Remains series consists of forty images accompanied with both Japanese and English text. The images are photographic depictions of the remnants and consequences of the Battles of Okinawa and Saipan that visually demonstrate how these elements of the past quietly remain today. Each image is meant to be triggered by a distinct word written in both Japanese and English. This references not only the convention of carved stone war memorials but also my own attempts to navigate the gaps in translation of cultural perceptions of images and words. The Remains series seeks to build a relationship between culturally distinctive signifiers, both literal and visual. It is my hope to bridge the inherently different interpretations of these historical events through a cross-cultural lens.
Historically, the islands that now make up the Japanese Prefecture of Okinawa were an independent state known as the Ryūkyū Kingdom (15th to 19th century). The Ryukyu Island chain (Okinawa Prefecture) is geographically scattered along the southern rim of the East China Sea, bridging Japan and Taiwan, and hence mainland China. Okinawa’s geographic location made it an intercultural trading center, and helped it to develop its own unique cultural blend of Oceanic, Chinese, and Japanese cultures. A further hybridization of Okinawan culture occurred through its direct interaction with Japan and the United States after World War II, adding even more layers to the cultural makeup that distinguishes Okinawan culture from that of mainland Japan.
Okinawa has a history of colonization by both Japan and the United States. The Japanese conquered Okinawa and made it a part of their empire in 1879. During World War II, the Okinawa islands became the forefront of the battlefield, which turned it into the only Japanese soil that was landed on and defeated by U.S. military forces. After the war, the U.S. occupation was extended in Okinawa until 1972, which had a huge political and economic impact on Okinawans’ lives. This created a complex cultural makeup that differed greatly from that of mainland Japan. Even though the U.S. occupation is officially over, one third of Okinawa’s soil is still occupied by the U.S. military due to a political deal between the governments of Japan and the United States. As a result, the people of Okinawa are painfully situated in between Japan and the United States, politically as well as culturally.
At the Battle of Okinawa a total of 200,000 had died by the end of June of 1945. A significant aspect of the Battle of Okinawa was the great loss of civilian life: At more than 100,000, civilian losses far out numbered the military death toll. Some were blown apart by shells, some finding themselves in a hopeless situation were driven to suicide, some died of starvation, some succumbed to malaria, while others fell victim to the retreating Japanese troops. Under the most desperate and unimaginable circumstances, Okinawans directly experienced the absurdity of war and atrocities it inevitably brings about. (From the Peace Memorial Museum, Naha.)
Similar incidents occurred on Saipan Island prior to the battle of Okinawa. At the time of the Battle of Saipan, nearly 60% of the island’s civilian population was Okinawan. Combined casualties for both sides reached 35,000 by the end of the three months battle. Hundreds, possibly thousands of civilians were driven to commit suicide in the last days of the battle by jumping from the notorious Suicide Cliff and Banzai Cliff.