--------------------------------------------------- "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。


Hell Valley

On the way to Onikoube, Taka and I talk about the differences between onsen:

Radon is like a different world. Radon is the most traditional and the best location that we have seen and I have no problem seeing why people would want to stay there. It’s in a beautiful valley, the outdoor bath is spectacular.

Staying at Kanshichiyu, the owners are lovely, but the property is shabby, and there’s not a lot there that a Western tourist would be looking for.

When we went into the spotless rooms at Naruko Kankou, THOSE would appeal to a Western sensibility, as would the rooms at Chuubachi, which is smaller and more traditional.

It’s the ones in-between that are a hard sell: Kanshichiyu, Ohnuma, the other ryokan in Higashi-Naruko. There is no beautiful valley, they aren’t modern. They need to go one way or the other. Either try to be very traditional, like Radon (throw out the TVs?) or spruce themselves up at least…

There are places struggling even more… we are staying at Kanshichiyu and Ohnuma’s places because they know Taka, and Taka knows them because they are doing interesting things. They have a liveliness caused by their active owners. There are ones that none of us have seen struggling even more…

In the afternoon, we went to Hell Valley in Onikoube. I was first there in March, where we couldn’t get anywhere near and had to walk through 2 feet of snow. Although everything was covered in snow, the boardwalk was clear and living moss was on the rocks. While walking through and watching the geyers and gushing, it is easy to imagine what it looked like when people stumbled upon Naruko 1000 years ago. It’s a very powerful place, you feel very close to the earth, like the energy of the earth is trying to burst out of its skin, but instead of a huge explosion, it seeps and it pops. This scaldingly hot water, coming out at 70 degrees Celsius can be used in such a positive way, that it can health people, provide for leaisure and relaxation, and a source of wonderful alternative energy. There is a geothermal plant in Onikoube and its not a stretch to think of the hot springs being tapped in a way to provide cheap, clean energy in the way that Iceland does. Although there weren’t many cars in the lot, 3 or 4 groups passed us as we were photographing. It’s a lush green valley, like something out of Jurrasic Park, brilliant shades of green from the plants and the moss on the rocks. While that may be what Naruko looked like in ancient times, even if everything fades away and the ryokan fall into this ground, this is what Naruko will look like again, the people and the tourism may come and go, but the natural wonder of it all will remain.

August 9, 2010

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