“Appreciate everything, even the ordinary…especially the ordinary.” –Pema Chodron
Fū Sawatari heads over to the local camera shop to retrieve her camera with her friend, Kaori Hanawa, a Rollei 35S that had belonged to her late father. Here, she meets Norie Okazaki and Maon Sakurada. The four immediately become friends and visit a local Okonomiyaki shop, before returning to Tamayura Café, where Fū receives a letter from professional photographer, Riho Shihomi; inspired by Fū’s photos, Riho had found a newfound love for photography and sent Fū an unusual train ticket lacking a destination. It turns out Riho is hosting a photography exhibit and is keen to have Fū visit; on the day of the exhibition, Fū is nervous but overjoyed to finally meet Riho in person. Later, Fū begins to wonder about the photo she’d taken of her father, and her little brother’s drawings only gives her a rough idea of where the photo might’ve been. When she asks Kaori, Norie and Maon, Kaori’s older sister, Sayomi, overhears their conversation and offers to help them track the place down. Although Sayomi’s lacklustre navigation skills send the girls on a wild journey, and the destination winds up being quite unlike the spot that Fū had visited, Fū nonetheless has a wonderful time, seeing it as another precious memory. Riho visits Tamayura Café and speaks to Fū about how photography had become an integral part of her life. On their walk, Fū helps two friends take a photograph. Sayomi determines that she might’ve located the spot Fū was seeking and suggests they go on another trip. After a harrowing drive, the girls make it. While Fū sprains her ankle, she fortuitously runs into Hinomaru, who helps carry her; from this vantage point, Fū realises this is where her father had taken them years earlier. Tamayura begins in four OVAs that were aired during the autumn of 2010: produced by Hal Film Maker, they mark the first instalments to the Tamayura story, which follows Fū and her life in Takehara after her father’s passing. Although an air of wistfulness lingers throughout Tamayura, Fū does her best to find joy in her life, taking after her father in photography and striving to capture happiness as her father once did with her new friends.
The Tamayura OVAs introduce the two most important symbols within the series. Fū’s Rollei is a physical piece of her past, of the joy and memory she shared with her father. By continuing to take photographs with it, Fū simultaneously pays respects to her father while at the same time, indicates that she’s also pursuing a new path. This camera therefore comes to mirror the contradiction within life – in order to move ahead, Fū continues to honour what is important to her, and similarly, in order to be respectful of the past, Fū must be mindful of her future. This camera serves Fū faithfully throughout Tamayura, much as it had for her father, and in making new memories with her friends and this camera, Fū keeps the memories of her father alive. The other symbol is the oft-mentioned “ticket with no destination”, which Riho had given to Fū after their initial correspondence. Riho indicates that it represents how the lack of a destination means that Fū can go anywhere and become anything. Rather than setting her mind on a tangible, but rigidly-defined goal, Riho wishes for Fū to explore with complete freedom. Fū thus carries this ticket around to remind her of the fact that her path forwards has no exact set of steps, and a destination will present itself in due course, so at the present, she can (and should) live in the moment. By establishing these two elements, Tamayura states to viewers that Fū’s way will be full of new discoveries and an appreciation of the old: rather than being bound by grief and sorrow, Tamayura gives Fū a peaceful and serene environment in which to pick herself back up and rediscover the highlights in life anew. The energy present in the OVAs fully captures this, and while Tamayura is contemplative and introspective, things are also very lively, offering plenty of moment to smile about.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Readers who’ve been with me since 2013 will have read my Tamayura ~More Aggressive~ posts, and when I watched Tamayura ~Hitotose~, this blog was more of a secondary resource that I didn’t make extensive use of. After realising that I’d not fully watched the Tamayura OVAs, I hastened to rectify that, and in the process, I learnt that this year will also mark the ten year anniversary to ~Hitotose~‘s airing. As such, I think the time is appropriate for me to revisit the whole of Tamayura, starting with the OVAs, which open with Fū wandering around town and imagining all of the awesome photos she’ll take once her camera’s repaired.
