Thoughts on My Exhibition of War

Came back to steamy Delhi last week after spending a couple of weeks in Japan to attend my exhibition at the Canon gallery. It went well (the show is still traveling to three more cities in Japan) and I had good conversations with visitors.

The title of the exhibition was “Message from the Battlefield” and it’s a collection of pictures from conflict zones I’ve photographed in the last 15 years. Unfortunately, I was able to exhibit only 60% of what I wanted to show because of restrictions set by Canon: “No dead bodies and no blood can be shown.” The exhibition was about war so I couldn’t understand how they could impose such a request. Although I didn’t fully agree with the conditions, the opportunity was too good to miss. I compromised by adding a few images which ‘partially’ showing dead body and blood.

This kind of nonsense happens not only with Canon but everywhere in Japan, including by Yahoo! Japan which I have mentioned in this blog before. It’s a reflection of a conservative ‘Don’t rock the boat’ attitude of Japanese corporations. It comes down to the fact that no one wants to take responsibility in case viewers complain.

Because of this reason, most of photo exhibitions in Japan are about non-controversial themes like landscape and animals. Any themes with politics, wars and serious social issues are completely out of favor. One of sad example is the cancellation of a photo exhibition by Nikon gallery in 2012. Nikon suddenly canceled a show about “comfort women” (sexual slaves during the war used by Japanese soldiers) because of pressure from right-wing and anti-immigrant groups.

“We seldom see these kind of pictures in galleries”

As many visitors of my exhibition told me, unfortunately there are very few major galleries that deal with photographs of wars, conflicts and hard news.

Helped by a few newspaper articles, more than 1,200 people visited my exhibition in six days, which was far more than I expected. Although I was able to speak to only a small portion of them in person, it was encouraging to be told by many that they felt these images should be shown more often and in more places.  I realized that controversial images are avoided not because people don’t want to see them but because those who could show them worry too much. They underestimate viewers by assuming that disturbing issues like war and conflict aren’t of interest. They are too scared of offending through shocking images. It’s an act of ‘self-censorship’.

Japan seems to be quickly moving backward toward a dangerous pre-war era of militarism with the recent introduction of a sweeping new law to protect state secrets and moves to expand the overseas military activities of its Self-Defense Forces. At this critical time, self-censorship keeps happening, and we should realize that it’s extinguishing our civil liberties, the public’s right to know, and the opportunity to think freely.















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Keisuke Togawa - 面と向かって雑談した一人です。


Manda - この記事を読み終わったアメリカの友人は、ha?! でした。


I Refuse to send My Daughter to War

I’m angry and also ashamed of Japanese PM Abe, his cabinet and of ourselves -Japanese citizens. Three days ago, Abe changed the interpretation of our constitution and paved the way for our military to go to fight overseas.

Under our constitution, which was created after the horrific experience of WWII, Japan has been barred form using the military to resolve conflicts except for self-defense. Now, following cabinet approval, our military can be used for “collective self-defense” to participate in wars involving any allies even if there is no immediate threat to Japan.  Pressure from bureaucrats, who blindly follow U.S. requests, and those of the weapons industry, are behind this but Abe has been wanting to militarize Japan for quite some time. The decision became his first big step toward realizing his dream. But I’m wondering how many Japanese realize that Abe’s dream is costing our common people’s future blood and lives?

I understand that those who support Abe’s decision feel threatened by neighboring countries, especially China, which recently accelerated its aggressive claims to expand its territories. But in order to defend Japan, we can just keep our self-defense force as it is and certainly do not need to participate in ‘someone else’s’ war.

As a photographer who has experienced several battlefields, my hatred towards war is not logical but a physical reaction. The sound of constant explosions tearing your eardrums, the smell of rotten bodies, dead infant with their brains scattered, piles of bodies dumped at morgues … all these things get in your body and become unforgettable. No matter what kind of justifications politicians or leaders make, for the people on the ground war just causes nothing but destruction, deaths and hate. War is wrong and evil.

