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Local Photographers

Shuhei Tonami

(Fujimi Town, Nagano)

Community Life Through the Camera Lens



— Tell us about the area you live in.

Fujimi Town is situated between the Southern foothills of the Yatsugatake Mountains and the Northern foothills of the Southern Alps. It sits in a highland area at an elevation of about 1,000 meters, meaning it’s cool and comfortable year round. The Suwa area is home to many Jomon archaeological sites. It has a distinct local culture rooted in the Suwa Grand Shrine, known for the unique Onbashira Festival. Lately the area is attracting an increasing number of internal migrants.

— How did you come to live in Fujimi Town?

I’m originally from Hokkaido. I enrolled in university in Towada City, Aomori Prefecture, and while still a student, I apprenticed with photographer Takeshi Hosokawa. As I spent my days pursuing my studies on campus and photographic expression, I came to live in a community in Towada City in an old stand-alone house I renovated with my partner, and started publishing photographs of our lifestyle. Several years later, when we had children, we considered moving closer to Tokyo but ideally in a location where we could carry on with our rural lifestyle. So we moved into my wife’s family’s vacation house in Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture, while we were house hunting. Eventually, a friend recommended this old house in Fujimi Town, and we moved in. This was 2010, so we have been living here for 11 years.

— How do you like living here?

Interacting with the community members, doing our share of the community work, like cutting the grass and logging the trees, an taking part in community festivals—everything is a first, and we’re enjoying it all as we would a journey through a foreign country. Drinking cups of sake with the neighbors after working on some project or other made me nervous at first, but that has changed and become a moment I enjoy. Now I ask the locals to take me freshwater fishing, wild plant foraging, and mushroom picking.

—In the course of your daily life, what do you feel is special about this place?

The Yatsugatake Mountains and the Southern Alps unfold before my eyes, and the beautiful forests and spring water invite me to take daily walks—I think this is a very fortunate location for a photographer.

— Do you ever photograph community events?

I’ve been designated the district representative in charge of recording the Onbashira Festival. In the last event, I took pictures over a period of about six months, not only on the days of the festival but also during nearly all the Shinto rituals and preparations.

Volunteer fire corps are also a given in rural communities. The activities are unique and interesting when you see them in person. I went and took pictures of the volunteers in training and demonstration events.

— What would you like to try in this community in the future?

Right now I spend a lot of time away on business trips. In the future, I’d like to spend more time in the community to photograph the local culture and customs, and to learn from the locals and improve my skills in fishing, picking mushrooms, and working the fields.

Shuhei Tonami
Tonami was born in 1979 in Hokkaido. He completed a major in environmental bioscience and graduated from the Kitasato University School of Veterinary Medicine. While still enrolled in university, Tonami apprenticed with photographer Takeshi Hosokawa. He lived near the campus in Towada City, Aomori Prefecture, in an old house he repaired with his partner using scrap materials. During this time, he discovered that ordinary everyday moments are filled with emotional, moving experiences and published a series of photo essays about his lifestyle for three years in a local paper. In addition to running a Tokyo office in Hachioji City, in 2007 Tonami and his family—his wife, their three daughters, a dog, and a cat—moved to another old house they found and renovated themselves in the southern foothills of the Yatsugatake Mountains, in Fujimi Town, Suwa County, Nagano Prefecture. Tonami continues to work from his bases in Tokyo, Nagano, and Yamanashi prefectures today. Tonami took the photos for PAPERSKY no.65 IWATE|Kenji Miyazawa Issue.