756 – On Running and Anders Edström’s Shiotani

Change is felt through repetition. If I run once and never again, I can’t know if I am now a faster runner or not. If I run twice, I may be able to say if I am now faster or not, but there will be no subtlety, only two stark facts facing each other. If I run every day, however, I will begin to see change with nuance and clarity. I will see rhythm and detail, progress and relapse. I will see the ebb and flow of a constant that shifts over time.

I think about this a lot looking at Shiotani by Anders Edstrom, a book that chronicles the life of his wife’s family in the rural village of Shiotani (Japan) between 1993 and 2015. Whilst there are many things that can be said of Shiotani, it is its volume that is unavoidable. After all, at 756 pages it is hard to forget, with each reading demanding the same unusually physical act to haul it onto a table or lap. But far from an annoyance, Edstrom’s decision to make such a voluminous book is essential to its effect. It is Shiotani’s volume, its repetition of the everyday for nearly twenty years that allows us to see and feel with lucidity. It is volume that is essential to feeling the loss of the family members who pass in the decades the book spans. It is volume that is vital to feeling the passing of each season, the rituals of daily life, the shades of weather and the rhythms of labour. And indeed, it is Shiotani’s volume that is essential to understanding Edstrom’s own relationship to the village; with both feet inside and yet somehow with one left outside. It is volume that makes all of this real.

Like running every day, Shiotani’s consistency and volume make change visible and give it a richness and depth that could not be achieved if had been whittled down to a handful of photographs. I, for one, am happy for each of Shiotani’s 756 pages.