Fujisaki-san is a master of Kagura, the Shinto ritual performance that tells the stories of their gods. While in Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture, I had the chance to meet up with him, and photograph several of his performances.
Local legend is that Amaterasu Omikami, the goddess of the sun, once hid in a cave, plunging the world into darkness. The other gods worked together to bring her out of the cave, and bring back the light.
First Fujisaki-san performed the Uzume Dance in which he portrays the goddess Ame no Uzume who danced outside the cave to entice Amaterasu Omikami out.
Dressed as the god Tajikarao, and wearing a white scowling mask, Fujisaki-san then performed The Dance of Tajikarao. In the myth this is when the god Tajikarao searches for the cave.
The third performance was the Totori Dance. Fujisaki-san is still the god Tajikaro, but wearing a red mask. In the first pic, the straining red-faced Tajikarao removes the giant stone that closed the cave.
After shooting inside Fujisaki-san’s home, I wanted to get a few shots in the forest next to his house.
A huge thank you to Fujisaki-san and his family for letting me visit their home and take photographs. Thank you also to Aoi Hidaka for guiding me around Takachiho and her introductions, and to Kyushu Tourism for all their assistance.
Images shot with the Sony A7RIVa with the Sony FE 24-105mm. For some images I used the Profoto B1 with the shoot through umbrella for flash.
Last week, Yuki and I photographed a lovely young lady in an elegant kimono amongst the fukugi trees of Bise Village. For a few hours I had to stop checking the news on my phone, and just focus on sharing the beauty and culture of Okinawa.
My heart goes out to all those suffering around the world, the horrors of the pandemic and war have claimed the lives of so many. It is hard not to feel overwhelmed by the bleakness of the last few years, but I try to remember all the good and positive things in the world.
The Okinawan people went through almost unimaginable suffering during the Second World War. When I talk to those that survived, I am always struck by their love of life, and the joy they have for their family, friends and culture.
I’ll continue to stay up to date with the news, but I’ll also do my best to be grateful for all that I have, and optimistic about the future for everyone in this global community.
Thank you to Jesika for modeling the kimono, and to Yuki for styling and assisting. Also, thank you to Bise Village for giving us location permission to shoot.
Another challenging year, but we were able to focus on the positives, and look to the future. Here are a few highlights.
In March, I released the documentary I made about Murata-san and his amazing Toyota 2000GT, a unicorn in the automotive world.
The Karate Masters Portrait Project continued, and we completed Season 1 of the documentary series Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate.
2021 was also the first time local media contacted James Pankiewicz and I about our goals to document Okinawa’s martial arts heritage. The Ryukyu Shimpo interviewed us for their website and discussed the project on their podcast. https://ryukyushimpo.jp/news/entry-1439603.html…
In October, I was part of a BeOkinawa campaign to help promote tourism to Okinawa. It was interesting to be on the other side of the camera, and to work with a team of people who are also passionate about the Ryukyu Islands.
In November, I had the amazing opportunity to record Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.
Meanwhile we’ve been making some preparations for 2022, with the construction of a retaining wall and the leveling of land. Jasmine was so excited by the diggers, she convinced us that she needed her own.
Much to Jasmine’s excitement, Christmas finally arrived, and the three of us enjoyed the holidays surrounded by cake, teddy bears, and dinosaurs.
I hope 2022 is a much better year for everyone. I know many people around the world are waiting to come back to Okinawa, and likewise hopefully we’ll visit the UK. Jasmine already has plans to show Gran and Grandpa her newly acquired digger skills .
Morinobu Maeshiro, 真栄城 守信 is 10th dan in Shorin-ryu Karate, and an Intangible Cultural Asset Holder in the Field of Okinawan Karate and Martial Arts with Weaponry. I photographed him for the first time at the Budokan in 2014, but I was pleased to be able to photograph him again in 2021, this time at his dojo in Naha City.
After taking some new portraits, we set up the cameras and recorded a 45-minute interview with him discussing his life spent studying karate, his teachers, and his own philosophies. This will become Episode 1 of Series Two of Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate.
After the interview, we then streamed an online seminar which was watched live by his students around the world. The seminar was also recorded and will be available on Bujin.TV from mid-December.
You can learn more about the portrait project and the documentary series by clicking on the “Karate” tab on this blog, or by following this link.
Thank you so much to Maeshiro Sensei for his time, and to Nicolás Pérez for setting up the shoot, interview, and seminar.
The Chris Willson Photography YouTube channel is going to be rebranded as Okinawan Spirit – 沖縄の心 . The new title better represents the contents of the channel, and where I want to take it in the future, sharing the beauty of Okinawa and its unique culture.
This channel is where you can find the Sensei:Masters of Okinawa Karate documentary series, the pilot episode Drive Okinawa a series about the owners of classic Japanese cars in Okinawa, and various other mini movies about life in these beautiful Ryukyu Islands.
We have a couple of big announcements regarding karate in Okinawa.
Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate SERIES TWO coming in 2022
After the extremely positive feedback we got about the first series of our documentary about Okinawan karate, we are going to make a second series that will be released in 2022.
You can read all the details about series one, our future plans, and fundraising here: Sensei Documentary
The next big news is that we are going to be offering a streaming service for karate seminars in Okinawa. This will be organized, hosted, and interpreted by James Pankiewicz of Bujin.tv with the filming and streaming provided by Chris Willson and Yuki Willson of TRAVEL67.com. We’ve created a great way to help reconnect Okinawan karate masters with their students around the world. Our experience with videography allows us to provide audio and visual quality far superior than a simple webcam.
