• May 4, 2015

One Photographer, Two Backpacks, and an Epic Three-Year Journey

In March 2010, photographer Uruma Takezawa left Japan with two backpacks—one on his front and one on his back. More than a thousand days later he returned.

Carrying only his clothes, cameras, a computer, a tent, and a sleeping bag, Takezawa set out to create a body of work that celebrates the connection between people and their land, with a focus on communities that are cut off from the modern world. He thought he would be gone for a year.

Picture of Uruma Takezawa in Iceland during his three-year photographic journey
Uruma Takezawa in Iceland during his three-year photographic journey.

“When I left Japan I thought one year would be enough to look at every continent, but it was not enough at all,” he said in a recent phone interview.

“And when I finished one year, I had only finished South America, and I realized that the world was much bigger than I anticipated. You know, we get so much information from the Internet and TV and we think we know about the world, but the real world was much bigger than I ever imagined.”

Picture of East Tibet
Lalung Gal Gompa, East Tibet. “A dense collection of monk quarters sprawled out over a hill. They looked like a living organism made of countless cells. It had snowed at dawn. When I woke up, the scenery was completely covered by white snow.”
Picture of men in Niger
Niger. “Men of the Wodaabe tribe paint their face with pigments made from crushed rocks. Being highly aesthetic, men wear makeup to win the affection of women. Those people, living in harmony with Mother Earth in the remotest part of Africa, completely cut off from modern society, were more beautiful than anything I had ever seen in my life.”
Maras, Peru. "At the back of the Andes, countless salt fields extended across the mountain slopes. The saline content from that time crystalized to produce salt. When I licked the salt from my fingertip, it tasted bitter—the taste of ancient times."
Maras, Peru. “At the back of the Andes, countless salt fields extended across the mountain slopes. The saline content from that time crystalized to produce salt. When I licked the salt from my fingertip, it tasted bitter—the taste of ancient times.”

Takezawa’s journey took him to Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, the Middle East, and North and South America, and his resulting body of work is simply called “Land.” The images celebrate the diversity of the world’s people—many of whom welcomed Takezawa into their communities, despite never having seen a camera, or even a world map, before.

On the way, Takezawa traveled alone on foot, by bus, train, car, horseback, and even kayak to reach his destinations. And despite carrying 45-50 pounds of gear, the one thing he rarely did was take a taxi.

“I didn’t have enough money for my journey, which I thought would be for one year but then it became three,” he said. “So I couldn’t use taxis and I just walked for hours and hours to save money.”

Picture of a lake in Bolivia
Uyuni, Bolivia. “I walked on a vast salt lake at an altitude of 4,000 meters. Pools of water began to form when it rained the night before. In the morning, the clouds were reflected faintly on the water, creating an infinitely extending heaven.”
Picture of a girl in India.
Gujarat, India. “A girl I met when I visited some villages of ethnic minorities scattered in the Kutch district. The environment around these villages that cherish their traditions is changing year by year; factories are built in rows, in search of cheap land and labor. The more I visited those villages, the less I could imagine what their lives will be like in the coming decades.”
Picture of cowboys in Brazil.
Pantanal, Brazil. “Cowboys drive a herd of hundreds of cattle over a vast meadow. I spent one week with them, and felt the presence of real nomads living in the present day.”

Prior to his journey, Takezawa worked as a professional marine photographer and had connections with many magazines and newspapers. So when he ran out of money, he contacted editors and picked up occasional freelance assignments around the world just so he could keep traveling.

And while Takezawa acknowledges that for most people three years of travel sounds like a dream, in reality, he said he was terribly lonesome.

“I felt lonely all the time. The first two months I was OK, but after that I was always lonely. Not many people spoke Japanese on the journey, my English is not so good, and I don’t speak any Spanish. So when I experienced something during my travels, I didn’t have anyone to share the experience with. Every day I wanted to go back to Japan, but also I wanted to take photos—so there was a constant battle between loneliness and the desire to keep on the journey.”

