Separated by the breadth of the Pacific ocean from our Caribbean brothers and sisters, we are an outpost of weird and wild weather and hard-working men and women. Whence one rocky mass of mountain and beach jutting out of the blue-green waters, so another, even so removed from similar climate, the lifestyle of the island dwellers can be derived of one culture – from water, life.

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Dutch Harbor Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle in Slow Motion Takeoff

So ubiquitous is the Bald Eagle in Unalaska, they are referred to as pigeons. As they are generally non-harmful to humans their awesome stature can be taken for granted when these large raptors get up close and personal. Especially large females who are looking for food for their eaglets. Larger than my four-year and two-year-old kids by a wide margin, this one landed on my porch and decided to hang out or an hour or so, giving us quite a show in the interim (she shat all over my deck). She was right in front of my door, so it was a bit of a process to open the door without her hissing and spitting acid-blood in my eyes (I’m not an ornithologist so I don’t know that they don’t do this…). When I made it out the door and we were finally face to face, she either ran out of fecal matter or decided my kids were too big for her to take alone, so she spun and took off. Luckily I had my slo-mo finger on fast-forward and managed to capture it.

The Nature of Wabi-Sabi I

The Nature of Wabi-Sabi I

“In the Perfected Mahayana – everything, every speck of dust even, can be seen as conditioned arising. Thus even in a hair there are innumerable golden lions.”- Tractate of the Golden Lion — Fazang

My friend Tomohiro once asked me why I was living in Japan, “You not married, don’t have girlfriend, not getting paid shit-ton cash like finance assholes, have no real prospects, kind of smell bad…so why you come to Japan…for the sushi?”

“Tomo, I’m seeking satori…duh.”

“You drink too much beer for satori. Even you run bar you drink all the profit, so why you wanna be Buddhist?”

Actually I get this question a lot. Japanese people are curious about an outsider’s views on what makes Japan attractive. Occasionally whomever it is I’m talking to continues the conversation with another whopper of a mystical/metaphysical/meaning-of-life type of question like, “Can you use chopsticks?” or “Wow, you sure are good at using chopsticks!”

I nod imbecilically and smile, saying, “Chinese food everywhere in America!” while adding, “Oscar Wilde said that when given a choice between going to heaven and attending a lecture on heaven, an American would attend the lecture. Because quoting Oscar Wilde to people, especially in Japanese, gets awkward quickly, the subject changes rather quickly as well.

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Spanish Food Road Trip - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Spanish Food Road Trip – The Good The Bad The Ugly

Spanish Food Road Trip – The Good The Bad  The Ugly

Day 1­-2 – Driving through Spain, not Portugal yet, so not the fastest way to get there, but still rushing, go figure…So the whole idea about the first part of the trip is to get to the south of Portugal as fast as possible. Then go up slowly and then get to France via Bilbao or so, then rush back. Therefore (and this is funny, you’ll see), I’m going to go north of Madrid via Contreras, which is a very very very small and lost village close by Barbadillo del Mercado, already far away from it all… You see, it’s to go to a fake cemetery. You don’t see? Alright, first things first, a recollection on how we got there, where we slept and, of course, what we ate.

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Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

The Beard – EP 109 – Sleater-Kinney by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love – Deluxe Edition Cover

Publishing this feels like something that is so hard to do for so many reasons. The album came out 6 months ago. Every major site has already reviewed it. It’s old news. Who gives a shit what I say? Etc. The truth is it has taken me six months to think of anything to say. Why? Because this album, like all of their other albums, hits so hard it leaves one speechless. There are no words to express the way these ladies get together and make music. It’s best to hear it and then experience whatever it is that comes. But do yourself a favor — hear it in the appropriate fashion: live in concert. Or if you can’t make a show, get the vinyl and some great headphones. Or with friends and family. Only listen to my radio show if you are driving somewhere, or at worse you’re on a train. Movement is key. Wind. Water. Better yet, here’s some stuff the ladies themselves have to say about the first album out in a decade.

“Creativity is about where you want your blood to flow, because in order to do something meaningful and powerful there has to be life inside of it,” says Brownstein. “Sleater-Kinney isn’t something you can do half-assed or half-heartedly. We have to really want it. This band requires a certain desperation, a direness. We have to be willing to push because the entity that is this band will push right back.”

