The story came out "forgotten Japan"

2010.10.06 Wednesday



Japanese photographer celebrates "forgotten Japan"

FEATURE: Japanese photographer celebrates "forgotten Japan"

By Takehiko Kambayashi, dpa

   Onomichi, Japan (dpa) - In 2004, photographer Noriko Nakamoto 

became enchanted by the serene atmosphere of the once-prosperous port 

city of Onomichi and started to document what she calls the

"forgotten Japan."

   Disillusioned with relationships and burnt out from working in an

urban centre, Nakamoto, 34, decided to move to this western Japanese

city and spent more than five years capturing images of its scenery,

old temples, fish peddlers, homely eateries and ramshackle dwellings

on steep slopes.

   While Onomichi, which includes several small islands in the Seto

Inland Sea, is unknown even to many Japanese, visitors can cherish

good old Japan and take stock of their lives, she says.

   "Many people in Japan have forgotten what is really important in

life," Nakamoto says.

   Nakamoto, who has seldom worked for celebrities or big

corporations, focused her work on the daily lives of the locals and

their city, until she was almost broke and could no longer pay her

rent. But her experience enriched her life, she says.

   Onomichi is "like a treasure trove. I've been digging here for

five years and am still able to find what I think is treasure," she

says. "Unlike grey uniformity in neighbouring industrial cities,

Onomichi can provide different perspectives and rhythms. I've been

thrilled by the city's surroundings and different culture."

   The city, however, is located in one of the most conservative

regions in this unapologetically male-dominated country. Locals often

ask Nakamoto about her age and marital status rather than about her


   "I'm used to it," she says, beaming.

   In her teens, Nakamoto was often considered "different" among her

peers in a society which prizes conformity. While many students were

keen to meet the pressure to excel, she was reluctant to go to

school, but loved to draw pictures, write poems and read books and


   Today, Nakamoto has taught photography to physically challenged

people and been an instructor for more than 100 locals.

   Kazuyoshi Inukai, a hospital worker, is one of her students.

   "Nobody had ever commended my photos. But she did from day one. I

was so delighted," he says. "She also impressed me when she said,

'There is no answer in photography because everyone has different


   Kohei Oi, another student, now does some freelance photography for

a major daily.

   "I used to walk with my head down, but after I started to take

photos, I often look at the sky," Oi, a college student, says. "I

also see things more carefully when taking photos."

   Another draw are the people populating Onomichi, many of them

reminiscent of characters out of a movie, Nakamoto says.

   One of them, she says, is Koki Yamane, an energetic local business

leader who runs eight Japanese-style pubs in the region.

   Yamane says he wants to create more job opportunities so that

young people won't have to leave.

   "After travelling around the country, I came to believe Onomichi

is a really good place to live," he says. "This place has strong ties

among its people. Business owners here not only seek profits but also

think of this community as a whole."

   Like many other parts of Japan, Onomichi has to deal with the

effects of its greying population. For example, its hillsides are

dotted with an increasing number of vacant properties. More older

people have been moving out of the area as they find it difficult to

climb the slopes every day.

   Moreover, as Japan's decades-long economic downturn has hit its

provinces especially hard, more people have abandoned their hometowns

to seek work in a big city.


  "Many people have forgotten what their hometown has given them,"

Nakamoto says.

dpa tk im cd

Author: Takehiko Kambayashi

060402 GMT Okt 10