What do 21,081 steps look like? The organizers of Photohope hope to find out on an upcoming “photowalk” across Tokyo in support of mental health awareness.

Set to take place on World Mental Health Day, Oct. 10, the photowalk coincides with mental health nonprofit TELL Japan’s Step Up Challenge, a campaign to encourage people to walk 21,081 steps — the same number of lives lost to suicide in Japan last year.

The photowalk, organized by Brian Scott Peterson and Yuko Yoshikawa, builds off the success of the duo’s ongoing Photohoku project, which they started in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

Driven by a desire to help those in need after witnessing the disaster from afar, Peterson and Yoshikawa made their way from Tokyo to the tsunami-struck Tohoku region in an attempt to provide more hands-on assistance.

With the tsunami presumably having washed away family photo albums and histories, the pair gave away free photographs and albums to help survivors rebuild their documented histories. Their efforts were initially met with skepticism, but this changed as they began giving photos away on the spot. Their shots included spontaneous snaps of children playing as well as family portraits. While such photos may have been the last thing on the minds of those who survived the disaster, they no doubt reminded them of what they still had — each other.

“Photography has the power to heal,” Yoshikawa tells The Japan Times. “That’s the reason why we continue Photohoku, and what we hope to expand upon through Photohope.”

Peterson adds that for them, “the act of photographing is more a reward than any one photo, camera or memory. … It’s the pursuit itself, and then everything else that comes with it.”

As the past 18 months have seen mental health issues take particular prominence in the headlines — from pandemic-related stress to high-profile cases of athletes needing to take a hiatus — activities like the Step Up Challenge and Photohope take on even more importance.

Additionally, the event pays homage to an anonymous Photohoku supporter who left behind a collection of film and cameras to the group after taking their own life. The film will be distributed freely to those who participate in the photowalk, but anything from digital cameras to smartphones can be used to take pictures on the 21,081-step journey from Totem Pole Photo Gallery in Shinjuku Ward to Sensoji temple in Taito Ward to Tokyo Tower in Minato Ward.

In order to maximize safety, Photohope is implementing infection prevention measures based on the Guidelines for the Prevention of the Spread of the New Coronavirus Infection of Tokyo. Organizers are asking participants to be mindful of distancing and to please minimize risk by masking up. If you have a temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius or higher, or if you have any physical symptoms, the organizers are asking that you refrain from participating and take care of yourself! If you don’t wish to take these precautions, the group asks that you please support them from home.

At approximately 14 kilometers, the journey may seem daunting. Photohoku stresses, though, that participants are free to choose whether they’d like to walk the full length or not. The primary focus is to have fun, increase awareness of mental health issues and to provide support to organizations dedicated to suicide prevention.

For more information on Photohope, visit http://photohoku.org. If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 119 in Japan for immediate assistance. The TELL Lifeline is available for those who need free and anonymous counseling at 03-5774-0992. You can also visit them at telljp.com. For those in other countries, visit suicide.org for a detailed list of resources and assistance.

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