“The core of this record is our relationship to each other, to the music, and how all of us still felt strongly enough about those to sweat it out in the basement and to try and reinvent our band,” says Tucker.

Kyoto Jazz Massive Turns 20

Kyoto Jazz Massive Turns 20

Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.

–Charles Mingus

Kyoto Jazz Massive on a Blue Note Mission by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

Inventions & Dimensions - Herbie Hancock

Inventions & Dimensions (1964) is the third album by Herbie Hancock, featuring Herbie Hancock – piano, Paul Chambers – bass, Willie Bobo – drums, timbales, and Osvaldo “Chihuahua” Martinez – percussion (not on track 5).

In order to define the new album Mission by Kyoto Jazz Sextet (Blue Note Japan, 2015), and the renaissance of Crossover Jazz in Japan one needs to step back into the past. Specifically into the back catalogues of Blue Note Records. Started by Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion in the 30s, the jazz label became known for producing some of the most infamous hard-bop albums of the 60s. Wolff was known for taking photos of artists during studio sessions, sometimes obtrusively, and getting great work in the process. His iconic photos fill the album covers of the Blue Note Discography. Which begs the question, what are the roots of Shuya Okino’s Crossover Jazz empire? Where did it come from? How is it coming to define 21st-century Tokyo and the world beyond?

Jazz transformed from Ragtime to Swing to Bebop before it entered the pivotal era of the 50s and 60s. Miles Davis Birth of the Cool Modal revolution and its West Coast and Bossa Nova tendencies spread from the east coast of the US, across the country and throughout the world. Along with Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Pharaoh Sanders, Ornette Coleman pioneered the improvisational brand of Free Jazz that led to Soul, Fusion and Funk. The instrumental basis of swing had already been wildly popularized abroad, and its ability to cross into lands across the globe without passport made it one of the quickest music genres to evolve into a music any country could call their own. While jazz may have been an exclusively American invention, by the late 60s it truly had become the world music.

Jazz has been big in Japan for a century. Fumio Nanri, Ryoichi Hattori, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Yosuke Yamshita, Tadao Watanabe, to name a few, were all stellar musicians in their own right who sought to overcome criticisms of being derivative. Anyone can play a horn, pluck a bass, strum a guitar or pound a snaredrum, and a vast majority of Japanese jazz musicians were able to do so, finding themselves to be almost freakishly good at technical playing, but were missing the intangible touch of flair that was new and exciting, the j’ai ne sais quoi still good enough to remind fans of the masters from before. Music thirsts for artistry beyond mere musical ability. Jazz needs soul.

Kyoto Jazz Massive - Spirit of the Sun

Spirit of the Sun (2004) by Kyoto Jazz Massive features Shuya Okino, Yoshihiro Okino, Yasushi Kurobane, and Hajime Yoshizawa

Enter Shuya and Yoshi Okino. Looking backward has never been the Okino brothers forte. They are too forward facing to do so. Yet unable to escape the grand sounds coming out of the past, they have opted for their own special brand of break beat jazz. DJing, composing, arranging, supervising and producing music, they are not a group in the traditional sense. They don’t put out albums the way the music industry wants artists to do. They work at their own pace with numerous talented people across the vast panopoly of the musicsphere, like pianist and producer Hajime Yoshizawa and composer and saxophonist Naruyoshi Kikuchi. Seriously, these guys love to play live. They DJ. They run a record label / music shop. They come to get down. Releasing studio albums can wait.

They formed Kyoto Jazz Massive as a DJ unit in the early 90s, releasing the compilation Kyoto Jazz Massive V.A.. But between running a Tokyo nightclub (Shuya Okino is the owner of The Room, the influential Club Jazz/Crossover music club in Shibuya), and a record label Especial Records (Yoshi Okino operates Especial in Osaka, putting out albums by Root Soul, Sleep Walker, and Hajime Yoshizawa, Dj Kawasaki), the brothers came to the attention of a worldwide audience in a prime moment just before the release of Kyoto Jazz Massive’s first single, “Eclipse” and the release of the subsequent album Spirit of the Sun (Compost Records, 2002), when they were popularized (and named) by the BBC Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson in 2001. They began to tour, bringing the best Crossover Jazz to the Americas, Europe and Asia in a soulful effort to bridge musical as well as cultural divides. You can get a sense of how audiences might feel while seeing a slickly dressed DJ revving up the turntables opposite trumpeters and trombonists tuning up. It’s a bit befuddling. But once the warbles turn to warm notes and the band begins to lock in step it is easy to see how the scene has grown to encapsulate an eclectic ensemble of the best live jazz musicians in conjunction with mad beat architecture: two of the things Shuya Okino holds dear.

