(Translators’ Note: This is a translation of a Japanese-language article published in Kohara Masashi and Nobe Hiroko, eds., Masuyama Tazuko: subete shashin ni naru hi made [Masuyama Tazuko: Until Everything Becomes a Photograph](Shizuoka: Izu Photo Museum, 2014), a book accompanying the exhibition of the same title, held at the Izu Photo Museum in Shizuoka, Japan from October 6, 2013 through July 27, 2014. The article was originally published in “photographers’ gallery press”, no. 7 (Tokyo: photographers’ gallery, 2008), and then revised and expanded for the 2014 book. Although the names of the author and translator are in Western order, Japanese names that appear in the article and the bibliography are in Japanese order, with the family name first.)


Family albums kept at my parents’ house include photographs of Tokuyama Village. It is not clear who made them. Shot with a monochrome film for some reason, they depict me and my father. In the photographs, I, as a child, am playing at a tourist inn or at the river beach. I think that the place where they were taken was in one of Tokuyama’s hamlet’s called Tsuka. A friend of my father’s worked as a teacher in Tokuyama Village. That’s why, as a child, I visited this village a couple of times from the neighboring prefecture. [1]Guessing from my appearance in the photographs, they were probably taken around 1982. Since then I did not go to Tokuyama Village for a long time. The reason why I had the idea of revisiting the village in the fall of 2005 before it was covered by heavy snow, was that the trial flooding for Tokuyama Dam was approaching. Once the trial flooding began, the place would be sunk under water and never seen again.

In 1987, Tokuyama Village, located in the northwest end of Gifu prefecture, near the border of Fukui and Shiga prefectures, was deleted from maps and annexed to the neighboring Fujihashi Village (the present Ibigawa Town). Tokuyama Village was a mountain village with a population of 1,500, consisting of eight hamlets —Shimokaiden (Shitsuwara), Kamikaiden (Ekeda), Hongō (Tokuyama), Yamate, Hazehara, Tsuka, Tonyū, and Kadonyū — dotting the two valleys near the headwaters of the Ibi River. More than ninety-nine percent of its area was covered by forests, and the village lay in one of the areas that receive the heaviest rainfalls in Japan. It was said that the village would be the best place to build a dam, because by simply sealing the narrow cliff at the end of the village, the abundant water resources would form a reservoir in the valleys. However, to make the most of the topography of Tokuyama Valley, surrounded by 1200-meter- high mountains, it was necessary to artificially submerge seven hamlets of Tokuyama Village (all of its hamlets except for Kadonyū) located on a small flat area at the foot of the mountains.[2]

Because this secluded village was a repository of old folk tales and customs descended from different parts of Japan, it attracted the attention of scholars in various fields including archaeology, history, linguistics, and folklore studies. In 1983, faced with the imminent sinking of the village under water, the Gathering for Discussions about Nature, History, and Culture of Tokuyama Village (Small Congress in Tokuyama) was established by people from both inside and outside the village. As the modernized transportation network connecting large cities grew since the Meiji era, Tokuyama Village, once a relaying hub connecting Mino, Echizen, and Ōmi, had become a remote mountain village. Then, a plan of constructing Tokuyama Dam emerged to sustain the economy of the area surrounding the lower course of the Ibi River.

Relying on the photographs taken from the family album and my own vague memory, I went in 2005 to some sites where hamlets of Tokuyama Village once existed. Contrary to my memory of a long trip by bus on a narrow mountain road, I arrived at the entrance of the village all too quickly, probably because since then a new road and tunnels were constructed for the dam. Although some buildings such as the former Tokuyama Elementary School or a fire tower still existed at the site of Hongō hamlet, all the five hundred private houses in the village (except for some houses in Kadonyū hamlet, outside the area to be sunk under water) were destroyed and the sites were turned into vacant land or covered by growing weeds. Thus I needed someone’s guidance to know where people lived. I wondered if the only things that would remain to the last would be those that were necessary for dam construction, such as roads, bridges, and telephone poles. The screen of the car navigation system told me that I was near Hakusan Shrine, but traces of the village were completely effaced and we did not see even ruins. The road leading to the hamlet at the back of the village was so narrow that two cars could not pass each other. Extensive road maintenance had not been done because the dam construction was planned to begin soon.

