Diplomats express take on wabi sabi through camera lens

Kyodo News

An exhibition of photographs taken by diplomats and their families in Japan will open Tuesday in Tokyo, showcasing works imbued with the Japanese concepts of wabi and sabi.

About 90 works by 58 diplomats and family members, representing 37 countries plus the European Commission and Palestinians, were selected from about 500 submissions that freely interpreted the theme “Colors of Japan” for the annual show, known as “Japan through Diplomats’ Eyes.”

This year’s show, which will move to Nagoya in November and Osaka in December, is also based on the theme of “wabi-sabi,” with wabi reflecting beauty found in simplicity and tranquility, and sabi reflecting appreciation of transience and withered things. It is the first time the event has carried a second theme, making it more challenging for participants to express their interpretations of Japan through the lens.

The Prince Takamado Memorial Prize was awarded to Alejandro Fernandez Munoz, son of Costa Rica Ambassador to Japan Mario Fernandez Silva.

Fernandez Munoz’s piece captures a Buddhist monk holding a bowl of incense as he stands on a street leading to Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto.

“This well-composed work makes viewers feel silence, fitting the theme ‘wabi-sabi’ the best,” Princess Hisako, the prince’s widow, was quoted as saying by Hiroshi Kuramochi, director of photographic agency G.I.P. Tokyo, who sits on the show’s eight-member screening committee.

The prize was created in 2003 to commemorate Prince Takamado, an avid photographer who died in 2002. The prince, a cousin of Emperor Akihito, served as honorary president of the annual exhibition from its inception in 1998.

The grand prize was shared between Paulo Lopes Graca, a former counselor at the Portuguese Embassy who currently serves in Seoul, and Timothy Gellel, a defense attache at the Australian Embassy.

Lopes Graca’s photo depicts amulets for deceased and sick people being purified in water at Mitaki Temple in Hiroshima.

Lopes Graca “beautifully adopted the wabi-sabi concept and explained the fragility of things through a photo where Japanese characters are erased by flowing water,” said Colombian Ambassador to Japan Patricia Cardenas, who heads the event’s executive committee.

Gellel’s photo was awarded the grand prize for capturing colorful paper cranes dedicated to a cenotaph for female students who were recruited to become nurses for Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II.

“This place (Okinawa) is filled with various feelings by visitors, but this close-up, powerful photo is full of color and joy, elements necessary for photography,” Kuramochi said.

The show will run through Nov. 3 at the Roppongi Hills business and commercial complex in Tokyo. It will then move to the Central Park shopping mall in Nagoya from Nov. 21 to Dec. 3, and to Osaka University of Arts’ Hotarumachi Campus in Fukushima Ward from Dec. 16 to 24.

Further information about the exhibition is available in both Japanese and English at