In our interview with Shuya he recalls a live show he played in France more than a decade ago:

We played Hiphop, Jazz, House, Techno, Brazil, Latin, Africa, Disco, Boogie, Drum n’ Bass, Break beats, Soul, Funk, Arabian & so on. But in France I’d heard that Club Jazz is a difficult thing. I guess what left an impression on me was when I visited in 2000 thinking that nobody would come. What I can’t forget to this day is the rush of the packed venue and the open-minded audience.

Kyoto Jazz Massive Turns 20

Much like the ethos of Free Jazz, Shuya’s Crossover Jazz places the emphasis on improvisation via new technology. Yet that the technology does not define the music is what is so masterful. The latest package, called Kyoto Jazz Sextet, was created to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the formation of Kyoto Jazz Massive. Mission features seven songs selected from 1963 to 1966 to reflect the distinct Blue Note sound of the period. Herbie Hancock, Waybe Shorter, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Hank Mobley were all prominent musicians for Blue Note and the nature of these times and songs not only allows for improvisation, it begs for it. Yusuke Hirado (Piano – Quasimode), Ruike Shinpei (Trumpet – DCPRG), Takeshi Kurihara (Tenor Sax – Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro), Koizumi “P” Yoshihito (Bass – Matsuura Toshio presents HEX) and Masanori Amakura (Drums) (joined by Kikuchi Naruyoshi on “Speak No Evil” and “Eclipse”) play vintage musical instruments throughout the recording. Eventually mastering and editing the results using analog methods, the band takes the homage to trad jazz to the next level, crossing-over with samples, loops, mash-ups and improvisation, all by the musicians themselves without post-production digital input. Complicated yet sounding so simple, it’s gorgeous. Closing out this tribute to mid-60s Blue Note era is the Kyoto Jazz Massive track ‘Eclipse’, featuring acclaimed saxophonist Kikuchi Naruyoshi (also plays on “Speak No Evil”). Apart from his usual arranging and production duties, Shuya actually plays as a member of the live band, which is at the heart of Crossover. During live shows at The Room in Shibuya members of the sextet frequently change, often giving more intimate versions of big band live shows.

Track List

Kyoto Jazz Massive Turns 20

Kyoto Jazz Sextet – Mission

1. Search for the New Land (Lee Morgan)
2. Speak No Evil (Wayne Shorter)
3. The Melting Pot (Freddie Hubbard)
4. Succotash (Herbie Hancock)
5. Mr. Jin (Wayne Shorter)
6 Jinrikisha (Joe Henderson)
7. Up a Step (Hank Mobley)
8. Eclipse (Kyoto Jazz Massive)

Produced by Shuya Okino
Co-produced by Kenichi Ikeda (Root Soul)
Supervised by Yoshihiro Okino

All songs arranged by Shuya Okino & Kenichi Ikeda, except
2 by Shuya Okino, Kenichi Ikeda & Takeshi Kurihara
4 by Shuya Okino, Kenichi Ikeda & Yusuke Hirado

Shuya adds, “As for the next album, because it depends on my brother as well, I can’t really say, but isn’t it amusing we only put one out every 10 years?”

If you’re not in Japan, and nowhere near KJM’s next tour, you should get the album (from Especial Records) now.

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

One of the best thing in the countryside are the encounters with ladies carrying around an amazing amount of stuff (often on their head), some of them do it with very curious and beautiful (if not totally outdated fashion wise) outfits. She had a smile to warm up a dead body

What is race? How does it work? For example, what does humanity’s racist tendencies of the past have to do with current economic world order? Ethnology assumes that race and racism are extremely powerful social and cultural forces at work everywhere in the world. And that we, as humans, seek lessons for generalizing about modern society and the contemporary global order. But specific questions need to be asked too: what are the structural dimensions of race and racism (social, political, and economic inequality) and what are the cultural dimensions (artistic forms of humanistic expression, as well as politics)? How do they differ from country to country? If one were to take two island nations–Japan and Madagascar–and compare their societies, it would seem that the Malagasy would come in a far second to one of the most powerful economies as rich in cultural history as the Japanese. But why? Unfortunately the answers are never easy. But with effort and experience we hope to gain insight. Though the following article is not a comparison nor a study of two separate, unrelated countries, but rather about research and communication, we place a special focus on an old practice with a new name: ethno-photography. It will be described as an analog and digital bridge for science and communication; as a platform for resource users to showcase their points of view; and as an amplifier to research for development.