Near the river of the former Hongō hamlet, I was approached by a group of three people, an elderly woman and her younger brother with his friend. Apparently they mistook me for someone from Tokuyama Village, like themselves, because I was taking a video of the site. I told them that I came from Tokyo. The brother smiled, saying “there will be the largest dam in Japan here.” It seemed, with a camera hanging from his shoulder, he also came here to photograph.

“The largest dam in Japan.” Under the banner of the post-war high economic growth, the government spent an enormous amount of its budget for public works such as the construction of dams, including Yokoyama Dam of the Ibi River, Maruyama Dam of the Kiso River, Miboro Dam in Hida, all in Gifu Prefecture. The mood in favor of dams swelled, and many promotional movies were produced. It is said that many people of Tokuyama Village left their hometown, telling themselves, “it will be the largest dam in Japan,” “for our nation,” or “for people living near the lower course of the river.” Costing 350 billion yen to build, Tokuyama Dam boasted 14.4 km² of water surface area, 161 meter of height, and total capacity of 660 million ton of water. Tokuyama Dam is one of the largest rock-fill dams in Japan, and the reservoir is almost as large as Lake Suwa in Nagano.

Standing on the vacant ground that looked like a construction site scarcely showing traces of the village, the former villagers fondly told me where there had been a field at the foot of the mountain or a graveyard, pointing their fingers at the landscape. But because there were no longer any traces, I did not know where to focus my gaze, only turning my eyes in the directions they were pointing. Probably what they saw and what I saw were completely different. I could barely superimpose my vague memory of Tokuyama Village on the vacant landscape. But my memory itself heavily depended on the photographs I had seen in my family album. Had it not been for those photographs, perhaps I would not have thought of visiting the village more than twenty years after they were taken.


The sights I could not see when I visited the site of Tokuyama Village can been seen in the photographs taken by Masuyama Tazuko (1917-2006), also known as “Camera Grandma (kamera bāchan) ”. I don’t remember if I ever met her, but I knew about her through the TV and newspapers. In the Chūbu region, Masuyama often appeared in news of Tokuyama Village. In 1977, the year when the plan for Tokuyama Dam, first conceived in 1957, became realistic, Masuyama, who was then sixty years old, took up the camera for the first time. An innkeeper and farmer, Masuyama asked a guest from Nagoya whether there was a camera that she could handle. The guest recommended the Konica C35 EF, known for its nickname Pikkari Konica, saying “Yes, Grandma, there is. Nowadays there are cameras that even a cat can shoot by kicking them.” [3] Having a roll of film loaded into the camera by a neighbor, Masuyama first shot a sports festival in the village, and the results looked good. Since then, the small plastic camera, together with a light-blue towel wrapped around her neck, became her trademarks.

Tokujirō, Tazuko’s husband, was conscripted into the Army during the War and went missing in the Battle of Imphal in Burma in 1944. In case he might come back, she thought photographs would be the only way to show him what the village had looked like. After all, Shōichi Yokoi came back from Guam in 1972 and Hiroo Onoda from the Philippines in 1974, more than twenty years after the defeat of the War. This was putatively her motive for taking photographs. Masuyama was also a narrator of old folk tales passed down in the village; since around 1973 she had been tape-recording the village’s events, folk tales, folk songs, gatherings, and chats among villagers. The number of cassettes she recorded amounted to five hundred.

As she put it:

We cannot defeat what the country does, whether it is a war or a dam. It is useless for an ant to resist a big river. Instead of doing such a stupid thing, I came to think that I wanted to save as many things as possible, before the village is really gone. My wish to save things comes from a sense of resignation. [4]

The war deprived Masuyama of her husband. When she knew she was also going to be deprived of the village where she was born, grew up, and married, the sixty-year-old woman took a camera she had never used, trying to save the things that could be saved. Plans for the submergence of the whole village progressed, taking no account of the individual wills of the villagers. Faced with the end of the road, the situation that her entire hometown was going to disappear, Masuyama started her recording. To fight against a total disappearance of the village inherited from her ancestors, she urgently felt she had to leave tangible records of the village. For Masuyama, it was perhaps another form of “resistance [she] could barely do”, [5] as she did not want to be “kicked by the waves of the time” again. [6]

Even if it was impossible to physically move the disappearing village to another place, she could at least transpose it into the form of photographs, photographs as fragments of reality. It is said that she walked every corner of the village to photograph villagers, with her belief that everything in the village was worth photographing. With her small camera, she also kept taking photographs of animals and plants, customs of the village, and the landscape that continued to change. She mentioned that she “shot [her subjects] again and again, because the more [she] shot, the more limitless affection [she] felt for them” [7].

