Tazuko Masuyama
Until Everything Becomes a Photograph

6 October, 2013 – 27 July, 2014
Hazehara School, 1983
Masuyama was born and raised in the village of Tokuyama, in Gifu Prefecture. After losing her husband during the war, she farmed in the village while running a minshuku (guest-house). In 1957, a plan emerged to build a dam in this quiet village and Tokuyama—which Masuyama described as “a heaven, where everyone lived in laughter”—split between promoters of the dam project and skeptics. Masuyama picked up a camera for the first time in her life in 1977, when the Tokuyama dam project began to take on momentum. She had just turned 60. “When it comes to war and dams, the state always carries through, once they’ve decided to do it,” she remarked. Facing the demise of a village that dated back to prehistoric times, she decided that she would at least capture what could be captured, and walked through every corner of the village, shooting with her trusty Pikkari Konica.

Just at Peak Bloom, 1985
The media spotlighted Masuyama from time to time, and she became known with the nickname Camera Grandma. Shooting her first photographs at the village athletic meet, she poured most of the income from her pension into photography for years. She continued to visit the village after it was condemned in 1987, and carried on shooting her disappearing birthplace until she died in 2006, at age 88. She left behind negatives of 100,000 photographs and some 600 photo albums.
The Tokuyama Dam was completed in 2008, fifty years after it was first proposed, and the area where the village was now sits at the bottom of a reservoir, but the photographs she left behind communicate to us today life in the old days of Tokuyama village.
The exhibition features Masuyama’s albums and the sounds of the village that she recorded herself, along with pressed flowers made from plants in the village.

Nobuo Onishi, Tazuko Masuyama at the Site of the Main Gate of Tokuyama Elementary School, 1996
Nobuo Onishi, Albums in Tazuko Masuyama’s Room, 2006
Tazuko Masuyama Chronology

1917  Born in Tonyu in the village of Tokuyama, Gifu Prefecture.

1936  Marries Tokujiro Masuyama from the same village. They have one girl and one boy.

1945  Husband Tokujiro is mobilized for the Battle of Imphal in Burma; he remains missing in action.

1957  The plan for the Tokuyama dam is developed.

1973  The official plan for development of water resources on the Kiso River is adopted. Tazuko begins to tape record village meetings during this time.

1977  Plans for the dam are finalized; Tazuko begins photographing with a Pikkari Konica.

1983  She appears in a film set in Tokuyama, Furusato (Hometown), directed by Seijiro Koyama. Tazuko uses the same name when she publishes her first photobook.

1984  Receives an Avon Achievement Award.

1985  Leaves the village, moving to the city of Gifu.

1987  In April, the village is condemned and reorganized as the village of Fujihashi.

2000  Construction of the main section of the Tokuyama Dam begins.

2003  The Gifu District Court rejects a suit to rescind official approval of the dam project.

2006  March, Tazuko dies at age 88. September, trial flooding of the dam begins, and the former site of the village of Tokuyama is inundated.

2008  May, the Tokuyama Dam is completed.

Selected Publications
Furusato (Hometown) (Giacometti Shuppan, 1983)
Furusato no Ten’i Tsuchi (Hometown and the Removal Notice) (Joho Center Shuppankyoku, 1985)
Arigato, Tokuyama-mura (Thank You, Tokuyama Village) (Kage Shobo, 1987)
Makkuroke no Hanashi (The Story of Makkuroke) (Recited by Tazuko Masuyama, Edited by Noboru Suzuki; Kage Shobo, 1993)
Masuyama Tazuko: Tokuyama-mura Shashin Zen Kiroku (Masuyama Tazuko: The Photo Documentation of Tokuyama Village) (Kage Shobo, 1997)

Damu ni Shizumu Mukashibanashi no Sekai (The World of Old Tales Flooded by a Dam) (Tazuko Masuyama oral storytelling; Vols. 1 and 2; Produced by Hiroko Nobe; Integra Japan, 2000 and 2002)

Before the village of Tokuyama disappeared, Tazuko Masuyama moved it whole into photographs and made it a place that we can visit anytime, freed from the limits of time. I was deeply moved by how thoroughly bright and gentle the scenes are, as if the extraordinary sadness and anger had further polished the transparent lens of the camera.
Ryo Kase, actor

