Melancholy of the past | Chugoku

Kurashiki. Photo: © Roland Hagenberg

What would you think of a region that is rough, torn and windswept at its edges? Where fishermen dry their catch on balconies 1,000 kilometers away from Tokyo? With islands that were once the backbone of the country’s industrial pride, but where weed and rust took over? And most of all, with a city forever engraved in the collective memory of humankind – Hiroshima? Despite of its unpolished and tragic appearance – or because of it, Chugoku has always been – and still is – attracting Japan’s creative minds.

Daido Moriyama. Photo: © Roland Hagenberg

Like legendary photographer Daido Moriyama who visited Kojima to document its harbor flair – now a shadow of its once mighty textile producing past. “I guess, the distance to Tokyo, the abundance of affordable studio space, the absence of any pressure – all that pushes you forward as an artist to find your true self,” says Yutaka Akahoshi, who gave up Tokyo years ago. As a writer and curator, he now works with local artists in and around Kurashiki, initiates projects like the one with Moriyama. “I named my company Asian Beehive, because I see my art activities buzzing like bees or a busy Asian megacity. In the countryside, this sounds like I miss Tokyo, but believe me, I prefer it here.”

Kurashiki. Photo: © Roland Hagenberg

Akahoshi’s “here” means traditional townhouses, wood structures and stonewalls from a bygone era where the unexpected amazes. One hundred years ago local artist Torajiro Kojima set out for Europe to meet Matisse and Monet. He not only bought their paintings but also hundreds of masterpieces from contemporaries like Gaugin, Cezanne, Monet, and Kandinsky – on permanent view at Kurashiki’s Ohara Museum of Art.

Ohara Museum. Photo: © Roland Hagenberg

Whereas Kojima longed for faraway worlds, another Chugoku artist preferred to stay home. Born 1931, 32 years after Kojima, Shoji Ueda remained faithful all his life to his childhood’s sand dunes. They line Tottori prefecture’s shores – and served as perfect backdrops for Ueda’s surrealistic black and white photographs. He loved to arrange people in theatrical poses like vases or statues in his Totori moonscape, and when there were no models at hand he just settled for an old television set. Looking at Daido Moriyama’s work one can find traces of Ueda’s sand-dune-melancholy. In 1995 a museum was established in his name in Kishimoto (Shoji Ueda Museum of Photography). The masterpieces on view provide ample insight into Chugoku’s soul.

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