Some of Masuyama’s photographs can be seen here:http://www.izuphoto-museum.jp/e/exhibition/118680489.html

Masuyama once said, “I never tried to take good photographs. I like every photo, including blurred ones.” [8] For her, photographs were not so much objective documents as an apparatus for private memories. Therefore, whether blurred or not, they all had the same value. Masuyama attempted to make each photograph inhabited by memories, in order to save her drowning hometown from sinking into oblivion.


Isolated in the mountains covered by a heavy snow of two to five meters every winter, Tokuyama Village, one might say, shared the same destiny; it was a place where yui (a community for cooperative work) and old customs such as common woods remained. People lived helping one another, removing snow from the roof together and lending rice or soy sauce. It is said that few people in the village locked their houses. It was a region in Okumino surrounded by beautiful nature, but every winter it turned into an isolated spot. Under harsh conditions of nature, the people shared life’s joys and sorrows, preserving annual events such as boys’ coming-of-age ceremonies, religious gatherings in the mountain, a Bon Festival dance. The village was lacking in means of income, except for forestry, agriculture, and tourism in the summer (tourists came to fish in the river); it was one of those mountain villages where many villagers had to work away from home to earn a living. Like neighboring villages, Tokuyama Village suffered from decreasing population. Therefore, when the plan for the dam came up, not a small number of villagers welcomed the news, saying, “With an advance payment from the dying village, I can move to the city.” Some also said, “It is not the dam that will collapse the village, but the dam will come to the village that has almost collapsed.”

Tokuyama Dam was once called a “phantom dam” because although the plan first came up in 1957, it was subsequently halted by the Ministry of Construction, and the construction did not start for a long time. Water demand did not increase as had been predicted in the period of high economic growth. Some people living in the towns downstream, where water was rather in excess after the oil crisis in 1973, said, “it is more constructive not to construct a dam.” However, the long overdue plan could not be abandoned. Since the plan was first proposed, not only the organizations in charge of construction changed, but also its stated purposes. Finally it was explained that the dam was going to be built for multiple purposes, including irrigation, flood control, and hydropower generation. However, it looked as if it was going to be built just to fulfill the plan. For decades, people felt threatened by the shadow of the impending plan of the dam, saying to themselves, “the next year the dam comes, the year after next I will be unable to stay here.” The plan frustratingly kept the villagers in suspense. Losing a vision of the future as “the village will be drowned by the dam,” some of them were too exhausted to keep maintaining the woods and fields. In the end, their hometown was surrendered, with no organized opposition campaigns taking place. In the dialect of this village, to “sizumu (sink)” under the dam is expressed as to “uitemau (float).” This choice of word aptly expresses the situation facing the villagers who lost their roots and floated from the bases of their livelihood. Forestry that long supported lives in the village continued to decline, and more and more villagers were forced to earn a precarious living by engaging in construction work for the dam. At some time, the dam became an inseparable part of the village. In the boom of dam construction advanced as a national policy, voices that questioned the plan were inevitably drowned out.

Masuyama described Tokuyama Village as “a place like heaven for us, where everyone lived peacefully, always smiling.” [9] Residents of this once peaceful village were divided into two groups disagreeing about how to negotiate compensation; one group was eager to make a deal early, and the other was more cautious. According to Hirakata Kōsuke, Masuyama’s nephew, villagers who were exhausted by endless discussions about the dam were determined to reach an earlier settlement and headed for, to use his words, “destruction of the village,” condemning those who had concerns or dissatisfactions as opponents of the dam. [10] Masuyama photographed the village during the period when the community, whose members had stood close for a long time, suddenly dissolved. When anxiety, fatigue, and helplessness covered the entire village and discord turned visible, she was independently recording the village.


