Visual story-telling of the Matagi hunters of Tōhoku

Image copyright: OAK, Javier Corso and Alex Rodal
Third Thursday lecture - Sainsbury Institute

Thursday 20 May, 2021
6:00pm BST


Alex Rodal (OAK Chief Research Officer & Criminologist)
Javier Corso (OAK Director & Photographer)
Prof Scott Schnell (University of Iowa)

About the Talk

Matagi are traditional hunters living in small villages and settlements in the highlands of northern Honshu, the main island of Japan. From its origins, back in the 16th century, they have made a living of selling meat, skins and other products derived from hunting. Their main prey is the Japanese black bear, a subspecies listed as vulnerable according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These communities, however, never face hunting as a recreational or sporting activity. For the Matagi, Nature is a conscious presence, personified in the Goddess of the Mountain (Yama-no-Kami); a deity who is envious of other women and thus has forbidden them from entering her domains for over five centuries.

Following the Fukushima incidents in 2011, the state prohibited many Matagi communities from selling bear meat, due to the high risk of it being intoxicated by radiation. In 2017 the Japanese authorities lifted the veto, and the Matagi could resume what has been their main economic activity for centuries. Nevertheless, this community faces a more than likely extinction of its cultural heritage. The global aging of the Japanese population, legal and regulatory limitations on hunting, and attachment to values and religions that no longer germinate among the younger generations, are some of the main reasons that leave these hunters without much hope of preserving their legacy in the early 21st century.

However, the need to preserve the Matagi cultural heritage has prevailed over religious convictions and, in the face of the disinterest of young men, the first cases of Matagi women –accepted and trained as hunters– have recently emerged. Women who, as is currently the case on a global scale and in all strata of society, claim an equal position in every field.

The researcher Alex Rodal and the photographer Javier Corso from OAK embarked on capturing the stories of the Matagi between 2017 and 2019, travelling to Akita and Yamagata prefectures. There, they had the privilege of being the first visual storytellers from outside Japan in portraying the life of Matagi hunters, specifically that of the groups established in Oguni and Animatagi.

In this Third Thursday Lecture, Alex and Javier will discuss their fascinating project that resulted in publication of a beautifully crafted book.

About the Speakers

ALEX RODAL · OAK Chief Research Officer & Criminologist

Graduated in Criminology at the ‘Universitat Oberta de Catalunya’ (UOC). Rodal is passionate about the study of Criminological theories that seek to explain the genesis of crime in society. His scientific vocation leads him to constantly nourish new knowledge of disciplines as diverse as psychology, sociology, anthropology, medicine, chemistry or journalism. These aptitudes make him a born researcher, whose skills are currently at the service of the production company and agency of documentary projects OAK stories. There he works as Head of Research and coordinates the pre-production of all projects.

JAVIER CORSO · OAK Director & Photographer

Javier Corso (1989) is a photographer, founder and director at OAK STORIES and National Geographic Explorer. His agency works as a production company and creative agency for companies and organizations such as National Geographic Partners (Spain) and United Nations Habitat. His photographic work originates from the need to communicate about aspects of the human condition through means of local, smaller-scale stories.

Corso began working as a documentary photographer in 2011. His photographs have been published in National Geographic, TIME, Al Jazeera and GEO magazine among others. His work has also been exhibited at The Cervantes Institute in New York, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Circulo de Bellas Artes (Madrid), Palau Robert (Barcelona) and the International PHOTON Festival (Valencia). His work is part of the traveling exhibition “Creadores de Conciencia” which compiles the work of 40 authors under the topic “committed photographers” of Spain. 

In 2018 he was nominated for the World Press Photo 6×6 Global Talent Program and his project MATAGI received the National Geographic Society Early Career Grant.

Image copyright: OAK, Javier Corso and Alex Rodal

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The Third Thursday Lecture series is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK.