The Darkness Festival is Japan's Hidden Gem
No, this isn't a movie set nor is it some form of cosplay. This is the Kurayami Matsuri, or Darkness festival and it happens once a year in Fuchuu, Tokyo. Claimed to be one of the oldest festivals in the Kanto region, there isn't anything quite like it in all of Japan. It happens every April 30th to May 6th at Okunitama Shrine and as the name implies, it happens at night. The week's festivities include the floats of men, women, and children in traditional Japanese costumes, dancing and singing up and down the street.
The first two nights include the floats and horse racing while the last night is reserved for the giant taiko drums and traditional mikoshi floats. One of the key differences to this matsuri as opposed to others is that the floats are carried all night long. The sheer amount of ruckus makes for a scene never to be forgotten.
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All photos are property of Michael Ying and shall not be reproduced without consent.
Aokigahara, or Suicide forest is an incredibly beautiful forest located near Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi. You can probably guess from the name that it's most famous for the amount of suicides that take place within the forest. The forest is eerily quiet as there is little to no sound due to the lack of fauna. The entire base of the forest is lava rock that twists and turns throughout the main path. This beautiful backdrop is juxtaposed to it's incredibly sad reputation, and I set out to capture a glimpse of those two things.
Fresh out of college in 2011, I had planned a month long trip to drive from San Francisco to New York. I'd first heard about this drive from my dad who did the same thing with his friends back in the 70s, and I have always wanted to do the same drive. Of course I had to one up him, so my friend and I decided to drive to LA first, swing to New Orleans, then up the coast to New York.
My parents had just given me my first DSLR and I finally made the switch from film to digital. The grand scheme was to document this trip and get my first taste of adventure photography.
And 5 years later, revisiting those photos, I can't even bare to look at them. They're so bad. I mean, I can't even fathom how I had that much time and so much inspiration to shoot, and yet the photos turned out to be basically the worst thing i've ever seen. I tried to revisit some of those photos to see if I could get anything out of them and man, I really can't. (LOL) But if you're interested, you can take a look at my first documentary trip.
I remember the cold, damp air more vividly than anything else in my life. It was around 8pm and I decided to try to get some more photos of the old Geisha district Gion Machi. It was raining and around 50 degrees, the perfect recipe for a bad time, and great photos I thought.
I had been to Kyoto as a child but this was my first visit as a photographer. I tried my best in my photography to stay away from anything remotely close to the cliche of the "mysterious far east." What an outdated and superficial idea I remembering thinking. I still agree with that notion till this day, but no matter what I experience or encounter on my travels, Kyoto still seems to be a center of wonder.
I caught a few snaps of different Maiko earlier in the day as they weaved and bobbed their way through the back channels of town. Their elegance was enchanting; they have such a commanding presence in their clothing and style that it is impossible to ignore them as they walk by. I had no intentions when I came to Kyoto that I would be spending any time photographing Geisha, the idea just never dawned on me. But here I was, along with all the other tourists waiting for my chance for a photograph. I was even shooed away by what appeared to be a handler of the Geisha. But these photos weren't what I wanted. A few hours in, I was hooked. I needed something with more wonder, something to show the beauty of something I didn't quite understand.
So here I am, late at night in the freezing rain. I had pretty much abandoned my hopes of seeing a Geisha in the rain. The idea of it, no matter how ridiculously unoriginal it seemed, was still something I wanted to capture. Then out of nowhere, as I'm sitting there with my rolleiflex, the door next to me opens, and a Geiko walks right out in front of me. My presence startled her a bit, and I tried not to look at her as to not be too obvious of my intentions. This is it. Don't screw it up. She walks away, I snap away.
To be honest, I don't think it's my greatest picture. Hell I wouldn't even call it a good picture. But I still love it, because of the story behind it. These types of experiences are something that all traveling photographers cherish. The once in a lifetime moments, often mundane and literally affect no one, but we cherish never the less. It was an experience that set me on the path, to strive for more stories
The word "excited" doesn't do justice to the feelings that I actually had when I had first moved to London from San Francisco. Maybe, finally-getting-the-hell-out-of-here-ness or I-have-been-waiting-an-eternity-ness. I had been secretly scheming to flee the country in whatever way possible after being stuck in a cubicle for a year. I had been dreaming at my desk and rehearsing the logic day after day: My time to be an adventurer had come.
"Oh the places you will go"
My company gave me the opportunity to relocate to London and I jumped on the chance immediately. I was ready... no, I was destined I thought. A newly self-proclaimed photojournalist, I made the transition in the summer of 2012 to a nice (and outrageously expensive) flat in the heart of London. Accents! Pubs! Bad food! Am I ready for this?
Because London has a way shocking the newly imported humans to the core: Cold weather and no sun. I literally turned so pale that when I had returned to San Francisco for a family visit three months later, my friends laughed out loud, "Dude, what happened?" London happened.
This of course was just the setting for the loneliness that would soon creep into my life. The frustration of my surroundings being almost like home, but not quite the same, was maddening. Did I always have OCD? I missed my friends and I started to become fed up with the accusations of my integrity and intelligence being that i'm American. "Well, you're one of the rare ones" they would say. "I thought all Americans were idiots." This place isn't for me. I need to leave I thought.
At the time I was by no means sheltered. I had visited literally dozens of cities in over ten countries, and had just been fresh off a month long road trip exploring every nook and cranny of America. But this trip was different. Being slowly sucked into and spat out of a culture was something no one could prepare me for.
So I left. (Not before exploring the crap out of Europe) And I instantly felt better being around my friends and family again. But slowly but surely, my desire leave came back, and less than half a year later I moved to Tokyo. It dawned on me that, while yes, parts of London didn't agree with me, I had just needed to weather the storm. Pun intended. (And possibly make better friends) All expats endure the same looming depression of being alone in another country, but I just didn't know how to handle it then. My mechanism was to criticize what was different around me instead of embracing the change. I know that now and have used it in Tokyo. And you know what? Now I really can only remember the goods times I had. The friendships I made, the not-so-terrible food. I can smell and feel London more vividly than I can San Francisco. I think it's fair to say that I would consider it a first love. I really do miss London. But she probably would just spit me back out again. Damn you, cold weather. Damn you.
Took a quick trip to Okinawa, it was raining most of the trip but got some good pictures none the less.
Beginning a new series of street scenes. Including Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong
Lucky enough to catch a silent protest of the Gaza crisis. I was even interviewed as an "American Photojournalist" for my thoughts for local journalists. Awesome to see this sort of thing happening in busy Shinjuku.
I'm going to start publishing more here as well as insta!
I came to Hong Kong to visit the infamous Tattoo Temple. I had a piece commissioned by Wang over 9 months ago. In between I snapped some photos, mostly with iPhone.
My work featured on Creative Session Blog! Go check it out
New site! New blog! I'll be posting here from now on. I wanted a site with more typography choices and better aesthetics, as well as retina support. Squarespace seems to be the answer so all those things so i'm quite pleased with the layout.