Following the Heart, Seeking New Views|Kotaro Hata

Kotaro Hata, who has a studio in Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture. His photographs embody a calm and unwavering rhythm of 'as-it-is'.

  • Photograph:Takeshi Abe

In the town of Hokuto, where you can see the Southern Alps, including the Phoenix Three Mountains and Mt. Kai-Komagatake up close, Kotaro Hata and Rie, a married couple, run the photo, video, and haircut studio "GOOD SENSE." Although they didn't have any particular ties to the area, they've been settled here for six years. What circumstances led them to establish a studio here? On a snowy winter day, I visited the Hata couple.

Originally a rented house, the home-cum-studio of the Hata couple, renovated after purchase, is a cozy space enveloped in the scent of wood. It was renovated by the couple themselves, DIY-style. Especially for Kotaro, who grew up in the wilds of Biei, Hokkaido, building a house with his own hands was natural. The spacious interior, warmed by a large wood stove, is filled with gear for hiking, mountaineering, skateboarding, snowboarding (not the shaped kind but simple homemade ones), bicycles assembled from parts, and camera equipment for work. Where do Takataro's roots lie in his flexible style, removing barriers to play? I asked, sipping the warm coffee Rie had brewed.

Becoming a Messenger in Toronto

Kotaro's life took a significant turn during a working holiday in Toronto, Canada, where he began working as a bicycle messenger. He quit the English school he was attending after just one month and bought a bicycle without any clear plan.

"At first, I asked a messenger repairing a puncture in the city where messengers gathered to wait at the intersection of York Street and Adelaide Street. They told me messengers gathered there. I went there and asked around for advice. But I couldn't speak English, so one messenger told me, 'You're game over.' I was so frustrated."

Nevertheless, Kotaro didn't give up. He befriended one of the messengers and simply followed him around on his bike. By gradually integrating into the community, he eventually got introduced to vacant messenger positions and fulfilled his dream of becoming one. The following year, he attended the Cycle Messenger World Championships 2012 (CMWC2012) held in Chicago, where many Japanese messengers, including those he admired from magazines like YUKI(HERENESS MAGAZINE "BIKE AS FREE"), SHINO, and MASSA participated and achieved great results.

Kotaro showed me a scrapbook from his messenger days. The photos captured the real-life moments and lively expressions of the cycle messengers, a perspective only he, deeply embedded in the community, could capture.

"I had been taking photos since high school, but social media started when I went to Canada. Even if I couldn't speak, people would take me anywhere if I brought my camera. They'd take me along, I'd take photos, and that's how it started. Photography became like a language, a tool for communication."」

Moving lightly, that leads to expression.

After returning to Japan, Kotaro met Rie at the Aoyama Farmers Market. However, their days in Tokyo were busy.

"I believe working too hard just because it's work isn't good. While it's okay to immerse yourself in something for your own sake, if you're doing it just for money, then maybe it's different," Kotaro reflects. "Rie was also working hard as a beautician, leaving early in the morning and coming back late at night."

Rie adds, "Suddenly, I felt like I was in a very narrow world. So, I made a big decision and said, 'I'm going abroad!' He said, 'Then maybe I'll go too.' And so, we went to London together."

Kotaro embodies an easygoing atmosphere. They moved their base to London, passing through Melbourne, where they had acquaintances, and eventually decided to establish a studio in Hokuto, where they could enjoy nature.

"I think it's good not to clearly distinguish between work and play because if you do, it can be a bit tiring. It's better to approach both work and play with the same mindset, of course, while doing the job properly. It's also better not to separate people into 'friends' and 'work colleagues,'" Kotaro remarks.

Kotaro's calm and unwavering "as-it-is" rhythm permeates his photography.

Even with the birth of their child, their playfulness remains unchanged.

"Rie and I often talk a lot about travel plans, discussing various ideas back and forth. Our desired destinations usually align quite well. One of us suggests something, and the other usually agrees."

Two years ago, they walked from their home in Hokuto to the coast of the Sea of Japan in Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture. While the original plan was to walk from Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture to Itoigawa along Japan's famous "Salt Road," they decided it would be a waste to take a train from Hokuto to Matsumoto, so they walked the entire way from their home to the Sea of Japan. Their journey was documented in a ZINE called "WALK TO THE SEA." They travel freely, playfully, and this journey connects to their expression.

"In our travels, we've found wool to be incredibly useful. As a base layer, I think wool is the best, truly. When you're out hiking and you start to come down from the mountain, it's unpleasant when you start to smell the odor coming from polyester shirts. Rie, especially because of her profession, is sensitive to scents like shampoo, so the fact that wool doesn't have any odor is truly wonderful. And the lasting texture of wool is also fantastic." 

By the end of the "WALK TO THE SEA" journey, Rie experienced a change in her health. It turns out she was pregnant at the time. The baby born was named Shuri-chan and during this interview, Shuri-chan was peacefully sleeping nearby on the bed. Even after the child was born, they didn't put their playful adventures on hold. Last year, they carried Shuri-chan in a baby carrier and climbed Mt. Tanigawa because they wanted to see the beautiful ridgeline. This spring, they are planning to cycle the Shimanami Kaido. Of course, Shuri-chan will also ride along in a child trailer attached to the bicycle.

"Seeing new scenery is incredible refreshment for us. We want to go see breathtaking views. The scenery, including the energy we've expended to get there, is what makes it special."



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