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

–by Arnaud De Grave & Patrick O. Waeber

A brief glance at Madagascar

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

This little dude is a Gentle lemur (also known locally as bandro, or under his scientific name Hapalemur alaotrensis) from Lake Alaotra; it seems not so sure whether to enjoy the sun and breeze while softly rocking on the top of a reed stem, or rather be concerned about the pirogue lurking in closest vicinity.

Madagascar, renowned for its unique flora and fauna, one of the hottest biodiversity hotspots on earth, has a lot to carry in terms of suffering. The nation has been through five years of a transitional administration under the leadership of a former DJ, during which economic disorder and international isolation has weighed heavily on its people. Presidential and legislative elections finally took place in Madagascar in December 2013. Hery Rajaonarimampianina, according to the New York Times the president with the longest surname in history, assumed his role on 25 January 2013. Immediately thereafter, the African Union and Southern African Development Community lifted their suspensions, followed by the European Union’s development program; monetary institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund reinstated their development funds. Hope for better times?

According to some, the power shift was merely a cosmetic make-over. The political situation remains fragile, and the new government has to deal with a lot of “challenges”, to say the least, which have been ongoing for long times, and will likely and unfortunately continue to carry on: Highest poverty rates, highest birth rates, highest school drop-outs, increasing in-transparency in governance, increasing illegal exportations of precious natural resources. Nevertheless, the new government started to take action by creating more presence in previously neglected regions in Madagascar, and according to Rajaonarimampianina’s speech on 25 September 2014 in front of the UN General Assembly in New York, declared that “Our primary goal is to bring our people out of their precarious situation” (…) “the aim…is to transform Madagascar into a food hub in the region” referring to increased investments into agriculture.

Inside Madagascar’s Bread Basket: Alaotra

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Local marshlands are at risk to be all converted into rice fields: you burn it, you claim it, and you farm it

In terms of rice and inland-fish production the Alaotra-Mangoro region, one of 22 in Madagascar, is the country’s current food hub. Constituting the largest wetland system, the Lake Alaotra wetland’s surrounding marshlands deliver crucial cultural and ecosystem services such as water, medicinal plants, fish stock, while hosting unique wildlife such as the Alaotra gentle lemur, a primate species living constantly in marshlands. The wetland is the third out of currently nine Ramsar sites in Madagascar since 2003 (The Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources). The Malagasy government added further importance to the conservation and biodiversity values of the region by inscribing the system as new Protected Area in 2007. To be ratified as a Protected Area (the marshlands are risking to be all converted into rice fields: you burn it, you claim it, and you farm it…), a management plan, currently in the making, is badly needed.

Forests? Of course, there are also some beautiful forests full of biodiversity (more than 80% of all described animal species in Madagascar depend on forests), but they are largely locked up in parks and reserves. The rest of the landscape is dominated by agricultural production (a significant portion is also for self-subsistence, with a majority of the 550,000+ people engaging in small-scale farming), and a vast extant of open grasslands, which are low in nutrients and hence difficult to use for farming production.

Stakeholders can be the fishermen who fish in the lakes and marshes, the farmer growing fruit or cattle on the open range, as well as the any one of the heads of the Ministries deciding on regulations regarding fisheries and… Click To Tweet

Governing the complexity

So, we have mentioned forests. Check. Outside protected areas, there are still ‘forests’, but many are degraded (or actually burned in order to be used for agriculture), and either have been transformed into something like ‘agro-forestry’ (though generally rare, and more on the ‘agro’ side than ‘forestry’), dominated by a few species such as fruit trees, or plantations. Besides being the rice granary of the island, the Alaotra is also leader in terms of plantations (with the usual suspects: acacia, eucalyptus, pine) for wood production but a lot is used also for energy consumption. Wood charcoal is still the number one energy source in Madagascar.

