Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

Japanese Traditions in Yakushima Photography

by Meredith Mullins on August 1, 2016

Yakushima rainforest showing reverence for nature and Japanese traditions in photography. (Image © Kodo Chijiiwa.)

The primeval rainforest of Japan’s Yakushima Island
© Kodo Chijiiwa

Photographers Show Reverence for Nature, Beauty, and Time

Yakushima is an island in the North Pacific that seems to have its own spirit, its own magic. It is rich in Japanese traditions, as well as exceptional natural beauty—with its lush vegetation, wild coast, ancient trees, and proud mountains.

I had not heard of Yakushima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, before wandering into a gallery at the famous Rencontres d’Arles—a massive annual photography event in southern France.

Thousands of photographs are presented at this summer festival, from vintage treasures to the trends of tomorrow. But there was something special about the collection of images from a group of Japanese (and Japan-inspired) photographers.

Swirling ocean near Yakushima island, showing Japanese traditions of reverence for nature. (Image © Antonin Borgeaud.)

The powerful forces of nature
© Antonin Borgeaud

The connection to nature was strong. The appreciation of beauty—both everyday and extraordinary—had deep roots. And the energy of earth, water, fire, wind, and sky was palpable.

The humility of the photographers was refreshing, as was their willingness to share the underlying philosophies that influence their work.

They had met through the Yakushima Photography Festival (YPF), a collective of French, American, and Japanese photographers who had all felt the spirit of Yakushima.

Each photographer has his or her own vision of Japan and Japanese traditions.

Meet Kodo, Miho, Antonin, Shizuka, and Satoru.

Double exposure of Yakushima typhoon, showing Japanese traditions of reverence for nature. (Image © Kodo Chijiiwa.)

At the mercy of typhoon winds on Yakushima
© Kodo Chijiiwa

Kodo Chijiiwa

Kodo grew up on Yakushima and knows many of the secrets of its land and sea.

Kodo Chijiiwa, a Japanese photographer from Yakushima, showing Japanese traditions and reverence for nature in his work. (Image © Meredith Mulllins.)

Kodo Chijiiwa
© Meredith Mullins

Living on an island, he also knows the power of typhoons and wanted to photograph the force of the winds on Yakushima.

He tried to stabilize his body and the camera; but, he explained, “The winds could control me as they wanted. So, I decided to express the sensation of my body being tossed around by making double exposures of the land and sea.”

These are photographs of sheer energy. We feel the force of nature.

Miho Suzuki

Simply put, Miho believes in beauty—in appreciating the trivial things in nature and daily life.

Red cloth, photography showing Japanese traditions and reverence for nature and beauty from the Yakushima photo group. (Image © Miho Suzuki.)

Beauty in everyday life
© Miho Suzuki

She was inspired by an excerpt from “Two Poems on the Rose” by Kitahara Hakushu that asked the question: why should we marvel at a single rose bloom?

Miho Suzuki, a photographer from the Yakushima Photography group, showing Japanese traditions and reverence for nature and beauty in her work. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Miho Suzuki
© Meredith Mullins

She dedicated her series of photographs to capturing something beautiful each day.

“I have captured the moments that took my breath away in my daily life,” Miho says.

The project is so personal that she doesn’t care if anyone else shares her sense of beauty. The vision is hers alone. These photographs—these memories— bring her happiness.

Antonin Borgeaud

Antonin is a Frenchman and co-founder of the Yakushima Photography Festival. His new series from Yakushima focuses on the lively personalities of the island—the macaques.

Yakushima Macaque, photography showing Japanese traditions and reverence for nature. (Image © Antonin Borgeaud.)

Making eye contact with a Yakushima Macaque
© Antonin Borgeaud

Antonin Borgeaud, photographer and co-founder of the Yakushima Photography Festival, focusing on Japanese traditions and reverence for nature. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Antonin Borgeaud
© Meredith Mullins

These old-world monkeys inhabit a small part of the island, indifferent to the presence of human visitors.

Antonin looked for the soul of each and presents a series of portraits where we are shown something of their curious personality.