- Fū and her longtime friend, Kaori, swing by the local photography store: it’s known as Hinomaru Photo Studio in real life and was originally built in 1945, after which it was designated as a building of historical and cultural significance. In a clever callout, the shop’s owner in Tamayura is named Hinomaru, after the shop, and for his skills, he’s affectionately known as Maestro. Because Fū’s camera is so old, she often takes it in for repairs, and seeing this in Tamayura‘s opening means that by the events of Graduation Photo, there is additional significance in Fū’s camera finally breaking down.
- Shy and somewhat scatter-brained, Fū has trouble speaking with new people. The two ladies here are regulars at Hinomaru, and it suddenly strikes me that they’ll return in ~Hitotose~ after the lady in the red shirt suffers a catastrophic heartbreak. Tamayura is a series that covers a broad spectrum of emotions in a mature and relatable fashion, but it is also prone to flights of fancy; this combination brings to mind the likes of ARIA, which was revolutionary for being able to create excitement in the ordinary and similarly hinted at the presence of a benevolent supernatural force.
- By the time of ~Hitotose~, Fū was already friends with Norie and Maon: they befriend Fū during the events of the OVA after walking by Hinomaru and take an interest in her photos. This meeting happened purely by chance, but it speaks to the power of how photography can bring people together. From here on out, besides Kaori, Fū also has Norie and Maon in her corner, setting the stage for their later adventures.
- Tamayura is the anime that instilled in me a desire to eat okonomiyaki, and when I attended a local festival several years back, I would have a chance to try a smaller version of it. However, it wasn’t until my travels in Japan where I had authentic okonomiyaki: I was waiting for my flight from Kansai International Airport to Hong Kong from Osaka, and there’d been enough time to sit down for a proper lunch. I opted for okonomiyaki and was blown away by the flavours. This place is called Boteju-Yatai, if memory serves, and aside from okonomiyaki, they also serve a range of noodles.
- It turns out that Hoboro’s is based on Horikawa: if I ever decide to visit Takehara, I am going to definitely swing by: locals indicate that their okonomiyaki is varied, and there’s even an English-language menu. Fū’s very quickly made friends with Norie and Maon: Norie has a love for all confectionaries and aspires to be a pâtisserie chef, while Maon doesn’t have any concrete goals as of yet. Similarly, while Kaori loves making creative potpourri, she hasn’t given much thought to her career as of yet.
- Fū’s predisposition for capturing that special shot means that she puts herself in some dangerous positions throughout Tamayura: with her friends helping her, Fū is able to avoid disaster on many occasions, and such instances are always meant to be comedic. Here, Fū leans off a railing while trying to get a photo of her friends at Saihoji Temple: this was a commonly-visited spot throughout Tamayura, whose faithful reproduction of Takehara turns it into part cathartic anime, part travel show.
- Over a decade ago, I was a part of my secondary school’s yearbook team, and early in the year, I attended a special workshop for making a yearbook successful: one of the sessions was about photography, and the staff running the session indicated that capturing dynamic shots would make for the best memories. I ended up becoming a part of the layout team, where my responsibilities had been to take photos from the photography team and then determine the best way to design a page such that everything was presented in an organised fashion. As a result, I never ended up needing to go out and fetch images for myself.
- Upon meeting Fū’s younger brother for the first time, Norie is infatuated. In the Tamayura OVA, I found that all of the characters’ traits were exaggerated compared to how they were presented later on: this is probably a consequence the OVAs trying to define everyone’s personalities and give them a unique role, whereas in the television series, there would be more time to develop everyone out further. Thus, Norie is even more rambunctious, and Maon whistles more in response to things. Similarly, Fū is far more absent-minded about her surroundings while in pursuit of that perfect shot.
- To her friends, Fū is affectionately known as Potte, a bit of onomatopoeia resulting from the noise Fū makes while nervously walking. This helps viewers separate out the different social circles that Fū is a part of. I refer to Fū as such rather than Potte simply because it’s a matter of consistency: I generally prefer to name characters by their original name rather than their nicknames. Here, Fū melts after becoming excited about meeting her role model, Riho, for the first time.
