Tanga Monk

It’s been really tempting to go back to my usual ways and post another series of photos about quirky Japan or interesting-to-me internet oddities. In choosing images to write about, I seem to be reliving a phenomenon I experienced in the first weeks of art school. In the early days of my introductory drawing class we did an exercise where we were told to pay attention only to the negative space—everything but the object we were supposed to be drawing—but in trying to look at the background, the foreground object came into focus. Last week while I was digging around for photos of weird stuff, all I was finding was picture-postcard traditional images. Now that I’m trying to skip over the oddities, oddities are all I seem to be finding. I guess it’s like trying to listen to the sound of one hand clapping while a tree falls in the forest with no-one around to hear it. Or is it like counting to ten without thinking about pink elephants?

I dunno, but I’ll try to stop mixing koans and metaphors now. You’ll have to wait at least until tomorrow—probably longer—for all the strange I’ve recently unearthed in my photo library. I’m committed to keeping it—playground frogs, muppets, battle aprons, and general misuse of English in the name of fashion—at bay while for a few days. Today I’ve got one measly picture of a Buddhist monk. In the rain, no less.

traditionally dressed Buddhist monk with begging bowl, near Tanga Market in Kokura

I took this photo just over a year ago, on July 3, 2004. We were just exiting one of the Kokura arcades, keeping sheltered from the rain while waiting for the walk light. Across the street is the Tanga Market, a famous old-style market with all sorts of wonderful wares. Meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, all kinds of local sweets and delicacies, and more. In the proper season, some of the fishmongers have buckets containing live eels, shrimp, crabs, and other sea creatures. Usually not in the same bucket, though.

The most striking thing for me in this photo is that the monk—he seems to be begging for alms—is wearing traditional garb yet he as what appears to be a nylon backpack. And I love the way he’s holding the bell.