There are a impressive number of institutions responsible for governing the various dimensions of this complex human-environmental system: Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Water and Forests, Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Livestock, Ministry of Mining. There are remarkable overlaps of responsibilities requiring some coordinated planning, a challenging thing, …and you’ll also understand that communication, i.e., the receiving and delivering of information, between these institutions (but also between the decision makers and resource users on the ground) becomes a key part in this governance undertaking.

Research in the Alaotra

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

The AlaReLa logo represents 3 main ecosystems: in yellow the open grasslands, in blue the wetlands, and in green the forests.

Given we are working in the realms of NRM (natural resources management), we first started creating an acronym (technocrats are very fond of acronyms; not that we would label ourselves as such, but we are, as said in NRM realms): “AlaReLa”, the name of our research for development project, stands for Alaotra Resilience Landscapes. In brief, this research aims to provide tools to the various stakeholders of the Alaotra human-environment system to strike a balance in the governance between development (or agricultural production thereof) and conservation (there are crucial ecosystems for biodiversity and people). Stakeholders can be the fishermen who fish in the lakes and marshes, the farmer growing fruit or cattle on the open range, as well as the any one of the heads of the Ministries deciding on regulations regarding fisheries and agriculture. This sounds very ambitious, and it probably is! Nonetheless, we, a consortium of several research and conservation institutions use a three-prong approach: understanding, exploring, communicating– with the latter being ongoing throughout the duration of the project, and beyond.

How do we do it?

Well, we talk and we listen. Sounds simple, right? To tackle the understanding portion of this research, we use a variety of disciplinary approaches (e.g., ecology, sociology, remote sensing) to create a picture of this complex human-environmental system. The exploration consists of collectively developing models (in our case role playing games and board games such as Settlers of Catan©) to test collectively agreed scenarios. For this, we sit together with the various resource users and decision makers to describe the challenges of NRM, to identify and link the key actors and resources of the system which may be prone to change (such as environmental, economic, political, etc.). In applying this participatory modeling approach, the underpinning philosophy is communication. By gaming various NRM situations, we bring together key stakeholders of the system; we listen, we (the researchers) and they (the stakeholders from the Alaotra) both learn, and we reformulate questions. During this process new questions and surprises can emerge which were not evident from the start of the project. To sum up, we all gain a better understanding of how processes or dynamics work (this is our overarching assumption).

But let’s elaborate on the term “communication” a bit further; here we explore and present a rather new avenue of communication in research. We decided to ask a photographer to be part of the AlaReLa project, here is what he has to say…Arnaud! Your turn.

In a way locals are also researchers of their own lives. Click To Tweet

An innovative approach to dissemination of research

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

Shooting from a moving pirogue is no picnic! I had to do it while standing [Note from Patrick: almost 20 minutes!] to be able to get a shot of a baby bandro. I earned the respect of the fishermen that day, and got the picture of the beast.

There is a need to be innovative in environmental sciences, involving locals and the approach described in the former paragraph explains one of the ways the AlaReLa project is doing this. However, there is also a lack of communication for all this science to actually mean something! Having been an academic myself (in various unrelated fields, do not ask on which fields, I still have some sense of decency) I do think that there is a conundrum in the way research and particularly the publication/reference/quotes system performs and sometimes clutter the way knowledge is produced. Writings by scientists for other scientists is needed, the peer review system is sound. But maybe there is a need to reach further and with more tangible effects for a more perennial outcome; so one has to find other ways to enter people’s field of view. Art could be this entrance. Or rather art could be the metaphorical foot blocking said-door. The AlaReLa team decided to continue being innovative and incorporate a photographer in the project, from start to finish, not only for pure documentation… Somebody who could invest more than a couple of weeks to go on site and maybe sleep on the floor and get bitten by bugs and almost killed a couple of times for being too noisy in shady bars. I was happy to oblige.

I decided to call this activity Ethno-photography. How does it work? The “ethno-” means a humanistic approach and long stays, with local involvement through iteration in the picture selection (and shooting) process and through potential collaboration with local photographers. We should be able to use photography as support for the project research results, or even provide more information, a different point of view, visual narration for data… That is where my (second) academic background came in handy. Let’s spill the beans: I re-educated myself in Forest Ecosystems management recently.

