Monday, December 15, 2014


Seeing the name of this week's poet, I know you will anticipate a visual treat, and you are so right! I don't know what we are more excited about - Totomai's poetry or his stunning, colorful, dramatic, exciting photography. His blog (I shoot, I blog, I distill thoughts) is alive with colorful images from his considerable travels. This poet/artist has been everywhere, as he travels extensively for his work, and we armchair travelers get to enjoy the sights vicariously through his talented lens. We will make a huge swooping circuit of the globe during this interview, so buckle up. Lift-off is imminent!

Sherry: Wow, Totomai, I have been looking around your blog and am fascinated by your busy life. One cant look on any one of your pages without recognizing you are a world-class photographer. Your blog is a feast for the eyes, of color and visual beauty. When did you first get into photography and what do you love about it? What do you try to capture through your lens?


Totomai: Thanks, Sherry, for me making me blush right away!  Well, I am just a hobbyist and don’t earn anything from photography. I guess I will stay as a photo enthusiast, since it is more fun, no pressure and no demands.  I started photography in Japan around 2004-2005, more or less; it’s been a decade already. I started with a point and shoot camera and got a DSLR in 2007. I bought my first camera to take photos of myself so I can send it to my family back home, but later on I got tired of it and started shooting anything. 

My parents

Photography, as mentioned in many of my blogs, is a stress-reliever.  My job can be stressful at times.  I am not particular when it comes to technicality but I am very specific when it comes to composition and story.  For me, photography is poetry without words, and that’s what I wanted to capture through my lens. 


Sherry: And you do that, very ably. I love the rounded lens effect you use on some of your photos. Very intriguing. And I love the quote I found on your blog: “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow”, by Imogen Cunningham. I imagine you are always after the next, most perfect, shot. Tell us about that.


Totomai: That quote has always been my driving force. It is a reminder that there are lots of subjects to shoot, there are lots of stories to capture around us and there is no reason to be lazy at all.  I was able to establish my own philosophy after a decade of shooting -

 “Photography is to be in an unseen world that you have created”.

Sherry: Oh, I love that!!!! Did your poetry arise from your photography, and viewing the world through the lens? Or did poetry come first and photography perfectly complemented it? Which do you love most as a creative outlet, and why? What does one do that the other cannot?

Totomai: I’d like to think that poetry comes first, but I remembered that I was a member of a photography club in high school for a year, and I once joined a photo contest back in college. 


The first poem I wrote was also in college and it was included in our school literary book.  I can still remember the reaction of my classmates when they saw my poem as I didn’t have any pen name back then.  Allow me to share that poem for fun.

Full moon
I sit on this artificial beach
with the half-filled wine bottle
and reminisce the moment
of being together.
This moon
and the gentle breeze witnessed
our first kiss in sunflower field,
can’t forget the mocha scent of your lipstick;
you danced like a fairy,
swayed to the beat of the wind --
I was smitten.
One starless night,
you never came to our own spice-bush,
I waited for your embrace
until the spotlight turned off.

Next month --
there will be another full moon
another moment of reminiscing.

The next poem I wrote was during early parts of 2000. Four years later I became interested in photography. In 2007, I started this blog,, formerly known as “Distilling Thoughts” with the intention of combining both poetry and photography.  For me, both poetry and photography go hand in hand, but I think photography is much easier.

The U.K.

The "Painted Hall" at Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London 

Sherry:  You write brilliantly in English, and also pepper your posts with Japanese words. You seem to have a talent for linguistics as well as your many other abilities. Did you study languages in school? I imagine your fluency is a great help in traveling the world.

The Phillippines

Totomai: In the Philippines, our education is taught in English, so it was definitely an advantage.  I still struggle with it sometimes, but I think I am doing fine. My Japanese is still very poor but since it is not mandatory in my line of work, I only have to know about the basic terms.  And when everything fails, I can always rely on sign language. Haha.

Sherry: That sunset shot is spectacular. But then all of your work is stunning, Totomai! Give us a "snapshot" of what your life looks like today, Totomai.
Totomai: I live in an apartment in Chiba alone.  I work in Tokyo and that means I need to travel 1.5 hrs daily.  But I am not complaining as I usually sleep on the train.  I normally eat outside and cook only on special occasions or if requested by friends.  On weekends, I shoot, sometimes go biking, or play badminton.  I also did some crazy stuff here in Japan. I climbed Mt. Fuji, did paragliding and skydiving.  I guess that’s my way of getting creative.

There’s a warehouse and a tree outside my window.  The scene always reminds of the what season we are in.

Seasons outside my window

Sherry: I see you recently made a trip home for your mother’s 77th birthday. I adore the photoshoot  you did with her and the family. I want to include your BEAUTIFUL poem to your mother here, if I may. I love the photo of her holding the balloons and looking decidedly jaunty. SO cute!!!!!!

