Images for Interview
Project info

Hodophylax: The Guardian of the Path

Long ago, wolves once roamed the length of the Japanese archipelago, which is largely mountainous and forested. While mountain dwellers feared the wolves, as they occasionally attacked people and horses, they were also grateful for the natural predators of wild boar and deer—animals that damaged their crops. They eventually came to worship wolves as incarnations and messengers of the mountain gods.
These wolves became extinct more than 100 years ago. According to official records, the last Japanese wolf was captured on January 23, 1905 in Higashi Yoshino, Nara Prefecture. Yet, people continue to report wolf sightings and the sound of their howls. Convinced of their existence, they persistently journey into the mountains in search of the venerated creature.
It was astounding to me when I learned how many people still worship the Japanese wolf in the mountainous areas skirting Tokyo, from Okuchichibu to Okutama, and report sightings. What if, alongside the lifestyle of Tokyo—a completely artificial city, which is all about convenience, economic development and pursuing only what’s useful for people—there was a possibility of wolves, a symbol of the force of nature, still existing? Wouldn't present-day city-dwellers, who have lost track of that essential something, find a reason to connect with it again? For someone who has never seen, let alone heard, a wolf, I feel curiously compelled to seek out this invisible animal as some kind of prayer for its existence in the mountains.
In Japanese folklore, there is a famous recorded belief called the "escort wolf” whereby a wolf shadows a person walking alone in the forest at night until he reaches home safely. There is a duality in this belief, which reveals both gratitude toward the wolves for protection against evil spirits, but also a humbling trepidation—a fear of being pounced on and devoured should one stumble.
What were Japanese wolves actually like?
And what kind of relationship did the ancient Japanese share with them?
This project is a two-volume collection of the fragments and traces of the Japanese wolf as filtered through my eyes and mind. In the first slender book, I have pursued the existence of this beast—the wolf—and its vestiges along the Tokyo-flanking mountain ranges in Chichibu and Okutama, where most wolf sightings are reported (though remain unverified). In the second book—an accordion fold format—I have experimented with reinventing the folktales and lore handed down by people living closely with the mountains and nature. My hope is that this work will allow people to imagine and contemplate, even if only a little, the fierce yet revered Japanese wolf and its place in Japan’s nature, as well as its co-inhabitants—the ancient people who fostered methods of coexistence.

—Michiko Hayashi

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– Forget-me-not –

—[Forget-me-not]— focuses on sexual minorities living in east Africa.

In the language of flowers, the tiny forget-me-not is akin to true love. When I arrived in the suburbs of Nairobi, there were forget-me-nots blooming and falling everywhere. These innocent flowers reminded me of my sexual minority friends, who live under strong social discrimination everywhere.

Thus, true love (and a bit of perseverance) is the main theme of this ongoing project.

—Keiji Fujimoto

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Happen

It’s been 8 years since I came to Tokyo. IN this city of 13.62 million people, I still only have a small smattering of friends. People walking ahead of me on the street, people on the same train, people eating at the same restaurant…I’ve observed an entire universe of people in the background of this city. Who are they? What are their lives? What are they thinking? I came across the app “happn” one day. This app could show me who these hundreds and thousands of people I come across daily are. Through “happn” I met a woman from France, a young man who is a dancer and a student of clothes making. We met and we spoke. We shared our stories. I would not have met them otherwise, but they were living close to me for a number of years. We must have crossed paths without realizing, plenty of times. The light turns green. I look right. I look left. I step out and move forward. So many people walk past me. No one looks this way. I peer into their faces. Our eyes may meet. But I think I can safely say that in my lifetime, there will never be another chance that we will peer into each other’s faces, or actually get to know each other. Pieces of litter found on the street is quite telling. Telling of the person who once owned that abandoned piece of something. I feel that photographs are something similar to this. There is still an entire universe of people I don’t know in this city. My neighbors who are yet to have face and name…I think about them as I roam the streets of Tokyo.

—Kenji Chiga

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Internal Notebook

The “Internal Notebook” is a notebook of the emotional cries of children raised in abusive homes. I have taken portraits of them, along with the diaries and notebooks they have kept. I have also tried to show what their parents were like by arranging their childhood photographs and important possessions. It seemed to me that their parents were no different from the rest of us in thinking that we were normal parents.
The men and women who I met told me : “I wasn’t left with any large, visible scars or bruises. The physical violence and abusive language I experienced for many years, the mental control, the sexual abuse, the negation of my individuality, and the neglect, aren’t visible, but they leave major scars which don’t go away. It’s hard to take, but other people can’t see this pain.” They suffer depression, self-harm, dissociation, panic attacks, PTSD, and other ailments, but one cannot see these injuries unless one actively looks for them.
The people in this book do not only feel hatred and resentment toward their parents. There are those who feel anger at themselves, unchangeable sadness, and even question whether they must forgive their parents as they desperately keep themselves alive. So we can see that the ones who tormented them were not just their parents but other adults in society as well.