It is not all fun and games though… One of my biggest fear was (and still is) to depict the locals throughout the lens of Neo-Colonialism or Post-Colonialism or Neo-Post-Colonialism, et al. I am a Caucasian male of 40, born and raised in a “rich” country (France, of all places, has a, er, rich and complex history with Madagascar). Whether I like it or not, my views are tainted. By overthinking it sometimes, as well. So I had to find a way to make sure this vision I was to bring back was a vision shared with the depicted people, as real a picture as possible. Of course, paradigms, lenses, etc. Here is the way the AlaReLa team and I tried to overcome this issue. The project was separated in three distinct phases:

Bridging Science and Photography in Madagascar

The modus-operandi was simple: wander around, pick some good one, negotiate (sometimes with the help of an interpreter – phd student, local project manager, etc.) and shoot. While the picture was self-developing, write “AlaReLa project 2014” on it and make a scene of drying it and all… give it to the model and try to escape the hordes of people wanting to get one as well. Repeat later, farther… I tried to get a wide variety of models: kids, teenagers, workers, old folks, both genders. I then asked them to be pictured with their instant-photo by joking that my boss wouldn’t believe me that I worked if he had no proof! There is nothing better than the common enemy of “the big boss” to make friends…

1. Discovery – I followed two Malagasy PhD students during their field work and, without previous knowledge (i.e., without having done my homework and read a lot about the country and its history), took a first harvest of pictures…

2. Iteration – With the first batch of pictures it is possible to identify some gaps in the stories we want to narrate and complete the set. However, the most important for me is to go back to the same spots (and more of course) and to show a selection of these pictures to the locals, asking them what is missing. For instance, let’s say I was dumb enough not to take any pictures of Zebus, there is a strong chance people will ask me something like “Dude, where are the zebus!” Zebus are an important element of local life, from social prestige to more economical reasons, which is of course linked. It is my belief that, by combining my view and theirs through this iteration, an accurate picture of the life in this socio-ecological-economical system can be achieved. I do hope that something beyond the obvious will emerge from this ping-pong with the locals. Nonetheless, we already know that I need more pictures of people working and a more varied selection of activities: fishing, cooking and farming, but also charcoal making, hunting, illegal alcohol making, etc.

3. Display / Outreach – The final outcome for the photography part of this project is a transdisciplinary exhibition, coupling photography and environmental sciences, in various locations. A first formal collaborative exhibition at a cultural institution in the capital Antananarivo with a local photographer (I am in negotiation with the French Cultural Center, the only way to have good wine at the opening…) will be organized. Then we will bring a selection of the pictures, printed on tarp, to each village where I was staying when doing, er, let’s call that field work, that sounds like science. Each time we will try to have a party and create a cultural event. Following these, the exhibition will constitute a package that will be proposed at scientific conferences as a support for the presentations of AlaReLa researchers’ work. First results were shown with a presentation and an exhibition in April (2015) at the GTOe conference in Zurich. This is aimed at bridging the gap between art and science or, to get back to our metaphor, put the shoulder in the door-frame previously blocked by the metaphorical foot.

The photography in itself has also been thought/designed to be multidisciplinary (within reason and within photography techniques) and serves different purposes. Digital colour photography is used to document the work of the AlaReLa researchers; it can be used rather quickly for Internet visibility (even during the stay, as shown on my flickr Madagascar set) and later by the researchers for their publications, reports, etc, all using creative-commons licensing. For the “art” part I use mostly black and white analogue film photography. It is beyond the scope of this article to debate of the pros and cons of film photography or to inflame any church wars, though let me just say this is a personal choice and modus operandi, not any kind of statement. The selection of which type of camera(s) to use and why is also beyond the scope of this article but to satisfy the photography-freaks amongst the readers here is my setup: I used two Voigtlander Bessas (R3M and R4A) with 3 lenses: 21mm, 35mm and 50mm, shooting Ilford HP5 and FP4 film, depending on the wind direction and my moods. The use of rangefinders helped me to get quickly close to people and be rather unobtrusive, but this set-up is limited for portraiture or details such as hands, etc. I will undoubtedly change this for the second phase. In addition to that I carried around with me a Fuji Instax camera and gave away about 70 to 80 portraits. This helped me connect with people and led to a lot of memorable encounters. Moreover it left behind a trace of my passage (each instant picture I labeled “AlaReLa project 2014”) and a tacit promise of return.