The villagers were beset with doubts and fears, and some stopped talking even to their relatives. Contrary to the atmosphere that pervaded the village, the people in Masuyama’s photographs show cheerful expressions. The villagers smiled at Masuyama, who visited them repeatedly and was always slow to press the shutter button, muttering “well, let’s see...” [11]

On the back of the photographs or on the sheets of the albums assembled by her, Masuyama meticulously wrote down the situations in which they were taken and the conversations exchanged with the models. Each photograph in the photobooks she published later is accompanied by her comments on the people and the place depicted in it. For example, a photograph of “an old lady of eighty-eight years old” sitting in front of a family Buddhist altar is reproduced with this comment:

“Tā (a nickname for Tazuko), please come here and take a photograph of me in front of the deceased. My son living in Tokyo sent me this red kimono jacket as a gift. Please take a commemorative photograph.” “I’m a bad photographer. Ask someone who is good at it.” “I don’t want anyone but Ta to take a photograph.” I was very nervous as I thought I might fail. I felt relieved when I knew fortunately I didn’t. [12]

Not only this one, but many of Masuyama’s photographs are full-length frontal shots of the villagers. [13] Perhaps it is because the subjects had an idea that a photograph should be taken in that way. But it seems to me that their choice of this photographic style—the style that reminds one of family snapshots taken during travel—derived from the condition that they would no longer be able to stay in their native place. Masuyama’s photographs look similar to commemorative photographs (kinen shashin) taken at important occasions of one’s life. What we find in Masuyama’s albums are sights of the village, such as smiling faces, houses, plants, annual events, which look so peaceful that they let us immediately forget the urgency of the situation.

It was not unusual that a villager asked Masuyama to take photographs. But her words “I felt relieved when I knew fortunately I didn’t” suggest that had it not been for the Pikkari Konica (Konica C35 EF), her act of taking photographs was impossible. Put on the market by Konishiroku (the present Konica Minolta) in 1974, the Pikkari Konica was a pioneering model of the point-and-shoot compact camera equipped with a built-in flash, thereby nicknamed “pikkari (flashing).” The Pikkari Konica, whose body was made of plastic to prevent electrification by a built-in flash, was advertised as a product that was light, tough, and easy to use thanks to its auto exposure system. This rather inexpensive camera became a bestseller. In this period, a countless number of cameras were brought into households and a countless number of private snapshots were taken. The desire to take photographs and to be photographed rapidly spread among people. It was under such social conditions that a camera reached someone like Masuyama who lived in the mountainous regions. The advance of camera technologies made possible an act of recording by a sixty-something woman who called herself a “total amateur” and did not even know how to load film into the camera. She took 3,000 shots during half a year, and 10,000 shots in total with one camera. Every time her camera broke, she got a new Pikkari Konica. After the Pikkari Konica was discontinued, she kept using the model, having it repaired.

Masuyama’s encounter with the Pikkari Konica was preceded by the technological innovations that took place during the post-war high economic growth in Japan. But the same wave of modernization exercised a mechanical violence of sinking the entire village in the dam. It can be said therefore that “Camera Grandma” was born at crossroad where the construction of Tokuyama Dam, prompted by high economic growth, met the advance of camera technologies embodied in the Pikkari Konica. Or rather, when Masuyama Tazuko became “Camera Grandma,” the two crossed. A woman over sixty countered the massive dam, a product of modernity, with her small camera enabled by up-to-date technologies. For her, this act was a flash of inspiration and invention.

Of course, we are left with innumerable images, not just photographs, that record the negative side of modernity. Dam construction was not an event that was relevant only to Tokuyama Village. Some residents of the neighboring Fujihashi Village were also forced to leave their hometown, because of the plans for the Yokoyama Dam and the Tokuyama Dam. But I cannot look at her photographs without amazement, because they let me notice that banal and common snapshots like these can become a symbolic field where an intricate dynamics of destruction and resistance take place. Even if they are technically banal photographs taken with no intention of accusation, every smiling face of a Tokuyama villager, captured in the photographs, is marked by possibilities and sufferings offered by modern technologies. Am I the only person who reads into her photographs a profound quality of the photographic medium that pierces through their apparent humanism and nostalgia?


