--------------------------------------------------- "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 Innovator – Ohnuma Shinji-san

We had our final formal interview, with Ohnuma-san…  it was a fitting end, as it was a conversation with Ohnuma-san back in March that sparked my interest in Naruko and toji in the first place.
He was busy, as usual…

Toji is not about vacation, it is a holistic approach to health and a way to heal your body. So, he makes a distinction between the hotels in Naruko that only get day visitors and the toji residences of Higashi-Naruko.
He highlights the importance of the whole community in supporting toji culture: as toji residents cook for themselves, you need to have grocery stores nearby. The barber down the street, whose shop is always empty these days, during the boom years, fully 70% of his customers were toji residents.

The different inns are connected… because all of the spring sources are different, leading to waters with different mineral compositions, it is important for people to have choices. Some places have baths high in iron, others are high in sulfur: visitors should be able to choose a different place to stay depending on their bodily needs. The Ohnuma source is high in Sodium Bicarbonate, which is supposed to be good to balance pH and to eliminate free radicals.

As far as competition between the inns, or working together, he thinks that they are all branches of one large “Naruko inn”: none of them are that big, so their capacity is each very limited. It’s good to have the choices and to feel at home wherever they go.

He has been involved with AAF since 2005. He thinks it is a way to add commentary from people outside the community. He thinks it has attracted a trickle of new guests, but certainly not a flood.

We asked about things like yoga or acupuncture/acupressure as other ways of attracting people interested in healing. As far as the arts, Oba-san had mentioned a potential music academy, where people could come out to Naruko and take music lessons. He said a group on a meditation tour of Japan will be staying there soon.
He is not always thinking of ways to change the inn itself, that remains traditional and not much changed in a few generations, but of ways to offer a wider menu of entertainment options.

He has been online since 1999, he has been involved in the art projects. He doesn’t see why young people will move back in the current state. He is happy with the direction of things at his inn, but he still wants to introduce toji to a new generation.

August 18, 2010

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