travel photographer

Revisiting Japan, an old home

I’m thinking about Japan this week: craving miso, kombu, persimmon. I grew up in Idaho, and consider it my home, but spent two of my teenage years in Northern Japan. So, Japan is my home, too. Just like Maine is my home; and Montana, where I went to college. The prefecture where my family spent those years is be the home of Aomori, the sister city of my now-home in Maine. They have similar climates and geography: rocky coastlines, thick forests, economies shaped by fishing, and long winters. It’s where I first started practicing photography in a dedicated way, the first time I learned to love a new home, the first time I saw winter surfers. I haven’t been back to Aomori since leaving in 2003, but last December I was able to revisit Southern Japan with chef/artist/guide Kaia Sisu Harper to document Japan’s plant-based food systems.

During our time together , we met Ten, a Buddhist monk, photographed at Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto. A year later, he is now the head priest of the Ensho-Ji Temple in Tokyo. Last December, Ten showed me and a small group of other travelers around Nanzen-ji, taking us to hidden rooms with gold painted ceilings and quiet halls that smelled like incense. He introduced us to the concept of “goen,” a word that is close to the English word "fate" or "connected-ness," used when some random occurrence(s) seem to have happened by reason, or was meant to happen. With the help of Toshi Iwaki, I asked Ten if he had any messages he’d like me to know about or share. He wrote, “"声無き想いを伝える、受ける。この縁に毎度感無量です.” Not easily translated, the text breaks down as:

声無き = [adj.] voiceless, soundless
想い = [n.] thoughts, ideas, intentions 
伝える = [v.] to tell, to transmit
受ける = [v.] to receive
この = [adj.] this
縁 = [n.] goen; connection, fate
毎度 = [adj.] every time
感無量 = [adj.] fulfilled, deeply moved
です = [v.] to be

Not easily simplified, the phrase can mean:
(1) Having the opportunity to communicate thoughts without voice; it is my source of fulfillment. (2) Every opportunity to exchange thoughts without talking; it is what fulfills me.
(3) Communicating voiceless thoughts.  These opportunities are my source of fulfillment. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Toshi, who was with us in the temple that day, and kind enough to help me translate, told me, “My interpretation of his words is that your thoughts (mind/intention) change into something else as soon as you put them into words (or, as soon as you speak). 

All images © Greta Rybus