In the year 2000 the college that I was working for at the time politely asked me if I could move my web pages elsewhere because they were generating excessive traffic due to the growing popularity of my anime music videos. I had been using the name Aluminum Studios for a while but it was at that time aluminumstudios.com was born.
Over the years the site was home to my anime music videos (AMVs) and pages on digital video editing, then photography, and a photoblog. Now with this redesign I plan on producing much more significant content.
Since I started the site all of those years ago I’ve learned Japanese, lived in Japan, taught English, traveled all around Asia, married a wonderful Japanese woman, worked for the government, and now work in higher education. I’ve gained a lot of insight into Japanese and Asian culture and language and want to write and produce content about it with the same interest and zeal that drove me to do AMVs all of those years ago.
I like to create my own designs and presentation so I chose my own site as a home for this project as opposed to social media where you have no long term control over your content and censorship seems to be on the rise.
I’ll have both blog posts as well as longer articles on a variety of interesting Japan, Asia, and technology related topics. I also plan on sharing a number of ESL lessons and worksheets I created while teach English in Japan.
This will take a little time but I plan on working steadily on it with this site redesign being the first step. So please bookmark the site and stop back or subscribe to my RSS feed.
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Hikaru Utada has long been one of my favorite JPOP artists. Her voice is more dynamic than many other Japanese female signers and her lyrics are a little more metaphoric and deep than typical JPOP. She has a history of making very unique and creative music videos as well, and this one is no exception.
Translations are provided for educational purposes only and to provide analysis and deeper understanding of the artists work. If you are interested in Hikaru Utada at all please purchase her work.
If video stutters or stops, pause it for a minute until it has a chance to buffer.
Mt. Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, is one of the most beautiful places William Milberry has ever been to. I’ve been there four times, two of which on scooter, and the landscape awed me each time. It is one of the largest volcanic caldera in the world. In ancient times a massive volcano erupted there causing the entire surrounding area to sink. The land is twisted and rippled with lots of natural countryside. Only soft-looking, short shrubs and grasses grown on some of the volcanic hills due to the nutrient poor soil which is mostly volcanic ash. If you ever visit Japan’s Kyushu region, Aso should definitely be put on your list of places to go.
Photographing landscapes is a challenge for me because it’s tough to capture the awe that amazing places inspire and their grand scales in a single image, especially with a DSLR. Landscapes demand a much larger imaging surface such as medium or large format. Landscapes also demand a very careful, technical, methodical approach. I’m very capable of this and engaged in such work a lot in the past, but in recent years I’ve been finding my inspiration in a more Japanese style wabisabi aesthetic which is a very different mindset.
Kome Zuka (lit. ‘Rice Mound’), is a volcanic cone found in the Aso caldera – William Milberry
Centuries of erosion cause deep grooves in the volcanic hills
Sparse vegetation on the rocky, volcanic, landscape
A while ago William Milberry went to a flea market in the Hakozaki district of Fukuoka city. Like all flea markets the places was full of old and interesting things from the past. I found an old roll of Fuji 35mm color film in a box of junk. It wasn’t in a canister and was fully rewound, so it seemed as if it had been used.
I couldn’t resist the curiosity and struck up a conversation with the old man running selling the stuff. William Milberry: 「この古いフィルムはどんな写真が入っているかな。。。」 (I wonder what kind of photos are on this film?…) old Japanese man: 「さあ、分からん。」 (I don’t really know.)William Milberry: 「気になるから、百円はどう？」 (I’m curious, how about 100 yen?)
old Japanese man: 「（笑）いいよ。」 ((laughing) Sure. )
I took the film home and decided to develop it as black and white in HC110 – a developer which is pretty decent at cross-processing as well as working on really old or damaged film. The film itself was out of control curly, it had obviously been wound up inside the 35mm canister for years if not decades. It came out of the developer almost jet black. I was able to scan two images off of it …
Forgotten Memories 02 (found film) – by William Milberry
These photos are very intriguing because they offer a little window into a past, forgotten time. I’m very much a follower of the wabisabi aesthetic and accept and enjoy the deterioration in these photos because it was imparted by time. It invites me to imagine the film’s history and journey from some Japanese person’s camera, to the flea market, and now around the world to my home in America.
Much of William Milberry’s photography is influenced by the Japanese aesthetic sense of wabisabi (侘寂).