What was at stake in her lone battle was a continuation of the community. The villagers in the photographs fit into the locations important for their lives, showing the inseparability of the life and the place. For Masuyama, a new address for Tokuyama Village was perhaps not a housing site that the Water Resources Development Public Corporation provided, but inside her photo albums.

If her hometown was going to disappear completely, the only evidence that “we were here” would come from a camera, used as an external memory apparatus. Looking at those photographs in which many villagers stare at the camera as if they willingly submit their appearances to it, one can confirm that to be photographed is not a passive act. Rather, it is an active act by the villagers depicted in the photographs, as the Japanese phrase “shashin o toru” can mean both “to take a photograph” and “to have a photograph taken.” Smiles of the villagers are thrown at Grandma Tazuko of the same village. Her relationship to them is directly reflected in their facial expressions.

This relationship of taking photographs/having photographs taken between Masuyama and the villagers was not unlike the communal labors that supported the village or the daily greetings exchanged among them. It was another means with which to confirm other villagers’ existences. It might be possible to call such an act of communal work as “yui (community) by photography”, an unusual instance of a disappearing community being documented from the inside.

However, it should be pointed out that Tokuyama Village consisted of small hamlets that were interspersed between two valleys called Nishidani (West Valley) and Higashidani (East Valley). People from different hamlets used different words and spoke with different intonation, and it sometimes happened that people living in distant hamlets did not recognize one another. A large part of Masuyama’s photographs were taken in the hamlet of Tonyū in which she lived. By becoming famous as “Camera Grandma,” she was allowed to take photographs in other hamlets, but at the same time, by getting attention from the mass media, she stood out in the closed community. It was not unusual that she was spoken ill of behind her back; some called her “the imbecile of Tokuyama” or “TV personality.” [14] Perhaps it was frustrating for people of other hamlets that the hamlet of Tonyū was treated as a representative of Tokuyama Village, or they might have been jealous of her. This village was not exceptional in that “the stake that sticks out gets hammered”. Hoping to leave as many documents of the village as possible, Masuyama was generous about cooperating with media coverage and continued photographing, acting in her role of “Camera Grandma.”

The tourist inn Masuyamaya (Masuyama’s Inn) became a base for reporters of the mass media coming from the cities, and, as she did not drive a car, their stay was a big help for her when she planned to go to other hamlets to take photographs. Through her experience of running a tourist inn, a place that connected the village to the outside world, and by accompanying journalists frequently, Masuyama perhaps got a traveler’s point of view, at the same time that she situated herself inside the village. In any case, it is certain that when Masuyama took photographs in this village doomed to be sunk under water, the photographer and her models stood face-to-face as fellow villagers who suffered a violence from the outside.

When a community “like heaven” where “everyone lived peacefully, always smiling” was on the verge of dissolution because of the dam construction, Masuyama, as it seems to me, defiantly tried to construct “another Tokuyama village” through the communal work of “taking photographs/having photographs taken”. Even though she could not have reproduced the village itself no matter how much she kept taking photographs, she at least tried to make a “photographic village” that was composed of photographs as fragments of the real village. No one would ever deprive her of this “photographic village.” What she attempted appears to be a reconstruction of the disassembling village in photo albums.

She was both an observer who documented the village meticulously and a director who made “another Tokuyama Village” happen, involving villagers as its performers. The light-blue towel Masuyama always wrapped around her neck when she took photographs was perhaps the costume with which she played the part of “Camera Grandma” who kept taking photographs, waiting for her husband to come back [15]. Wasn’t “Camera Grandma” the alter ego she made up to endure harsh circumstances, with the help of the mass media that elevated her to the position of a symbol of Tokuyama Village?

It is worth emphasizing that, for Masuyama, giving photographs to the villagers was as important as taking photographs of them. She asked a camera shop to make cabinet-size prints so that an elderly person could see them well. The cost she paid the shop for developing and printing sometimes exceeded 200,000 yen a month. Probably there were other people who devoted themselves to photograph Tokuyama Village, but it is certain that no one delivered more photographs than she did.