Totomai: Sure. It was one of my favorite poems and the best photoshoot I had, as I only had four days to pull everything. My mother was tough despite  the heat. My father complained a lot though. They didn’t want to pose in front of the camera, so I had to double my effort in convincing them. 

(to Mama)

You were the hammock ---
when my world was moonless
until pastel-colored stars shone
on me. You swayed me against the threats
of seasons, never tired holding
the weave of love.

I hold onto the weave of love,
won’t be tired to sway you safely
against the threats of seasons.
As ashen stars crowd over you,
until your world be moonless ---
I am your hammock. 


Sherry: This poem is so moving, Totomai, the beautiful full circle idea of her having been your hammock as a child, and you now being her hammock as she ages. It pings the heart. Tell us a little bit about your childhood and your family?

Totomai: I had a very sensitive stomach when I was a kid. Almost every year I was confined in the hospital, it only stopped after I finished college.  Whew!  And that pretty much defined my childhood, giving my parents headaches.  My mother always said, “Even if we don’t have money, as long as everyone’s healthy, I am more than fine”.  

My mother was a city nurse, my father was a driver, and I have one younger brother.   By the way, Totomai is my nickname and it means "little boy" in our dialect.

Sherry: Oh, that is cute! That reminds me of our friend, Marco, whose childhood nickname "nene" ("cutest little baby ever!") stuck with him. I assume you moved to Japan for employment opportunities? Were you there when the Fukushima disaster happened?  Is it anywhere near where you are?

Totomai: I was hired in 2005 by a Japanese company and left after a year. One of my superiors contacted me and I started working again in 2008 until now. 

I can’t forget the March 11 earthquake.  I was in a meeting when it happened. Small tremors are common in Japan so no one took notice of it. But I felt it was something different, I kept on watching the clock and a minute had passed but the shaking continued. We left the meeting room and saw lots of people were already out and about to leave the building.  The transportation was greatly affected and we had no choice but to sleep in the office.  We continued to monitor the event and were shocked with what had happened in Fukushima. The next day, we were able to get home and my apartment was a mess.  Here’s the video. 

[The blog post about the earthquake and aftershock is described here ]

Sherry: Wow, my friend, what a harrowing event! I understand your work as a Process Design Engineer  takes you to many countries. I see on the sidebar of your site, you list all  the places you have been, with beautiful photos of each place. It is a complete joy to browse through. You are very talented. Tell us what you love about  the traveling. Also, what does a Process Design Engineer do? I know we are all as stoked over your photography as we are about your writing. We get a double hit of happiness when we visit your blog!


Totomai: To be honest, when I finished Chemical Engineering, I thought I will end up being a school professor or a laboratory staff. It was only after I started looking for a job when I realized that Chemical Engineering is a very versatile course.  I ended up being a Process Design Engineer.  I mainly design equipment for oil and gas industry and focused on refineries and oil fields.  I represent our company in technical discussions and presentations most of the time.  In some cases, I act as supervisor when the equipment we designed is to be commissioned or started.  Business trips may be hard and have lots of risks, but I am fine with it. After all, I have a bonus – that is to travel for free. 

Sherry: An added bonus for a photographer! 


Totomai: Some of the travels, especially in Europe, were from my personal pocket.  Traveling can be a great muse too, both in poetry and photography.

Sherry: I can see that, in your work. You say there is sometimes some danger involved in your travel for work, and you have written about, for example, the Ebola scare when you traveled to Angola. How do you deal with that? Do you encounter rough seas sometimes? Is there a story about one of your trips you might like to share, about a hazardous journey?

Totomai: The farthest I’ve been to was in Angola. I had second thoughts because of the Ebola scare but realized that the company won’t allow us to go if it’s really dangerous.  I was just paranoid.  And luckily for me,  the sea was calm during my stay but I brought a lot of anti-seasick medicine.  So far all of my trips have been relatively safe.

I had a couple of scary bloopers though, and both incidents happened in Seoul, South Korea. I was about to check-in to our hotel when I realized that I left my passport at the airport.  One of my colleagues took the late flight and I requested him to pick it up at the airport administration.  Second, I was leaving Korea when the immigration officer accidentally tore my passport while swiping it. My heart stopped for a second.  I had to renew my passport asap.

South Korea

Sherry: Yoiks! Yes, dangerous! Of all the places you have been, is there one that stands out especially?

Totomai: No contest, it will be Bergen, Norway. Despite  the rain, it was picturesque, stunning. My 3-day stay, it felt like I’d been there for a month or so.  It was paradise.


Sherry: It is stunning! A place you have not yet been, and still hope to see?

Totomai: A part of me wants to go to Galapagos Island in Ecuador. One of my projects is in Ecuador, and I am hoping to be assigned there. In that way I can have a side trip to one of my dream destinations. Wish my boss is not reading this.

