the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Mercy for Japan

Cimtamani-cakraI’ve been thinking a lot about Japan lately; hard not to with all the news lately. Foremost, I’ve been thinking about all those poor people who died, were injured, or were left homeless in the cold weather; and about the nuclear workers who will be getting radiation sickness while trying to save their country from an even larger disaster. But I’ve also been thinking about how the same thing could happen here in my home, Washington State. I’m a geologist by training and work as a hydrogeologist in my day job; I know all too well that the tectonic setting of Japan is very similar to that of the Pacific Northwest coast. Epic earthquakes and tsunamis can happen here. They have done so in the past, and they will do so again.  It’s not a matter of if it will happen here; it’s a matter of when.

The news also has brought me thoughts of my time in Japan. I’ve traveled there twice; once, for a single month, as part of an exchange-student program between sister cities (Spokane, my home town, and Nishinomiya), and later for a summer when in college. Needless to say, both were a long time ago. I mainly visited the Osaka-Kobe area, far south of the current earthquake/tsunami damage zone, but that area had its own earthquake troubles from the last time a major quake hit Japan (in 1995).

My photography owes a lot to Japan. I bought my first SLR camera there, an Olympus OM1, back in 1977 when I was in high school. The image accompanying this blog was taken with that camera on that trip. It’s a transparency, recorded on Kodachrome film, and scanned this week (which is another story – since Nikon doesn’t support its film scanners anymore with new drivers; so with my Windows 7 upgrade, it was a challenge getting the scanner to work).

I believe the image is also the first photo I ever won an award with (a ribbon at the Spokane County Interstate Fair). Looking at it now, it’s not such a great image – it’s underexposed, not framed all that well, and has some weird reflections and artifacts. However, the image, and the rest I took on my two trips to Japan, really helped fuel my love for photography, especially travel photography. Of course, the other Japanese connection to my photography is in my equipment – Canon all the way (except for that pesky film scanner). Also, when I was shooting film, my favorites were from Fuji film, especially Velvia slide film.

The image is of Cimtamani-cakra in Nara. It sits in the Great Buddha Hall in Todai-ji, reported as the largest wooden building in the world. The building is so large because it also houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world, Buddha Vairocana or the Great Buddha, also known as Daibutsu. Diabutsu is 49 feet (15 meters) tall. By contrast, Cimtamani-cakra (also known as the Golden Budda, though it is a Bodhisattva not Buddha) is only about 20 feet (6 meters) high. It sits on the right side of the Great Buddha and represents mercy. A fitting image for these times in Japan, a time when I, and most of the world, wish mercy for that country.

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