Tim and Sarah are without question some of the kindest people you could ever have the pleasure of knowing. I met the couple years ago when I worked at an international school in Tokyo. Ever since, I have enjoyed spending time with them and watching their family grow.
I heard from Sarah in the late autumn. Her message read:
We wanted to see if you would be able to do a family photo shoot for the four of us sometime in the late fall. We've been jonesin' for some professional family photos since (L) was born and, now that we're feeling a bit more settled, we're ready to make that happen! We're hoping for some fall colors as a backdrop for the photo shoot. There's a beautiful little shrine along the Nogawa River path with Japanese momiji trees and a little red bridge going over the pond. Of course, we're open to other ideas you have where the fall colors will be at peak then.
I was overjoyed to finally be able to work with the Bernhardt family. Instead of attending meetings with Sarah and Tim, I would finally get the chance to see the whole Bernhardt family in a new professional context.
On our shoot day we met at Nukui Shrine, the small complex in Koganei that Sarah had mentioned in her initial inquiry. Sarah was right, Nukui was the perfect spot for an autumn portrait session. While the area is on the small side for families with small children, I knew that we could make the space work. The leaves were blazing reds and vibrant yellows. The foliage, coupled with the traditional moon-shaped bridge, was the postcard vision of Japan.
To my surprise, the shrine was completely empty. There was no one in sight. The area was silent and tranquil. However, the energy in the shrine quickly changed. The quiet grounds in western Tokyo livened up when H (age 5) and L (18 months) arrived. The young lads were ready to move and shake and Sarah and Tim were eager to get started.
Together we roamed Nukui and played in a nearby parking lot. We chucked rocks around (nowhere near the shrine, of course) and took turns running after the boys.
Towards the end of our session we still had a bit of light to work with. We were quite close to Tama Cemetery, the largest municipal cemetery in Japan. It would be quite morbid (and completely culturally inappropriate) to have family photos made throughout the graves. But the Tama cemetery is also one of the largest green spaces in the Tokyo metropolis. We decided to head over to Tama for a few more frames.
We finished our time together in a grove of massive red maples (far away from the sacred spaces). As the sun went down and the blue hour began, I left the Bernhardt family to start their nighttime routine.
Walking alone to the nearest train station, I had some time to reflect on the session. I had such a great time with the Bernhardts. I was grateful to them for their business. But more, I was grateful to have another window into their life and to have the opportunity to share an afternoon out with one of the kindest expat families in Tokyo.
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