Seventy years since our war ended, I doubt if any incumbent Japanese politician has any experience on battlefield, including Abe. What they are missing is the physical experience of war and empathy. If your body knows how cruel and disgusting the battlefield is, or at least you can imagine it, there’s no way you can make such an easy decision to lead citizens to fight.

What the Japanese government needs is not changing constitution to go to war but enhancing diplomacy skills. As it reflects on a recent series of ‘slips of the tongue’ scandals, the quality of politicians has terribly deteriorated. Many of them seem to be so childish and have no brain for international relations or history. It may be too late for those people but how about to educate them, get help from specialists and scholars, or add more new young blood who has international experience and a broader view? We won’t have to worry about the war if we have a good relationship with neighboring countries. That’s far more important than putting more money on the military budget.

But at the end, it comes down to how we, ordinary people, take action. Like the last general elections with only 50% voting rate, if we remain unconcerned and looking away from the reality, there is no hope. It will be far too late to complain when your son or daughter get drafted and killed on the battlefield on the other side of the world. I have no desire at all to send my daughter to battlefield for those politicians and bureaucrats.

(My exhibition “Message from Battlefield” will be held at Canon Galleries in Japan from July 10 ~. Please stop by if you are interested. )










(お知らせ キャノンギャラリーにて7月10日より個展「紛争地からのメッセージ」開催 興味があればお越し下さい。 )




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A thought in Iran

Earlier this month, I visited Iran for the first time. Although it was a short trip (I was only given a 7-day stay permit), it was quite interesting and the positive experience left a good impression of the country on me.

As many of you may agree, Iran tends to come with negative images because of its political stance against western countries, especially against Americans. Most of the news we hear from the western media is about the threat of Iran’s nuclear weapon program or its hostile attitude against the U.S. and Israel. We don’t hear a lot of positive things.

But once I spent some time in the country and made a few good friends, my preconceptions totally changed. I was impressed not only by its historical Persian culture and art, but also by the relaxed attitude of the people – the hotel clerk, shop owners, translator and a driver – whom I met. They were friendly but not in an overwhelming way. I was quite comfortable around them.

One of the most interesting things was what our translator told us over dinner one night. The well-educated mid-30s man said that more than 90% of Iranians wish the Khomeini revolution didn’t happen.

“If the 1979 revolution hadn’t happened, the country could have developed far more by now,” he said.

I was a bit skeptical about what he said at first but then he told me what happened on that day. He was in the middle seat between two elder men on the domestic flight which we were on. After everyone got on board, the flight was delayed for an hour without any explanation. The two elders sitting next to him apologized, saying “Sorry for your young generation that we caused the revolution.” The elders meant that if the country had developed without interference from the revolution, more reliable transportation systems would’ve been established.

This story made sense to my experience – people are not as anti-Westernization as I was expecting. I didn’t feel any threat nor did I encounter any negativity from anyone while roaming around and taking pictures on the street. A few Caucasian tourists I saw seemed to be relaxed as well. What the government says is not necessarily the same as people feel or think. The Iranian government may be a hardcore anti-Western one but it doesn’t mean that the Iranian people feel the same way towards Americans and Europeans. Iranians may be well aware of the gap between them and the post-revolution government. It’s just not so clear to foreigners like us because this kind of thing never get reported by the media unless it grows bigger into anti-government protest or something.

As the current situation in Iraq deteriorates, the importance of Iran’s roll to stabilize the region is growing. It’s no question that Iran’s influence in the Middle East is expanding drastically. I was glad that I had an opportunity to have a glimpse into the country.

I know it was only the surface and I didn’t have a chance to observe any of the society’s deeper problems. But Iran certainly became one of the countries I would love to visit again. Though there were a few downsides. There’s no beer. (The closest you can get is zero-alcohol beer) Also, too many attractive souvenirs in the market, which make it hard to tighten the purse strings. This time, all my wages from the 4-day assignment turned into a carpet before I left the country.











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Monthly photojournal “The Page” vol 13 is up

Monthly photojournal The Page vol 13 is up. This issue is from Haiti, Bahrain, Pakistan…etc.  (Sorry the words are in Japanese only)



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Censorship by Yahoo! Japan

I had an issue over the photograph I posted with my last article in Yahoo! News Japan, which is one of the hosts of my blog.