Even though it is not recommended to make eye contact with a macaque (it’s a sign of aggression), the photographs clearly show a connection between subject and photographer.

Shizuka Sato

Shizuka Sato, a photographer in the Yakushima Photography group, focusing on Japanese traditions and reverence for nature. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Shizuka Sato
© Meredith Mullins

Shizuka is sister and godmother to her younger brother Takuto.

She also named him, when her parents asked her to suggest a name. Her music class was studying conductor’s batons (called takuto in Japanese). She liked the sound of the word . . . and so did her parents.

Shizuka went away for a time, and when she returned home, she was surprised to see how quickly Takuto had grown. He was no longer a child. He was a young man.

Young man on bed by Shizuka Sato, showing Japanese traditions, reverence for nature, and passing of time. (Image © Shizuoka Sato.)

A time of transition—vanishing youth
© Shizuka Sato

Her photographs of Takuto tell a story of vanishing time—and deliver a nostalgic message that many things, including youth, are fleeting. The underlying message: Savor the moments.

Satoru Watanabe

Satoru’s stunning photography is born from Japanese traditions and respect for nature. He explains his influences:

“My grandmother was country-bred and prayed to everything. For her, kami-sama (the gods) was not something to seek forgiveness from, nor something that made wishes come true. Kami-sama was invisible, and yet worth folding her hands to.

Photograph of forest by Satoru Watanabe, showing Japanese traditions and reverence for nature. (Image © Satoru Watanabe.)

Kami-sama energy
© Satoru Watanabe

Satoru Watanabe, photographer from Yakushima Photography group who follows Japanese traditions and shows reverence for nature. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Satoru Watanabe
© Meredith Mullins

I can still hear her saying ‘Don’t make a wish to the gods. Just pray with folded hands.’

When I take walks in the forest up in the mountains, I believe the energy I felt was the same existence that my grandmother was folding her hands to—the gods in nature.

As I grow older, the frequencies in which I fold my hands increases, but even now, I never make a wish.”

Satoru doesn’t make wishes. He simply portrays the beauty and clarity of life in his photographs.

Bottle on table, a photograph by Satoru Watanabe showing Japanese traditions and reverence for nature. (Image © Satoru Watanabe.)

Reverence for beauty and simplicity
© Satoru Watanabe

Oh, I See

Da.Gasita book of Satoru Watanabe, following Japanese traditions and reverence for nature. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Da.gasita. Oh I See.
© Meredith Mullins

One of Satoru’s books is called Da.gasita. This phrase, In the Yonezawa dialect of Japanese, means “Oh I See.” The Japanese use the phrase often in conversation to let people know they have heard what’s being said and acknowledge its importance.

In wandering into the small gallery in Arles of this interesting group of photographers, I heard (and saw) what was being said. Da.gasita.

And my vision of Japanese traditions and my reverence for nature and beauty has been altered forever.

Arigatou Yakushima.

Sun reflection by Satoru Watanabe, showing Japanese traditions and reverence for nature. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Earth and sky
© Satoru Watanabe

For more information on the Yakushima Photography Festival, visit here.

For more information on the Rencontres d’Arles, visit here.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


2 thoughts on “Japanese Traditions in Yakushima Photography

  1. Dear Pamela,
    I know we were both quite moved by the Yakushima photographs and photographers. I thank you for your enthusiasm and curiosity, which inspired an even deeper look at these talented artists. And, yes, it is nice to relive the memory of the exhibit and the passion of the photographers.

    As for Sweet Dreams … yes, let’s organize a benefit showing in Paris for the women of Rwanda.

    More inspiration to come …


  2. Meredith, you are a magician! I had the great luck of discovering these Japanese photographs just after you and was so impressed by their unadorned beauty…and now you bring back these memories with such power and grace… And I just watched the trailer for “Sweet Dreams” and so hope that the film will turn up in Paris eventually. Your articles are always fascinating and…enhanced with your stunning photos. Bravo!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. The name you enter will appear with your comment. * Required field

4 × one =

Copyright © 2011-2013 OIC Books   |   All Rights Reserved   |   Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.