Satoyama Storehouse
The Portraits & quotes from the models


Oil on Canvas 42x54 inches

July 2006

“Experiencing starvation in my early life, now I am most contented with my life. My wish is that Hachi will remain peaceful for my grandchildren”

-Tei Omi


Oil on canvas 42x5 inches

July 2006

“I am happy that I look younger in the picture than I really am. My job is dying Kimonos in color gradations. It is the first step in the creation process”

-Genkitchi Omo


Oil on Canvas 42x54 inches

July 2006

"I miss the sounds and music of the children. After my children left the house, I began to sing."

-Humiko Omi


Oil on canvas 42x54 inches

June 2006

"Since my father worked both as a carpenter and a farmer, I did not have to go to the woods, and I am still in good health. Thats why I can continue weaving. The factory says they will give me work as long as I can do it, and I feel happy about it"

-Sakui Omi

Sakui is the last weaver in Hachi and the surrounding area. Up until about 10 years ago, all the women were involved in the silk production trade: weaving, dying and raising silk worms on the third floor of their homes. The women of Hachi were sent from home at 12 or 13 to go to big cities, to work at weaving factories. Kamiya, Reiko’s father, owned a textile house that he built in Hachi. Peacocks roamed free in one half of the building, and looms clacked away on the other. Last summer, the building was rotting and in disrepair. By now, the building will have been torn down.

-Vivian Reiss


Oil on Canvas 42x54 inches

July 2006

“Eggs became cheap, and people stopped raising chickens. Now I am the only one who raises chickens here. I can use vegetable scraps to feed them, and taking care of them helps to prevent me from becoming senile. My chickens are getting older these days and cannot lay many eggs. But I love them, and I will take care of them until their last day”

-Ritsu Omi


Oil on canvas 42x54 inches

June 2006

“There were always elder people around us. For school activities like a sports day event, not only students but also everyone in the community participated. Hachi was one big family. I took it as a matter of course, but I learned for the first time that it was not true when I went to Junior high school outside of Hachi. Therefore, I have returned to Hachi after finishing vocational college.”

-Reiko Omi


Oil on Canvas 42x54 inches

July 2006

“Looking at this portrait I feel like I have found myself again”

-Seiji Omi

Self Portrait

Oil on canvas 42 x 54 inches

"After Completing the 17 portraits, I returned to my own self portrait which I had started when I arrived. I felt that through the process of entering into people's lives and being welcomed there, a part of me had changed."

-Vivian Reiss


Oil on Canvas 42x54 inches

July 2006

“For now I love baseball. My future is still unknown to me”

-Kunihiro Omi

“Kunihiro is 17 years old and the son of Hiroshi, who was instrumental in welcoming the triennial to Hachi. I really got to know his father, who took us to the soba factory he managed and would come to our door with packages of soba and kits of freshly grown asparagus and kewpie mayonnaise. Kunihiro was volunteered into being a model by his father. He wasn’t totally into art or the process, but he co-operated and diligently brought an object as requested- his baseball bat- after ball practice each Sunday. The boy was very handsome and shy. I think this paralleled his father, who was very proud of the portrait because it looked like Hiroshi, too, who was too shy to have his portrait painted himself.”

-Vivian Reiss


Oil on Canvas 42x54 inches

July 2006

“I was drafted twice, the first time was for the Sino-Japanese war and then when I was 21 years old. I got married at 20, and my first child was only 1 year old. I still shed tears when I think of it. The second time was for the Pacific war. There were not only no ships but not even canteens. I thought we could not win the war under such a poor condition. War is such a waste.”

-Kitchitaro Omi

Kichitaro Omi is an active farmer at 90 years old, and the oldest individual in the Hachi series

“The second sitting for the portrait Kichitaro told me everyday he keeps a journal to keep his brain active. I asked him what he wrote in his journal about the portrait. He said ‘today I had a most unusual experience. Someone painted my portrait and asked me questions that I thought no one would ever ask me.’

