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IN-DEPTH

Capturing Hong Kong

Interview with Japanese photo-novelist Hiromi Hoshino

May 11, 2001

Hong Kong Flowers
Hiromi Hoshino's Hong Kong Flowers
 

Asia's financial center, shoppers' paradise, a densely built-up city with countless restaurants. When most Japanese think of Hong Kong, they see a bustling metropolis.

But for freelance photojournalist, Hiromi Hoshino, this special region of China stands for a place of pathos and bliss where she shared her life with locals, living in a scruffy dwelling and witnessing the former British colony being handed over to China.

The 35-year-old Tokyo photographer spent two years in Hong Kong from August 1996 to October 1998. Her soul-searching journey in Hong Kong bore fruits last year in the form of a photo album, Hong Kong Flowers, and a true-life novel, Korogaru Hon Kon ni koke ha haenai (Rolling Hong Kong gathers no moss), which won the celebrated non-fiction Soichi Oya award in Japan last month.

"Hong Kong preserves its youth by constantly discarding the past and transforming itself. I may have wanted to stop this flow of time by taking pictures," Hoshino says of her photos.

CNN talks to the author who is revisiting Hong Kong for a photo exhibition.

'Taking photos was the key to understanding the city'

Hong Kong Flowers  

CNN: Why does Hong Kong mean so much to you?
Hoshino: We Japanese and people in Hong Kong are very alike in appearance, what with our similar fashions and same standard of living, but inside we think in distinctively different ways. As a Japanese, I learnt a lot through their perspectives.

CNN: For instance?
Hoshino: The majority of Japanese people take their nationality for granted. Many of us don't usually question why we have a Japanese passport or are living in Japan. In Hong Kong, people ask themselves where they should be in a bid to improve their lives. This includes living abroad and changing their nationalities. They are freer in mind to raise their horizons.

CNN: You're a photographer but also a writer. Do these two art forms express different things?
Hoshino: I've always wanted to write but literally happened to land in the world of photography by luck. Now I cannot separate writing from photography....

If I had not had the camera with me, I probably wouldn't have gone out and communicated with locals. If I had wanted to just write, I would have observed Hong Kong only through my eyes, sat in a room and written about my impressions.

But I had a camera, which inevitably took me to the streets. When you take photos, you collide with action. You bump into people. Sometimes you get snubbed and encounter abominable things; other times you meet invaluable persons….

Had it not been for my camera, I don't think I would have experienced those collisions and been able to write this book. Taking photos was the key to understanding the city and these two inseparables [writing and photography] constitute my world.

'People in Hong Kong interact with each other'

Born in 1966, Hoshino has visited Hong Kong for umpteenth times  

CNN: Any examples of 'collisions'?
Hoshino: One time, a barber got furious at my taking a photo of him and chased me with scissors.

When I took a photo of stray dogs in the street, an owner of a food stand nearby got angry and started accusing me of Japan's past crimes [during the wartime]. Many people joined him and I was surrounded by accusations.

But others also jumped in to help me, saying that was not my personal wrongdoing. Eventually, those two groups began arguing.

For good or bad, people in Hong Kong interact with each other. I think it is one of the most fascinating aspects of this city. In Japan, maybe most people would have glanced at me and have gone away in order not to get involved.

CNN: What do you think about Japan-Hong Kong relations? How do you think it should be?
Hoshino: As you know, Japanese TV dramas, fashions, and pop singers are very popular in Hong Kong. When you read local newspapers, they sometimes have more detailed information about Japan's showbiz world than Japanese newspapers, which create an illusion that Japan and Hong Kong are very close.

Hong Kong Flowers  

But I think the image of "Japan" is simply a code. Only the information in the mass media is being deciphered. I wish more people in Hong Kong and Japan would communicate with each other personally.

On the other hand, in Japan, we don't know how popular our culture is in Hong Kong and other Asian countries. There isn't any information, except perhaps about a few Hong Kong movie stars….

When I lived in Hong Kong, I felt Japan was the very far end of Asia, not only physically, but also in people's mind. When I was in Japan, I didn't feel that way at all… but in Hong Kong I strongly felt the distance [between Japan and other Asian countries]....

CNN: Any plan for your next work?
Hoshino: I am always interested in Asia and want to see every country. But I cannot possibly go to every single one of them and live for two years (laugh)….

It's not a concrete plan, but I would like to think about Japan next. I would like to see Japan with a different set of eyes I acquired by living in Hong Kong, which I didn't have when I was living in Japan before.

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