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From 2012-2014 I lived as an English teacher in Amakusa, Japan. A beautiful cluster of islands with a rich and unique history, it has nevertheless been undergoing population decline for several decades. One way this change is represented is in the towns' closed schools and storefronts. As a teacher, I would wander through these areas, curious about the histories behind them. In particular, my favorite place to explore was the fishing town of Ushibuka.
In November of 2017 I returned to Ushibuka eager to use art to address the urban change it had experienced. I did this via the Furusato Vision Project, an initiative of the JET Program, through which I had taught. In Ushibuka, I met with locals and asked them to write down a cherished memory they had of something that no longer existed. With their words, and the photographs I took of them and their chosen locations, I hoped to cast a positive light on places that might otherwise go ignored.
Overall many of the stories shared a common theme: human relationships. People mentioned a family farewell, playing with childhood friends, taking walks with one's son, surviving a crisis with one's neighbors, etc. It was people's humanity and their care for each other that made the various locations special.
As communities change, I believe it's those kinds of values that are important for people to uphold. I hope that if people in Ushibuka and other changing communities hold onto their kindness, concern for each other, and continue to take joy in one another, then life will be brighter for future generations.
I am currently repeating this project in the Burton Heights and Garfield Park neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, MI. There I hope to learn the stories of residents who, like those of Ushibuka, have seen their community change over the decades. Against a backdrop of migration, immigration, and a stagnant economy (Grand Rapids ranked third nationally for rising income inequality in 2017), I'm eager to hear residents’ cherished memories of these changing neighborhoods.