--------------------------------------------------- "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 Steward of the Mountain School

After our long, rambling, and very delicious, meeting with Kimura-san, we meet with Ohnuma-san (Ohnuma Yukio-san, not to be confused with Ohnuma Shinji-san, the owner of Ohnuma Ryokan - no relation). I met this Ohnuma-san back in March at a Cultural Festival at the local government office. That was the same month he resigned as a local government official to take over as the director of Yamagakko Community Center full-time.

As he shows us around, he explains the programs: a taiko drumming class, a traditional dance class… one classroom remains preserved as it was when the school was in session. One room is entirely for drinking sake… there is still a wood shop. Weaving is done. In the gym, tracks are set up for people who race R/C cars. The center is not entirely for traditional crafts, it’s a place for entertainment and education. However, the place operates without a set schedule of classes. The twelve staff members hired with the government grant do whatever they want, whenever they want. They are very free to do anything they feel appropriate.

Strangely enough, Ohnuma-san was born inside that very school. Post-WWII, it was common for students to get trapped at the school during heavy snowstorms. Selected staff members would have to stay at school to act as dorm parents. His parents were taking their turn one snowy night, and that was when his mother went into labor. After entering the world in the building, he himself attended the school when it was a junior high school. Now here he is, 50 years later, in charge of the building he was born in.

August 4, 2010

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