"I’ve always liked Japan; the people and their culture fascinate me. When I was about 20, I heard and read about the health and longevity of the Okinawa population. Since then, I’ve always had it in mind to visit Okinawa," Jose Jeuland, professional triathlete and photographer explains.
In April he made the trip to Okinawa for the Strongman Triathlon. There, he went about searching for the oldest residents to photograph their renowned longevity, and the "beauty of their ancestry".
"It wasn't easy finding them," Jeuland jokes. He did a lot of preparatory work prior to his trip. "I emailed many people and institutions but they did not answer. I spent my first days trying to meet people who can help and making phone calls. Very few people spoke English."
Along with his wife, Shanthi Jeuland, they walked about town with a huge poster stating in Japanese that they were looking for old people.
As the days passed they met residents who shared their project on Facebook. Locals brought them to old folks' home, organised meetings and chauffeured them around. It wasn't long before the local newspaper Okinawa Times came on board and ran a story on Jeuland's project. The Okinawa Tourism Singapore board joined in as well.
In three weeks, Jeuland tracked down approximately twenty residents between 89 and 100-year-old. Jeuland's most memorable shot was this 100-year-old lady.
Ikehara Tomi, 100-year-old
"This lady was so emotional that she cried upon meeting us," Jeuland quips. She couldn't comprehend why and how would a stranger pay attention to her. "As she [initially] didn’t want her face to be [photographed], I only took pictures of her hand. However, after seeing her friends having their pictures taken, she surprised us by asking if she could have her portrait taken."
Uto Yohena, 99-year-old
"We visited this lady at her place; her house was in the middle of her garden of hydrangea flowers. The garden stretched beyond the small hill it was situated in. Having been featured on television and many magazines for her hydrangea flowers, she was renowned in Okinawa," Jeuland notes that Yohena-san turns 100 this December.
Tamanaka Yoshiko, 97-year-old
"She resides in Naha City. Her daughter contacted me on Facebook after reading my article on Okinawa Times. She couldn’t wait to show me her gymnastic capabilities and was very energetic about it. It was both hard and amusing for me to take a good shot of her because she wouldn’t stay still!"
Takesu Chiyo, 95-year-old
"She resides in Nago City, [in] the old folks home that we visited and was initially very shy to meet us. Eventually, she warmed up and even gave us a pleasant surprise by giving this funny expression!"
Matsutake Syosuke, 89-year-old
"This was the youngest man whom we photographed. We were residing at Hoshinoya Taketomi Island resort when a staff introduced us to him. He was really charming and had an assortment of skills: he wove baskets meticulously and also enjoyed fishing."
Jose Jeuland's next exhibition, The Haenyeo of Jeju Island (Women Divers) will be held at Fullerton Hotel Singapore from 31 October to 23 November 2017.
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