— Miki Hasegawa

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Hiroshima Graph -Rabbits abandon their children-

71 years have passed since the last World War— since Hiroshima was bombed. The last vestiges of war have faded from the landscape, and 'hibakusha,' victims of the bombing are decreasing, left to tell the story of its bitter aftermath. I began a project called "Hiroshima Graf" to capture on film the memory of the dread the city felt in the war's wake; and while researching Hiroshima as well as the history of the war, I stumbled upon Okunoshima.
Okunoshima is a small island, only about 4 kilometers wide and a short distance from Tadanoumi in the city of Takehara, Hiroshima Pref. It gained its reputation as "Rabbit Island" for the immense rabbit population which thrived in the warm climate of the straits after they were released into the wild after the war. A national vacation village was also constructed so that tourists from both home and abroad could enjoy the island as a resort destination, and camp and swim in the ocean.
But its quaint exterior belies a deadly truth: Okunoshima is also known as "Poison Gas Island" for the role it played in producing poisonous gases after the first World War, a legacy left behind in the empty husks of the factories peppering the island. Here, chemical weaponry was manufactured from the second Sino-Japanese War all through World War 2. The laborers who worked here, some 6,700 people in total, suffered the effects of their work long after the war was through, much like the people who experienced the atomic bomb first-hand. Many still struggle with guilt for their complicity in the deaths of countless others.
The school curriculum that harped on peace education to the point of tedium up until this point had never presented me the opportunity to learn of the dark underbelly of the island's history. Life in Hiroshima showed me only a landscape damaged by the war, where we kept the ambiguous word known only as "peace" close to our hearts in a city known only for surviving the atomic bomb. In contrast, this tiny island in Hiroshima quietly harbored a history of wrongdoing.
It's important to understand the extent of the damage the island faced, yet to use it as yet another appeal for peace would ring only as a hollow platitude. So what better narrator to the horrors of war but a victim of its poisonous legacy; the factories themselves where the gas was produced. Nothing can convey its disasters quite so profoundly, and hopefully my photographs can act as the impetus to their reveal.
However, the relationship between Okunoshima and war goes back even further to the Russo-Japanese war, when it was outfitted with several forts to safeguard the then-military establishment of Kure.
After the war, the Japanese military complex found itself lagging behind other countries in the race to develop poisonous gases, so they had their scientists in Tokyo redouble their efforts, and established Okunoshima as the base of their mass-production operations. At its peak production in 1941, they facility produced more than than 1600 tons of chemicals, each named after a different color depending on effect: yellow, brown, red, and green, specifically.
The existence of the island itself was kept strictly confidential, and maps produced for public use in 1938 showed only a void where Okunoshima should have been. Many people came from the other side of the island to work at the factory, but they were sworn not to tell anyone of their work. People who caught the eye of the island locals were accused of being spies, and the train to Kure which ran along the coast would shutter its windows when crossing in sight of the island. In short, there was a very tight leash on any information about the island at all.
In addition to all of this, the factory also produced ammunition for American troops during the Korean War, so it has had a long history with warfare.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government mostly denies that it ever used poisonous gas on foreign soil; in fact, they've refused to support the island in any way, choosing instead to draw a curtain over their negative attributes in this regard. Once they finally succumb to the elements, the relics of war that remain here now will be lost to the ages. There are 2,000 people alive today who were once laborers on the island, and at this point, many of them who worked directly with poison gas are over 90 years old. We're running out of time to collect their first-hand accounts; however, we owe it to our future generations to tell their stories. As a photographer who hails from Hiroshima, I can only hope that my photos can serve to pass on the truth.

—Yoshikatsu Fujii

Red String

I received a text message. "Today, our divorce was finalized." The message from my mother was written simply, even though she usually sends me messages with many pictures and symbols.
I remember that I didn't feel any particular emotion, except that the time had come.
Because my parents continued to live apart in the same house for a long time, their relationship gently came to an end over the years. It was no wonder that a draft blowing between the two could completely break the family at any time.
In Japan, legend has it that a man and woman who are predestined to meet have been tied at the little finger by an invisible red string since the time they were born.
Unfortunately, the red string tying my parents together came undone, broke, or perhaps was never even tied to begin with. But if the two had never met, I would never have been born into this world. If anything, you might say that there is an unbreakable red string of fate between parent and child.
Before long, I found myself thinking about the relationship between my parents and I. How many days could I see my parents living far away? What if I couldn't see them anymore? Since I couldn't help feeling extremely anxious about it, I was driven to visit my parents' house many times.
Every day I engage in awkward conversation with my parents, as if in a scene in their daily lives. I adapt myself to them, and they shift their attitude toward me. We do not give way entirely to the other side, but rather meet halfway.
Indeed family problems remain unresolved, although sometimes we tell allegorical stories and share feelings. It means a lot to us that our perspectives have changed with communication.
My family will probably never be all together again. But I feel without a doubt that there is proof inside of each of us that we once lived together. To ensure that the red string that ties my family together does not come undone, I want to reel it in and tie it tight.

—Yoshikatsu Fujii