In the beginning our conversation mainly centered on his war experiences. I then asked him why don’t we talk about something happy now. And he said ‘I can’t because I have never known love’. Even though he was a happy father and grandfather, he was my only subject who expressed any longing in his arranged marriage.”

-Vivian Reiss


Oil on canvas 42x56 inches

May 2006

“This was the first portrait I completed in Satoyama Storehouse.

When I first arrived in Hachi, everybody was very busy planting rice as the snows were delayed that year. So I had to search elsewhere for models. At James Turrell’s “House of Light” I found Kazuha. She was the caretaker and guide. We were lucky enough to spend the night at the ‘House of Light’ enjoying Turrell’s installation at all times of the day and evening.

I noticed that Kazuha grew mushrooms in the shade behind the ticket booth.

I was fascinated by the idea that here was Kazuha, guiding us through the House of Light was growing mushrooms in the dark. This became the theme for the painting.

During the portrait Kazuha told me that her name in Kanji (Chinese characters) means ‘falling leaves’ “

-Vivian Reiss


Oil on Canvas 42x54 inches

June 2006

“Hachi has a lot of snow and is located in the mountains. But fresh air, the song of birds and the feeling of wind make us live happily”

-Hirome Omi


Oil on canvas 42x54 inches

July 2006

“My mother was ill and did not eat much. But I do not know whether it came form her illness or her hope to give her children more food.

I thought I would eat and move a lot to be a healthy mother. Because one who is well can be kind to everyone.”

-Seki Omi

Seki was the mother of 4 daughters. And she was extremely spunky and intelligent. I loved when she posed for me, because as the triennial exhibition grew near, there was a lot of anxiety in the air. But when Seki walked into the room, she exuded such calmness that we all felt nurtured by her serenity. Seki shared a common history with the other women of her age, at twelve in hard times the girls were sent alone to work in factories in various cities in Japan. Others told me how the cried into their pillows as they left the village. Seki welcomed the adventure. During the posing I found out how spunky she was. As soon as her children were grown, she announced,” I want to work outside the home'. She looked at ads in the newspaper, and went on job interviews, I think she was the first woman of her age group to do such a thing. At first she worked in a soba factory, but that work was too demanding in a way. Then she answered an ad for a kindergarten cook. And to this day, she cooks for her 4 four daughters and their small children, as well as the nursery.

When I first visited her home to ask her if she would pose for me, she was wearing a blouse with butterflies on it, and butterflies became the fundamental compositional element of her portrait. She is portrayed in her kitchen with her reused jars full of preserves.

She is Kitchitaros niece, and when she saw his portrait, she was reminded of her father. She is also Koto's sister.
-Vivian Reiss


Oil on canvas 42x54 inches

June 2006

“I have been to hell. There I saw blue ogres and red ones. One of them hit me on the head.

I was unconscious on the bed in a hospital, but when I came out of it, the doctor said to me that whether I would live or not depended on my will to live.

Since I love the mountains, I will not be defeated by illness. I want to live.”

-Harui Omi

Seki and Harui were girlhood friends. They went to school together, and by the time we met them, as women in their seventies, they would bond by hiking up into the mountains behind Hachi and finding wild things to eat- vegetables, mushrooms, bamboo shoots- and then return home and preserve them- drying, pickling, salting and otherwise endlessly cooking...


I first noticed Harui on a walk up to the shrine. Her front yard overlooked the valley, and she would smile and wave to us most enthusiastically. I'd say hello, konnichiwa, to her every day, and went up with my translator Junko to her house to ask her to pose for me. She took us into her house and there was a table set with all kind of rice, pickles and vegetables and partaking of the food was definitely not optional. Her late husband she explained was handicapped and they had no children but anyone who came to visit was considered like a special fairy and a gift. It took no persuading for her to agree to pose.

These two portraits were placed in the home economics room of the school house. The room wasn't originally assigned to me for my show but when I finished these two portraits, it was clear that that was place where I wanted to show the portraits of Harui and Seki. Installing Satoyama Storehouse in the school house had many challenges- The vast number of windows, the blackboard, shelves, and book cases, really left very little hanging space. As one of the few painters in the triennial, I felt was very important that paintings be understood as paintings, not as installation art. The first step was designing easels and having them made with the somewhat limited resources. Some walls were covered with white curtains others with a neutral navy carpet underlay. That is how I installed the portraits in the ex music and arts and crafts rooms.

