Mihoko Yamabe Photographing Her Way From Japan to Yemen [Archives:1998/35/Last Page]

August 31 1998

Ms. Mihoko Yamabe is a Japanese photographer currently working in Yemen. After graduating from junior college, Mihoko, started her career as a graphic designer, then she became a photographer. In Japan she mainly deals with advertisement photos.
Bin Sallam of Yemen Times talked to Ms. Yamabe about her life and work in Yemen, and filed the following interview.
Q: Is photography your hobby or profession?
A: I have been a professional photographer for the last 9 years. For me taking photos is not merely a ” job,” but also the “joy” of my life. While I am in Japan, as a commercial photographer, I take pictures of everything from fashion models to athletes in the field, from architecture to the delicious food on the dish, for the sake of magazines, posters and pamphlets.
I am also interested in interior coordinating. But for the future, I want to travel around many countries, and introduce their lifestyles, cultures and societies to the Japanese people through my photographs.
Q: When did you first come to Yemen?
A: I’m now on my second shooting tour, which started in October, 1997. I first traveled to India and Pakistan, then I arrived in Yemen in January, 1998. I’ve stayed here with a one-month interval in Pakistan.
The reason why I chose Yemen is that I am interested in Muslim and Arab countries and Yemen is a pure Arab-Islamic country. Yemen is famous as the place the Queen of Sheba ruled. But very little information is available about this country. So for me, it sounds more mysterious and attracting.
Q: Do you find Yemen interesting from a photographer’s point of view?
A: For me as a foreigner, Yemeni architecture and the customs of the Yemeni people with their unique lifestyle are very exotic and charming. And as a photographer, the ordinary man with his machine gun round his shoulder and a grenade on his belt walking down the street is very photogenic.
Women wearing hijaab are also exotic. Since other parts of her face are covered, eyes are the only remaining tool for a woman in expressing her feelings. Because of this restriction, Yemeni women’s eyes show their strong will and send rich messages. I want to catch their messages by taking photographs.
Q: What do you like to photograph, people or scenery, and why?
A: Although I’m charmed by beautiful landscapes and architecture in Yemen, my primary concern is the people. Allah made the people, and their characters are defined by religion. Whenever I meet people who sincerely believe in Allah, I feel they’re mature and mentally rich. And from their faces and gestures, though I cannot understand their language, I feel many messages have reached the bottom of my heart. Then, I take a picture to keep the image and inspiration.
Q: What are your impressions of Yemen, the country and the people?
A: It’s a very interesting mixture of traditional and modern. They drive 4wd cars, eat pizzas, watch satellite TV, and talk on mobile phones. Still they wear the traditional dress, not throwing away the jambiyah nor the hijaab. They chew qat and frequently scream ” Aib!” to which they fell into disgrace.
When they encounter a foreigner, they ask “Yemen tamaam?” with the expected reply of “Tamaam,” they nod satisfyingly. I feel they love and cherish their culture.
Besides the people, the landscape of this country itself is an excitement to the foreigner. Sanaa and Hadhramaut, for example show a very striking variation in their landscape, architecture and climate. I personally like walking around in labyrinthine old Sanaa.
Last year, about 3,000 Japanese people visited Yemen. Two thirds of them were on business trips, the rest were tourists. This number, when compared with European people, is not so big. But I think the number of Japanese tourists will increase, because Yemen has been introduced on Japanese TVs several times. Guidebook on Yemen in Japanese will be published in the near future.
Q: Any last comments?
A: In a gallery, I saw old photographs of Sanaa 30 years ago. Of course there are many new things and the number of cars and people have increased, but the peoples lifestyle itself has not changed that much. This is because, I believe the Yemeni people are proud of their way of living. If I come to Yemen after ten years, I hope to meet men chewing qat with their jambiyah proudly on their belt.