The idea of “natural” is a bit of a weird stretch. Star trails are natural, right? That’s just leaving the camera open a long time… well, until it isn’t. The sakura in Japan, even at their best, are not natural. Sure, the trees are natural. But they’ve been bred to be their most beautiful. They’ve been shaped into “their most beautiful,” and supported when nature can’t hold that shape. Yozakura, night sakura viewing, is at the mercy of lighting, and lighting technology.

And man, in the time that I’ve lived in Japan, have we ever made giant strides forward in lighting technology.

Even while I was recalling in horror at the Rikugien’s disco tree, I was aware of the holes in my own argument. No amount of lighting on a tree is natural at night. It’s all there to fit an aesthetic, and some people have a different aesthetic than I do.

But apparently the person in charge of the lights of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building shares an aesthetic sense with myself. The two towers of the TMG building are normally lit, and often using the new nifty lighting technology, they are lit to reflect an event or holiday or some such. But not during the sakura. The towers were dark. Which is more significant than you’d think. You see, if they were lit, then getting a photo with them and the sakura would be a lot harder. You’d have to bring in lights to light the sakura, and then try to get the color temperatures of those lights to match well with the lights on the tower, and it would be a huge headache. So they turned them off. Thanks for that, TMG light-decision-making-guy.

One of the more sticky points to be made is the color of sakura. You see a lot of bad post-production work to make them significantly more pink than they really are. But out at night, you’ll see a lot of public lighting that makes them out to be a lot pinker than they would be. It doesn’t sit 100% right with me, but adjusting the photo to represent something that’s further away from the reality as you would observe it standing there also doesn’t sit very well with me. All I can do is hope that people have enough experience with sakura to see these photos from the more egregious examples of photographic BSery. 

And, of course, no matter where you go in Japan, there always seems to be the trains. As much as they may shape the landscape around Tokyo, and all over Japan, and as much as I love the unshaped wilderness photography from the US, I really wish there were more trains in the States. They’re not perfect, but the number of times I’ve missed having a car in the last decade is very small.

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