That is all good but what is the gain for the locals? Obviously they get the opportunity and the ability to bring their own point of view through the process and through the collaboration with local photographers during the final exhibitions. We’ll see how that goes. In a way locals are also researchers of their own lives. In addition, as the stays are long there are possibilities for me to share some of what I do: photography, self-publication, association creation, etc. During the first phase I gave a workshop on how to run a small photography association (BOP – the infamous “Bricolages Ondulatoires & Particulaires” collective) and try to publish artifacts to a group of photographers from Antananarivo.

This is of course still a work in progress. My second stay is planned for the end of 2015 and the AlaReLa team and I already have some ideas to go beyond what was done in phase one. However, the results from phase one are very encouraging and some of the objectives have already been reached.


POW: from Zoology (behavior of monkeys) via forestry (behavior of trees under changing climate and disturbance regimes), to complexity (monkeys, trees, non-tree environments, and people). Co-founder of Madagascar Wildlife Conservation; Madagascar Conservation & Development scientific journal (MCD) editor. Currently post-doc-ing at ForDev ETH Zurich and coordinating the AlaReLa project.

ADG: from manufacturing engineering and design (sociology of metrology, integrated design of MEMS) to forestry (sociology of forest management around ski resorts) to innovative eco-technology (Mycoremediation with Polypop Industries) and ethnophotography of sciences… BOP president and co-founder, editor and designer of the BOP Photo Analogies magazine; MCD layouter.

Hitchhiking Japan – Hitting the Road

Hitchhiking Japan – Hitting the Tokaido Road

Hitchhiking Japan – Hitting the Tokaido Road

Hitchhiking Japan – Hitting the Tokaido Road is easier with cardboard signs

It has to be said that spring is one of the best times to travel in Japan. April and May when the trees are in bloom and the weather is fine, hitting the road is like a dream come true. Setting out on a trip, everyone has high hopes for what will come. Why else would you go? But hitchhiking is not your average trip. And as the sun so surely sets in the west, the most concrete of plans is sure to change. Truth is, like a Woody Allen comedy of errors, after a while you’re ready for the unexpected. Expectations lower as they are thwarted time and again by numerous unforeseen obstructions: the weather, foreign language mishaps, untimely construction delays. Once you step outside the strictly regulated system society has put in place in the best interest of all, you become an anomaly, a joke– a circus freak. On average you will be laughed, stared and pointed at, and arbitrarily discounted, turned away and possibly even injured at worst. Best case scenario — you get a ride from a kindly stranger for a little while. The unexpected becomes the norm, the best you can hope to expect. The person or people who help you along the way are the exception rather than the rule, and in doing so are themselves living vicariously through you. But that’s where the fun lays: being the one with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Day One:

Hitchhiking Japan – Hitting the Tokaido Road

Hitchhiking is about resilience, resourcefulness and rebounding from failure

It starts with failure, quicker than usual. Woke up late…Missed the first train…Got off at the wrong stop…Couldn’t find the Parking Area…Wandered around a shitty little nowhere town in sweltering heat wasting the day. This time the attitude is wrong from the beginning and it’s easy to see early on that it’ll take a massive ego blow to balance the weight of immediate miscalculation. Worse even, this is hubris. Why am I missing the point of the trip – which is that The Trip is the Journey, not the Destination. This is whatever power that is – Siva comes to mind – laughing and smashing the D.I.Y. arrogance of malappropriate certitude. But at least this too, as with all things, will dull with time, albeit with a fatter asterisk than usual. It must be noted that, though it does count toward character building, this does not feel like an auspicious beginning. Thank the gods I am unemployed.

As it turned out, it was the wandering of the outskirts of a lonely little outlet mall (Japan, stop carbon-copying America!) in ex-urban Tokyo for two hours vainly trying to penetrate the military grade fencing surrounding the Highway Interchange onramp toll area, that convinced me I was actually on the right track. Maybe not literally the right road, but I had the right idea: I gave up. Giving up the physical reality of my psychological projections made me realize that my expectations needed to be adjusted way down. Why beat myself up myself over nothing? Why all the crazy made-up monologues in my head driving me onward? Empty the head and be free to get truly lost.

