A portrait of war memory: Taira Koushichi and photography listening to untold stories
When Taira Koushichi, a distinguished photographer in the 20th century Okinawa, found himself being affected seriously by liver cancer, he started classifying all of his works, which he had put his heart and soul into, with resolute dedication, in order to hand down the photographs documenting contemporary history of Okinawa to the future generations. Taira often said, “Photography is History.” Eight months before he died at age 54 in 1994, Taira donated more than 150,000 photos and negatives to the Nago Museum in Okinawa.
Taira was born in Kijoka village of the northern region on Okinawa Island in 1939. He started his career as a professional photographer in early 1960s, after he returned home from wandering in Tokyo. Taira got a job in the local newspaper Ryukyu Shimpo in 1962, and a couple of years later, in the Ryukyu Broadcasting Company, as a photographer and movie cameraman. In 1970, two years before the return of the administrative rights over Okinawa from the United States to Japan, he was hired by the Ryukyu Government to work as a photograph officer at the public relations division, and was involved in documenting chronically the end of the American occupation.
Although he took art classes at night school in Tokyo, Taira never had proper education on photography. He self-learned basic skills by observing workers at photo development factory in Tokyo, while drifted from job to job. As many other young people did in late 1950s, Taira left home for mainland Japan, not only searching for opportunity, but also avoiding driving himself to despair by the setback of the island-wide land struggle against the U.S. Forces. Photography was what he discovered that could express the unspoken words being locked up inside himself.
Notes on contributor
Chiyo Wakabayashi 若林千代 is Professor at Okinawa University. A Ph. D. in International Studies, Wakabayashi’s research and teaching focus on contemporary history of Okinawa, Okinawa-Japan-East Asia-US relations, 20th-century East Asian and international history. She is also the co-editor ofけーし風 [Keshi-Kaji], a quarterly magazine published in Okinawa. Her most recent publication is ジープと砂塵——米軍占領下沖縄の政治社会と東アジア冷戦、1945—1950 [Jeep and dust: political society in Okinawa under U.S. occupation in the context of East Asian Cold War, 1945–1950] (Yushisha, 2015).