Tradition and societal norms dominate private and public life in Japan.
People who do not follow the rules have a hard time in Japanese society. The young man with extensive tattoos is among the marginalised. He is not invited to weddings or family parties because many people in Japan still think that only mafia members have tattoos. In the West, he could live unobtrusively, but in Japan he is pushed into the subculture.
The young sculptor: he was an apprentice for twelve years, so he can now finally practise his craft. He makes Buddhist statues for temples and monasteries. Many young people are just like him: tradition, history and culture mean a lot to them.
At the other extreme are young girls who want to be famous - and who are ready to pay a high price for it. In Japan there are tens of thousands of so-called idols: young women and men who are cast in manufactured bands. They are often very young, still children. They leave home, live with their agents, work from morning to night - and if they don't make it, they're replaced.
Things are bubbling beneath the surface in Japan. Different views and different ways of living are suppressed. But now and again there are protests: faint, but still there. For example, against the US military presence on the southern island of Okinawa. And more and more people, particularly the young, are determined to defy expectations and lead different lives.
Japanese society faces major challenges. The population is ageing, and with fewer and fewer young people, it is in danger of dying off: By 2050, the current population of 126 million will have shrunk by one-third to a little over 80 million. Immigration would be one way of avoiding collapse, but the country is resisting this solution. The proportion of foreigners in Japan is less than two per cent.
Japan cannot avoid becoming more open. The key theme will be retaining its identity. The main question that preoccupies people in Japan is how to make a success of this.
In my book, Japan - Abseits von Kirschblüten und Kimono, I show Japan in a way that's different from the way a tourist may explore it. It's a very personal Japan.
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After the devastating Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, hundreds of thousands of people were resettled from the so-called circle of death – an area with a 30-kilometre radius around the failed reactor – to anonymous big cities in Ukraine. Not all the migrants accepted this willingly: they fought by stealth to return to their former homes, where some of them still live today, surrounded by deserted and dilapidated villages. A photographic visit to the widows of Chernobyl.
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