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Photography Tour to Japan #1: It is official! at Letters from Japan

Photography Tour to Japan #1: It is official!   no comments

Posted at 2:28 pm in Japan Photo Trip, Kanazawa

Wajima

Yes, we are finally 100% sure that this destination trip to Kanazawa and the Noto Peninsula is happening!

This trip was one of the projects that I have dreamed about since I started Project Basho. I was always interested in creating a cultural dialogue between Philadelphia, where I am now, and Japan, where I grew up. I always thought the best way to let people know about another culture is to visit the actual place and let them experience the scenery, culture, and people with someone who can act as a cultural intermediary. So here we are, after 1 year of planning and 6 years of thinking about it, we are finally actualizing this trip.

This is a 13 day trip to explore the countryside of Japan. We are visiting Kanazawa, Wajima, and Suzu in the Noto Peninsula. Kanazawa is a relatively large city while Wajima and Suzu are much smaller fishing towns. During this trip one can see life in a city as well as in the smaller towns where the pace is slower.

Where is Kanazawa and the Noto Peninsula? Why not travel to more known places such as Tokyo and Kyoto? People often ask me these questions and wonder why I chose Kanazawa and the Noto Peninsula as the first destination trip in Japan.

I have always thought that there are beautiful places in the countryside of Japan. Initially, I was planning to take a group to a much more remote area of Japan – Shikoku, where I once backpacked for a week on a small island. When I started to research a possible trip, I quickly realized the problem of accessibility. Plus, it was rather difficult to do detailed research from Philadelphia as the information was rather scarce. I realized that in order to make it work, I had to visit the location and establish key contacts with the locals first.

A friend of mine visited Kanazawa a couple of years ago, and he introduced me to Nagae-san who runs the Ishikawa International Exchange Salon in Kanazawa. When I phoned her last fall as I was getting ready for a visit in December, she was very excited about our trip and enthusiastically became the key contact to organize this trip locally.

Speaking of people from Kanazawa, I met Hashiaba-san, a local flute player, while I was visiting Kanazawa in December. I was simply wandering around the almost-maze like alleys in a section of the city when I arrived at a small temple. A priest and a few volunteers were changing the shoji paper on the screens as part of the end of year cleaning. I was curiously looking at them as I remembered doing this as a yearly routine when I was a kid.

A relatively young priest looked at me and asked me if I wanted to help. I said “Sure, I will,” thinking that I had not done this for at least 11 years. I spent the next two hours changing the shoji paper for all the screens in this little run-down temple. There, I met Hashiba-san who was helping as a volunteer and who also happens to know Nagae-san. I explained my trip plans and they were also excited about it. Hashiba-san suggested that he and his band members would do a musical performance for us when we visit. Later I learned that he is a very well-known flute player who comes to Tokyo frequently to perform. This was one of those serendipitous moments which makes travel more enjoyable.

Aside from the wonderful people like Nagae-san and Hashiba-san, Kanazawa is a beautiful city in its own right with a sense of tradition. The best description about Kanazawa I came across while researching described it as “a little Kyoto.” When I visited Kanazawa last December, I understood what this meant. There are numerous elements of traditional Japanese culture and many clusters of temples and shrines all over the city. These temples and shrines are connected with small winding alleys mapping the city like vines. You will feel a sense of nostalgia as if you were back a couple hundred years ago. In addition, the city is not too large, which makes it a suitable place for photographers who want to explore on foot. Plus you can enjoy all of this without being in tourist-thickened streets, which is what I felt when I was in Kyoto recently. Nagae-san who grew up in Kyoto also agrees on this point.

We are also going to two smaller towns in the Noto Peninsula: Wajima and Suzu. I will talk about them in a little more detail in the next couple of posts.

Additionally, I would like to note that this is just one side of the cultural exchange through photography we are planning. We are slowly working on another project to bring Japanese photographers to Philadelphia. This will be a different format than these destination trips we are organizing this time. However, we hope to make this reciprocal influx of photographers traveling between two destinations happen on a regular basis in the years to come. So stay tuned.

Written by projectbasho on July 25th, 2008

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