Picture of a boy in Ethiopia.
The Lower Omo River Valley, Ethiopia. “This boy’s face was painted by a shaman at a coming-of-age ritual and he was just changing into a possessed state.”
Picture of Carnival in Rio.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “During the Rio Carnival period, the city turns to chaos and madness dwells in people. The steps of samba and the sweat running along the dancers’ bodies—the heat from the people melts the shapes of the surroundings and creeps deep into the soul of those watching them. This experience still lingers deep inside my memory. I feel the rhythms still beating hard in my heart.”
Picture of boys playing in a monastery in Myanmar.
Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar. “As I was riding my bike along the shore of Lake Inle, I got caught in a fierce squall typical of Southeast Asia. I visited an old monastic school seeking shelter. When I peeked inside, young monks who had finished chanting sutras were running around in a classroom, chasing after a small ball.”

Ironically, Takezawa said that returning to Japan turned out to be the hardest part of his trip. After being on the road for three years, mainly in remote and rural places, he says it was a huge culture shock to return to the fast pace of his home country.

“I was born in Japan, I am Japanese, Japan is my country, but at that time I felt so weird. Everything was so bright. Everything was so quick. Everything was so expensive. The people didn’t welcome me.

“Now that I’ve been back a few years it seems normal, but at the time I wanted to go back to somewhere, anywhere, and live again with nomadic people.”


Uruma Takezawa is the third Grand Prize Winner of the Nikkei National Geographic Photo Prize and his images were published in the February 2015 Japanese edition of National Geographic. His debut solo show featuring photos from “Land” are currently on exhibit at the Foto-Care Gallery in New York through May 5th.

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There are 87 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. john
    July 31, 2015


    May 22, 2015

    Beautiful work…Grateful for sharing!

  3. Robin
    May 19, 2015

    Beautiful photographic journey and so much more. We have much more to learn from indigenous people than they of us.

  4. Sampath Kumar
    May 19, 2015

    Absolutely fascinating….. there is quite another world out there….

  5. Bertus Viljoen
    May 19, 2015

    Truly wonderful journey. Congratulations on having the courage and the resolute.

  6. Howard Walters
    May 18, 2015

    a magazine that never stops stretching your view of things

  7. Cupid
    May 18, 2015


  8. Patrick Klauss
    May 18, 2015

    Amazing journey and amazing images – thank you for the inspiration and for capturing the soul of the people you met and places you visited in such poetic fashion.

  9. Eduardo Donoso
    May 18, 2015

    The destruction is caused by the irresponsible governments !

  10. Christine
    May 18, 2015

    A fascinating insight into a different world. Thank You.

  11. Ginette Denommée-Semeniuk
    May 18, 2015

    What a planet we have on its way to destruction. Citizens of the earth will lose it. What’s to come for us and this beautiful planet?

  12. Pablo Barilari
    May 18, 2015

    Amazing, never give up spirit..

  13. Muthukumaran
    May 18, 2015

    Wow…. words are not succeeding to tell my feelings on seeing those photographs… Each photo is filled with emotions….. God Bless… thanks…

  14. Vasantha Jayasooriya
    May 18, 2015

    A work of epic proportion. Truly, a labour of love!

  15. Allister
    May 18, 2015

    just brilliant, now that’s a life experience!!

  16. Neil Buchan Grant
    May 18, 2015

    Absolutely superb collection of images!

  17. George
    May 18, 2015

    Amazing job and experience.
    I pay my respects

  18. Violet Hartley
    May 18, 2015

    oh how envious I am of your spirit, adventure, freedom and amazing encounters…. Not to mention talent!

  19. Nick Mendieta
    May 18, 2015

    A journey in 1000 days or around the world in 80 years.Amazing!!!!

  20. Bajrang lal
    May 17, 2015

    A venture extraordinary! Pictures are simply beautiful and revealing volumes!! I wish could assist you in the endeavour.

  21. Steve Conley
    May 17, 2015

    It is mystifying how an adventure away from familiar surroundings will accentuate the eye. Great moments there young man.

  22. victor rafael golden
    May 17, 2015

    The spirit of one man to explore the world, what an amazing feat!

  23. Riaan
    May 17, 2015

    Fantastic work! I admire your courage and tenacity to produce a product that so many of us can enjoy!

  24. Aradhana
    May 17, 2015

    Divine. Inspiring; Thank you for sharing your work.

  25. Edrey Chavdarov
    May 17, 2015

    Supeeerb!!! Takezawa San I bow respectfully in front of your work, courage and strength, you have shown to finish it.

