--------------------------------------------------- "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 Wisdom of Kan-chan

This morning, we ran into Kan-chan who works at Kanshichiyu. He is 76 years old and has been working there for 60 years! We discovered, much to our surprise, that he is now “retired”, shocking since he has been there every single time we have visited. He has been working there since he was 16. He jokes that he had no choice in the matter, as his parents named him “Kan” specifically so he would get a job at Kanshichiyu! As a side note, the honorific ~chan usually applies to children younger than school age. It is considered very affectionate, and I have never heard the term used with an elderly man before.

He is exceedingly proud of the Kanshichiyu’s reputation as a place of fertility. Many couples who have had trouble conceiving have gone there and have had success in getting pregnant. He used to “teach” young couples how to get pregnant, and we were all taken aback, picturing Kan-chan explaining the bird and the bees to horrified young newlyweds. In fact, he was talking about how, if you soak in the onsen, it raises your internal body temperature to the optimal conditions for conception (in Japan, there is a sort of fuzzy understanding of humans as being mammals with internally regulated temperatures… they often talk of bodies being too cold, as if people are part reptile). Apparently, even one of the decendents of the Date clan managed to conceive twins there after many failures elsewhere. (I have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps being cramped in a small Japanese household with many generations, then going on a vacation and having some time alone may play a part in the “magic”). But, we’ll let him think it is the heat of the onsen.

On his days off, he goes to the fields, the mountains, or the river. We stumbled upon the fact that he was no longer employed when we offered to accompany him and asked when he was off work. “Off work?” he asked, confused, “I’m retired!”

** In the following weeks, we ran into Kan-chan a number of times. Once, he showed us the baths buried in the floor, used decades ago before the present baths were built. He told us that the baths were mixed gender well into the 1960s and that the men would have to walk past the ladies area to get to their bath. Eventually, western morality took over, and he baths were gender-segregated. I still have a feeling that is why the baths were so popular with the hippies during the Leisure Boom in the mid-60s…
Kan-chan has been working there so long, he can check the temperature of the water with his hand, no need for a thermometer.
He loves riddles and wordplay, and happily showed us pages of complicated songs and poems, all with layers of meaning.
Kan-chan has a coin collection. The fishermen, who would come to the ryokan for toji, would bring money they had earned in ports all around the world. They would give them to Kan-chan. So, even though he has never lived beyond the borders of Naruko, he has a coin collection spanning the globe. At one point, he took some of his loot to 77 Bank, to try and get some money. At first, they thought it was fake, and then they refused to convert it, since so much of it was so old it was long out-of-circulation. That being said, it never occurred to him to “convert it” to cash by selling it to a money collector.

August 15, 2010

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