Sherry: Me, too! Would you like to share a favorite poem?

Totomai: When I write poems I usually have the title and the ending first. I don’t know why but it’s always that way.  And I like dark poetry. Allow me  to share two of my favorites.

Lament of A Rubber Tree

The glint of your bolo was an omen;
as its blade scored my skin, you funneled
viscous blood, sold and stored it
in exchange for rupees and ringgits.

Every two days for thirty years,
if not you, your sons, returned,
sliced another portion until my batik body
exuded nothing.

I may die now in the burning sun,
soon be a memory,
but am still with you ---
in sheaths that protects, in balls
and dolls your children play with;
even in my clones, synthetics.
I still breathe. I still bleed

Discovering My Sister, Gretel

Longest night ever, I pray
for her safe return;
can't blink
or she'll be missed.

Behind poker-faced searchers,
I bite my lips,
open my eyes wide,
and push aside brambles.
Did she lose the breadcrumb trail?

Then – a banshee wail,
confused stillness,
echo of palpitations
and a bloody shoe offered
up for inspection.

All eyes follow a trail
of dark pebbles
from shoe
to confirmation.

Sherry: Both of those are so vivid and powerful. I can feel the tree's pain, and my heart sort of stopped at the dark trail from shoe across the pebbles. Fantastic writing, my friend.  What are your hopes and dreams for your writing? Your photography?

Totomai: Phoetry is a term I coined combining poetry and photography. I hope Webster will acknowledge it in the near future.  Haha. It’s also the title of my photoblog (you can see it in my sidebar).

I dream of publishing a photobook where I can include the photos I took and the poems I wrote.  But I am bit perfectionist when it comes to project like this. I am afraid that I will devote so much time to make it happen.  Thus, I am avoiding it.

As for writing, I hope to improve the quality of my haikus.  I want my haikus to have long lasting effect like that of Matsuo Basho’s. 

As for photography, I hope I’ll never get bored. That’s all I ask for.


Sherry: Photobooks do take a lot of time but they are so satisfying to complete, and yours would be stunning. Anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Totomai: I sincerely wish that Poets United will outlive all of us, continue to be an inspiration not only to poets, but to all who need creative outlets.  Poets United awakens my sleeping muse and I am thankful for that.  It made me realize how I miss poetry.

To all members (especially the moderators) of Poets United, let’s keep the fire going and be the muse to each other.  Once again, thank you very much and cheers! 

Sherry: Thank you, Totomai, for a marvelous visit and incredible images. It has been a real treat for this armchair traveler!

Wasn't this wonderful, my friends? Sigh. I feel replete. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. I've been gone for awhile and am trying to catch up. I just looked at the previous post and the pictures by Totomai. Mt. Fuji at Yamanashi, Japan is magical. Breath-taking. For an 'amateur' these pictures are very impressive. Thanks for this wonderful interview. Informative and enjoyable.

    1. Welcome back George. The Mt. Fuji photo I shared last time was one of the first shots I took since returning back to Japan. Cheers :-)

  2. Totomai your photos are so amazing and beautiful. I too like to take photographs, but I am quite the amateur and by no means consider myself a professional, but your photos look too good to be considered amateur. I will admit that I am jealous that you get to travel to all those wonderful places. It certainly is nice to be able to capture all the different places that we have been. :)

    1. Hi Kenn, traveling was an added bonus in my job so at this time I am not yet thinking to find another job. LOL! As long as you enjoy taking photos, that is the most important thing in photography.

  3. Wow, Sherry, what a great interview.

    Totomai, I must tell you that you are someone whose posts I always look forward to. I admire your photographic talent so much. In fact, your photographs often awe me. You really have a gifted EYE. You really SEE. As far as poetry, I am especially fond of your poem "Hammock." So very true that in the first part of life, parents are our hammocks......and in the latter part of life, we are our parents' hammocks. Your poem truly is brilliant.

    I like your idea of 'phoetry,' poetry an photography. I hope this word enters the dictionary some day! And I also like your idea of writing the title and the ending in a poem first. I will try that.

    In your poem "The Lament of the Rubber Tree" I really like the line, "I still breathe, I still bleed." Powerful stuff. And, Totomai, one thing I really appreciate about you ----- your humility. So glad you participate in Poets United.

    1. Thank you so much too Mary! I remember the first emails we had about sharing some of the photos I took. Thanks for making me feel at home here at Poets United.

      The "Hammock" will always have a special place in my heart.

      I think I was crazy about coining "phoetry". I think I first used it in 2009. Yes, please do, it's fun to write poem backwards haha.

      "Lament of the Rubber Tree" was inspired by my technical study about the rubber trees...

  4. Totomai, I love your photos. I love photography too and most of the photos that accompany my posts are photos I took but they look very amateurish compared to yours. You are a fabulous photographer. I like the idea of photography being poetry without words.
    I am also find of your thoughtful poetry and the way you express deep thoughts in a way most of us can relate too.
    Thank you Sherry for this wonderful interview! As always, you did a great job.