  26. Rozalinda Markovska
    May 17, 2015

    Neverovatna i fascinantna prica-fotografija je uvek gledana ocima onoga ko je stvara s druge strane objektiva-tvoje tumacenje je prelepo

  27. Sandi
    May 17, 2015

    I so enjoyed the tour through the lens of Uruma’s camera and his excellent photographic eye. That’s a long time to be on the road, and especially how he was travelling. I can understand all his feelings, have been on the road myself in the 80’s, mostly living in a camper. Hope to see the rest of his work.

  28. Gene Genie
    May 17, 2015

    Due to poor health now, our travelling days are over so to see the wonders you have shown us is everything to us as we enjoyed our world travels and we still can with such wonderful pictures. More please !!

  29. Debra S
    May 17, 2015

    Congratulations on your bravery to go on this journey and thank you for sharing. Awesome!

  30. John Comisky
    May 17, 2015

    Takazawa’s work it beautiful, and emotionally compelling. The scope of it is amazing.

  31. Fornik Tsai
    May 17, 2015

    It’s amazing.

  32. Inge Johnsson
    May 17, 2015

    What great photos and what an adventure! You have such a keen eye, Uruma.

  33. myriam quiroz
    May 14, 2015


  34. chenew
    May 13, 2015


  35. Arnab Dutta
    May 13, 2015

    I was blown away by the Uyuni, Bolivia Photo. I wish I could go there with my camera of course.

  36. Eric Chen
    May 9, 2015


  37. adejoke aj
    May 8, 2015

    Amazing story. You’re blessed to have had such a beautiful experience of different people’s and cultures…..people living a simple way of life. How beautiful those pictures are touching the very essence of humanity. Thank you for sharing.

  38. AmPro GmbH
    May 8, 2015


  39. Yurie Calo
    May 7, 2015


  40. marina
    May 7, 2015

    Inspiring. Illuminating.

  41. Jolene Lee
    May 7, 2015

    You have lived & captured parts of the world with your photographs. Thank you!

  42. Warren
    May 7, 2015

    What a great experience…

  43. herbert
    May 7, 2015

    thank you Takezawa San, for sharing your world tour experience. twas fascinating!

  44. Olivia
    May 6, 2015

    Facinatingly Beautiful! Thank you!

    May 6, 2015

    Amazing and surreal pictures!!. What a priviledge and honour to be able to capture those moments!.

  46. Charunila
    May 6, 2015

    The feature, in the most graphic manner, brilliantly challenges the commonly uttered statement – “travel is an escape from the routine”. It, as a matter of fact, is an entry into a larger and real world, from the tiny bubble (of the city) we dwell in. A universe of humans where random acts of kindness are not looked upon by suspicion, but are simply the way of life.

  47. Jonas S Medeiros
    May 5, 2015

    Uranus-san, I am going to Japan to have the opposite experience of yours. Follow me at jsmedeirosphotography on Facebook. Thanks for the inspiration and congrats!

  48. kathy pirolli
    May 5, 2015

    Awesome! Grateful for sharing!

  49. Jason Benner
    May 5, 2015

    Amazing work.I bet this was a great life experience. When/what is your next trip going to be?

  50. varunkhanna
    May 5, 2015

    A genuine photographer sharing his amazing experience,which enthralls you to keep reading.

  51. jan
    May 5, 2015

    Thank you for sharing your incredible journey. I would very much love to see and read more.

  52. Shruthi V
    May 5, 2015

    Inspiring 🙂

  53. Perthena
    May 5, 2015

    The most amazing journeys begin by leaving the shore. You had a most amazing journey. Thank you for sharing the passion, the skills, and the emotions of this journey.

  54. jangela budimir
    May 5, 2015

    very “storytelling”.

  55. ravinder
    May 5, 2015

    Excellent…most informative & enjoyable …thanks a lot …God bless .

  56. Allie
    May 5, 2015

    Such amazing photos. I could never survive that journey!

  57. Mon Sagullo
    May 5, 2015

    Thank you for allowing us to connect with the wonders you yourself experienced. This is indeed a planet with beautiful people.

