I had found some of the old style black, cardboard albums way up in the back my mother's bedroom closet. They needed to be carefully lifted down as the bindings were broken, the cording holding the brittle papers had disintegrated, the black album sheets fraying and fading brown at the edges. Even so, as I carefully pulled the books from the top shelf, bits and pieces of old paper wafted down on me like confetti and dotted the carpet all the way to the living room table where I laid them out.
Black and white. Everything was black and white. The album covers, the pages, the photo corners peeling and pulling away, the photos themselves, even the white script beneath the photos. Not that there was much script. And even Grandma couldn't tell if this was her own handwriting from her younger days... or maybe it was her own mother's. Hand printed in white... It sort of looks like my mother's handwriting... but then again, probably not. No, the albums must be my grandmother's.
The photos themselves were of somber faced people dressed in kimono, most of them posed at a studio for a formal picture.
People standing by a shrine during winter. My goodness, if the movie "the Last Samurai" had been shot in black and white, these could have been scenes from there.
My grandmother, upon marrying my grandfather, left Japan never to return. She claimed that she wanted to remember Japan as she'd left it. I can imagine her family sending her family pictures each year... a formal record of how her brothers or cousins or nieces and nephews changed over the years. People she would never see again, and pictures that meant nothing to my grandfather nor to my mother nor even to me.
There are no indications WHO these people are... just an occasional name and sometimes a date. I will put the albums back on the top shelf of the closet to consider at another time if I want to keep them or not. I've taken pictures now of the photos of my own grandparents but the rest...
On the last page of the album there is a small faded and slightly out of focus picture of Mt. Fuji, the "mecca" for all Japanese.
"There is nothing more beautiful in the world than Mt. Fuji." I have heard Japanese say.
My grandmother must have thought so too to have saved this small image of a Japan that would never change.