Masuyama’s photographs are always taken from directly in front of the subject. I heard the cry from the heart of one whose husband was stolen by the war and whose hometown was stolen by a dam.
Seijiro Koyama, film director

he shock of the lives of people disappearing from one village still stretches taut across Masuyama’s photographs. I never saw Tokuyama village in the old days, but I am flooded by a deep incredulity toward the age I have lived through.
Kaoru Takamura, author

A sunflower was blooming in the snow. Tazuko says there are many amazing things in the world. Her body and soul resistance lies here. Ah, I thought, this is why the people and the flowers and the mountains and the houses, even the bank man who came to negotiate over money, all appear gentle in the photos, in equal measure.
Lieko Shiga, photographer

The freshness of these photographs must come from Tazuko Masuyama’s deep love for the village and its people. It seems as if the camera lens is caressing everything as she would her own grandchildren. In these incredible photographs, the village and the people, both now gone, still continue to live.
John Junkerman, film director

Thirty years ago, on location in Tokuyama village for the movie, Furusato (Hometown). The director was very young. As was I, cast as a young wife who takes naps with her children. We ate grilled iwana (char), a fish that only lives in clear water. After that I was able to eat river fish. Today I went to the Tokuyama housing development at Monju in the Motose District, one of the locations villagers were moved into. Though it was midday, there was no sign of life among the houses, built with compensation money. I remember how they were constructed quickly back then, and were plagued by sinking foundations and other woes. Even so, we don’t see complaints in Tazuko’s photos—they’re simply nostalgic. (June 26, 2013)
Kirin Kiki, actress

At a time when photography for photography’s sake and photography for art’s sake prevail, ☆☆☆ to IZU PHOTO MUSEUM for an exhibition of photographs like this, the very thing. An Arakiss to the wonderful Grandma Tazuko Masuyama.
Nobuyoshi Araki, photographer

Everything is laughing, people, birds and beasts, flowers and trees and mountains. Erased from the maps, then submerged under water, the hometown is still laughing today. The battle surrounding memory, which was organized in the face of the looming time of absence, will surely be carried on. From Tokuyama to, say, Fukushima. Along with that laughter.
Norio Akasaka, folklorist

The amount of information in photographs is incredibly limited. You can’t zoom or pan. There is no narration or titles or music. All are lacking. That’s why they’re powerful. It’s because the viewer imagines. Looking, one imagines Tazuko Masuyama. I imagine her expression at the moment she took the photograph, imagine what kind of person she was. And I feel glad. I feel confident that tomorrow will be more gentle than today.
Tatsuya Mori, writer and film director

Tazuko was friends with all living things. She made her daily rounds of the village, camera in hand, and whenever she encountered mountains-rivers-plants-trees-people-animals, she greeted them with a hearty, “Good morning. How are you?” and took their photo. I long for that voice.
Takashi Yamaguchi, actor and folktale researcher

As they live, people express emotions—joy, anger, pity, pleasure—in their faces and gestures. To me, having lived with her and these people who became her subjects, I hope that people will not simply read pure joy and pleasure in the smiling faces they turned toward her.
Kosuke Hirakata, nephew, children’s book author

It’s easy to say, “This should not be forgotten,” but what should be done to not forget what will vanish in time, if it is left alone? The smiling faces of people Tazuko Masuyama left behind in her photographs provide one answer.
Hiroshi Kainuma, sociologist

Camera Grandma’s Thoughts
“When heavy snows fell, we made narrow paths between the houses, and if three people gathered, we’d drink sake and sing songs and start dancing, or we’d tell old stories and have fun. When the weather cleared, we’d clear the snow off our roofs. Villagers gathered at old people’s homes and cleared their roofs for them. We all were friendly and lived in laughter. To us, it was like heaven.”

“As much as they talked about the largest dam in Japan, I felt I can’t abide my dear hometown being turned into a dam, and I seriously opposed it from the start. But we were no match for the national government. When it comes to war and dams, the state always carries through, once they’ve decided to do it. So it’s like an ant defying a big river.”

“If my husband who went missing during the Battle of Imphal in Burma came home and found out that all that was left was photographs, how would he feel when he saw his dear hometown?”

“We left our dear, dear hometown for the dam. Unless the dam is at least useful to people for a long time, unless there are people who are at least made a little bit happier, we’ll lose sight of why we had to leave the village. I can’t help but pray that our leaving brings everyone happiness.”

