Japan Modern | Places


A traveller, leaving this Tokyo behind in a night train . . . finds, when daylight dawns, that this wonder of the twentieth century is transformed into the wonder of the eighteenth century. . . . This too is Japan. —Hamaya Hiroshi

Hamaya Hiroshi frequently left the “vanity chaos, and constructive energy” of Tokyo and traveled the twelve prefectures along Japan’s western coast (often referred to as the “back coast”). Hamaya first traveled to Niigata Prefecture in 1939 to photograph a regimental ski unit. Around that time, he met ethnologists and developed an interest in the folklore, daily life, and natural environments of rural communities.

From 1940 to the mid-1950s, Hamaya returned several times to the mountainous area of Niigata, known for its fertile landscape and harsh winters. He observed traditional ways of life in farming villages isolated by the heavy snowfalls, resulting in the renowned photographic series Yukiguni (Snow Land). Hamaya’s lyrical images of children singing or praying during the six-day new year festival, villagers trekking through the snow, or torches lit against the cold night convey an idealized view of Japan far from the urban centers.

Hamaya Hiroshi (1915–1999)