In the beginning of Yukari Chikura’s photobook “Zaido”, a mysterious mist slowly clears, page by page, to reveal a mountainous landscape. This is the stage in which the Zaido, a sacred local rite dating back to the early 8th century, is performed.

Chikura first arrived here, where the prefectures of Aomori, Iwate and Akita meet, following a command from the afterlife. Her father had passed away suddenly, without the chance to say goodbye, leaving a deep hole in the family’s everyday lives. One night, he appeared to Chikura in her sleep and told her: “Go to the village hidden deep in the snow where I lived a long time ago.”

With each new photograph, Chikura slowly takes us with her on a journey into the depths of the mountains and into a spiritual world. In the images we wander together with the practitioners who gather from the four villages of Osato, Azukizawa, Nagamine and Taninai; we see the sacred shrines, the ceremonial masks, the dark of the night, the landscape covered in silvery white snow.

The Zaido takes place on the second day of each new year. Having gathered, some of the participants – the “noshu” – perform a sacred dance, dedicated to the gods and meant to induce good fortune for the year ahead. In order for the dance to go well, the “noshu” undergo a strict purification period – sometimes lasting up to 48 days before the Zaido takes place – which require them to sleep apart from their partners, not visit homes of recently deceased, or not eat meat of four-legged animals.

With each new page, “Zaido” unveils another aspect of the ceremony and its relationship to Chikura’s life and even Japan at large, before the story ends again with white snowflakes against the dark night, arrested in time and space, slowly fading away.

Zaido is published by Steidl.