Text: Ariko Inaoka Edited by Eri Ishida
Photo: Ariko Inaoka

Before becoming the 16th generation to head Owariya, Ariko Inaoka moved to the United States to attend High School in San Diego, California, and later studied and worked as a photographer in New York. After 13 years abroad, she returned to Japan to work as a photographer in Tokyo in 2005, eventually taking over the family business eight years later. 

It was Iceland’s water that inspired me to return to Kyoto.
I was living in New York City in 2001, when the September 11th terrorist attacks happened. I was still quite innocent, and so was shocked when this new reality of war and violence and people killing each other seemed to be omnipresent on televisions and newspapers. It was a real watershed moment for me, recognizing human weakness and its readiness for hatred and militancy. It was a very terrifying moment for many of us.

Shortly thereafter, I was fortunate to visit Iceland the following year, and immediately dazzled by the watery landscapes began taking photographs in earnest. Every time I released the camera shutter, I felt the mystery of life on Earth and this was healing my soul. This might sound strange, but it really did feel that way. And it might have had something to do with the contrast of having just witnessed the terrorist attacks, to experience something so pure and beautiful. I distinctly remember feeling at that time water was the force of existence of life on Earth. This motivated me to return several times to Iceland, crisscrossing the country, gathering images that would eventually become my first photo book, SOL.

While assembling the book, long-dormant memories of my childhood in Kyoto mysteriously and vividly returned. Iceland’s rich, pure waters, the soft moss, the stones… I associated these elements with the temples and shrines I visited as a child in Kyoto. My memory recall was striking, so much so, that it was almost as if I once more believed in my childhood fascination with gods, dragons, and fairies that lived and thrived invisibly in the forests around me.

In the city of Kyoto, multitudes of shrines and temples had been built over centuries to protect its citizens from disasters, and many of the city’s inhabitants take this protection seriously, and are grateful for its power. This protection almost seems manifest in the city’s most precious natural resource, the abundant groundwater below the Earth’s surface, this wellspring that holds the clear, pure water, that makes Kyoto’s cuisines so delicious. 
It took traveling to the remote countryside of Iceland to inspire my soul to return to my native city. I left Kyoto at age 17 to attend High School in San Diego, then spent my twenties studying and then living in New York City. I became a photographer and lived and worked in Tokyo, traveled all over the world, met many different kinds of people, and finally, after almost twenty years away, I finally returned.

My family restaurant, Owariya, which once specialized only in cakes before transitioning into soba in the 17th century, has been dependent on the city’s healthy groundwater for the more than 550 years we have been established. I really feel that Kyoto has been able to thrive for more than 1,200 years is because one generation after another has learned to appreciate both the Invisible Hand of God(s) and its most important resource, its natural groundwater. In recent decades, our spirits have been tempted by more tangible allures like money and status, and that has caused some of us to lose perspective on what has made Kyoto such an important city in the first place. I believe that the city’s flowing underground waters, when appreciated, can help restore a person’s faith in good health and gratitude. After all, water is the source of all living things.
Reference : Tatsusaburō Hayashiya 『Kyoto 』, published in 1962 By Iwanami Shinsho