Jesse’s Book Review – INORI by YU FUJIOKA

Recently wrapped an artist residency in Kagawa, Japan’s smallest prefecture based in Shikoku. Perhaps most notable for the art island Naoshima (and that damn pumpkin everyone photographs), the prefecture makes up the northern area of Shikoku along the inland sea. In contrast to its famous island attraction, the whole of Shikoku is rather down to earth. Enter photographer, Yu Fujioka’s photo book Inori capturing his local town of Nio-cho and their declining autumn matsuri (festival).

The area is notoriously short of rainfall making wheat (not rice) a main crop, something unique to the country accounting for why udon is the most famous dish of the area. With that there is a more known matsuri, the Nio Dragon festival, in which a 3 ton dragon is carried in prayer for rain. People from all over the region come for that but the one photographed here is a bit more conventional, yet cherished more by the locals. The Dragon festival that started in 1799 was discontinued at some point before it was resumed in 1988. So the less popular autumn matsuri is at a similar tipping point. A point I will get into a bit later here…

But the photos! Fujioka San runs the family photo studio (Yatastudio) in the village the festival is held in, so naturally there is an ease…a familiarity that stands out. This allows him to maneuver between sincere portraits and become invisible during candid ones. Which is interesting because from a foreigner’s perspective, it really is only foreign photographers making work from these sorts of festivals (held at most areas of Tokyo) where there is either distance or guard that can be detected in the images.

We do get a lot of zines of festivals shot by foreigners and have been to quite a few shows but rarely a Japanese photographer as any sort of statement. Off the top I can only recall Kai Keijiro who did a rather dangerous fire festival in medium format called “Wounded Bears” that was a part of a series were he did a UK festival “Shrove Tuesday”  the continuity of which was more the statement then a specific festival. But the statement or perhaps unconscious intent overwhelming skews wayward to exoticness which with this leads us back to the refreshing familiarity he shoots with from the children to the elderly of the festival.

But what I appreciate the most is the purpose he shot it with.  As with all over Japan outside of Tokyo, population decline certainly is a factor. But a lot like the local beach that was recently revitalized due to volunteers cleaning it up the area in general is going through a noticeable revitalization.

However of late and really the only quote Yu san gave me about the book was the sentiment that, “we protect traditions that are convenient, but we do not protect traditions that are inconvenient.” I really loved the sentiment coupled with the overall joy in the atmosphere. He went on to say tradition shouldn’t be easy as it becomes something else. Over the years dates change, short cuts are taking and inevitably it all loses its point on the way to become something else. It is with this he sought to preserve the beauty in the purity of the festival. Certainly a novel point to shoot a festival and make a book out of.

From there the festival is shot perfectly. The chronology of which is in tact if you have ever participated in one and that is morning drinking, then carrying the shrine, lunch drinking, then carrying the shrine, and finally night drinking haha. And threw it all he mixes well portraits, the movement of the festival, off cuff moments while utilizing any and all compositional elements one would use. The lines of the shrine itself, bodies and extremities to create unique compositions and all the quiet moments between.

Inori can be purchased directly from his Photo studio website here or Amazon Japan here for 4,400 yen or just under 30 USD.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

For other book reviews click here.
-JF