In my junior year of University, my father had a photo exhibition, “SADO – To Primitive Forest From Bottom of Sea,” at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. He had been taking pictures in Sado island for 16 years—the exhibition and the photo book, “SADO,” were the compilation of his work.
At that time I attended a University in Tokyo area, and my father sent me a number of tickets and brochures saying, “Why don’t you invite your friends?” I gave tickets to some of my close friends quietly, but what I received from them were exaggerated responses : “wow! Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography!” Then, a rumor was rapidly spread among friends that “Sayuri’s father is a famous photographer.” To be honest, I didn’t want my friends to think that I bragged about my father by distributing the tickets on the campus. My silly and immature thought was, however, vanished away when I actually went to see the exhibition. Beyond my expectation, I was totally fascinated by SADO and simply glad that my friends had an opportunity to see the exhibition.
Since I was small, I have been looking at the pictures that my father had taken. They had been around me as if they were normal part of my life. Stepping away from the place where I was surround by them, and visiting the place where I could see them again with my own view, for the first time, I realized by myself how great they are. Even if Takashi Amano were not my father, SADO would have probably influenced me. I can bet my life on it. I got myself so excited and wanted to visit Sado island and see the primitive cedars. Being driven by such desire, I asked my father immediately.
At that time, the primitive forest in the mountain of Sado island was managed by Niigata University and it was not open to public. Unless I asked my father who had the special permission to take me there, I had no way to see the primitive cedars. My father told me that he would take me there during the summer holidays, and I asked my friends who had been to the exhibition, if they wanted to join us. Then all of them said, “I want to!” I thought there would be only few who actually came, even though they said they wanted to go. However, most of them were serious. It was because we were the University students, who did not want to miss out anything that we could experience, and wanted to make use of the freedom meaningfully and eagerly for us during the last moratorium in life. Everyone, including me, was filled with such energy and curiosity.
Thus, I organized a tour to Sado island, and at my 21st summer, I went to Sado island for the first time in more than ten years. Bringing along eight of my friends who came over all the way to my hometown, my father was the guide and two ADA staff members were the tour assistants. It was three days trip with 12 members. I was, in fact, very anxious to have my father, who has his unique style, as a guide but, thanks to his strong character and humor we had nonstop laugh, and it seemed like everything about him was interesting to my friends.
Once we were in nature, it was so clear how deep my father had observed nature. He saw the things easily that were invisible in our eyes. Everything he taught us was learning for us. “The nature in Sado island is microcosm of Japan,” he said it all the time. Everything— sea, sky, mountains, rice paddies, vegetation, houses, and rocky hills— was blending in our vision, and those sceneries gave us strong nostalgia that “oh, this is Japan.” It is the place that could be our origin. I felt being convinced the reason why he had chosen that place and kept taking pictures.
Most of all, in this island, there are guardian angels that captured my father’s heart. That is giant primitive Japanese cedars live for a thousand years. Stepping into the primitive forest, we kept walking through mountain track for a few hours. Finally, we got to see the cedars. The impressions I had from the cedars in my father’s pictures were dynamic vitality, uplifting feeling, and a sense of existence. What I actually felt in front of them were, however, the stillness of the cedars that were simply standing there, and their warmth as if they embraced everything. They didn’t express their presence at all. Rather, they were nurturing their uniqueness by blending into and being embraced by the environment. Stretching the branches at crazy angles, making big knots, connecting to the next tree…each uniqueness was meant to be there, and alive. The cedars were just being there, and showed us their existence. What the cedars gave us was only exist in our hearts. What we could learn from them was only left in our hands. My father had kept taking pictures of those cedars to protect them, he told us. At the end of the tour, he left an assignment to us, the young people.
“One day, at given instant, untouched nature disappears suddenly before anyone realizes. The nature is sacrificed. Such is the case with living thing lives for a thousand years. That is what actually has been happening in this world. In order for the cedars to survive in the world where human beings live, letting more people know about their existence was the priority. We must not lose them. I want you to keep thinking how human can be symbiosis with nature”.
Five years later, boardwalk was built in the primitive forest and the cedars were opened to the public. My father’s message took shape and it became a way to protect the great things. Those young people, who received the assignment from my father are now active in various fields. Even now, when we get together, we talk about Sado island —what we shared in that summer is still alive inside each of us. Sometimes some says “Rumor has it that your dad is as active as ever” and then, we enjoy talking about him. When the people who are important for me get together and something precious germinates from there, the story has warmth and eternity like those cedars taught me. The story, which started in that summer, will continue forever.
text & illustration by Sayuri Amano