Photoji Project: Naruko, Japan 2010 – 2011
Photoji Project is writer Gabriel DellaVecchia, interviewer/coordinator Makie Dellavecchia, interviewer/community liaison Takaharu Saito, and photographers Maki Otomo and myself. As a group, through separate trips, we documented the historically important onsen hot spring town of Naruko in the Tohoku region of Northern Japan through interviews and photographs. The beginning focus of this exploration (in August of 2010) was on the fading traditional Japanese culture that the town’s economy once relied upon. These traditions included the age-old practice of toji – the traditional method of healing by bathing in the medicinal hot spring waters. The tradition of kochechi doll makers and tea ceremonies were also recorded.
Soon after this first exploration in Naruko, the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the northeast on March 11th, 2011. This historic event changed the fading Naruko town, home to hundreds of usually empty hotel rooms, into a refuge for 1000 tsunami victims, relocated there by the government. The ritual of toji, staying in a onsen town for an extended period in order to heal, took on an entirely new meaning. Photoji Project returned to Naruko in May and June 2011, nearly one year after the original visit, to document how the town with the fading economy was coming back alive by becoming a safe haven for hundreds of families.
The photographs and stories were shared in a series of exhibits entitled Vanishing Point in Naruko, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Proceeds from the sales of images in these exhibits went directly to the survivors of the Earthquake in Naruko.