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Minimal, Messy, or Melancholic?

The English word home does not have a Japanese equivalent but links to various terms and concepts: ie and katei relate to the house spatially; kazoku (composed of the characters for house and tribe) is the immediate family and household; furusato defines a nostalgic image of one’s home, hometown, or birthplace. Just as the Japanese language is highly situational, the idea of home also depends on the context. It is therefore not surprising that the motif of the home in Japanese photography is diverse, raising compelling questions: How do architectural photographs present the Japanese home? Are Daido Moriyama’s blurry 1970s images of the village of Tono linked to a hometown vision? What kind of family home do younger photographers portray in their work?

Ie: Home as a house

Yoshio Watanabe, best known for his 1953 Ise shrine photographs, and Yasuhiro Ishimoto, who studied at the Institute of Design in Chicago before returning to Japan in 1953, were both concerned with the traditional architecture of Japanese temples, shrines, and villas. Unlike the Western idea of architecture that is durable and permanent, it has been a long custom in Japan to constantly change and re-create space, for example through the use of sliding doors and series (1953–82), sliding paper doors and light tatami flooring contrast with dark wooden pillars; architectural shapes are captured as clear lines and geometric forms reminiscent of the Bauhaus (which in turn was partly inspired by a Japanese “purist” style). No detail is unplanned—forms and materials are in harmonious dialogue. The minimal, almost abstract photographic compositions convey a feeling of balance. The homes that Ishimoto and Watanabe present us with can be viewed as manifestations of the Japanese philosophy of space known as , literally “in-between.” The aesthetic of the rooms (and of the photographs) comes into existence through a careful interaction between form and non-form, dark and light. The transient concept of space can be seen as following the tradition of Shinto and Buddhist culture, emphasizing the impermanence of all things.

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