Internationally renowned photographer Masuura Yukihito introduced his work at the opening of the Shrine Photography Exhibit, a temporary installation located in the gallery of the College of Creative Studies that features photos of Japanese Shinto shrines.
The exhibit, which will remain open through Friday, includes photos of a Shikinen Sengū, or reconstruction ceremony, at the Ise Grand Shrine held once every 20 years and ‟Grand Sengū of the Heisei Period,” another form of reconstruction ceremony at the Izumo Shrine. Masuura was the first person allowed to photograph both the Grand Shrine of Ise and the Grand Shrine of Izumo, two Shinto shrines that are usually closed to the public. His work has been featured in galleries and other venues around the world, such as the France National Art Museum, the Michelangelo Museum in Italy and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.
Masuura said his focus and attitude were part of the reason why he was granted permission to document such sacred structures and the very secretive rituals that happen within them.
“I had to convince the priests that I was serious, and that I really wanted to convey the deep meanings behind these rituals,” Masuura said.
Additionally, Masuura said the purpose of his photographs is not just to depict Shinto religious beliefs, but also to highlight the spiritual structures that uphold them.
“I’m not just taking the picture because I like the picture. The picture is an opportunity to show the cultural system behind [the religious ceremonies],” Masuura said. “The system of this ritual is about what you transmit from this generation to the next and how and why. This is an element of Japanese culture that is not very well-known.”
Troy Yamasaki, a second-year art major in the College of Creative Studies, said he enjoyed the event because of the opportunity he had to learn more about his Japanese heritage.
“I’m not necessarily in touch with my Japanese heritage, but it was really cool for me to come here and figure out a dimension of my non-Western culture,” Yamasaki said.
After looking at Masuura’s photographs and listening to him speak, Yamasaki said he gained insight into an aspect of Japanese culture that is new to him.
“I had no idea that [these rituals] were still in practice in Japan today,” he said.
The well-respected photographer later concluded his talk by thanking the American people for the aid they gave Japan following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.
“The activity I am doing tonight is a very simple way for me to give back to you all the things that we received,” Masuura said.
The event and exhibit are a part of Master Artists from Japan: Living Traditions, a series of events taking place throughout the week primarily organized by UCSB’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies. Department Chair Fabio Rambelli, who helped to organize the event series, emphasized the unique nature of the exhibit and the series as a whole.
“It’s a very exciting series because we have three major masters in their own specific traditional art,” Rambelli said in reference to Masuura , Katayama Kuroemon X (a classical Noh actor) and Sugimoto Setsuko (an expert on traditional Japanese cuisine).
Rambelli said the three speakers will lend UCSB students with a new way of looking at the old and new traditions and cultural structures that exist alongside each other in today’s Japan.
“Normally when you read about Japan or when you go there, they tell you about the tradition and the contemporary aspect, like they are separate,” Rambelli said. “What the three of them will convey to us is the way in which the Japanese traditions are conceived and practiced and handed down from one generation to another.”
A version of this story appeared on page 6 of Wednesday, January 29, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.