--------------------------------------------------- "Vanishing Point" Exhibit Dates ---------------------------------------------------

None currently scheduled.

------------------------------------------------------- Upcoming Special Events -------------------------------------------------------

None currently scheduled.


About Us

Photoji Project is: photographer Elizabeth Barbush, writer Gabriel DellaVecchia, interviewer/coordinator Makie Sugawara, interviewer/community liaison Takaharu Saito, and photographer Maki Otomo. Although we come from various backgrounds and two different countries, the five of us share a commitment to cultural sustainability and to the power of art as a tool for education and social change.

In August 2010, we spent three weeks documenting, through photographs, interviews, and audio recordings, the historically important onsen hot spring town of Naruko in the Tohoku region of Japan. We centered our explorations on the concept of toji: the traditional ritual of staying in a hot spring town for an extended period for the purposes of rejuvenation.

The original intention of the project was to exhibit our findings in Sendai, the largest city in the region, to highlight for the people there a fading cultural treasure located in their own backyard.

Then came the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11th, 2011. Over the course of one terrible, bitterly cold winter afternoon, everything in this region of the world changed.

In a strange twist of fate, fading Naruko, home to hundreds of usually empty hotel rooms, became a refuge for 1000 tsunami victims, relocated there by the prefectural government. The ritual of toji, staying in an onsen town for an extended period in order to heal, has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Photoji Project returned to Naruko in May and June 2011, nearly one year after our original visit, to document how a place that was written off has now become safe haven for hundreds of families.

We are currently planning to share our exhibit "Vanishing Point" at two locations in California: first at the Little Tokyo Koban and Visitors' Center in Los Angeles (August 2011) and then at Elsewhere Gallery in the Bay Area (September 2011), during which we hope to raise money for the struggling businesses and tsunami refugees in Naruko.

Please share this blog and help us spread the word about this overlooked corner of Japan.

Photoji Project(フォトージ・プロジェクト)は、写真担当のエリザベス・バーブッシュ、ライターのガブリエル・デラベキア、取材/コーディネーターの菅原牧枝、取材/コミュニティ・リエゾンの齋藤高晴、写真担当の大友眞妃からなるプロジェクトです。
2010年秋に、鳴子温泉駅での写真展「The Future of Tradition」を開催。
2011年夏には、ロサンゼルスとサンフランシスコで写真展「Vanishing Point」を開催予定です。


The Beatles Guy

We visit the largest coffee shop in the main part of Naruko, run by Miyamoto-san, whom we all know as The Beatles Guy.

His café is a monument to his obsessions, chief among them The Beatles. Beatles posters, guitars, and postcards are crammed throughout the room. He functions on something of a Beatles Philosophy of Life, incorporating their ideas on peace and connectivity as well as some wild theories on how the band uses Japanese tonality and Zen concepts in their songs.

As we sit down, he tells us that the business has been in his family for 140 years. Since he runs a coffee shop, I have a hard time picturing samurai dropping in for a quick cup of joe 140 years ago.

But of course it wasn't always a coffee shop: it has been a restaurant, it has been a laundry... the business has changed its shape and purpose over the decades based on the needs of the people. Miyamoto-san's son currently lives in Seattle. He doesn’t know whether his son will return to run the business or not, but if he does, he doesn’t feel the business has to remain a coffee shop. The main point is that the family has roots there, they have a business there, and that if the son decides the needs of the town are different, it is wise to change the business to reflect the current needs. It was a great insight: that you can stay in the same place but still change direction.

But that change doesn't happen quickly. When he opened the shop 29 years ago, the locals had no idea what a "coffee shop" was or why you would want to go to one. Even three decades on, the locals STILL don’t really get what it is all about, so the shop caters primarily to foreign tourists. Apparently, Naruko operates on geologic time instead of human time, where something can be "new" for decades!

August 3, 2010

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