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


Tea Ceremony – Ohuma-san’s mother

Our final morning in Naruko, ended in a very formal way:

We were able to be treated to tea ceremony. She is the only person in Higashi-Naruko offering tea ceremony. There is a traditional tea house, tucked into the woods near the famous Ohnuma mountainside bath.

One of her friends joined us for the ceremony, then excused herself. Ohnuma-san is well-versed in the art of sado, she was doing the movements more refined than anyone I have seen.

Once we had the tea, we talked for a bit. She showed us a book that she has in English on the art of tea ceremony. She does try to study it, but it is difficult to practice with no native speakers around. She was glad to be able to speak and listen… she likes to try to communicate in other languages. It was interesting to find an older woman, in a rural area, so interested in foreign culture (then again, she does run an inn!).
It is good to communicate heart-to-heart, in whatever mix of languages is needed.

She has been studying tea ceremony seriously for 20~25 years. While there are many clubs throughout Japan involved in tea ceremony, meaning that the art itself is not as endangered as kokeshi-making, she is still the last woman doing tea ceremony for guests in Higashi-Naruko, which is certainly a sign of decline in interest.
It is now the realm of older women, so we were glad to experience that, especially as our way to end our time in Naruko.

The tea ceremony completed, we got on the bus for our return to Sendai, our three week exploration of Naruko complete.

August 19, 2010

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