--------------------------------------------------- "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 Vegetarian Chef – Yusa Shizue-san

After talking to her brother, we spoke with Shizue-san. We read about her in the free newsletter, that she is a vegetarian and serves vegetarian meals. We set up an interviews, which began with a meal. In addition to the uniqueness of adding radon to the water, of the mixed gender bath , the natural heating using onsen water, antoher stiking feature is the offering of vegetarian food.which is difficult to find in a city like Sendai, let alone a rural and traditional place like Naruko.

When sittign down to the meal, it was papparent that while th meal was vegetarian, it was quite different from any vegetarian meal I had ever had in any country. There was a riuce patty, a sort of faux hamburger covered in katsup, there were two friend tofu “onion rings”, there were a few agar dishes, including a tomoto suspended in clear agar, an agar soup, and a dessert with fresh blueberries on an agar base. There was also a mayonaaise salad and a small soup with root vegetables. It was an elaborate meal in its color, texture, and arrangement.

We had time to interview Shuzue-san in the quite time after dinner. We were ushered into her kitchen… she has been a vegetarian for 13 years. Although influenced by macrobiotic principles, many of her recipes are her own and come from her own ingenuity as a chef. When asked why she went vegetarian, she said she is trying to be more “whole”… her daughters’ ballet teacher, a very impressive and active woman, once chalked up her vitality to brown rice and vegetables, which influenced the diet of Shizue-san. I asked if people came to Radon specifically for the vegetarian food… she doesn’t think so, but people do ask for it.

The inn is 5th generation, now owned by her parents, Shizue-san, and her brother. Although she grew up at the inn, she did leave for awhile. She moved away for 10 years when she was first married and had her 3 daughters.  Her husband ran a business in another town. The business went unde r and when looking for something else, he decided to join her family’s business. So, leaving the family behind, he moved to Nakayamadaira to live with his in-laws and began to learn how to run the ryokan. Tragically, he passed away at 43 years old (7 years ago now) leaving Shizue-san a widow at a very young age. But having made the decision to run the hot spring, they stayed there after his death. Her daughters are now in their 20s, 2 of them have moved to arts careers, but the youngest daughter does work at the ryokan. As part of the loss of her husband, she describes her diet as being a reflection of being more “whole”being the most whole person she can be,  a powerful thing to hear from a woman who has gone through a lot but seems to be bearing it with grace. At 50 years old, she looks 10 years younger, and she seems quite proud of the work they have accomplished in keeping the onsen a hive of activity even if the rest of the town is fading.

August 7, 2010

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