Goto Hiroto records the beauty of ethnic costumes with his camera

The moon and stars decorated on Naxi’s costumes, the elegance emitting from Dai’s costumes, the unconstraint of Wa’s costumes...Goto Hiroto’s albums are like colorful scrolls full of brilliant ethnic costumes and culture.

Goto Hiroto has an ear-reaching centre parting, wears a pair of frameless glasses, a pink pinstripe shirt and cream-colored slacks, which make an impression of a gentleman. Except the snow-like hair, people will not assume he’s actually approaching 60. He currently works as Japanese lecturer in Yunnan Minzu University, he is so fond of photographing, that whenever he is spare, he visits minority village.

01 後藤裕人

Goto Hiroto took a world tour in 2004. When he leaved Laos and entered China from Xishuangbanna, he coincidentally went to a local bazaar. Having seen the charm of natural sceneries, it’s ethnic costumes that attracted him, “from their stitch-work to their design, all the things of those costumes are fascinating”. Therefore, he decided to capture the beauty of all the ethnic costumes in Yunnan.

“Wow! What a tremendous city, it’s even bigger than Hokkaido!” After arriving in Kunming, the warm sunshine of Kunming even in winter, the lively atmosphere in restaurants as well as the convenience when visiting minority villages all urged him to settle down in Kunming. So he came and lived in Kunming ever since 2006.

Trudging just to see Bailuo’s costumes in person

Goto Hiroto learned Chinese at Yunnan Normal University. After the class, he always searched for information about ethic costumes.

One day, he accidentally saw Bailuo’s costumes on newspaper, he was so fond of it that he wanted to see it in person. However, the newspaper simply mentioned that the village of Bailuo is somewhere near Malipo town, Wenshan county. Numerous difficulties can be foreseen because of language barrier, still, he decided to search for this village on his own.

He looked the route on the internet, took that newspaper, and set out. Getting off the only bus from Kunming to Wenshan, he then took a bus to Malipo. At almost the end of the bus journey, he decided to ask the driver as well as some locals whether they had any idea about the village for trying. “Of course we do!” they said, “there is a newly built concrete road in this town, you’ll find the village if you keep walking along it.”

Even though the road is newly built, it’s definitely not an easy task to walk 9km along the road. It costed him nearly 6 hours to actually catch sight of the village. “The houses are not big but quite characteristic.” In Goto Hiroto’s picture, a house stands, which has a similar shape of Dai’s house. Instead of breeding livestock with the first floor like Dai people, Bailuo’s house has a non-occupied ground floor.

02 白倮族民家 後藤先生 攝

Having a looking around, Goto Hiroto spotted a villager in the sun. He went to chat excitedly, only to found there was no way to communicate. They finally understood each other by using a combination of body language and Chinese character. The villager welcomed Goto Hiroto, and introduce him to the village head.

Soon, dusk fell. Goto Hiroto decided to sleep over at village head’s place, the village head served some side dishes along with bowls full of home-made spirit. They sat around the table, ate and chatted, without realizing, both were full and drunk.

The next day, soon after recovering from hangover, Goto Hiroto went out for taking photos. Children curious about the stranger, a woman who was taking a kid for a walk, men in a ceremony parade……You can find Bailuo people of all ages showing their truest lifestyle in Goto Hiroto’s album.

03 白倮族兒童 後藤先生 攝

04 白倮族母親和孩子 後藤先生 攝

05 白倮族男性 後藤先生 攝

It can be seen from the photos that the Bailuo’s costumes are simple in color, but are embroidered with complicated patterns and symbols. Costumes decorated with dragon patterns are for grandmothers, those for mothers are embroidered with X and S shapes, those married but have no childbirth wear floral skirts embroidered with S-shaped red thread patterns; girls’ skirts are decorated with mainly dots, along with circles, triangles, squares and diamonds. Men's clothing is relatively simple. A one or two-meter-long headkerchief with black and white stripes is worn around the head, and the coats don’t have many colors, mostly in black, white and blue, simple yet elegant.

The seemingly simple patterns represent everything in the world: stars, the sun, the moon, rivers, crops...all the things in nature related to Bailuo are reflected in their clothing.

