Mind the Flash

Matt Keighley from Marshmallow Sensei
Japanese Tourists
Japanese Tourists by Laura and Sara

Japanese people have mastered the camera pose. Crafted it into a fine art and bequeathed it unto their young in such a fashion that one might even begin to think it genetic, a biological imperative perhaps, an evolutionary tweak that has emerged along with the technology it is bonded to. Because in the mere instant one has to pose correctly for a photograph, the Japanese are already there, two fingers held aloft in a peace sign yelling, “cheezu!” Meanwhile, I’m blinking like a deer in headlights, stunned by the blast of camera flash.

One photographic incident in particular got me thinking. I was at Fuji Q Highland, an Amusement Park that resides at the base of; you’ve guessed it, Mt. Fuji. Inside are three particularly amazing rides: Eejyanaika (translated to, ‘isn’t it good?’ Ok, not everything translates in a cool way), FujiYama and the mind bogglingly fast Dodonpa.

Instinctively, during an experience otherwise dominated by the excitement and fear of the ride she had twisted, smiled and posed for the camera.

I was waiting to ride the incredibly fast Dodonpa with a friend whom, repeatedly terrified by announcements over the tannoy as to just how fast this machine is, responded with yelps of, ‘muri!’ or in English, ‘impossible, I can’t do it, argh!’ Once aboard the ride she continued to yell this phrase except for one brief moment that I realized had been the camera flash, only to continue on with her cries afterwards. Instinctively, during an experience otherwise dominated by the excitement and fear of the ride she had twisted, smiled and posed for the camera. I on the other hand was more concerned that my cheeks not tear from my face due to the g-force.
Photography is everywhere in Japan. From high quality camera phones to the ever-present purikura. Photography is incorporated into life here in a way that goes beyond any other nation. The stereotype of a Japanese travel group abroad, all wielding state of the art cameras, endlessly pointing and snapping photographs is a well earned and thoroughly deserved one. While the teenage love of purikura, essentially photo booths with a variety of special effects that can be applied to your group photos are so popular that they can be found with ease almost everywhere you go.

Crazy Japanese Photo booth! by Emma B

That photography is such a significant part of life here is at times hard to believe, particularly when one considers that the camera industry only began to emerge in Japan in the 1930’s. When of course it was beyond the reach of even the comparatively wealthy.

“In those days, the average starting salary of a graduate of an elite university in Japan who was hired by bank, the best-paying job, was around 70 yen per month. In contrast, the price of the Leica camera was 420 yen.” (Ref: Canon Camera Museum)

Yet, from those early days has sprung an enormous industry fuelled by a love of technology that is visible in all walks of life and among all ages in Japan. At arcades I have seen young people with staggering coordination in pursuit of the high score on a dance machine and a vast number of people with a mind numbing addiction to Pachinko (a low stakes gambling machine with a resemblance to pinball, without any of the skill). While undoubtedly gaming technologies such as these have had and will continue to have such an affect on us, I still believe that the camera and its simple yet beautiful power to capture a moment will continue to be of greater significance. At least until the day that Wii bowling is entered into the Olympics.

However, the truth is, I can’t help but feel that here in Japan is where technology and society meet first. Through computer games, mobile phones, 3D TVs the Japanese people engage with technology faster and with an aplomb that perhaps only South Korea can beat. You can’t help but feel that if technology and biology are going to crash into one another it’ll happen here long before reaching foreign shores.

While visiting home this summer I met a friend of a friend, a Japanese Doctor no less and I took the opportunity to pitch this very theory to him. Essentially I believe that the response to the camera has become so ingrained at a biological level, that just as one can tell the sex of a child from an ultrasound, that one could also tell the child’s ethnicity… well, in one particular case.

ultra baby 1
Photo courtesy of Max Joseph
About the author:

Matt Keighley's students have nicknamed him the Marshmallow Sensei. Matt is definitely not a marshmallow and his blog details his real-life stories as a teacher in Japan.

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Discussion »

  • #1Michaela

    This is really funny. The Japanese have to be the world’s fastest, and most prolific, photographers. And they’re so darned good at it, even the kids :)

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