--------------------------------------------------- "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 Master Kokeshi-maker

With no scheduled interview this morning, we set off to talk to the son of the milk-powered rice farmer whom we had met the week before.

As we walk by the side of a busy highway, we pass an elderly man, standing in what looks like a drive-thru window, carving kokeshi. As we watch, he carves a tiny wooden doll with a head the size of a marble. He is so engrossed in his work that he doesn’t even notice us until the head is entirely finished. As he pulls the newly created figure off the spindle, he apologizes because he has been making a doll in the style of a different part of Japan.

To make up for it, and happy to have an audience, he proceeds to carve a traditional medium-sized Naruko-style kokeshi. The head was already mostly carved, so he quickly sanded it down. He then carves the body and joins the two pieces in less than ten minutes. The dexterity and grace of his elderly hands is a marvel. I don't think I could draw a kokeshi as quickly and as effortlessly as he was able to create a three-dimensional figure.

Terayuki-san is 70 years old and has been making kokeshi for 55 years. Not wanting to be a government official like his father, or willing to continue school past high school, he apprenticed to a master craftsman when he was only fifteen. Not only did he learn to carve and paint kokeshi, he learned to make his own tools, as a master kokeshi-maker is expected to create his own.

From his little window, where he has sat for half a century, he has watched as the flow of people into Naruko has crested and ebbed. But he doesn't seem to mind the dwindling crowds, because after fifty-five years of kokeshi-making, he still enjoys creating each and every doll.

August 7, 2010

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