“The village that we nurtured for hundreds of years cannot defy the flow of time. The ancient light, where is it now?”

Gather the embers
Get them to burn
My latter years
Bon Festival in Tonyu, 1984
Snow and a Sunflower, 1985
People Observe House Demolition, 1985

Tonyu Fuji and The Downstream Bridge, 1983 (Tonyu Fuji is Tazuko’s birth name)
Children and the Gingko Tree, 1982
Swimming in the River, 1984
Tokuyama Village
Tokuyama Village, in the Ibi District of Gifu Prefecture, was located on the uppermost reaches of the Ibi River, which marks the northwestern limits of the ancient province of Mino. There were 8 hamlets, with about 500 houses and 1500 residents. Surrounded by 1200-meter high mountains, it is a region that sees heavy rainfall and snowfall. In 1987 the village was incorporated into the village of Fujihashi (now part of the town of Ibigawa), and the name disappeared from the map.

Tokuyama Dam
A multipurpose dam, one of Japan’s largest rock-fill dams (built by piling up rock and gravel). It was called the “phantom dam,” because it existed for decades only as a plan with little prospect of being built. After many years of negotiating compensation claims, construction began in earnest in 2000. Completed in 2008, the reservoir (Tokuyama Lake) inundated all but one of the hamlets of Tokuyama.

“Floating Away”
In Tokuyama, people used the expression “floating away” (uite-mau) to describe the drowning of their village. Where outsiders saw a village being flooded, those expelled from their hometown experienced the event as the loss of the roots of their lives, which were left floating.

Camera Grandma
Before Tazuko Masuyama began to photograph Tokuyama, she recorded the sounds of life in the village. She began to take an interest in photography when the dam project gained momentum. At first, she didn’t even know how to load film in her camera. Soon her favorite Pikkari Konica and the blue towel she wrapped around her neck became her trademarks. She continued to use this model of camera, repairing and replacing it repeatedly.

The Tree Friend, 1984
The Farewell Gathering for Tokuyama Village, 1986
The Tree Friend
A venerable oak tree that grew at the edge of the river in Masuyama’s hamlet, Tonyu. She often engaged in conversation with the tree, when she did her wash in the river. She says the tree always consoled her by saying, “Look at me. My roots are washed by floods, my branches may break when typhoons come, but I’m still standing.” Masuyama worried that the tree would be inundated while it was still alive, but the tree died about the time she left the village to move to the city of Gifu.

Pikkari Konica
Introduced in 1975, the Pikkari Konica was a pioneering compact camera model. Light and featuring a built-in strobe, it was a hit product that contributed to the mass popularization of the camera. “Is there a camera that an amateur like me can use?” Masuyama recalled asking a visitor to her guesthouse, who praised the camera as one that “will shoot, even if the cat kicks it over.” Masuyama enjoyed a long friendship with Yasuo Uchida, the developer of the Pikkari Konica.

Exhibition Events

Michihiro Shinoda (Association to Tell the History of Tokuyama, former Tokuyama school teacher)
“Revisiting Tokuyama, ‘The Village that Floated Away’: 30 Years after Condemnation of the Village”
December 15 (Sunday), 2:30 to 4 pm
Limited to 50, free, preregistration required (055-989-8780)
At the Clematis Academy Forum, near the museum

Film Screenings
Furusato (Hometown), 1983, 106 minutes, directed by Seijiro Koyama, produced by Kobushi Productions.
December 8, screenings at 11:15 am and 2:15 pm
Limited to 150, free, no preregistration (exhibition ticket required for entry)
At the Clematis no Oka Hall (near the museum)

“The Village that Will Float Away,” 1977, 48 minutes, produced by Tokai Television.
This program will be screened daily in the exhibition space of the museum.

Scheduled Participants: Seijiro Koyama (film director), Takashi Yamaguchi (actor), Kosuke Hirakata (children’s book author, former Takuyama teacher), Kimiaki Yamauchi (former Tokai TV director), Nobuo Onishi (photographer), Hideo Saito (former NHK cameraman), Hiroko Nobe (Center to Carry on the Will of Tazuko Masuyama), and Masahi Kohara (Izu Photo Museum curator).
For details please check the museum’s homepage or contact the information center (055-989-8787)

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Tonyu Branch School, 1985