Kevin Twomey recently went to Japan to visit his in-laws. He returned with a varied collection of striking new work that was very different than what I was used to seeing him shoot. I thought the images were incredible and wondered about the story behind them. I asked Kevin to write a blog entry about it. He did and it was ready to go when the earthquake and tsunami hit on March 11.
He immediately asked to re-write his original post. Here is what he had to say.
“My love for Japan started 16 years ago when I was visiting my college roommate’s family in Tokyo.
I remember that my first impression of Tokyo was overwhelming. The language, the constant flow of people, the new smells, the neon lights. It was all very unfamiliar to me. I would wander around the city with no apparent plan while I tried to make sense of it all. Invariably I would find myself drawn to the trains. They felt familiar.
Japan is a train-spotter’s paradise. The Japanese take great pride in these bullets of efficiency, and with good reason: they run fast, surprisingly smooth and on-time. I grew up riding regular trains and knew that even though these Bullet trains were technologically superior and more sophisticated, they had the same power and determination of the trains I grew up riding.
With my map in hand and a confused look on my face, I hopped on and let the train decide where we were to explore next. I was immediately comforted by how determined the train was as it snaked from one stop to the next, never deterring from its plan; much like the commuters who shared the train with me.
There is a word in Japanese, “Shoganai” which in its simplest translation means “such is life.” I find that it goes deeper in the Japanese culture and that the people embrace this word wholeheartedly. I started to understand this while riding on that train. As I looked around at everyone packed in like sardines I compared it to my experience on the NYC subways. Yet here, there were no complaints, no fighting for personal space. There was an acceptance of the situation.
As we traveled further away from the city, all of a sudden I wasn’t overwhelmed by the strangeness of the land. From inside the train I began to appreciate the varied landscapes of the country and notice the kindness on the faces of the people. I wanted to know more about this magical place.
And so began my love affair with Japan.
I have been back many times and each time my experiences are varied and each time I learn so much more. I am fortunate to have married a woman whose family still lives in Japan so now when I go back to visit I get a stronger sense of the culture. They have shared with me their deep sense of tradition and for that I am so grateful.
On my most recent trip this past February, with my camera in hand, I found myself once again drawn to the trains. I stood at a railroad crossing and waited for the express train that runs between Tokyo and Narita airport to feel the excitement of the trains as they passed. I watched the flow of people in the stations as they moved on to their next destination and was drawn to the swiftness of how they went about their business. Eventually, I of course hopped aboard.
I was enamored with the energy of the day and took photos from the platform, the side of the tracks and inside the speeding train. I captured those elusive elements that turn an ordinary commute into something dynamic; the passing landscape, reflections moving across windows and the kinetic energy of the oncoming train on an adjacent track.
How could I have known that in just a few short weeks the lives of those travelers would be forever changed by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami? How could I have known that the places I visited would be completely devastated? What I saw on the news conflicted with the memories of our trip that were still fresh in our minds. I felt helpless.
I immediately wanted to reach out and repay some of the kindness that the people of Japan showed to me. A friend let me know about Life Support Japan and I knew this was a very relevant and immediate way that I could help. It was obvious to me which images I would donate.
I am grateful that my wife’s family has survived and that we are able to communicate with them. I am heartbroken by the stories we hear from them and the ones we see on the news. I wonder what is next for the people of Japan.
I find comfort in knowing that just as the trains were determined and steadfast in their purpose, so are the Japanese people. I am confident that the energy I felt when I photographed them will never leave and the people of Japan will survive. I am looking forward to a time when I can return and witness this for myself.
Please do link to Life Support Japan and find a meaningful photograph to purchase (or even donate). Your generosity will go a long way to supporting a country very much in need of our help.”