"Yamabito" (Mountain People) by Osamu Sato / 佐藤理「山人」

..the prayer walls are ancient, 
and no-one has added a new stone in many years. 
For this is the Kali Yuga, the Dark Age, 
when all the great faiths of mankind are on the wane.

Peter Matthiessen The Snow Leopard

As a conscientious salariman working in a printing company in 1970s Japan, Osamu Sato got one day`s holiday a week. On that precious day, while many of his colleagues would have been sleeping off the exhaustion of the week, Sato would take an early morning train and a local bus up into the mountains of Gunma.

Carrying a large format camera and a day`s supply of film
pre-loaded into cartridges he would trek up the mountain tracks. By the 1970s the villages of the Gunma mountains were already depopulating. If Sato could get there for a day trip taking photographs, young people would not long resist the lure of an easier life in Tokyo.

Yet the old ways of life continued to be recorded by Sato on his visits. Much of the hard labour in the fields is done by the wives.Vegetables are harvested and prepared for drying. The winters are severe and long so a good stock of food and fuel must be dried and preserved. One of the last remaining hunters proudly shows off his tanuki, fox and marten pelts. He also keeps bees, vigilantly scaring off the aggressive Japanese Giant Hornets (大雀蜂, Vespa mandarinia japonica) that frequently raid the honey bee hives.

Prize possessions are the ancient stone phalluses that are dug up from time to time. Sato encounters a man carrying a great stone on his back. He cannot put down the stone because of its weight and rests by propping it up behind him with a stout stick. He has brought the stone across the mountains to his home in the valley to set on his son`s grave.

These mountain people know both hardship and the richness of the lives they have led and appear content to be part of this invaluable record of a disappearing way of life.

Sato uses a large format camera. From the 8x10 negative he prints a contact print of superb quality. To make larger prints he uses his own home-made enlarger. Not only has he made a precious record but has done so as a true craftsman, and produced a great document of rural life.

Publication "Yamabito" by Zen Foto Gallery, 2012


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