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Photographer Bunyo Ishikawa, who documented the Vietnam War and its aftermath over several decades, has been marking the 50th anniversary of his first trip to that country with a special exhibition.

Bunyo Ishikawa, 76, showed some 50 photos at an exhibition

Titled “Senso to Heiwa: Vietnam no 50 Nen” (“War and Peace: 50 Years of Vietnam”), it was in Tokyo in May and in Osaka through Wednesday.

When Ishikawa, now 76, first set foot in Vietnam in 1964, he was working as a freelance photographer. He accompanied U.S. and South Vietnamese forces for four years from 1965.

Even after returning to Japan, he repeatedly went back to Southeast Asia, reporting on the 1970 U.S. invasion of Cambodia, the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War, among other topics.

Ishikawa, who was born in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, in 1938, said, “I have always felt sorry” for people in Okinawa after his family moved to Chiba when he was 4 years old and managed to escape the fierce Battle of Okinawa in 1945.

Whenever he shot photos of dying soldiers, farmers and children during the war in Vietnam, he imagined that “the Battle of Okinawa must have been like this.”

Although Ishikawa never won any prestigious international journalism or photography awards, he said: “It is important to document the horrors of war, even when embedded with an army.

“We were allowed to take photos of anything back then,” he added. “There are no longer land wars where we would be permitted to photograph so freely.”

In 1998, Ishikawa donated about 250 of his Vietnam photos to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, where they are now on permanent exhibition. Whenever he visits, he faces a barrage of questions once visitors recognize him as the person who took the photographs. Nowadays — just as in Japan — there are many people who have grown up without experiencing war.

“Mr. Ishikawa is my teacher,” said museum director Huynh Ngoc Van, who came to Japan for the special exhibition. “He is brave and honest and loves Vietnam.”

Ishikawa said: “Wars begin because there are armies. If the Imperial Japanese Army had not been there, not so many Okinawa residents would have died.

“Where on earth is today’s Japan headed?” he wondered.

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