    1. Thanks Gabriella, I felt that I and Sherry had this interview under the red maple trees.

      When I run out of words, I have photography as a rescue. Keep on shooting and enjoy it :-)

  5. You are blessed Totomai! Getting to travel can be a tremendous boost in widening one's scope of ideas. And you have that advantage. More so when it tickles both the poet and the photo enthusiast feel in you. The whole world gets to benefit. Bergen is certainly a great place. Thanks for sharing!


    1. I am thinking of going back to Bergen but Norway has lots to offer. So maybe.

      Thanks Hank, traveling, seeing new places, culture and meeting people really keep our creative juices flowing.

  6. Thank you very much again Sherry for this interview and giving me a chance to share a part of me to Poets United.
    Also, I am very thankful to everyone for embracing me here.
    It feels good to be back writing poems once again.
    You are all now my muses.

    I hope I can inspire you all, the same way that you have inspired me.

    I’d like to share this quote from Matsuo Basho -
    “composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a swordsman leaping at a dangerous enemy.”

    Thank you. Maraming Salamat. Arigatou Gozaimashita.

  7. I am happy to read this feature kababayan ~ My brother studied and worked in Japan for 10 years so I am a bit familiar with some of your pictures ~ Still, your photos are stunning and I can tell that you really put a lot of care in your shots ~ You are indeed gifted with both words and eye for beauty ~

    Take care and keep in touch ~ I can't tell you how happy & sentimental I feel when I see your Phil photos (I miss my native land very much) ~

    1. Also, thank you Sherry for putting this altogether ~

    2. Hi Kabayan Grace, since I am not that into technicality, I tried to compensate it composition wise. (That's my excuse. lol) I have to explore the Philippines too.

  8. It was pure pleasure to put this together - Totomai, you give me so much to work with!!!!! Thank you for sharing your art and your way of seeing with us so generously. You are very talented in both poetry and photography. Thanks, friends, for your appreciation and support of our poets week after week. It warms my heart. Next feature will be in the New Year. Wow! A whole new year of delights to enjoy together. Can't wait! Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukkah, joyous Kwanzaa........however and whatever you celebrate, may it be joyous and spent with those you love.

    1. Haha! I am sorry for giving you lots of photos for this interview. By the way, the "circular effect" on photos are taken with a special lens called "Fish-eye" lens. It is one of my favorite lenses. Macro is still my number.

      Happy Holidays everyone.

      I have a secret to tell - this feature is one of the best birthday gifts I received in advance. Will be turning a year older this 29th :-)

    2. Ah, happy birthday, Totomai!

    3. Everyone's invited to the party!

  9. Wow !! what a visual delight . Thanks a lot to both !

  10. Hi totomai, nice to know a bit more of the man. :)

    First, i would like to say i enjoyed your photographs. the colors are so deep and vibrant, and you framed the compositions very well. i was blown away by your photo of Mt. Fuji, it was so serene and zen-like. then, i enjoyed your poetry too, there's a certain humility and honesty in the words.

    and Sherry, thanks for another top notch interview. :)

    1. Thanks dsnake! I guess Japan inspired me more to take more photos as most of the places give me calmness and peace :-)

  11. So good to see your work showcased here Totomai - your photography is so vibrant and unique and certainly tells a story...combined with your words it leaves those of us lucky enough to visit lifted up by balloons...(love that photo of your mum)

    1. Hi Jae - she is a trooper, she handled the heat very well during that photoshoot. Let's all travel the world together at Poets United. Thanks again!

  12. Hi, Totomai. Glad you're featured here, at PU. I'm always stunned of your work, photos or poems. In whatever you write/shoot about we find more than enough information, inspiration and beauty. I feel this is 'cause you insert in your poems/photographs the heart. Thanks for sharing with us the part of you! Sherry, appreciate so interesting interview!

    1. Aw, that's sweet. Thanks humbird. You all continue to inspire me. Much credit to Sherry too!

  13. Wonderful indeed! fabulous interview with a fabulously talented person. Both the images and the poems are brilliant.

  14. Totomai you delight us with your visual and word art. You are such a wonderful part of the poetry community. I wish you luck as you continue to reach beyond yourself...

    1. Thanks Moonie - will continue to write more :-)

  15. It is always a treat to visit your blog and be awed by your work Totomai. Your college poem "Full Moon" is outstanding.

  16. Your photography is spectacular and your poem is such a lovely tribute to your mother. Love the picture too. Thanks so much for sharing.

  17. Totomai and Sherry this was a delight....Totomai, I love the photos and poetry and especially the Phoetry...'photography is poetry without words' I couldn't agree more....another great interview...thanks to both of you!


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