- I’d long known that Riho’s a mentor of sorts for Fū, having heard the conversations within Tamayura, but it turns out the OVAs explore how this had come about. Even then, the full story is not shown to viewers; all that is shown is that Fū had sent some photos to Riho, and received the iconic train ticket with no destination in return. I imagine that for Fū, the simplicity in her photographs present a sort of sincerity about them that captures moments in ways that professionals do not consider as being important.
- Tamayura is suggesting that Fū’s inexperience with professional techniques create images that convey a sense of rawness here that professionals might not consider for their work, and seeing Fū’s photos is actually what led Riho to continue working in photography despite it being a tough time for her. The exhibition is a success, and Fū also learns that her long-time role model is not to dissimilar to herself. From here on out, the two develop a deep friendship; Riho’s presence gives viewers the peace of mind that besides her friends, Fū also has someone to walk her through the more technical pieces of photography so she may hone her craft.
- Having now seen ~Hitotose~, ~More Aggressive~ and Graduation Photo, it is clear that the artwork, animation and character designs have subtly evolved over time, improving with every iteration. Environments are more detailed, the characters begin to look more life-like, and the beauty surrounding Fū’s everyday life becomes more apparent. However, here in the OVA, the spirit of Takehara is captured in full, and it becomes clear that subsequent works took the aesthetic the OVA established, and then expanded on it, exploring more of Takehara and its surroundings.
- One detail that blew me out of the water in the Tamayura OVAs was the fact that the opening song is Maaya Sakamoto’s cover of Yumi Arai’s timeless hit from Kiki’s Delivery Service, Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta nara (Embraced in Tenderness). When the OVA began playing, I immediately found the song to be warm and comforting, but couldn’t put my finger on why I’d sounded so familiar. As it turns out, I’ve been listening to piano covers of Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta nara while working. I still need to watch Kiki’s Delivery Service: Miyazaki films are always a joy to watch.
- The music in the Tamayura OVA are familiar: the same background pieces were used in the television series and for Graduation Photo, creating a sense of nostalgia and sense of comfort. Earlier this year, a complete soundtrack was released, featuring every vocal piece and instrumental track used in Tamayura. The vocal pieces all have a gentle and soft tone about them, making them superbly relaxing to listen to. In the end, Fū wraps up by taking a photo of Riho. Earlier, Fū had brought a gift of sorts for Riho, but in her excitement, left it on the train. One of the train station staff pick it up and returns it to Fū; presumably, Fū will be able to gift this to Riho at a later date.
- Café Tamayura is one of my favourite places in Tamayura: it is home for Fū, and here, the girls experience a few menu item. From their reactions, this is something that will be available to customers. Revisiting Tamayura has led me to see that the use of fuzzy eyes to denote happiness is not new: Tamayura and K-On! have been doing this a decade earlier, although it was only really with Yuru Camp△ that I began noticing this trait.
- Kaori’s sister, Sayomi, makes an appearance: she’s fond of adventure, and now that I think about it, she fulfils the same role as GochiUsa‘s Mocha. While ordinarily, the idea of adventure would be an enticing one, Sayomi’s sense of direction is questionable. Kaori thus dreads it whenever Sayomi shows up with an itch fore adventure, since it entails everyone getting lost for what seems like an inordinate amount of time.
- What makes things about Sayomi’s adventures worthwhile is that, while everyone is lost, they still nonetheless have a good time. This is one of the recurring lessons that arise from Sayomi’s adventures with Fū and her friends: although the path to the destination is bumpy and crooked, the memories created are well worth it. The fact that Sayomi loves exploring obscure, local destinations was also inspiring to me. When my undergraduate degree ended, I was feeling a little left behind by the fact that I’d not travelled that summer. After watching ~More Aggressive~, I was reminded of the fact that there’s actually quite a bit of my home town I’d yet to explore.