  58. Michel Zoghby
    May 5, 2015

    It’s simply amazing, beautiful work. As a photographer myself would love to learn more about your work, how can I do that?

  59. Ira Dennison
    May 5, 2015

    Breathtakingly beautiful images and such a deeply inspiring story Takezawa.

  60. Mariposa
    May 5, 2015

    Absolutely sublime.. I can breath the atmosphere!

  61. Bala
    May 5, 2015

    Excellent.. (Feeling Jealous..)

  62. Farahnas Irina
    May 5, 2015

    your pictures really inspired me… Thanks for showing me a different perspective of life….

  63. Nimmy Dupuis
    May 5, 2015

    Stunningly expressed and wanting for more.

  64. veeral shah
    May 5, 2015

    this guy has lived my dream. and also inspire me that this is possible. such imaginless journey he went through is just kept my mouth open for a while. And Sir.Takezawa loneliness can get vanished if you have passion for any thing you want to do maybe this made you made it this journey.You are the real explorer.

  65. GRACE
    May 5, 2015

    Your song resonates with me because I too, am travelling the world to immerse in diverse cultures. Every tribe, every language, every land, has its own treasure and we are privileged to be able to access them and take a part of it home with us. My parents are from the Philippines, but I call my home Australia. I’ve travelled here and there for a few years but am excited to be out again in a few months. The world is simply beautiful.

  66. Shuhei Oya
    May 5, 2015

    Such a great journey and beautiful photos.

  67. Hridayananda bordoloi
    May 5, 2015

    Very nice journy . A great adventure. It feels like joy of soul. U r very lucky. I’ll like to go in this…

  68. Clifton Harriott
    May 5, 2015

    Beautiful photos. How do you decide where to go and what to photograph

  69. suchada leong
    May 5, 2015

    You are a most extraordinary brave and remarkable man, typical of Japanese grit. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful experiences with us. I would love to read the book, if there’s going to be one. Listening to Chage and Aska whilst reading your post. May your days be filled with beautiful memories.

    May 5, 2015

    Beautiful journey. ..surreal and almost spiritual!

  71. Patsy
    May 5, 2015

    I envy your three years. Gorgeous body of work, amazing.

  72. Frank Satar
    May 4, 2015


  73. Valerie Cole
    May 4, 2015

    What a wonderful adventure. You are very brave. This is something that makes me stop & think. We think we need so much to be happy. I bet you saw alot of happy people who have very little. Love the pictures!!!

  74. Sonia Arizpe
    May 4, 2015

    Realmente bellísimas todas las fotografías, hay emoción y sentimientos en cada una de ellas y por supuesto la sensibilidad del fotógrafo…
    Es estar en el momento exacto, el tiempo perfecto…felicidades!!! Esto es Arte…

  75. Linda Mae Chover
    May 4, 2015

    These are so amazing. Thank you for sharing these beautiful people.

  76. Maria Fidelia
    May 4, 2015

    I’d like to travel the world but somehow, I don’t have the courage to travel since I haven’t made any money yet, but it is so inspiring wether you can maintain you rmoney by not taling taxis on the road.

  77. Leah
    May 4, 2015


  78. Charles Mason
    May 4, 2015

    Very inspiring, and beautiful work. I teach photography in Alaska (UAF), and will share this with my students.

  79. Arlene Stoker
    May 4, 2015

    A dream that was taken!

  80. David Burnett
    May 4, 2015

    Beautiful photographs, so taken from the heart. You sometimes pay the price of solitude when you venture into the world on your own, but I hope you know that for those of us who see your work, it was more than worth it.

  81. Denise
    May 4, 2015

    Absolutely beautiful. Not surprising that modern civilization was a culture shock.

  82. Rohaiza
    May 4, 2015

    Amazing body of work.

  83. Phil Jessett
    May 4, 2015

    Beautiful work…Is there a book coming out with this body of work??

  84. marianne brown
    May 4, 2015

    what an amazing experience——-i need my down comforter and a nice bed .I’ll look at the photos. Thank you

  85. Peter Jipp
    May 4, 2015

    Fabulous images! You have produced something tremendous here. Thanks!

  86. Sherine Mishriki
    May 4, 2015

    just breath-taking

  87. june jean playfair
    May 4, 2015

    Absolutely fascinating.

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