Of course we’re still continuing to document Okinawa’s martial arts sensei for the Karate Masters Portrait Project. As the global pandemic eases we are excited about visiting the dojos of masters that we have not yet photographed, particularly on Okinawa’s outer islands.
In July, I photographed kata champion, and Goju-ryu master, Norihiko Masuda. We started the shoot at 7AM in Onoyama Park in Naha City. There were very few other people around, but we did have one extra person joining us. Uezato-san from the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper came along to take some behind the scenes pics of our shoot, and interview both us and Masuda Sensei about the Karate Masters Portrait Project.
After taking some environmental portraits near the Onoyama Park shrine, and the torii gate, we took a few extra shots at the entrance to the Budokan (martial arts hall) where Masuda has won many competitions.
This was the first shoot I’d done with the new Sony A7RIV camera, and I used the 24mm f1.4 lens and the 50mm f1.2 lens. (Thank you to Uetsuki-san at Kitamura Camera Chatan branch for helping me trade in several of my Pentax lenses for the new Sony 50mm.) Off camera flash was done with the Profoto B1 strobe.
It was good to hear Masuda Sensei telling Uezato-san how valuable he believes our portrait project and video series are. Masuda Sensei is going to assist in introducing us to some of the Goju-ryu masters we have not yet had the opportunity to photograph.
After the outdoors shoot we went over the Aragaki Dojo in Omoromachi to take the studio portraits of Masuda Sensei. Shot with the A7RIV and the 50mm lens.
One big advantage of using the Sony system is that I was able to quickly switch from shooting stills to recording some video footage of Masuda Sensei with the same camera.
A huge thank you to Masuda Sensei. The article for the Ryukyu Shimpo website / newspaper will hopefully appear sometime in August.
For many years I shot exclusively with the Pentax 67ii medium format film camera system. When the Pentax 645D digital medium format camera arrived I switched to shooting digital, and I’ve shot stills with the 645D and 645Z until now. The 645Z remains one of the best cameras for portrait photography.
A few years ago I also began shooting video. I started with the Sony A7Sii and then as things progressed with the Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate series I purchased a used Sony FS5 cinema camera. As the documentary series has continued I’ve had to purchase more Sony lenses, and in the near future will need to update both the Sony bodies to the latest models.
数年前、私はビデオ撮影も始めました。最初はソニーのA7Siiを使っていましたが、「SENSEI: MASTERS OF OKINAWAN KARATE」シリーズの制作が進むにつれ、中古のソニーFS5シネマカメラを購入しました。 ドキュメンタリーシリーズを続けていくうちに、ソニーのレンズをさらに購入しなければならなくなり、近い将来、ソニーのボディを両方とも最新モデルに更新する必要があります。
Having two completely separate systems for photography and video has created its own set of challenges in terms of storage, cost, and ultimately how much gear I can physically carry when going on a shoot.
Maybe in my 20’s I could carry a full rucksack, plus pelican cases, tripods, and lights, but I’m definitely going to struggle now.
I have to choose a system that will cover both professional videography and professional photography, and the best option for me moving forward will be to switch my digital stills cameras over to Sony.
The result is that I’m going to be selling all my Pentax digital gear ( I will still be keeping my Pentax 67ii and the K1000) and reinvesting the money in a high resolution Sony cameras for stills (A7RIV) and a couple of Sony lenses.
If you’re interested in purchasing either the Pentax 645Z system or the Pentax K1 system please get in touch. Ideally the buyer would be in Okinawa, Japan would be okay, and I’d ship overseas in certain circumstances.
Pentax 645Z with 90mm, 55mm, 35mm, 300mm, 135LSmm ¥700,000
Pentax K1 ¥100,000 Pentax 24-70 2.8 ¥100,000
Pentax K3 ¥40,000 Pentax 35mm f2 ¥20,000
I’ve been really happy shooting with the Pentax digital system for the last decade, and for photographers the 645Z and K1 are fantastic. It has been an honor to have had my photograph exhibited numerous times at the Pentax Imaging Forum in Shinjuku. I’ll continue to be a Pentaxian with my Pentax 67 film camera, but hopefully when I’m out shooting both digital stills and video, my camera bags will be a much lighter using just one system.
Episode #11 of the Sensei: Masters of Okinawa Karate Series has just been uploaded to YouTube and will be also available on Bujin.tv in the near future.
Toshihiro Oshiro is 9th-dan in Shima-Ha Shorin Ryu karate, and 8th dan Yamanni Chinen Ryu Kobujutsu. He learned karate and kobudo in Okinawa, then for several decades taught in the USA. In 2018 he returned to Okinawa. In this interview he talks about his life of martial arts, and his analytical interest of body movement. A huge thank you to Oshiro Sensei and his students, both in Okinawa and overseas, especially Kenji Hirai for setting up the interviews and translating.
A huge thank you to all those who have sponsored and supported this series. Without so much help from the international karate community, we would have struggled to film the interviews, and we definitely wouldn’t have been able to archive the bulk of the raw data. A few months ago one of the 24TB (yes TB not GB) drives failed and luckily I’d been able to purchase enough backup drives to have some redundancy in the system, and no karate data was lost.
Making the series has taught me so much about filmmaking, but also about the realities of film production, and distribution.
Episode #12 is going to be with Zenshu Toyama 10th-dan, Goju-ryu Karate 當山 全秋 範士十段 剛柔流空手. We are also working on a special reunion episode between Seikichi Iha Sensei and Koichi Nakasone Sensei, and an interview with iaido master Hamamoto Sensei. So if you haven’t done already, please subscribe to the YouTube channel, and don’t forget to like the videos, comment, and share them.