February 26, 13 | Eri Makino
This...this is beautiful!
▲Photograph: Ryoji Iwasaki
When I first saw this picture while doing editorial work for Hokkaido Likers, I was completely taken aback. It was actually taken by one of the Hokkaido Likers Japanese page readers! Just Liking the photo on Facebook wasn't enough to really show how much I enjoyed the picture, so I decided to pay the photographer a visit. After a two and a half hour train ride from Sapporo to Obihiro, the photographer himself came to the Obihiro station to give me a ride back to his home in Nukabira.
His first words to me were, "I can't belive you actually came all the way out here!"
Mr. Ryoji Iwasaki is a photographer who has been taking pictures of the enchanting Taushubetsu Bridge for eight years now.
I was able to learn about his unique life on the hour long drive from Obihiro to Nukabira.
"I feel like I'm still in the middle of my journey"
Born and raised in Saitama Prefecture, one day he decided to go backpacking across Hokkaido and Okinawa.
He spent some time exploring Ishigaki Island in Okinawa, walking the island and learning the Sanshin (an instrument from the Ryuku culture). In Hokkaido he made two circuits around the island on a Yamaha Mate, and earned his way by helping out at inns.
Eight years ago, in 2005, he finally settled down in Kamishihoro town located inside the Nukabira township.
It was then that he first encountered Taushubetsu Bridge.
"I feel like the photographs are an important way to preserve the memory of this bridge, which won't be around forever."
I was surprised to find out that before he took the first photo of the bridge eight years ago, he hadn't had any experience using a camera. He was completely self-taught!
"Before that I had been working at a hotel as a dish washer, also as a postal worker. I worked at a ski rental shop, as a writer, various other jobs...when I look back I guess I've had a lot of different jobs. Basically you can say I'm the fastest dish-washing cameraman in Japan! (Laughs)"
On the way to Nukabira we took a little detour to visit the Tokachi River and see some swans. There are countless sightseeing spots in and around this area.
It's such a beautiful location!
View from an observation hill in Tokachi.
"Today is the warmest day of the year!" Mr. Iwasaki said as he borrowed my winter jacket...
We also made a short stop at Bistro Fuuka, located in the Nukabira.
The married couple that ran the small shop cooked us up some delicious hamburgers. (They've also appeared on the morning Asahi TV program "Paradise of Life")
Nukabira township is famous for its hot spring water quality as well as for its ski slopes so the shop was packed with visitors in town to go skiing.
As the shop owner's wife poured us some coffee she remarked "It's already been eight years that you've been here Ryo-chan? (Mr. Iwasaki's nickname) It's gone by so fast!"
It seems that he worked a part-time shift at the shop when he first arrived in town.
As soon as we had warmed up we set off to Nukabira Lake.
Or so we thought. Just as we were leaving we spotted some deer beneath an awning!
"Ahh!! They're so close!!!"
Mr. Iwasaki explained "This year's snows came so early, and there has been so much of it, that it's hard to find food up in the mountains, so the deer are all over the place."
We stopped at the East Taisetsu Nature Center to rent some long heavy snow boots.
The guide that greeted us was a bit surprised at my visit. "You're doing a piece on Ryo-kun? (Another of Mr. Iwasaki's nicknames.) I can't believe he's finally been able to start taking photographs as a job!" I originally thought that he was surprised that Mr. Iwasaki could make a living as a photographer, but it seems that he was actually referring to the fact that Mr. Iwasaki used to think his photographs weren't very good. (How wrong he was!)
The guide then brought out even more coffee for us to enjoy.
"He's getting pretty popular, huh!" he said.
To which Mr. Iwasaki responded with a shy smile, "Well there are only about 100 people in town..."
After finally making it to Nukabira Lake, Mr. Iwasaki acted as tour guide while I drank in the relaxing atmosphere of the area.
Footprints in the snow from an Ezo Rabbit.。
We finally reached the lake's edge and I noticed an unnatural formation far out on the ice.
It turned out to be an "Ice Mushroom."
"The water levels drop about 20 centimeters a day, leaving the ice that's frozen on the tree stump suspended in the air."
"The lake's circumference is about as long as the Ramanote Line (Roughly 32 kilometers). So shall we get going?"
We hurried along the path, occasionally stopping to take some photographs of ice mushrooms and other scenery.
We would move forward, stop, head back for a shot of something else we'd noticed, then continue on.
Mr. Iwasaki also took several photographs of the lake's frozen surface.
Using his hand to melt the snows allowed him a peek through the ice into the world below.
The view through the ice!
Any photographs I might have taken couldn't come close to this quality...
Some photographs of the lake taken on different trips↓
The lake freezes and traps gas bubbles in the ice, resulting in a fantastic image.
Below is a photo of ice fishing tents out on the lake.
The colorful array makes a cute image on the white landscape.
We finally arrived at the Hokkaido Heritage site we were waiting for, Taushubetsu Bridge.
I asked where he usually takes his photographs from.
"I tend to make a circle. I take pictures from various angles at various times."
I was interested in his process so I asked him to do his shooting routine as usual.
An aging portion of the bridge. The steel frame exposed to the elements.
The backside. Chunks of ice have fallen from the bridge creating a beautiful sparkle.
"Once when I was shooting at night my leg got stuck in a crack in the ice. So I've decided to stick to day shoots."
Mr. Iwasaki! That's no laughing matter!
The sun eventually began to set.
The entire scene began to wash out into a blue hue.
I asked Mr. Iwasaki, "What will you do once the bridge collapses?"
"I haven't really decided yet. They keep saying that it will probably collapse in about three years, but it's been eight years since I first heard that!"
The entire time we were there was so much fun that I never once got a sense that this was a trip he's been making for eight years now.
I truly hope that this bridge never collapses and he can keep making these trips.
This year in May, Mr. Iwasaki will be showing his works in a photography exhibition in Tokyo.
"I always take pictures as though the bridge may not be around tomorrow."
His exhibition is a record of the journey he's been on for the past eight years. If you have the chance be sure to visit and catch a glimpse at the beauty his photographs bring to life.
Runs from May 24th to the 30th, 2013.
Open from 10:00 to 7:00. (Event closes at 4:00 on the final day.)
Location: Fuji Film Photo Salon, Tokyo, Space 2 (Tokyo Midtown Fuji Film Square)
Ryoji Iwasaki's Profile
Photographer and writer.
Born in Saitama Prefecture, April, 1979, currently living in Hokkaido.
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/ryozy
(Hokkaido Likers Editorial Department - Eri)
(Photographs provided by Ryoji Iwasaki)