I turned and padded my way back the two kilometers to the train station in the late afternoon Saturday sunlight ignoring all the imaginary tssking from the indifferent drivers and their would be disappointment. Not this day. I decided that would punish myself by alternating exercise and beer until the next day’s dawn when I would drop the images of myself a fully fanned peacock, a stag in rut, a panther in the Jacaranda trees at sunrise, undeniable, ineffable, impeccable to the future, naysayers powerless to dissuade my mounting of the road, my hunt of covering more than the 1000 kilometers from Tokyo to Kyoto and from Kyoto to beyond, hopefully some of it actually along the old Tokaido road.

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Hitchhiking Japan – Hitting the Tokaido Road

Hitchhiking Japan – Hitting the Road

It is almost impossible to leave Tokyo – so brightly does the night sparkle with distractions

Pre-dawn Tokyo. The last shambles of drunk office workers fall out of shuttering bars in rumpled suits as the first trains of the day begin to rumble out of their caves. It is a magical gravity that keeps the bowlegged drunks from toppling from platform to tracks. Early as it is the Tokyu Den-en-toshi line from Shibuya is not so crowded and I find a seat as it rises southwesterly from the subterranean depths to run through the city surface. Movement makes the passing buildings more interesting, but the first smattering of light does little for the colorless avenues populated by more than the standard allotment of ill-lit grey Tokyo suburbia and banal corrugated office space. The dreary facades, like the ear-splitting mosquito buzz slicing apart the neon-tinged silence of the early morning, do serve a purpose, I still have no idea as to what.

As the crowd thins from business people and school children to shopping cart grannies and bored retirees a silence pervades and sleepy heads sway in time with the lurching of the train. I laugh to myself that the quickest way to hitchhike out of Tokyo is to take the train. The best place to catch a ride is where the drivers are, and that is Service Areas (サービスエリア, SA) or Parking Areas (PA) on the large toll expressways or Kōsokudōro (高速道路). As it is almost impossible to get a ride to these parking areas, so you take a train to the station closest to a PA, walk from the bustling station area along the busy streets which eventually give way to hills of suburban homes and flats of pastoral rice paddies. The walk–silently informing you on basic Japanese civic planning– is otherwise peaceful if you let it be. Pay no mind to the oversize vehicles speeding along undersize roadways, nor the huge electrical transformers overhead, they mean you no harm.

Transferring at Nagatsuta to the Yokohama line and arriving at Takaichiba Station, set out northeast and eventually you have to cross a river and go under the Tomei Expressway overpass. You will end up walking along the north side of the expressway which abuts a neighborhood that seems to come to a deadend just before reaching a pedestrian staircase that crosses over the expressway. Continuing in the same direction the road winds right as Kitahassaku Park rises along the rear parking / delivery area for the large Family Mart shopping / dining mall. Though there is a fence, there should be an gate, which if not open, is easily traversed and leads to the sidewalk toward the shopping center and voila you are on the PA!

Grab some goodies and supplies at the Family Mart (if you haven’t already brought enough to see you through) and start making your sign. Did you bring a your copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? What about a map? A big permanent marker? If not, buy one here and ask the clerk for a sizable piece of cardboard, which might draw questionable stares, but most will point you toward a large pile on the side of the store. Putting a far off final destination may land you a lucky ride but will more than likely exclude you from the majority of the drivers that are only going part of the way toward Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and beyond Kansai. Unless you are an expert in Japanese calligraphy, asking the convenience store clerk to aid you in kindly writing the kanji for your final destination will likely be the easiest way to accomplish the task of attracting attention to your journey’s desires. In order to get the highest number of rides possible (thus increasing opportunity for great experiences), it’s a good idea to write something like “日本語できます!” “Can Speak Japanese!” This will cause a lot of curious drivers to pull up and ask you where you’re going, as well as giving you an opportunity to approve the ride from outside the car. It’s a long ride to Kyoto, but if you start early, it can be fun to break up the day with multiple drivers. Keeping in mind that success is only partially measured in reaching the final destination, as well as how the ride goes along the way, can play a large part in determining where you land.


Hitchwiki – International Hitchhiking Information Hub
Hyperdia – National Train Schedule
The Temple Guy’s Walk on the Tokaido

Part of the Hitchhiking Japan Series. Read more here:

Hitchhiking in Japan – Beautiful Strangers

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