In search of quiet corners and the old ways

Quiet corners of the Tanzawa Quasi National Park. The lure of the mountains has been strong in 2020. Following a quiet spell during the national emergency in late spring, the major hiking paths have been busy. But it’s the minor paths, deeper in the mountains that have been calling me. I’ve spent a long time researching the way of life for mountain people of old, and the location of old communities, mines and trade routes in Tanzawa – the remnants of which still to be found. Such as ancient masonry that once reinforced the paths to carry pack horses loaded with freshly cut planks of wood from long-gone sawmills deep in the hills, or charcoal from the numerous charcoal burners. Also to be found are the ‘yamagami’ shrines to the mountain god that protect travelers at the highest points of these passes – before traffic was diverted along newer, stronger routes. It was generally believed that the mountain god was an ugly old woman, who was easily upset. There are stories of women wearing old rags to visit the shrine – in order to keep the god from becoming jealous of their beauty.

Nikon F3 / ai-s 50mm f1.2 / Ektar 100

Satoyama scenes with a Retinette 1b

These were all taken on an old Kodak Retinette 1b that I bought on ebay. It’s the camera my grandfather owned. Retinettes were the cheaper alternative to the high end Kodak Retina series but quality was not compromised at all. My 1b has a Rodenstock 45mm f2.8 Reomar lens which is very sharp. The fastest shutter speed is 1/500, and since I was using iso 100 film and taking landscapes in the gloomy Japanese rainy season, all these images are taken with a tripod. It’s a zone focusing camera – not an issue for landscapes, but I lost a few images through distance miscalculation. Practice should make – almost – perfect, and I’ll definitely run another roll through it soon.

The ‘dog and onions’ shot stands out for me and was the last on the roll. Ektar 100 isn’t cheap, and I didn’t want to waste film just to get it rewound and sent off to be developed, but I probably would have had the dog not appeared – barking like mad, as if asking for his portrait to be taken.

Kodak Retinette 1b / Ektar 100

The soul of decay

Due to rural depopulation, abandoned spaces are everywhere in the Japanese countryside. Once thriving communities have wilted almost beyond recognition – or been swallowed by urban sprawl. Whilst this is a sad fact of modern life, my eye isn’t drawn towards such scenes to document this. Redundant objects decaying quietly have a secret history that gives them soul and their presence gives places a presence. They are a connection to people who once walked the exact same paths we walk now and a reminder that we are merely temporary guardians.

Nikon F3 / ai-s 50mm f1.2 / Superior 400