The kitchen I felt could exist pretty well the way it was. There were existing clotheslines in the kitchen where I hung my gouaches of Hachi's changing flora. The only alteration that I made was covering the green blackboards with white Lucite.

The hanging was successful; I had put Seki and Harui in an environment in which they could come into their own as paintings, and in their relationship with each other.

-Vivian Reiss

Kamiya Reiko

Oil on canvas 42x54 inches

July 2006

"I thought you just painted a picture. I didn't realise you wanted to know the person. Standing here and talking, I remember the times when things were not so good in my life. I realised how happy I am now. Thank you."

-Reiko Kamiya

I had planned a trip to Japan for the summer of 2003. For a long time I’d kept a magazine article, filed away if I ever went to Japan, with a photo of a giant gourd at the end of a dock. It was an illustration for a museum that you could sleep in. To me, that would be a dream come true; something akin to children dreaming at night that their toys came alive. But as the time for the trip approached, I couldn’t find the article anywhere (I now know the museum was Benesse House). In asking around, a friend pointed me to an art festival that she thought may be it. As it turns out, that was the Echigo Tsumari Triennial of 2003.

I arrived in Japan after a long trip and went to Hakone. It was a holiday weekend and the town was not the most hospitable. Rooms were hard to find, money was impossible to change. On a whim, I called up the office of the art festival to see how to get there. As it turns out, the voice on the other end spoke English, had gone to university in Montreal and got us a place to stay and tickets for a bus tour of the triennial (that was Makiko Hara). After a lengthy train ride, I arrived in Tokamachi, to see a young woman waiting for me, with a baby on her back and one on either hand. The children were full of life and mischief and climbed all over the van and us as we drove to the [Minshuku/]. We had a fabulous time at the Triennial, it was the most amazing art show we had ever seem. We had lots of adventures with the family we were staying with, going every night to different Matsuri, folk dancing, seeing fireworks, and introducing the children to art.

On the last evening, Reiko, the grandmother of the house, donned a white costume, put on a tape, and performed a traditional sword dance for us.

When I came home to Toronto, I told the tale over and over again to my husband and children about how the sword-dancing grandmother had performed for me and what a great time I’d had with this rural Japanese family.

Several years passed. Something that I thought was very much in the future and geographically very far away- the next Echigo Tsumari triennial- was very close by. In my mailbox was a letter, inviting me to participate and create my Satoyama Storehouse.

In May 2006, as soon as the snows had melted in a tiny village called Hachi, I was on my way there with 20 canvases, paints and my family.

The Triennial is large, over 200 square kilometers and encompasses 3 major towns and a multitude of little villages. I could have been assigned anywhere.

In Hachi there were no stores, so daily we would descend from the idyllic rural village to the next major town where we would shop for food and clothing in a big box store called Jusco, and buy our home garden and building supplies from the Home Depot-like chain store next to it, Musashi.

On my first day, driving down the mountain to go to the supermarket, all of a sudden I realized I was going by the inn I had stayed at during my first visit.

I pointed it out to my husband, and he kept saying, “why don’t you paint the sword dancer? She would be great! I heard so much about the sword dancer”. And I would reply that “the triennial will only let me paint the people from Hachi, and I’m so busy”. And I was rather shy and whenever I went by, I didn’t have a translator, so somehow I never said hello.

One day driving down the hill the daughter was outside. I stopped, she looked at me, and one second later in a flash of recognition her mouth fell open. I said ‘I’m back, and this time I’m an artist in the Triennial’.

She ran to get her mother Reiko, who also came running. So we, across languages, started talking, and I told her about my project and how I’d love to paint her, but I couldn’t because the triennial would only let me paint people from Hachi.

“But I’m from Hachi!” she replied. “I was born there and my parents ran the big weaving school you see on the hill”.

