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


Food Does Not Come From A Box

Another scouting visit to Naruko, this time to participate in the Naruko No Kome project...

The mountains of Onikoube, looming over the rest of Naruko, have historically been too cold to grow high-quality rice. But, in the difficult days after World War II, the people of this area didn't worry themselves too much about the taste of the rice they were growing, they just knew they needed food. So, they carved rice fields out of the forests and were glad enough to produce something to eat.

Onikoube, like the rest of Naruko and like rural Japan as a whole, is experiencing significant population loss due to migration to the city. On top of the population decline has come a decline in the price of rice, with cheap imported rice from the rest of Asia flooding the markets in spite of high tariffs. With children increasingly deciding not to continue the family business, farms are disappearing at an alarming rate.

The brainchild of local politician Gotou-san and a committee of local residents, Naruko No Kome is an attempt at halting the loss of these farms. The aim of this project is to add enough value to the rice produced  in the area to allow the farmers  to remain in business.

The first plan of action by Naruko No Kome to boost the value of their product was to defy the Japanese Agricultural Society and to choose their own variety of rice to plant. They went to a rice lab and found a strain specifically designed to grow best in colder climates. So, the Onikoube farmers switched to that rice, and found it to be far superior to what they had planted previously. Suddenly, they were producing a premium rice that could command about twice the previous price. But, that was still not enough.

The solution was to try to link the consumers with the producers. In a type of Agricultural Tourism, Naruko No Kome invites city residents to come out to the rural area for a day to plant rice. The thinking is that once they have had a hand in producing the rice, they will be much more likely to purchase it if they see it on a store shelf.

We roll up our pants and plant rice for a few hours. With the planting complete, we sit down to plentiful onigiri made from the previous year's harvest and explain to the assembled farmers-for-a-day what has brought us to Onikoube.

A young mother stands up, pulling her shy 10-year-old daughter to her feet as well.

"My daughter is growing up in Sendai and has never seen a farm. I don't want her to grow up and think that food comes from a box. It comes from the ground, and people put it there..."

Listening to the smiling people, all covered in mud and glowing with pride at our collective accomplishment, I find myself thinking about "progress." Progress is often defined by larger buildings, more concrete, more cables and wires and blinking lights.

But perhaps "progress" means going back to something that worked before....

May 30, 2010

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