The mood of the once joyful village where everyone lived peacefully became awkward because of the dam. I thought it was terrible if our minds would be ruined, in addition to losing our precious hometown. So I began to give larger photographs to many people. [16]

The reason why Masuyama spent most of her pension and compensation for relocation on delivering photographs, cutting down her living expenses, is probably that she wanted to transform reality by sending photographs, facsimile images of the real village, back to the real world. Photography as a technology of mechanical reproduction made it possible to share a single image among many people. As tangible objects, photographs could become part of reality and repair the community that was almost broken up, connecting together the villagers who were scattered in different places as a result of relocation. She turned “my photographs” into “our photographs,” into a vehicle with which to share memories. Photographs delivered by Masuyama had a tactile quality that resists a crisis of memory.

Masuyama’s photo albums were probably conceived and produced as a private memory apparatus. However, individual photographs in the albums appear to better fit into family albums of the photographed people rather than hers. It seems to me that the albums that accumulated in Masuyama’s room as she continued to take photographs became less Masuyama’s albums and more Tokuyama Village’s albums. They are photographs that cannot be understood merely as someone’s private property.


One of Masuyama’s photobooks is entitled Thank You Tokuyama Village (Arigatō tokuyama mura). There was little space for farming in this mountain village. Therefore people were deeply grateful for the blessings of nature, as the name of the place “toku no yama (mountain of benevolence)” suggests. Masuyama repeatedly said “thank you, thank you” to the flowers and trees she photographed. Reciting “thank you” in her mind, she transposed those invaluable views of the village into photographs and kept them around her. “This moment will never come again,” she said. [17]. The village that was about to disappear is now left with us in the form of photographs. Photography instantly solidifies sights that are going to disappear, making invaluable things continue to exist in another form.

In the hamlet of Tonyū, there was an oak tree that Masuyama called “tomodachi no ki (tree friend).” Since she married into the Masuyama family, she used to speak to this old tree when she did the wash at the river. But the tree finally died around the time when she left the village to move to Gifu City. Talking to people, trees, flowers, and animals, she looked through the finder of the camera with her eye dim with tears, saying to herself, “I have to say good-bye to this person. I will never see this landscape again.” [18] To press the shutter of the camera is an act that stops the flow of time, bringing each instance of the present to an end. Therefore, it was something like a ritual of parting, through which she received keepsakes from the dying village. The village was not only about to be drowned by the dam, but was also sinking into oblivion.

In 1984, villagers began to relocate from Tokuyama Village. Masuyama meticulously documented the process in which the village was destroyed, photographing such subjects as houses being demolished or vacant hamlets. She could do nothing but watch her hometown disappear, but at least she tried to be the last witness to the village.

Photographs of Tokuyama Village taken by Masuyama were destined to become its last images. Under such circumstances, her documentary project must have been inevitably a struggle against time. The Pikkari Konica was a camera that had a date stamp feature. The red dates stamped on the lower right corner of her photographs mercilessly approached “1987 4 1 (April 1, 1987),” the date of the abolishment of the village. In other words, the dates on the photographs signaled how much time was left for her when she clicked the shutter. Her endless task did not end by itself, but rather it was forced to end by external factors. To put it differently, it was not concluded but interrupted. Her shooting act to which she devoted every spare moment was sustained by the urgency that her hometown was going to disappear very soon under the dark depth of water. During the period when the plan to build the dam was suspended and Tokuyama Dam almost became a “phantom dam,” her photographs kept accumulating. It looked as if her act would continue until everything became a photograph. But―

No matter how I take photographs, there remain many things that I can’t finish photographing. It is too much for my small camera. While I was running around with my short feet, spring became summer, and then summer became autumn. The mountain continued to change its appearances.[19]

That she “can’t finish photographing” meant she could not avoid a perpetual lack. However small in number and imperfect compared to the real village photographs were, she kept shooting as many faces and places as possible. It goes without saying that a photograph represents a fragment of reality, confined within a rectangular frame. Therefore, photographs neither become a substitute for the absent Tokuyama Village nor restore the Tokuyama Village as it was; they are no more than pieces randomly cut from the reality. No matter how many photographs she took, they did not make up for what was lacking in reality. On the contrary, the more she shot, the more apparent a lack that could not be made up for became. It is worth emphasizing that what is already irrecoverably lost is not just what was vividly photographed by Masuyama but also what was not photographed. It is true that a photograph is a trace that retains a physical relationship to its referent, but it is also a trace of lack in the sense that a photograph is always no more than a partial trace of the referent. Therefore, the photographs of Tokuyama Village come to us with a lack, and the memories they conjure up are also memories of loss. Sights of the village that were not photographed now exist nowhere but in the memories of individuals. It is those memories that attest to the disappearance of the village, connecting those that were left as fragments in the form of photographs to those that were gone. Even if the photographs captured sights that a viewer did not see with his or her own eyes, or even if they were far distanced from the referents, there always remains, it seems to me, room for the memory of a viewer to actively engage with the photographs.