I asked her to sit for me, and but she said she could not for a long time, because her second daughter was visiting from the US and she had to spend time with her.

So I suggested that her daughter be the translator, and they go though the process together.

The day to paint Reiko arrived. She posed in her sword dancer’s outfit, and insisted on standing the whole time. I usually like to paint people sitting, because within a few minutes their posture becomes natural and part of their personality.

The part of Reiko that I had always seen was her spunk, energy and fun. But during the process of painting, as she stood stoically, I found the enormous amount of discipline that she applied to reach her goals.

Reiko was very popular in the village so during our break, two neighbors, who were also two of my models and childhood friends of Reiko, came to bring us tea and snacks.

We started out in the idle chit-chat that people do when they are relaxing until Reiko change the tone, reflecting “I just thought you were just making a picture- I didn’t realize you wanted to know the history and the emotions of the people you were painting. And standing here posing today, I began to think of all the hard and difficult times I’ve had in my life, and how truly happy I am now. And I thank you.”

Her daughter, who had moved from this tiny town to LA 10 years ago, said, “and I’m so fortunate to be part of this process because I never knew these things about my mother’s history and I’m so lucky to have shared the moment with my mother.”

I think each one of us in the room felt the tears welling up.

Then my daughter, Ariel, piped up from her perch underneath the paint box “And I’m so lucky to have shared this moment with my mother”.

At that moment, none of us held back, and the tears flowed- from all of us as individuals, and as a community.

Reiko was my last portrait. And the journey I had begun in 2003 came full circle.

We all have hard things to do in life, and we go and do them, but we rarely have a moment where all of our difficulties and our happinesses are encapsulated in a piece of art that will last forever.

That was the power of the project.

-Vivian Reiss


Oil on canvas 42x54 inches

July 2006

"Winter is season of pregnancy; winter delivering spring. / It is a time when one stores up and creates in oneself dreams, knowledge and tools"

-Yoshiko Omi (a poem)

Dawn comes early to the mountains of Japan. At 3:30 in the morning as daylight mixed with the pristine air of Hachi I raised my head from the buckwheat pillow to look out my window. There was Yoshiko peacefully farming her dahlias and onions. Even thought she was a professional farmer and had big rice fields, this was essentially a room of her own: a place where her husband never came. Yoshiko was the most generous of neighbours; she lent me a field to garden in myself, brought me bouquets of beautifully arranged flowers, ume pickles and wine, and flats of delicate strawberries. She used to be a poet, and in the night would write me notes in perfect English hand, even though, as I learnt from my translator, Yoshiko spoke no English she would sit with her dictionary, to compose notes about the garden, seasons, festivals, and her rabbit.

One morning, I received a note in her hand very excitingly beckoning me. “The cactus flower, which blooms only one night a year, is about to bloom. Please come so you can take it to your house and watch it open.

The ephemeral flower that opens just once a year, and blooms at night in silence, became the theme for my portrait of her.

When my time in Hachi had ended and I was about to drive off from the village for the last time, she came up to me with a note. On the piece of paper, was a sketch of her house, she wrote ‘above my door, there is a key to my house and a key to my car and a small amount of money. Please feel free to use them any time’

-Vivian Reiss


Oil on canvas 42x54 inches

June 2006

"My father was a gentle person to others, and my mother was lighthearted. the secret of my cheerful personality is, I think, that I was given these virtues by my parents and I have nurtured these merits on my own"

-Koto Omi

Arriving at my apartment at the schoolteacher’s house, I looked up on the little ridge above me, and there was the most radiant woman tending her crops. She was glowing. I asked her immediately, would you pose for me? She laughed, as I found out she almost constantly does, and said ‘why don’t you find somebody younger?” as it turns out, there were very few young people in the village, and in her late 60’s, she was about the median age.

After drinking a lot of tea together and laughter, she was dared to be the first of her friend to pose for me, so she showed up at my schoolhouse studio with her gloves and hoe and perfect bundles of asparagus.

-Vivian Reiss


Oil on canvas 42x54 inches

June 2006

Tadashi is the community leader and stencils kimono designs.