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Japanese Photography at Letters from Japan

Archive for the ‘Japanese Photography’ Category

Photography Tour to Japan #8: People in Kanazawa   no comments

Tomioka and Tsuyoshi, photo by Tom

It has been almost nine months since I visited Kanazawa for the first time. There I met people who have been helping me organize this trip and they have been waiting for our arrival in Kanazawa.

Nagae-san and her assistant, photo by Cindy

The first day, we met Nagae-san who was the key person who connected me to pretty much everyone who helped us organize this trip. She was the hub for everyone involved not only in Kanazawa but also in the entire Noto Peninsula. If I were to single out one person to get credit for this trip, she would be the one without a second thought.

We also met Mr. Tomioka who is a local photographer. I met him at the salon when I was visiting Nagae-san for the first time. Upon hearing that I am interested in photography, she picked up the phone, and asked him to come over to meet me. Only then, I decided to bring some of his work to Philadelphia for an exhibition. These photographs were taken in Wajima and the surrounding area in the late 1950’s.

We were lucky to meet him on the second day of our trip to see his photographs and show our photographs. He looked at everyone’s photographs and gave thoughtful comments after he showed his recent work. It was a sort of cultural exchange through photography. This is the sort of thing that is difficult to arrange if you are traveling only as a tourist. Again, photography is the medium through which we connect people in this trip. It is what brings us together.

What amazes me about Mr. Tomioka is that he actively continues his creative activity at the age of 76. He goes out to photograph and comes back to his darkroom to process his films and make prints. I would assume that at his age, he would have enough images to keep him busy, but that is not his style. He is having a small exhibition at the salon next year, and he is working on another body of work as well. We will see what kind of photographs he will come up with next year when we come back.

Hashiba-san and his friend, photo by Tom

Another person we met at the salon was Hashiba-san, a local flute player. He was the one whom I met at the temple when they were changing the shoji screens. He came to the salon with his friend to play two pieces of music for us. His flute is made out of bamboo, and looks very simple. Everyone tried to see if they could make any sound at all. He played one traditional piece as well as one which he composed on his own. His own piece was titled “Pine and Wind,” and it is set in the late fall looking at a pine tree. This is definitely a somber atmosphere which goes very well with the sound of his flute.

Along with many temples and beautiful gardens to visit, these occasions meeting local people have made our days in Kanazawa fulfilling and quite unique.

Written by projectbasho on September 11th, 2008

Photography Tour to Japan #2: Asakusa and Asakusa Portrait by Hiroh Kikai   no comments

This 13-day photography trip to Japan will start in the middle of Tokyo. Asakusa is the first destination for our trip, and the group will stay one night here after a long flight to Narita Airport.

Asakusa was a center of popular culture during the Edo period which lasted for almost 300 years and was the last feudal period in Japanese history. Asakusa prospered as a cultural bridge between Yoshiwara, the red light district and the rest of city. Historically, Asakusa was always the center of entertainment from Kabuki, comedies and movies.

There are two things that come to my mind when I think of Asakusa. Asakusa was, in fact, the destination of my first date when I was 15 years old. I went to Hana Yashiki, a classic and iconic amusement park, equivalent to Astroland Park in Coney Island, with a girl from a neighboring junior high school. I vaguely remember the uncomfortableness that I felt all day long. I was simply too shy to be a good date.

Aside from a blue memory of my adolescence, the other thing that comes to my mind is a series of portraits. There is one notable photographic work which originated in Asakusa. Hiroh Kikai, a Japanese photographer, has been creating portraits of those who come to the tourists-concentrated area of Tokyo for years.

Hiroh Kikai is a photographer from the Yamagata prefecture in the northern part of Japan. Influenced by a background in philosophy and the works of Diane Arbus, he has been working on this project since 1973. Titled “Asakusa Portrait,” Kikai’s portraits show people with peculiarities and sometimes subtle uniqueness against a simple backdrop of the wall in the Senso-ji.

Right now, Kikai’s images are shown as a part of an exhibition titled “Heavy Light” at International Center of Photography in NY. The exhibition attempts to show a segment of contemporary Japanese photographers whose work is fresh to US. In the show, 16 prints of Kikai’s portraits are featured. In the review of the exhibition by Roberta Smith in the NY Times, she particularly noted the excellence of his images.

At the opening reception for the exhibition at ICP in June, I was able to talk to him for a little while. This was a great moment for me as I have been a big fan of his work since I first saw his images in a magazine 13 years ago. I was introduced to him by my friend. He appeared a little uncomfortable surrounded by people who were conversing in English. During our brief conversation, he was very humble despite the fact that he is at the opening at ICP which contains his images and that there were hundreds of people there for the show. He was very cool about it all.

This event got me excited to revisit his images. I have a book titled “Ya Chimata” published in 1996. This is one of the first photography books that I ever bought. Curiously enough, this book was published by a publisher who usually deals with philosophy books. At the opening, I realized that I should have brought this copy of the book for Kikai to autograph.

If we are lucky, our group may be able to catch him while he is working on his ongoing project in Asakusa in September. Just for this reason, I should pack my old copy of his book in my already overly packed suitcase.

Written by projectbasho on August 22nd, 2008