Our guest for this issue, Nobuko Kobayashi, was born in 1969 in Tokyo. She graduated from Bunka-Gakuin where she studied Anglo-American literature. She also studied design and photography in England for 7 years starting in 1998. I must say her personal history is a bit strange. The reason why she visited China is as explained in her own writing, but the time period is from 2006 to 2008. 胡同 or hutong is residential housing in traditional working-class neighborhood of Beijing. In modern Chinese, it is written as 小巷 and the literal translation is something like alley or sidestreet. It was written as ?? during the Ming dynasty, but it was simplified during the Qing dynasty. Siheyuan was originally a residence for a big upper class family, but since they subsided after the Chinese Revolution, those buildings eventually became complex residential houses for ordinary citizens. There were more than 80 hutong areas, but they were torn down by re-development started at the end of the last century. Only about 20 of them are remaining now and they are designated as preserved districts. They are also known as sightseeing spots. Kobayashi has mentioned the name of Ihei Kimura as a Japanese photographer that she knew, but Kobayashi and Ihei Kimura are very similar in style. The two of a kind understand each other, I guess.
Atsushi Fujiwara’s “Poet’s island” captures the current images of “Aiseien”, an isolation facility for leprosy patients in Nagashima, Okayama-Prefecture. You cannot see any images of people, but there are doctors, workers and ex-patients who do not have anywhere to go. Leprosy Law was enforced in Showa 6 (1931) and all leprosy patients were forced to live in isolation. This disease was referred to as “punishment from heaven” and it was treated with much fear. In reality, the disease is weakly transmissible and it is not inherited. However, there was no cure for this disease back then and segregation policy was strictly enforced in Europe since the Middle Ages, Japan followed the same manner. Sterilization was also common, which was entirely based on mythical speculation. After the War, treatment with promine and sulfone based medications became possible and leprosy is now considered as a curable disease. Forced segregation system was abolished in Europe back in 1950s, however, Japan continued its segregation policy until 1996. Ex-patients had filed a lawsuit, claiming “forced segregation is illegal” back in 1998 and district court had ruled in favor of ex-patients. However, since the government officials do not spend their own money for this kind of lawsuit, they tend to postpone the final ruling as much as possible by appealing the case; they generally try to take the case all the way up to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the ex-patients grow older and some pass away without seeing the final ruling. Junichiro Koizumi, who was the Prime Minister at the time, had stopped them from appealing the case. This is one of the few accomplishments by him. You can see big speakers in one of the Fujiwara’s photo. Those speakers were placed everywhere on the island to provide audio guidance since leprosy patients often lost their eyesight as their symptoms worsened. A lot of patients wrote haiku or tanka-poem. Kaijin Akashi, quoated by Fujiwara, was also one of the patients. Akashi’s published works were praised by Shaku Choukuu and that’s how his name became widely known. Here, I would like to quote a tanka-poem by Hailu Kim, who was a leprosy patient from Korea.
I, in Leprosy Garden, also give a small amount of donation, for refugees in my homeland in whirlwind. This was created when the Korean War had erupted. He was in Tama Zenshoen in Tokyo at the time.
Shinichiro Tojimbara’s photos for this issue were shot in “Atami.” Atami was a popular honeymoon destination for my parents’ generation, as it is a sightseeing spot located very close from Tokyo, however, as the bullet trains and airplanes became common, Atami grew less and less popular because of proximity. It still is, however, a warm resort area, so they are re-gaining their popularity with their revised image. I have not been there for a long time myself, so Tojimbara’s photos looked fresh to my eyes.
© Shinichiro Tojimbara
Takehiko Nakafuji was born in 1970 in Tokyo. He studied at Waseda Univeristy, then he continued his studies at Tokyo Photography College. He visited Sakhalin in November 2008. The photos in this issue have never been published, but there was a photo exhibition and other works have been published in magazines under the title of “Sakhalin”, so some of you may already be familiar with his works. The man in the photo is a Nivkh. I heard there is a village made up solely by Nivkh people in outskirt of Nogliki. Nivkh and Aynu never established their own countries, so they were discriminated in the modern era as dissidents within the nation. Nivkh and Aynu people also lived in Southern Sakhalin. Those who had Japanese citizenship had been forced to migrate to Hokkaido by Stalin after the War, and whatever their story is after that remains unknown. Since Sakhalin is not an easy place to get to, photos by Nakafuji are quite important. I hope his works will be published as a photo book in the future.
© Takehiko Nakafuji