Autumn Reflections

Back to Contents of Issue: November 2004

by Michael E. Stanley

I WAS ASKED years ago to participate in a commercial project involving the photography of an old and famous inn in Fukushima Prefecture. The Showa Emperor (Emperor Hirohito) had once stayed there. The inn's owners--particularly on the distaff side, traditionally the power in Japan's culture of hospitality--wanted a look that diverged from the formulaic.
The agency art director chose to remain pretty much in the background, and the inn's proprietors not only gave me the run of the elegant and expensive place for five days, but also elected to stand aside so that, as they put it: "Those blue eyes can find our special beauty here."
Such trust and freedom are not only rare, but daunting. While I was confident in my abilities, there was also a rapacious gremlin of doubt nibbling at my insides. The work progressed, however, and I felt that the overall results would indeed satisfy the client.
On the last day of shooting, I was working in the shinkan, the inn's newly built modern wing. Large windows allowed the day's overcast light into the entrance and lobby area as I concentrated on the array of classical Japanese themes set in a contemporary context. I was nearly finished when I noticed that one wall was made entirely of mirrors, the glass etched with motifs from traditional Japanese paintings.
One of the images was of a seated Heian Period woman in a junihitoe robe, as seen from behind. My eyes shifted to the reflection of a circular 'moon gate' window that hovered beyond the etched image of the ancient noblewoman.
I moved a few pieces of furniture and set up the camera. In the viewfinder was this ancient woman, her gaze fixed on a rising moon. Amid the angles and light of the late 20th century inn, a 9th century verse by the noted scholar-poet Oe no Chisato entered my mind:
On a viewing of the moon, so many are my thoughts, and so many my sadnesses. But autumn alone has not brought them.

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