Born in Tokyo in 1938, Masatoshi Naito graduated from Waseda University in applied sciences and trained as a research scientist. A keen interest in the folkloric traditions of Japan led him to pursue a career in photography. His work on the ethnological customs of the region of Tohoku became the focus of his seminal 70's series: Ba Ba Bakuhatsu (Grandma Explosion).
"Everything is in a process of change. Nothing endures; we do not seek permanence."
- Masatoshi Naito
Early on in his career, Naito photographed the mummies of Buddhist priests who had died fasting for the salvation of starving farmers in Dewa Sanzan and then started making photographs that focused on the folk religions and ethnology of Tohoku. In this body of work (1968-1970), Naito portrays female shamans "Itako" who invoke the spirits of the dead. Female Shamanism used to be a widespread phenomenon within Japan, today it is limited to this region where the more esoteric sides of Eastern religion are still practiced. These female shamans photographed starkly by Masatoshi Naito are celebrating death. They mourn the dead by performing rituals and dancing all night to evoke the spirits of the deceased. These women are exuberant and celebrate death not life. Naito pays homage to this time-old tradition with his bright flash, graphically illuminating the characters he depicts. As Naito observed: "The vitality of women comes from the earth. They embrace everything like goddesses and the title Ba Ba Bakuhatsu (Grandma Explosion) came to my mind naturally."
Tono Monogatari focuses on a similar subject matter in the town of Tono, in the Iwate Prefecture. The title echoes that of a popular 1910 book by folklorist Yanagita Kunio. Again using an open flash and mostly working at night, Naito's images endow people and objects alike with a mystical aura. He weaves ancient tales into contemporary photographic narratives.
Naito received the New Artist Award from the Japan Photo Critics Association in 1966. He participated in "New Japanese Photography" (The Museum of Modern Art, New York) in 1974 and "Beyond Japan" (London Barbican Art Centre) in 1991. He then had a solo exhibition "MASATOSHI NAITO Photography and Folklore"（Kichijoji Art Museum）in 2009. Naito won second prize in the Domon Ken Award for his book Dewa Sanzan and Shugen, Kosei Publishing Co. 1982. Other books of photographs include Miira shinko no kenkyu (Study of the Mummy Faith), Daiwa Shobo, 1974 and Tohoku no sei to sen (Tohoku Sacred and Profane), Housei University Press, 2007.