Western society often seems like a temple for individual effort and achievement; it insists, “you are directly responsible for your success or failure.” However, this individualistic mentality overlooks the collective power of communities. At one end of an extreme spectrum, communities can spark revolutions - on the other hand, their transformative impact can appear in the more subtle form of a team. Regardless of its form, the unifying power of a shared goal endows an individual with the ability to achieve at a far greater level than he or she would be capable of alone.
Social psychologists have researched this phenomenon through experiments and statistical analyses; we, however, explored it through the lens of a camera. This past semester, we attended Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, Japan to examine community formation centered around a unique focus: long-distance running. Our decision to investigate this specific topic stemmed from a fusion of personal and academic interests.
From an academic perspective, UVA’s Mobility and Community Forum presented the opportunity to conduct ethnographic research abroad in order to better appreciate how community formation varies across cultures. During the initial phase of our research, we discovered Adharanand Finn’s book, The Way of the Runner, whose account of the evolution of Japanese ekiden teams (and their influence on surrounding communities) inspired us to explore the topic more closely. This exploration provided an opportunity for our group to hone in our photography skills, as well as introducing a new component to gain experience in: film. The combination of these two desires - one academic and one personal - resulted in the birth of our project: exploring not only how Japanese ekiden teams reflect the entire society’s values, but also learning how to effectively balance personal and objective stories within films.