Photography & art / June 2017 (Issue 36: Writing Japan)

The Nikaryo-yosui ​C​anal (Shodo)​ Series

by Marsha McDonald

This is an ongoing series of unaltered digital photos.

I began taking photos of water six years ago. For two years, I have been spending two terms a year teaching EFL to university students in West Tokyo. Often at night, I explore the bodies of water within walking distance of my apartment. I am surrounded by moving water, as many Tokyo neighborhoods are laced with canals and ditches.

This particular canal, the Nikaryo-yosui, dates from the Edo period. It was built for refuse, field runoff, rainwater and sewage, draining into the Tama river. It has another life now, as a public stream, frequented by families living along it. Though dimly lit at night, the light that finds its way to it, and adjacent smaller canals, is as lively as the carp and crayfish that inhabit it.

Night lit water strikes me as a tongue, a palpable language, with a visible written form. Often in very large cities we are so overwhelmingly submerged in language(s) that it is difficult to really see, really hear, really remember separate small voices. Along the Nikaryo-yosui there is enough quiet for me to look at how (my, another) language looks back at me, at how it moves through a place. The lens of a camera offers an insight into the beautiful "script of insignificance," the common life of water and light that also surround one in Tokyo.













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