- This way of thinking impacted how I spent my days during the world health crisis: with the mountains trickier to access, and international travel off the table, I ended up taking long and pleasant walks in the parks and neighbourhoods nearby, and in doing so, discovered things that I would’ve missed otherwise. For Fū and her friends, after two hours of being lost, they decide to set down and have lunch in a quieter spot. Earlier today, I went out for a walk downtown (my first time returning in over a year), then spent the afternoon touring a condo unit of interest: at this point in time, I figured that it’d be nice to go and see what’s available on the market.
- The evening concluded with a dinner from one of our favourite Cantonese joints in the city; besides the longtime favourite of sweet-and-sour pork, Chinese broccoli with stir-fry beef and seafood and fried tofu cooked in a clay pot (一品窩), we also mixed things up by ordering fried oysters with mushrooms. Food is definitely one of the things I remember best about a given day, so I make it a point to write about things where appropriate. Anime like Tamayura similarly feature mealtimes to accentuate that moments like these are an integral part of memorable moments; while Kaori and the others are doubtlessly exasperated by Sayomi’s inability to navigate, sharing a good meal with one another helps to lift the spirits and give everyone energy to finish their tour.
- After one more hour, the group finally arrives at the location Sayomi had been thinking of. While this isn’t the same spot that Fū remembers, there is a sort of nostalgia around this spot, even though it’s likely everyone’s first time here. Tamayura‘s OVAs thus speak to the idea that there are many hidden treasures around one’s own home, and that time spent exploring the places one knows well can always yield unexpected surprises even if one’s been there before.
- Tamayura suggests that getting lost and not finding what one was expecting is also a part of the adventure, a part of the process that timeless memories are created, and moreover, with the right mindset, all of this can happen right in one’s own backyard. This isn’t to say that travel isn’t important, but in the event where travel isn’t viable, one can nonetheless have a good time with a bit of open-mindedness. Unlike the people in my generation, I do not view travel as a large priority in my life; my priorities are to advance my career and build up my assets.
- For me, if I don’t take any vacation time in a given year to go abroad, that’s completely fine, as I’m happy to spend a long weekend in the mountains or driving the freeway under an open prairie sky. This way of thinking comes from how my parents do things: they found that doing something simple like a walk by the river downtown could be very joyful, and Tamayura certainly seems to suggest this to viewers. Fū and her friends have remarkable adventures all around town, exploring places that possess a hidden beauty to them.
- When Riho decides to visit Fū in person, the two end up taking some private time together to share their thoughts. The streets of Takehara’s warehouse district have a beautiful, watercolour-like feel to them, and for the longest time, I’ve wondered what it would be like to run a gentle café here. It suddenly hits me that I’ve not written anything about Momoneko-sama, a fluffy, pink cat that roams Takehara. Despite Fū’s best efforts to photograph him, he always manages to escape before she can press the button, leaving behind a blurry mess.
- Fortunately for Fū, when two students ask her to take their photo, they stay still and allow for Fū to get an excellent picture. Fū is seen using their digital camera here: by 2010, digital cameras were commonplace, and smartphones hadn’t quite displaced them. Compared to a film camera, digital cameras are more forgiving when it comes to mistakes, so by having Fū run with the S35, Tamayura speaks to the idea that a film photograph is a permanent record of a given memory, for better or worse.
- The next weekend, Sayomi follows through on her promise to find the spot from Fū’s photograph: Kaori had been dreading this moment, especially since Sayomi has offered to drive everyone to this destination. Her driving rivals Azumanga Daioh‘s Yukari Tanizaki in terms of aggression and recklessness: Kaori, Fū, Norie and Maon are left in terror as Sayomi speeds along the narrow mountain switchbacks in her Mazda 5: having now rocked a Mazda 5 for about a decade, I recognise the vehicle’s design from anywhere, and I can say with confidence that it is actually possible to drive like this with the Mazda 5.
