Marcus Paladino Photography
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Japan

Words by Matt George

There exists the most extraordinary telephone booth in Japan. It sits in a serene garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the outskirts of a town called Otsuchi. This white, glass-paned phone booth holds a disconnected rotary phone, its cables neatly coiled and attached to nothing. It ever jangles with incoming calls. And outgoing messages don’t travel though cords. Instead, the booth is a mediation on relationships, life, and death. And it has become a pilgrimage site for residents untagling the grief that remains knotted in their stomachs. The grief caused by a giant wave that erased over sixteen hundred lives. When the earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, three 30-foot waves swirled through their houses. A centuries old town was obliterated in under 15 minutes. In the aftermath, Itaru Sasaki nestled the old, salvaged phone booth in his garden. He then invited everyone to step into the booth to make a call to their relatives and friends lost in the Tsunami’s. To say all the things they could not say when their friends and family were alive.

“Because thoughts like this cannot be relayed over a regular phone line” said Sasaki, “ They must be carried by the wind”.

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 The phone booth, Kaze No Denwa, “the wind phone”, is now a type of shrine. And the people who visit it are pilgrims. Grief is hard to carry, it’s heavy and shifting. And this phone booth invites people to work out painful feelings in a private space. It’s a way of wrestling  with tragedy. And it was all created in the wake of a series of giant waves that were the distant cousins of each wave we ride.   Which is to say that Japan, with solutions to human grief like this, will never need the West. Japan will forever be distinctive and separate. Even when it comes to surfing. And for any of you lucky enough to visit the land of the rising sun, allow it to teach you at least one lesson. None of us are as smart as all of us.

The phone booth, Kaze No Denwa, “the wind phone”, is now a type of shrine. And the people who visit it are pilgrims. Grief is hard to carry, it’s heavy and shifting. And this phone booth invites people to work out painful feelings in a private space. It’s a way of wrestling with tragedy. And it was all created in the wake of a series of giant waves that were the distant cousins of each wave we ride.

Which is to say that Japan, with solutions to human grief like this, will never need the West. Japan will forever be distinctive and separate. Even when it comes to surfing. And for any of you lucky enough to visit the land of the rising sun, allow it to teach you at least one lesson. None of us are as smart as all of us.

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 In a nation of rabid fans of all things western, when a native son rises to prominence in America, the appreciation becomes worship. Kanoa Igarashi’s presence in Japan is cause for national celebration. It is impossible for him to walk down the street without bodyguards, people are naming babies after him, local schools are let out in any area he surfs and pop stars include him in their lyrics. His Bushido is evident in Japan. In the west, we do not even know what that means.

In a nation of rabid fans of all things western, when a native son rises to prominence in America, the appreciation becomes worship. Kanoa Igarashi’s presence in Japan is cause for national celebration. It is impossible for him to walk down the street without bodyguards, people are naming babies after him, local schools are let out in any area he surfs and pop stars include him in their lyrics. His Bushido is evident in Japan. In the west, we do not even know what that means.

 “What each of us believes in is up to us”, Goes Japanese credo, “but life is impossible without believing in something.”

“What each of us believes in is up to us”, Goes Japanese credo, “but life is impossible without believing in something.”

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  Various images from this trip were published with    Surfline,    Surf Time Magazine and Tracks Magazine.

Various images from this trip were published with Surfline, Surf Time Magazine and Tracks Magazine.