Tsuneo Enari Exhibition — Japan and its Forgotten War: Showa

by Emily Wakeling

Special To The Japan Times

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
Closes Sept. 25.

Japan’s war is forgotten, argues photographer Tsuneo Enari in his new retrospective “Japan and its Forgotten War: Showa” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

The exhibition features five different series, all dealing with reminders of the Showa Era war. “The Children’s Manchukuo,” for one, is a black-and-white portrait series, created over decades, documenting Japanese orphans who were left behind in Manchuria after Japan’s occupation. The work’s titles carry short biographies of the subjects. One woman, Wang Yingjie, was left in the care of Chinese foster parents in 1945 when her mother and brother returned to Japan. These are touching portraits; most subjects, now in their autumnal years, still carry pain in their eyes.

Enari also cast his lens over the atomic-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like his Manchurian series, larger-than-life portraits of child survivors are lined up on the gallery walls. He has also documented artifacts from the blasts — spectacles, a compact mirror, and other relics of people who did not survive — and placed these images sequentially between the portraits.

The newest works, “Islands of Wailing Ghosts,” document former battle sites in several Pacific locations. Old bunkers, bombers, guns, sunken ships, old boots and even bones are still to be found in these remote places. Tropical islands are usually depicted as places of beauty and sunshine, but Enari’s photographs enhance the shadows in order to suggest the strong feelings the photographer experienced there. In these remote places, a great number of people, now “ghosts,” lost their lives in miserable circumstances.

While Enari connects deeply with the stories of the war-dead, many of the images in the series also capture how life goes on. Vines grow over old guns, moss grows in former bunkers, and sunken aircraft have become artificial reefs. While some artifacts still exist, their decay will eventually return them to the earth. In nature, we are reminded just how ephemeral human life, no matter wars won or lost, can be.

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography is open 10 a.m. — 6 p.m., closed Mon. ¥500-¥700. For more information, visit syabi.com.