Japan’s Mysterious and Beautiful Caves

The Photo Blog
May 18 2014 11:05 AM

Japan’s Mysterious and Beautiful Caves

Gama001_09

Osamu James Nakagawa

For generations, the limestone caves of Okinawa, Japan, were used as places of worship and burial. During the Battle of Okinawa, they became bunkers, bases, and hospitals for Japanese soldiers, and, tragically, the site of countless deaths. Today, it’s a place where history and loss reside.

Japanese-American photographer Osamu James Nakagawa went to Okinawa for the first time in 2001. After having a profound experience at the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, he began thinking about how to explore Okinawa’s past through photography. “When you go outside the museum, it's all blue sky and beautiful ocean and cliffs. My imagination started to kick in. It's this crazy history. That memory stuck with me for a long time,” he said.

Gama009_10

Osamu James Nakagawa

Gama013_11

Osamu James Nakagawa

Gama023_11

Osamu James Nakagawa

Nakagawa’s book, Gama Caves, is the final chapter of his so-called Okinawa Trilogy, a series of works that address the enduring legacy of World War II in Japan. It begins with Remains, which he describes as photographs of “remnants and consequences of the Battles of Okinawa and Saipan that visually demonstrate how these elements of the past quietly remain today.” In 2008, Nakagawa photographed the second part of the series, Banta, which depicts the cliffs from which thousands of Japanese and Okinawans dove to their deaths during the battles. “Standing at its feet for the first time I felt in the cliff’s full visceral weight something so powerful that I was initially unable to take even a single photograph,” Nakagawa said in a statement. “The shadows seeping from the cliff's surface, the white craters riddling the cliff's coral limestone, and the charred black caves were stark reminders of all that these cliffs had witnessed.”

Advertisement

Nakagawa spent years exploring Okinawa’s caves, accompanied by locals who knew how to navigate them. Most of the caves were pitch black, so Nakagawa used a flashlight to light the interior during long exposures and a laser pointer to help focus his camera. He later stitched photographs together to create large prints, and he said he accentuated colors on the computer to better “capture the mabui (spirits) of the caves.”

Gama016_11

Osamu James Nakagawa

Gama021_11

Osamu James Nakagawa

On closer inspection of Nakagawa’s images, details emerge, including artifacts—like bone fragments, pieces of bowls and bottles, and other debris—that signal the caves’ various uses. “When you first look at it you might not get the full story. I want to inject something that we cannot see into my work—some kind of aura,” he said.

Nakagawa’s work is on view at sepiaEYE in New York City until May 31.

Gama012_10

Osamu James Nakagawa

Gama011_10

Osamu James Nakagawa

Gama010_11

Osamu James Nakagawa

Gama033_11

Osamu James Nakagawa

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Culturebox

Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 3:24 PM Symantec Removes Its “Sexual Orientation” Filter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 3:04 PM Pogo Returns With Another Utterly Catchy Disney Remix
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.