Award-Winning Photographer Celebrates His Native Japan Through His Glorious Images of Its Evening Phenomena

takehito miyatake
Taisho Lava, Stars, and Volcanic Eruption from Arimura Village, Sakurajima, Japan, 2013 From Arimura village, the Showa crater, the most active volcano in Sakurajima, cannot usually be seen unless some of the cinders soar really high. Yet this eruption was big enough to set an observed record-high atmospheric vibration, as recorded by the Kagoshima Local Meteorological Observatory. In this great universe, the earth is one member of the celestial body that is alive, active, and growing.

Growing up amid the environment of rural Japan, Takehito Miyatake developed a strong connection with the wildlife. He would take up photographic engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Polytechnics, and eventually be a nature photographer. His work captured through a 4×5 digital camera is comprised of mystical images taken at night, comprised of volcanic activity, shorelines, forests and various evening phenomena.

“The feeling that we are living on a very active planet—I want to convey this to the viewers of my photographs. Generally speaking, the Japanese have a sense of respect and awe for nature, and see it as very mysterious.”

Bridge Over the Shimanto River, Japan
Bridge Over the Shimanto River, Japan, 2013
A small, low bridge* over the Shimanto River, known as the last crystal clear river in Japan. In the early summer twilight, genji botaru fireflies (Luciola cruciate) fly exuberantly over the river surface. With paddy fields along the river, the sight represents an image of a countryside where people and nature coexist. *Note: This rail-less bridge is designed to withstand submersion in case of flood, a device to accommodate the contingencies of nature.

Miyatake’s photographs embody Japan’s night-time landscape, both its serenity and activity. He likens his work to that of Japanese poetry, or Waka, as his pictures speak volumes through their imagery. “Waka poetry has expressed the scope and possibilities of nature, but with the use of limited words,” said Miyatake. “I try to shoot phenomena, the wonders of the natural world that we don’t always get to witness. I do not try to photograph simple and familiar scenes of nature.”

Volcanic Lightening
Volcanic Lightening Stabbing the Heavens, Sakurjima, Japan, 2013 Waiting for an eruption one winter night across the bay, I saw the sky split by a vertical bolt of volcanic lightning inside the dark flames. It was a surreal moment in which such an extraordinary sight juxtaposed with people’s everyday lives—the headlights of cars hurrying home at the foot of the mountain and fishing boats quietly floating in the water.

He is also extremely patient, not minding a wait of several hours for the perfect moment. Many of the photographs in his body of work are results of expeditions he undertakes. Miyatake is constantly chasing those elusively brief instances, where a confluence of little events conspire to create the perfect shot.

fishing rafts
Fishing Rafts on the Quit Inland Sea at Full Moon, Uchino-umi, Japan, 2013
The Naruto strait is known for its fierce, whirling waves, but there is a quiet inland sea called Uchino-umi just nearby. Scores of fishing rafts were highlighted by the light from the full moon.

Luckily, his forbearance recently paid off. Miyatake was honored with no less than the grand prize of the Nikkei National Geographic Photo Prize for his work. Likewise, his initial exhibition in the United States was on view at Steven Kasher Gallery in New York City from May 28 through June 7. Winning the National Geographic prize as well as exhibiting his work in the Big Apple has been surreal for him.

Hime Botaru (Princess) Fireflies
Hime Botaru (Princess) Fireflies Flicker in the Woods, Japan, 2013
A flight of hime botaru fireflies (Hotaria parvula), or ‘princess fireflies,’ in the woods flicker together in a warm, orange hued light. Locals call them ‘golden fireflies.’ Although each one is only about 5mm in size, the flight can create a spectacle that seems to come from a fairy tale world.

“I believe there sometimes pops up something unbelievably beautiful in the natural phenomena in Japan,” he gushed. “I am addicted by this really rare occasion.” Miyatake hopes people will both be inspired and approving of his work, and what he refers to endearingly as the “mystical nature of the Japanese landscape.”

Eruption on Showa Crater
Eruption on Showa Crater in the Midst of Volcanic Lightning, Sakurajima, Japan, 2013
A light snow was falling intermittently on a winter night when I saw numerous blue strips of lightning flash as if to interweave with the scarlet flames. I was entranced by the performance of primary colors that evoked thoughts of the creation of earth.
Beached Firefly Squid
Beached Firefly Squid Light Up the Japanese Coast, Japan, 2013
The hotaru ika, or ‘firefly squid,’ lives 2000 feet down under the water. In spring, they come up near the surface to spawn, and some of them even wash up on the beaches. A school of squid glowing like jewels looks like a blue band trimming the water’s edge.

See his profoundly beautiful work here.

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Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.