Nothing had prepared me for my father’s death. He was taken by blood cancer before the family knew he was seriously ill. There was little time to talk, to prepare. We couldn’t even say our last goodbye. One day he was there and the next day there was an empty place in the family. Once he was put to rest it felt like healing was impossible. Our Tokyo family house seemed full of sorrow caused by shock and loss. In my room at night, I expected to hear my father’s voice, I heard only my sister weeping. Sorrow was eating away at my little sister’s mind and body.
Shockingly, more pain was to confront us. Soon after, I suffered injuries to my face and legs in a serious accident. I lost my sense of smell and couldn’t bear to be in public. The situation felt fatal. It felt like death was sitting with me in the darkness, waiting.
Very slowly, the darkness began to recede. The routines of life seemed to resume, and normality assisted with some form of grieving.
Little did we know the next blow, one that was to affect much more of society, was poised over our heads. In the process of returning to our daily lives, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck. Our personal tragedies seemed mirrored in the tragedy of the land and nation itself. Watching the black waves engulf the northern city, houses burning one after another, the people of Japan all felt unimaginable despair, losing all hope in one single moment. Like nightmares appearing one after another, these new realities bruised my body and soul, leaving me feeling as if I had taken a severe beating. With no strength left whatsoever, I found it hard to even get out of bed in the morning.
On one such day, my deceased father came to me in a dream: “Go to this village hidden in deep snow where I lived a long time ago”, my father whispered to me.
I followed my father’s instructions and boarded a train called The Galaxy Express with my camera and no idea where I was heading though I knew why. When I got off the train at a small village in Akita prefecture it was covered in silvery white snow. Mist had settled, making it seem like an otherworldly dream place. In this mystical town an ancient 1300-year-old shrine ritual, dating from the Nara period, was being performed. One after another, people who had gathered from the four local communities of Ohsato, Azukizawa, Nagamine, and Taninai carried out an elegant ancient dance, dedicated to the patron god of the shrine. This festival is called ZAIDO and is said to be based on Danburi-choja (the ‘Dragonfly Millionaire’), an old and largely disappearing legend.
Dedicated to my father.
ZAIDO by STEIDL: https://steidl.de/Books/Zaido-Steidl-Book-Award-Asia-1035404453.html
Born in Tokyo, Yukari Chikura studied music and initially worked as a composer and programmer, before moving to photography. Her work has been published in the New York Times and is held in collections including the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris and the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, Massachusetts. Chikura has been honored at the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards, the International Photography Awards, Critical Mass and the Sony World Photography Awards, among others. In 2015 she was artist in residence at the Mt. Rokko International Photo Festival.