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Life Knowledge

Naoki Ishikawa

Naoki Ishikawa travels the world in search of Life Knowledge; that is a knowledge that goes beyond facts and is elemental to human existence. For this episode he journey's to Ise, Japan. 


A Journey for Doing Nothing

Amid the travel restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis, I joined a program called Ise City Creators’ Workation for the opportunity to enjoy an extended stay in Ise, Mie Prefecture. Organized by the city government to mitigate the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism industry, it covers the expenses of round-trip transportation and lodging, and then leaves it to the discretion of the participants to do anything they want or do nothing at all. There are no special obligations or conditions. How glad I was to be a photographer—it made me eligible to sign up for such a generous program.

Workation is an unfamiliar term blending work and vacation, and it’s gaining recognition as a new way to travel, or so I understand. In the sense of working while on vacation, however, I have been on workation ever since I was about 20 years old. I am always writing columns, taking pictures, and replying to emails at one travel destination or another. Climbing up mountains and venturing down rivers might seem like vacation activities to a stranger’s eyes, but I do my work in spare moments from these activities. The field activities themselves are positively linked with my work. For me, there is no boundary whatsoever between work and vacation.

Having said that, because I have been constantly on the move, I had hardly ever taken a trip where I remained in one location without any special purpose. In my early twenties, I spent about a month on Oahu while attending a language school in Hawaii. But even then, I had the specific purpose of learning English. The Ise program gave me the chance to stay at a new location and do nothing in particular—perhaps for the first time in twenty years.

Every cloud has a silver lining. COVID-19 may have called a halt to travel as usual, but for me, it opened up a new style of travel. I paid my first ever visit to the Ise Grand Shrine, admired the Pacific Ocean from Futamigaura, and went as far as Ise Sea Paradise on a rented bicycle. But I spent the most time of all walking through alley after alley—this was something I wouldn’t have done on an ordinary trip.

Walking can be a form of meditation. I had been running nonstop until just recently and was feeling the need to pause and reflect. That was not something I could do at home though. I needed to be wandering aimlessly through a new place. My body needed a fresh source of stimulation in order for my mind to think.

Ise gave me the experience of a creative vacation. There was no summit to conquer, no once-in-a-lifetime scene to capture on camera. But that may be precisely why I will remember my stay in Ise for life. The journey that I made in the midst of a pandemic will be etched in my memory forever and help me clear a new path forward. This is how I feel at the moment.

Naoki Ishikawa
1977 Born in Tokyo, Japan
2002 Waseda University, Tokyo, B.F.A.
2005 Tokyo University of the Arts, M.F.A.
2008 Tokyo University of the Arts, Ph.D.
Lives and works in Tokyo

The Void, published by Knee High Media, is Naoki Ishikawa’s first full length photo book. It features a series of photographs taken by Ishikawa during his stay on New Zealand’s North Island. Covered by forests of giant Kauri trees, it is one of the South Pacific’s last remaining old-growth forests, and an inestimable natural treasure.
text & photography | Naoki Ishikawa