day-to-day life in Naraha, FukushimaPosted: 03/03/2012
Tatsuki Masaru’s Tohoku won the Kimura Ihei award a couple of weeks ago. Good for whoever made the decision, for an award that in recent years has usually gone to something a lot prettier and less interesting. Tohoku is one of the best of some recent books on the area hit almost a year ago by the big earthquake. Few of the books presenting photographs of its aftermath have been particularly interesting, but there’s also been a subgenre of books showing what has been lost: last year, Onaka Kōji’s pleasant if overpriced Umimachi (signed copies here, sample photos visible and for sale here), probably others that I haven’t noticed, and recently Ichikawa Katsuhiro’s Fukushima.
Here’s Fukushima together with some books of quite unrelated subject matter: Koga Eriko’s Asakusa Zenzai and Arif Aşçı’s İstanbul Panorama to get an idea of the size, and Dodo Arata’s Taigan, which today also serves as paperweight (but deserves better).
“Fukushima” here means one part of Fukushima Prefecture: Naraha, on the east coast. More specifically, it’s the immediate area of the farmhouse of the photographer’s in-laws. The photographs were taken from 1998 to 2006. We infer that his wife’s mother continued farming throughout; her husband died in 2000.
The area is less than 5 km from Fukushima’s second nuclear power plant, and less than 20 km from the ruined first one; it therefore falls within the exclusion zone for the latter. So the farmhouse, land and livestock have all been abandoned since the photographs were taken.
The book’s layout is straightforward. Each page spread has a single photograph occupying the whole of the recto (all the photographs are “landscape”) and its title or short explanation (in both Japanese and English) on the otherwise blank verso. This is refreshing after so many books that break photographs across the gutter (let alone some recent design gimmickry). There are 41 of these spreads.
Here’s the house. (For this and the others below, let your rat linger over the photo to read the caption, which I’ve copied from the verso opposite.)
And the garden:
And the farm:
The bus is taking workers to or from the local nuclear power station.
By now the bull will be either dead or feeding itself from whatever irradiated vegetation it can find.
There are peaceful scenes too:
The next one silhouettes a spider:
Aside from the not-so-occasional earthquake and the occasional nuclear disaster, it’s not a place that’s all that eventful — beyond seasons, births and deaths. Accordingly, it’s a peaceful book, of course now with considerably added poignancy. It’s a portrait of rural life — though the photographer keeps his distance. (I seldom see new examples of an earlier tradition of closer approach by the photographer to the muck of farming.)
The book is edited by the two people who run the alarmingly named “Cawaii Factory”, which publishes it under the brand name of “True Ring”. (Kawaii means “cute”, in the sense of “having an infantile appeal”. It’s the appropriate word for kittens, puppies, earrings, starlets, a boyfriend’s elaborately constructed hairstyle, etc.) It’s not just the name: we learn (somewhere on its website) that Cawaii Factory operates with the motto of “cutie and beauty” (カワイイファクトリーはキューティ・アンド・ビューティをモットーに活動する). But luckily the book is not kawaii. Indeed, its design is good, going beyond good functional design with its clever endpapers, reminiscent of the paper backing for a roll of 120 film, as used by Ichikawa’s Plaubel Makina.
One of the two Cawaii Factory people provides a preface, and perhaps it’s one of them who interviews Ichikawa in the back, where there’s also a dense table of contents (which really only serves to tell the year when each photograph was taken), and a potted bio of the photographer (b. 1955, worked under Sakata Eiichirō for six years, etc). All of this material is in both Japanese and English (and the English translation, by Umemiya Noriko, is excellent).
The book was printed by Sakamoto Printing, at Kōriyama, Fukushima. It was bound by Shinnihonshikou, at Sendai. The binding seems good: although the paper cover is glued on, the pages seem to be in gatherings. I’d very much like to praise the printing too; however, the colours are often odd. (As just two examples, “Tool shed and paulownia tree” above is too blue and “Hazakake” too red — for my taste, at least.) Possibly this results from design decisions, but I doubt it. More likely the printing company and technology are up to the job, but somebody didn’t check quite stringently enough. (Fear not, it doesn’t approach any kitschy extreme.)
Ichikawa doesn’t seem to have a website, but there’s a page about him at an organization called Smileworkout (and a copy here). His earlier publications, none of which I’ve seen, include エゴ ノ キ = Ego no ki (1994, pictured here) and Goma (2008, pictured here).
Copyright of most of the images above belongs to Ichikawa Katsuhiro; I don’t own the copyright of any of them.