Photographing Lisu costumes and experiencing the ethnic culture closely

It’s not always smooth sailings visiting minority villages. At first, Goto Hiroto encountered many difficulties due to language barrier. Many people felt that a "weirdo" with a camera came so they ignored him. However, he sometimes meets like-minded friends and has the opportunity to experience ethnic culture closely.

There was a time when he went to Shigu town, Lijiang to search for Lisu people, he heard that the innholder would take four or five young people to visit a village of Lisu nearby while checking in. "May I join you?" Goto Hiroto asked in a sincere tone and showed them the photos he had shot. Through this, He was welcomed by everyone and they arranged to leave for the village in the next morning.

06 石鼓鎮清晨的景象 後藤先生 攝

"Just after the dawn, the innholder drove us into the mountain with a pickup truck. We sat on the shelves and chatted while clutching the railings of the car." Everyone was looking forward to seeing the Lisu village.

07 大家乘坐皮卡車去探訪傈僳族。後藤先生 攝

After shaking on the truck for about an hour, they reached the destination. The village is on the mountainside and the altitude is relatively high. The locals had raised yaks according to local conditions and used yak milk to make cheese, which was a local cuisine.

08 高山草甸 後藤先生 攝·1

09 高山草甸 後藤先生 攝2

10 高山草甸 後藤先生 攝3

It was midsummer so there was no snow on the mountain. After visiting the beautiful alpine meadows, they came to a villager's house, and the enthusiastic villager poured butter tea made directly of yak milk for everyone.

11 傈僳族村民 後藤先生 攝1

12 傈僳族招待賓客的酥油茶 後藤先生 攝

"The tea was salty, and the milk tasted very strong. The first cup felt very good, but it was refilled immediately after I drank it. The villager's hospitality made me drank the second and third cups." The bumps when returning made the rich milk flavor churn so hard in Goto Hiroto's stomach that he has not been able to forget the richness of that three cups of butter tea till now.

Constantly speaking Chinese with his friends and visiting ethnic villages made Goto Hiroto’s Chinese better and better, at the same time he also accumulated a few "tricks" for shooting. Now, he will first select ethnic villages on the map, and then choose a good time to participate in the local bazaar. "Many minority people come to the bazaar, on which I can shoot them together, that’s very convenient."

"Every time I take a photo, I will wash it out in the nearest town, and sent the photo back to the photographed as much as possible." In Goto Horoto's view, the photos can be meaningful since they record beautiful moments.

From learner to teacher, he encourages students to speak out

Besides being an excellent photographer, Goto Hiroto is also a Japanese teacher who is very popular among students. In 2009, recommended by a friend, he became a teacher in the School of Arts and Sciences of Yunnan Normal University, responsible for teaching vocabulary, composition, oral English, etc. Since 2013, he has continued his teaching career at Yunnan Minzu University.

Though the workplace has changed, his teaching philosophy remains the same. He often said to his students that "language learning is the same as doing sports." It's far from adequate to just write down notes. One can only start learning language when speaking and practicing with the others. The most important thing is being brave enough to speak. In class, he encourages students to practice with other classmates. After class, he asks students to record articles they read, listens to them and recorded corrections, eventually returns them to students.

"It would be nice if students could know more about Japan because of my class." Goto Hiroto's wish is simple. Seeing more and more people traveling to Japan and slowly getting to know Japan in recent years, he feels that his dream has already come true.

Affected by the COVID-19 epidemic this year, Yunnan Minzu University also opened online courses like other universities. Sometimes the signal is not very good, so Goto Hiroto still prefers face-to-face communication with students. He hopes that the epidemic will end as soon as possible and see his lovely students again.

When work is done, he likes to walk into bookstores to enjoy a quiet reading time. Occasionally, he also plays badminton with three or five friends, or hangs out for a drink. However, the epidemic ruthlessly forced these entertainments to be shelved. Goto Hiroto joked: "I’ve gained weight, so I have to go for a run in Lianhuachi Park from time to time, otherwise my pants will not fit anymore."

Meanwhile, Goto Hiroto also looks forward to taking off his mask and walking across the mountains and rivers, continuing his journey to reveal ethnic villages hidden in every corner of Yunnan. From Xishuangbanna to the First Bay of the Yangtze River, he has walked through hundreds of ethnic villages, large or small, and took thousands of photos. These photos not only recorded the beauty of Yunnan's ethnic costumes, but also carry countless vivid stories behind them.

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(Editors: Sam, Rachel)

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