There was a time in my late 20’s when I had a desire to disappear from the plane of worldly affairs. Kumogakure has no direct translation in English. It means to be hidden by clouds, shrouded, invisible. No longer able to endure my world and he affairs that surrounded it, I spent two years wandering blindly through fog-draped Hokkaido and Tohoku.
The same volcanic activity that gave birth to Japan is the source of its hot springs, called onsen in Japanese. The onsen depicted in this book are but a minuscule fraction of the 3,000 hot springs that are said to exist across the archipelago.
By chance I became fascinated with the natural steam clouds that rise from these curative, restorative onsen. Springs vary in Japan – there are naturally warmed hot springs, mineral springs, hidden springs, watering places, and small, ancient spa towns. No matter what the type, anywhere is fine so long as you have hot springs and name. The banal and the extraordinary meet at these springs, as do life and death. They heal both locals and travelers. These hot springs are suffused with nostalgia and afford the pleasure of unique visual experiences. These are the places I rambled through, taking photographs.
As I traveled through these places, I dreamt of a transcendental self beyond my own identity. Flooded with memories of experiences I had never had, encompassed by all emotions, I felt a tremendous longing for a self from unknown times that was without gender or age, raised and nurtured in and among these unknown mountain settlements and seaside towns.
The photos within this book were completed in 2003. More than a decade later they undeniably reflect what I saw on my travels. However, as time passes, they have gradually begun to feel to me as though they were taken by someone else, from a different world.
Sorting through these photos in making this book, I realized that deep within me there is a dark flashpoint that has no place to go. I’ll probably return to my reclusive travels among the hot springs. I hope that perhaps this book will become as ephemeral as smoke, seeming to disappear upon publication, only to be met again decades from now through chance and the joy of a reader.