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Takachiho Shrine, Miyazaki

In spring, while on assignment in Kyushu, I spent a couple of days in Takachiho which is famous for its gorge, and the kagura performances.

Another notable site is the Takachiho Shrine which is hidden in amongst many giant cedars.

Honda S660 at the torii gate of Takachiho Shrine, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan

As a Shinto shrine, the entrance is marked by a giant torii gate. There are komainu guardians, flanking the steps to the main shrine buidling, and another sacred komainu housed inside.

Guardian statue at Takachiho Shrine
Ema prayer tablet showing cedar trees at Takachiho Shrine

Ema, prayer tablets, that are unique to the shrine, can be purchased to write your hope and dreams. Omikuji, fortune papers, tell what your future holds. These are sold in the little shrine shop manned by the miko (巫女), shrine maidens, who are dressed in red and white.

Takachiho Shrine at dusk.

As I was visiting officially, I was able to ask the staff if I could take a photograph of one of the miko in front of the shrine. This is not something I’d usually be able to do, so a huge thank you to the staff of the shrine for being so friendly and accommodating.

A miko (巫女), or shrine maiden at Takachiho Shrine

All pics taken with the Sony A7RIV and the FE 24-105 f4 lens which is a great combination for travel photography when you need one lens for many different situations.

Takachiho Gorge, Miyazaki, Kyushu

Takachiho Gorge ( 高千穂峡, Takachiho-kyō ) is a small but very pretty gorge in Miyazaki Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu. The sides of the gorge are made of basalt columns, one reminder of the areas volcanic history.

Another indicator of vulcanism is the giant boulder Kihachi-no-chikarashi which could be have been ejected by a volcano, or if you ask the locals, was thrown by the demon Kihachi.

Kihachi-no-chikarashi Rock a 200 Ton stone thrown by a demon Kihachi. Takachiho Gorge, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan

Tourists can rent rowing boats and explore the gorge from the river.

Takachiho Gorge, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan

Kagura – Takachiho

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.

Fujisaki-san, a master of Kagura the Shinto ritual performance telling the stories of the gods. Wearing the white mask to perform The Dance of Tajikarao. Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan

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.

Fujisaki-san, a master of Kagura in Takachiho, Kyushu, Japan

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.  

Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 Miyazaki, Kyushu

Udo Shrine is located around 40 kilometers south of Miyazaki City, in Kyushu.

 

Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.
Udo Shrine 鵜戸神宮 (Udo-jingu), Nichinan, Miyazaki, Japan. A cliffside Shinto shrine, a nationally desginated place of scenic beauty. Well known for connections to fertility.

The Beauty of Bise

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.

2021 Highlights

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 10th dan Shorin-Ryu Karate

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.

Okinawan Spirit – 沖縄の心 

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.

KARATE NEWS!

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.

You can read all the details about this service here: Karate Streaming

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.

Norihiko Masuda Okinawa Goju-ryu Karatedo Kyokai

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.

Norihiko Masuda Okinawa Goju-ryu Karatedo Kyokai Kyoshi 7th dan JKF Goju kai Technical committee member. Photographed July 25th 2021 for Karate Masters Portrait Project in Onoyama Park, Naha City, Okinawa.

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.

Norihiko Masuda Okinawa Goju-ryu Karatedo Kyokai Kyoshi 7th dan JKF Goju kai Technical committee member. Photographed July 25th 2021 for Karate Masters Portrait Project at the Budokan, Naha City, Okinawa.

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.

Sorting through gear and switching lenses as Uezato-san interviews Masuda Sensei.

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.

Norihiko Masuda Okinawa Goju-ryu Karatedo Kyokai Kyoshi 7th dan JKF Goju kai Technical committee member. Photographed July 25th 2021 for Karate Masters Portrait Project in Naha City, Okinawa.

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.

Norihiko Masuda Okinawa Goju-ryu Karatedo Kyokai Kyoshi 7th dan JKF Goju kai Technical committee member. Photographed July 25th 2021 for Karate Masters Portrait Project in Naha City, Okinawa.
Norihiko Masuda Okinawa Goju-ryu Karatedo Kyokai Kyoshi 7th dan JKF Goju kai Technical committee member. Photographed July 25th 2021 for Karate Masters Portrait Project in Naha City, Okinawa.

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.