Photographer Anne Claire de Breij compiles fables and stories from traditional Japan.

Senzu, Kama City, Fukuoka Prefecture: Japanese themselves often cannot even point out the tiny place 1,291 kilometres from Tokyo on the map. Yet Senzu was home to photographer Anne Claire de Breij for three months. She compiles her resulting series in The Mukade and The Mountain. This art book opens up an unknown world for many but feels nostalgic for those who grew up in Japan. The Mukade and The Mountain is available from 16 June.

During her stay, Anne Claire shot a series of portraits and staged photographs inspired by Japanese legends, traditional rituals and (local) folk tales. ‘The Mountain’ in the title directly refers to Mount Kosho, and ‘The Mukade’ refers to the terrifying poisonous Japanese centipede that emerges during the wet summer months.
Anne Claire was present in Senzu at the invitation of the Hiroki Oda Museum of Art and the Kama City Board of Education as an artist in residence. The Japan of the past is the Japan of today here, in this village at the foot of Mount Kosho, where it seems time has stood still.

Anne Claire de Breij

The people of Senzu
Anne Claire is known for her stylistic and graphic style, in which she can control and influence every detail of her composition. Senzu pushed her outside that comfort zone. Anne Claire: “Still, I wanted to create stylised scenes within a lively village where people just live their lives.” So Anne Claire deliberately made The Mukade and The Mountain not as an observing outsider. For months, she worked and lived with the residents of Senzu. From the blind wax paper maker from the village on the other side of the mountain to the schoolgirls from the high school in Kamiyamada. Those who walked by on the street and the people who shared local fables and fairy tales with her.

While the visual story shows many readers traditional Japan for the first time, they evoke a sense of nostalgia in the Japanese themselves. Anne Claire: “During the pre-launch at the Tokyo Art Book Fair, guests told me how many warm feelings they got from the images. This is traditional Japan, what their great-grandparents told them about.”

Slow motion flipbook
The final shoot of her residency is also the final part of The Mukade and The Mountain. It is a longer photo series within the book: a slow-motion flipbook on wafer-thin paper shows the almost choreographed process of a woman dressed in the traditional kimono. It is like a ritual dance that closes Senzu’s story.

The Mukade and the Mountain will be available online and in better bookshops from 16 June for €60. The limited edition, including the zine Sketches From Kama City, is available in limited editions for €75.