It was rejected because it showed a dead body and the page was ‘unpublicized’ immediately.  I was impressed by how fast the action took place (within a hour after my posting!) but also quite surprised by its over-sensitiveness. The photo, as you see in the previous post on this blog, shows a man lying down with a bit of blood on the ground. It’s one of the least graphic ones in my book and I didn’t think it would be so shocking or scandalous. Well, the degree of tolerance is up to each person so I won’t argue that here. What bothered me was that the editor at Yahoo! didn’t give me a chance to discuss the matter with her. Instead, she just unpublicized the whole page.

Below is a part of the email sent by the editor. I have never met the person before, and she doesn’t know me neither. Without having a discussion, the page was shut down shortly after the email was sent.

“Basically, Japanese media don’t publish pictures showing dead bodies. The photograph shows blood and a dead body directly and we are afraid it may offend our readers. I would ask you to eliminate or change the photo”

What is ‘basically’?  As far as I know, there is no such ‘basic’ rule or restriction applying to all media in Japan. I never had a problem publishing photographs which were much more graphic than this one in Japanese magazines. For television programs, I can somewhat understand the possibility of offending viewers by showing unexpected graphic images. But this is a news blog written by designated authors. Most of the readers make a conscious decision to visit my blog. Some readers may accidentally land on the page and may get shocked by the picture but even for that case, giving an advance warning message should avoid the problem.

When Yahoo! Japan asked me to contribute to its news blog, I assumed that they already knew about me and my photographs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the case. It seems to me that this incident is a typical example of Japanese media’s ‘Don’t make waves’ attitude to avoid any complaints from readers or viewers.

Coincidently, I just had a conversation with a Japanese journalist last week about coverage of deaths during Japan’s tsunami disaster in 2011. He told me that some television cameramen didn’t even film dead bodies in front of them because they knew the image wouldn’t be aired. I was shocked to realize how Japan’s ‘Don’t make waves’ attitude was spoiling the work of cameramen on the ground.

Even in western media, which I mostly shoot for and is more tolerant of death and blood than Japanese media, rarely use overly graphic images. But it doesn’t stop me from shooting it because I know that even if it doesn’t get published, recording the incident is an important part of our job. If you don’t photograph it, there won’t be any record when it may be needed in the future.

There have been several occasions in the past that made me think deeply about the usage of graphic images. One example was that when I had an exhibition in Japan. I insisted on displaying an image which I shot during Liberia’s civil war. It showed a little girl whose hand was torn off by mortar shrapnel. It was quite graphic but I thought it’s important to show how brutal and senseless the war can be. After the exhibition, the sponsor of the show told me that a female student got sick by looking at the photo and couldn’t proceed further to see other images. Because of one graphic photograph, I took the opportunity away from her to see other important images. This incident made me realize that my own belief and opinion don’t always translate or work as I intend. Since then, I have become much more careful about the usage of such images and I try to discuss with editors and exhibitors as much as possible so we can reach a certain agreement.

In this case with Yahoo!, the editor unilaterally took down the post without giving me an opportunity to discuss. It was quite ironic that this incident occurred in relation to the article on Mr. Sakai, who insisted on publishing these shocking images in a children’s book as he believed it to be meaningful.
















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Keisuke Togawa - 僕が小学生のとき、広島長崎の原爆展でおぞましい死者の写真を観て、数日、怯えていました。すると祖父が「人にとって人がもっとも恐ろしい—わかっただろ?」。「人は人を簡単に殺せるんだ」。戦場体験者の祖父の言葉によって、僕は命の尊さを知り、冷静さを取り戻すことができました。しかし、僕は目の前で人が殺されて行くのを見たことが無いので、本当の恐ろしさを知りません。本当の恐ろしさを知ることが必要なのかどうなのかとなれば、知る必要があると思います。本当の恐ろしさとは表面的なことだけでなく内面の恐ろしさも含めてです。

Kuni Takahashi - 「はだしのゲン」のことといい、いまの日本はまた戦前の風潮に逆戻りしているようで怖いですね。