The Japan I Grew Up In

· 20.September.2017

To some people, Japan is a land of tradition, shrines and temples. To others it’s a land of bullet-trains, high-tech toilets and vending machines on every corner. To most, however, Japan is an exotic mix of both, and the frequent juxtaposition of 1000 year old temples next to high speed trains draws countless people to marvel at how oddly foreign it is. But for the last 3 years, and for the rest of my life, Japan is just… Home.

I was born in Chicago, but spent my childhood largely disinterested and apathetic to my surroundings. When I applied for colleges in 2014, I followed my gut and applied for an international college in Japan, the only place on this planet I showed any interest in. A few months later I was there. I could read but not speak and was in many ways forced to turn my long-held apathy into something creative. That thing was mountaineering. Mountaineering turned into passion for travelling to the most obscure corners of Japan, a passion to search high and low for beautiful places I could selfishly keep to myself. When I found those places, I would spend hours taking snapshots on an old point-and-shoot I bought years before, sometimes going back to the same place because I wasn’t happy with the photos themselves.

One rainy afternoon in April 2016, I stumbled into the BIC Camera in Kagoshima Central Station. There I screwed around with cameras to kill time, and stumbled across the X-T1. At that time, I understood shutter speeds, aperture and ISO, but navigating the dials on DSLRs felt so counterintuitive to me that I wholeheartedly considered sticking with my cheap point-and-shoot camera. Like many people, when I held a Fujifilm camera the first time… it just clicked. A month later I was lucky enough to get my own, and since that day I’ve never left my house without a camera in hand.

Whether it’s vibrant and saturated, or the muted and calm, I believe the beauty of Japan is best appreciated in color. Unfortunately, when I started post processing my images from my point-and-shoot camera, color was so intimidating to me that I decided only to take my snapshots in black-and-white. If it weren’t for the film-simulations on the X-T1, I would have stayed that way. Classic Chrome was my go-to when I went for walks after class in Tokyo, and Velvia took the wheel whenever I left the city. The film-simulations took away the last thing I felt intimidated with in photography, and dare I even say changed how I photograph.

One of my favourite things to do in Japan (that my girlfriend loathes) is long-distance walking. On a given day off I’ll walk for 9-10 hours, and I’m planning a 100 kilometre walk from Kagoshima Station to Cape Sata for December. Not once, whether slung across my shoulder or in my hand, has my camera ever gotten in the way. My inspiration for photographs comes from having a general lack of direction, and it’s reassuring knowing my camera can handle whatever conditions I can throw at it.

I know it sounds a bit dramatic, but Japan gave me a passion for life, and my Fujifilm camera gave me the ability to capture it under any circumstances. When I look at my own work, I see the warm familiarity that Japan is to me. Some of these photo take me back to that day, and I remember every detail from start-to-finish. They may not leave an impression on everybody, but to me there the most vivid reminder to myself that I’ve come a long way, and that I have a lot to be happy about.