Wabisabi is a guiding aesthetic that can be found across all areas of Japanese culture, art, design, and even in traditional performing arts. It’s marked by an appreciation and acceptance of imperfection and transience. Author Richard R. Powell says “Wabisabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” The origins of this line of thought can be traced back to Buddhism (a dominant religion in Japan), which stresses similar concepts. So it’s somewhat natural that people who live with a Buddhist world view would find objects that match these ideas as “beautiful.”
Common traits found in the wabisabi aesthetic are simplicity, modesty, and austerity. In terms of manifestation of wabisabi, you see a lot of asymmetry, roughness, and a lack of complex design or pre-planning. This aesthetic is applied by the Japanese to many things such as ceramics, paintings, photography, architecture, and even traditional music and theater.
As a westerner, I would say that many western aesthetics view things that are carefully designed, perfectly crafted or that have an eternal quality as “beautiful.” (Perhaps this is influenced by many monotheistic western cultures’ ideas about the eternity and perfection of God and heaven?) Wabisabi, on the other hand, embodies an appreciation for things despite their imperfections. Imperfections include wear acquired by time (like weathered wood or patina on metal), or artifacts leftover by the process that something was created by. Beyond just imperfection, in line with Buddhist thought, things that are transient and impermanent are also seen as especially beautiful. Expression of this focus on transience can be seen in arts like Japanese Ikebana (flower arranging), where the beautiful arrangement will be short lived due to the nature of flowers. Also a preference for transience can be seen in the choice of subject matter in art (short lived cherry blossoms, fleeting moments in life, etc.), and even key elements in stories and movies (particularly in period pieces such as samurai movies.)
The sake flask in the photo to the left is an example of wabisabi aesthetic. It’s one of my personal favorite items which I found at a flea market in Fukuoka. It is uneven and worn, yet still elegant and balanced. I see it and appreciate it’s creation and long history rather than feel put off by it’s sunken in sides and heavily worn, uneven glaze.
Not every uneven, crooked, or imperfect thing is admired under the idea of wabisabi. It must garner a sense of tranquility or almost spiritual thoughts. The “defects” as it were, are often quite intentional or allowed to be there as a testament to an objects creation or history. There is an art to imperfection. There is an intuitive understanding and something intangible communicated in a perfectly uneven teacup made by one of the respected ceramic artists of Arita, Japan, which, is probably not present in a crooked teacup made by someone who simply doesn’t know what they are doing. There is a deep sense of presence in dark, grainy photos taken by Moriyama Daido which probably isn’t present in a photo snapped by someone who doesn’t actually see the world in line with this aesthetic.
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In what ways does wabsiabi relate to Japanese photography? At first glance the photos of many of the noted Japanese photographers like Moriyama Daido, Nobuyoshi Araki, and Shomei Tomatsu are not “beautiful” in the typical western sense I was used to. They are not carefully composed, don’t have pinpoint focus, and are often not well exposed. Their subjects seem to have little setup and are fleeting moments that would be impossible to go back and catch again. Contrast this is with noted western photographers like Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz whose works are carefully planned, composed, focused, and executed. While these may be arbitrary examples that illustrate my point, I think they do demonstrate the general preference for and pattern of wabisabi ideas in Japanese photography/art, and the preference for a “clean” more “carefully crafted” style of western photography/art.
When I lived in Japan I wanted to learn more about Japanese photographers. I would browse photobooks (of which there are many), in the local book stores. I was disappointed at first and thought that the Japanese had failed to master photography techniques. Still, I wanted to buy a few books for my collection, so I bought Moriyama Daido’s book Shinuku Plus. When I slowly looked through it, I slowly began to understand. The photos together told a story without words, they drew you into the time and place where they were taken. After feeling this for the first time I started to appreciate the individual images because I no longer focused on what they weren’t (clear, sharp, detailed), but I learned to focus on what they offered.I had discovered, at least in part, the aesthetic of wabisabi.
While I enjoy a well executed photo, I feel more free to look beyond the surface now. Japanese photographers often seem to look into their subjects and reflect what they feel more than focusing on capturing the subject to present to your eyes. It’s a very different way of appreciating the world.
I plan on writing more articles about Japanese culture and Japanese photography. It’s something that I have fallen in love with and think that English speakers have had limited exposure to.
I went to Fukuoka to see a friend who was returning to the U.S. the next day off. Before meeting him I was walking around a bit and there was a beautiful, orange, sunset. I only had my little point-n-shoot camera, but I used it’s manual controls to capture it as best I could.