- Once Sayomi’s harrowing ride comes to an end, Fū and the others take a moment to catch their breath before taking in the sights from Asahiyama Park, located high above Takehara. This is one of Takehara’s power spots, places in Japan of spiritual significance, and while Fū doesn’t initially believe this was where her photo was taken, she ends up spraining her ankle, and just in time, Maestro appears to give her a hand. Fū suddenly realises that her younger brother’s drawing portrayed his getting a pigg-back ride while up here, and so, this is precisely where Fū had gone.
- With Tamayura‘s OVAs definitively in the books, I am going to return and write about ~Hitotose~ once I’ve had a chance to watch all of the episodes anew: the last time I did so would’ve been a decade earlier, and I confess that I’ve pretty much forgotten everything about this series; the anime had aired during the autumn of 2011, a time when I’d just finished a full summer of undergraduate research and was reinvigorated, ready to stare down another year of university. This term was quite eventful: although I stumbled yet again in the third and final data structures course, I maintained a satisfactory GPA that term, giving me the confidence to finish my degree strong.
- On the topic of ten year anniversaries, September 2011 also marked the conclusion of Hanasaku Iroha; this would’ve been P.A. Works’ first major production since 2010’s Angel Beats!, and the elements of Hanasaku Iroha would go on to shape the sort of anime P.A. Works later produced. I’ve recently begun a rewatch, and I am impressed at the level of quality in the story, animation and direction in this series. Finally, I am a boss fight away from beating DOOM Eternal, and my copy of ARIA The Crepuscolo has arrived: I will be looking to finish and write about both during the September long weekend.
- This is the iconic photo that Fū had taken: there is a sense of nostalgia and familiarity about it that impresses those who gaze upon it, and the eponymous Tamayura can be seen: it refers to small specks of light that appear in photos, and is said to manifest in photos portraying happiness. One of Fū’s objectives is to see if she can reproduce the phenomenon with consistency, and since the mechanism behind their appearance is unexplained, they simply become a metaphor for Fū pursuing new experiences and making new memories with those who are in her life.
In the space of four episodes, Tamayura‘s OVAs succinctly summarises the magic in this tale of self-discovery, acceptance and embracing the future after a loss. At this point in Tamayura, Fū is back in Takehara, a peaceful town of around twenty-six thousand in Hiroshima, known for its old warehouse district: she’s completely engrossed in photography, and while a sense of longing is never really too far away, it becomes clear that she’s in good company. Kaori is always there to support Fū, and similarly, having Norie and Maon around means there’s never a dull moment. Between the inspiration from Riho, and the adventures that Sayomi hauls Fū and her friends on, Fū’s life in Takehara is simultaneously tranquil and eventful. By keeping busy with her photography hobby and sharing experiences with her friends that transform into lifelong memories, Fū is able to, bit by bit, move forwards and embrace her future, one that would eventually see her start a photography club and even mentor juniors, before walking the stage during graduation and setting her sights for the next milestone in her life. However, every journey has a beginning, and it is here in quiet Takehara that Fū’s story begins: things continue in ~Hitotose~ (2011) and ~More Aggressive~ (2013), before wrapping up with Graduation Photo (2016). I had followed Tamayura from the very beginning, and we are now nearing the ten-year anniversary to when ~Hitotose~ aired: this is a series that provided an exceptionally cathartic experience for me, one that walked me through some difficult times in university and would ultimately give me the push I needed to transition away from academia into industry. However, in my haste to start ~Hitotose~, I skipped over the OVAs in the process; while Tamayura is written in such a way so viewers are always reminded of what’s important, and I therefore had no trouble with following ~Hitotose~‘s direction, I did feel that the time had come to wrap things up properly and finish the series’ very beginning, which sets the tone for the remainder of the series: from 2011 to 2016, Tamayura would accompany me along my journey through university. The time is appropriate to return and revisit one of the most iconic healing anime of all time now, and now that I’ve wrapped up Tamayura‘s OVAs, I’m quite ready to see how my thoughts of Tamayura have changed in the ten years since I first watched things.