As with many cultures, before modernization the Japanese people relied heavily on agriculture, holding a spiritual affinity with and respecting the power of nature. Bountiful harvests were celebrated in festivities that played a significant role in community activities, and the distinctive folk rituals that arose in Japan's various regions reflected traditional ways of life.

To photographer Yusuke Nishimura, this is all fascinating. Over the course of 3½ years, he traveled all across Japan to take photos of locals performing traditional Japanese folk dances and rituals. The collection of portraits, published as the photobook "The Folk" on Dec. 25 last year, is a departure from his usual work as a well-known commercial photographer.

"I like taking pictures of people because it's a very different approach from how you see objects," says Nishimura. "People, unlike objects, are not always perfect and I enjoy the randomness of it."