Old Buildings, Living Essence
Dear Family and Friends,
Ever since I got to Sendai, I have been fascinated by old houses scattered around the city and countryside. At first, most were still lived in and held a charm and wonder that only old things have. In fact, my friend Shuhei told me that in Japan well used items are highly revered. They are considered almost sacred for the essence and history they bear.
Over the years, especially since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, much of Sendai has been, and still is being, rebuilt. More and more new homes and developments are devouring the city. I find most are soul-less and depressing without gardens or even a tree.
In contrast, though, many old places remain. A large number of them are empty and falling to ruin. Others are appear lived in, as if the owner will soon return from work. And maybe they will. Sometimes it is hard to tell if a shack is still a home or once was.
(Actually, a precious 92 year old lady lives in this home. She has been there since she got married about 70 years ago. She is an anchor of the neighborhood. Everyone knows and loves her.)
Inhabited or not, all of these places emit a rather haunting feeling, a mystery, a long history of stories, both happy and sad.
I love exploring my neighborhood and beyond. It has many narrow, winding streets, which surely began long ago as footpaths. Of course, on these excursions of discovery, I take a camera and delight in adding to my collection of memories.
It seems I am not the only one who enjoys this pastime. I recently learned of a group of photographers who have been recording old buildings in this area for years. They are currently holding an exhibition called Sendai Collection.
And what a collection it is! Photo after teeny photo of black and white shots from 2000 to 2022. These are punctuated with ones a bit larger for variety and orientation. The show covers several rooms. At first the sheer number seemed overwhelming. But as I started looking closely at each picture, I found myself completely absorbed. Each building, each home contained a deep spirit that spoke profoundly and nostalgically. Who had lived there? What quiet wisdom does that building have to share?
To my surprise, I found several images of places I myself had photographed, some very close to my home. Some looked the same, others more weatherworn, yet still, more or less, intact. The literally thousands of photos in the show were a treasure trove, requiring many visits to appreciate fully.
What I appreciated just as much as the pictures were the other visitors. Many were huddled with friends around a photo, examining and discussing everything in great detail. Surely, they were the living history that those buildings now reflect.
Of course, the relentless rebuilding in Sendai will continue to march forward. And the Sendai Collection photographers will continue recording that evolution. For them, perhaps, part of their work involves both reminiscence and a looking ahead. But for me, it is more an ongoing discovery into the profound essence of this culture, with its stories, mysteries, and wonderment that never cease to captivate me to the core of my being.