The photographs come to us, accompanied by rupture and lack. But a kind of continuity emerges from this rupture lying between taking photographs and looking at them. The photographer and the viewer, “then” and “now” cross at this rupture. If “another Tokuyama Village” created by photography can exist, it must be in the encounters between the photographs left with us and their viewers. I cannot help thinking that what was at stake in her photographic practice was to create a place for such encounters and a “village of memories.” It must be one possible form of “yui (community) by photography” germinated by her photographs.


“Even our village

prosperous for several hundred years

cannot resist the flow of time.

Where has the light

of past days gone?”

This is Masuyama’s tanka (a form of Japanese poetry) printed at the beginning of her Thank You Tokuyama Village. As Japan’s modernization progressed, the once thriving village gradually lost its “light of past days” and finally had the fate of disappearing under the waters of the dam. In this region, they call the end “minashimai.” Tokuyama Village experienced “minashimai” twice, first when the village was annexed to the neighboring village in 1987 and secondly when the area was submerged under water in 2006. When she was in good health, Masuyama took 4,000 photographs in half a year. After she moved out of the village in 1985, she visited it as often as possible. When she became unable to walk, she continued to shoot, riding on a wheel chair. Her new home in the relocated site in Gifu City was filled with more than 100,000 photographs in six hundred albums. Masuyama, who photographed Tokuyama Village for almost thirty years, died in the spring of 2006 at eighty-eight, before seeing “the end of minashimai,” that is, the submergence of the village.

In the autumn of the same year, trial flooding started at Tokuyama Dam, sinking all the hamlets except for Kadonyū under water. Today we cannot even see the vacant site of the village I videotaped, and we are no longer able to add to the sum of the existing photographic images of Tokuyama Village. About twenty years after the annexation, nothing remained of the village whose roots can be traced back to the Jōmon period; only the name of the place was passed on to Tokuyama Dam.

The history of Tokuyama Village, spotlighted as the “village sinking because of the dam”, is coming to a close with the death of Masuyama Tazuko and its submergence. If there will be the third minashimai (end), it would be the moment when even the memories of this village have disappeared. However, more than 100,000 photographs taken by Masuyama will remain as a relic that defies disappearance, resisting oblivion; we can repeatedly witness the past events through photographs. Outliving the village and the photographer, Masuyama’s photographs will remain to be a source of the memories of the village that did exist in this place. “The light of past days” still glows in the photographs.

Selected Bibliography:

Asashi shimbun gifu shikyoku, ed. Uitemau tokuyamamura [Sinking Tokuyama Village](Nagoya: Bookshop My Town, 1986).
Eguchi Yoshiharu. Kokyō no hi wa kiete [The light of the hometown went out] (Tokyo: Kindaibungeisha, 1997).
Emori Yōkō. Damu ni shizunda mura [The village that sank in the dam] (Tokyo: Kindai bungeisha, 1997).
Ōmaki Fujio. Tareka kokyō o omowazaru [Who does not think about his hometown](Nagoya: Bookshop My Town, 1990).
Ōmaki Fujio. Tokuyamadamu risonki [Records of leaving Tokuyama Dam] (Nagoya: Bookshop My Town, 1991).
Kusuyama Tadayuki. Obāchan naite waratte shattā o kiru [Grandma takes photographs, crying and smiling] (Tokyo: Poplar Publishing, Co., Ltd., 1995).
Tokuyamamura no shizen to rekishi to bunka o kataru tsudoi [Gathering for discussions about nature, history, and culture of Tokuyama Village], ed. Mino tokuyamamura tsūshin gappon 1 [Newsletters from Tokuyama Village in Mino, bound volume 1] (Nagoya: Bookshop My Town, 1985).
Tokuyamamura no shizen to rekishi to bunka o kataru tsudoi [Gathering for discussions about nature, history, and culture of Tokuyama Village], ed. Mino tokuyamamura tsūshin gappon 2 [Newsletters from Tokuyama Village in Mino, bound volume 2] (Nagoya: Bookshop My Town, 1986)
Nishii Kazuo. Nijusseiki shashinron shūsyō [Essays on twentieth-century photography. The last chapter] (Tokyo: Seikyusha, 2001).
Hirakara Kōsuke. Nihonichino muda [The worst waste in Japan] (Tokyo: Sanyo shuppansha, 2006).
Masuyama Tazuko. Kokyō: watashino tokuyamamura shashin nikki [The Hometown: My photo diary of Tokuyama Village] (Tokyo: Jakometei shuppan, 1983).
Masuyama Tazuko. Furusato no tenkyo tsūchi [A change of address notice of the hometown], (Tokyo: Joho Center Publishing, 1985).
Masuyama Tazuko. Masuyama tazuko shashinshū: arigatō tokuyamamura [Photography book by Masuyama Tazuko: Thank you Tokuyama Village] (Tokyo: Kageshobo: 1987).
Masuyama Tazuko. Tokuyamamura shashin zenkiroku [The Complete Photographic Documents of Tokuyama Village] (Tokyo: Kageshobo, 1997).



Shinoda Michihiro, a friend of my father, moved to Tokuyama Village to teach at Tokuyama Elementary School in 1978. With Ōmaki Fujio, Neo Yahichi, and Masuyama Tazuko, Shinoda established the Association for Discussions about the History of Tokuyama Village, and then devoted himself to recording the history of the village and excavations of the remains, as a central member of the Gathering for Discussions about Nature, History, and Culture of Tokuyama Village established in 1983.


Residents of Sugihara area of Fujihashi Village, a village neighboring Tokuyama Village, were also relocated because of the dam construction.


Masuyama Tazuko, Furusato no tenkyo tsūchi [A change of address notice of the hometown], (Tokyo: Joho Center Publishing, 1985), 31.


Ibid., 134.


In her Furusato no tenkyo tsūchi, Masuyama writes that she named her son born during the War “Kōhei,” a name that means “love peace,” “probably as a resistance I could barely do.”


Masuyama, Furusato no tenkyo tsūchi, 15.


Masuyama Tazuko, Masuyama tazuko shashinshū: arigatō tokuyamamura [Photography book by Masuyama Tazuko: Thank you Tokuyama Village] (Tokyo: Kageshobo: 1987), 5.


“ ‘Tokuyama no tomodachi’ utsusu” [Photographing ‘friends in Tokuyama’], Chunichi shimbun, March 9, 2006, morning paper.


Masuyama, Arigatō tokuyamamura, 4.


Hirakata Kōsuke, “Kokyō utonjirare. . . : huan kakaete iten o isogu” [The hometown is alienated. . . : Hurriedly moving out with anxiety], Asahi shimbun, April 20, 1985, evening paper.


Even after learning how to use a camera, Masuyama took photographs, repeating her phrase “well, let’s see. . . ” It became her staging technique to make her models laugh.


Masuyama Tazuko, Kokyō: watashino tokuyamamura shashin nikki [The Hometown: My photo diary of Tokuyama Village] (Tokyo: Jakometei shuppan, 1983), 24.


Whereas a large part of her early photographs captures the villagers from the front, as her technique improved, Masuyama came to shoot them from various angles.


Emori Yōkō, Damu ni shizunda mura [The village that sank in the dam] (Tokyo: Kindai bungeisha, 1997), 54.


Having heard that light-blue is a color that defeats loneliness, Masuyama always wrapped a light-blue towel around her neck. With the towel, she wiped not only the sweat, but also tears when she was sad.


Masuyama, Furusato no tenkyo tsūchi, 132.


Masuyama Tazuko, Tokuyamamura shashin zenkiroku [The Complete Photographic Documents of Tokuyama Village] (Tokyo: Kageshobo, 1997), 126.


Ibid., 7.


Masuyama, Furusato no tenkyo tsūchi, 40.

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