Kokatsu Reiko and Nakajima Izumi speak with the Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako
Ishiuchi: Well, Oihama is on the edge of Yokosuka. There, too, lived Only-san, you know, women who consorted with American GIs. So, the area of Chūō is that kind of place. From the time of elementary school onward, we were told not to walk around Dobuita. But [adults] would not say such a thing without a reason. We were very curious: why is it?
[Note: Dobuita (literally ‘wood cover for gutter’) referred to Dobuita Street in the Honmachi area of Yokosuka, lined with eateries, drinking holes, and souvenir shops catering to those who worked at the Occupation Forces and the US Navy in the postwar years.]
Kokatsu: So everybody was told that?
Nakajima: That was not for boys, right?
Ishiuchi: It wasn’t like that. It was something much bigger. Girls living in Yokosuka were not to go to Dobuita. Even though there was no newspaper article, any child knew of incidents particular to the American bases. And, in 1995, a rape incident was for the first time made public in Okinawa.
Kokatsu: You mean: the everyday incident became news for the first time.
Ishiuchi: At that time, I cried. Finally, these kinds of incidents could be brought into the open. So many similar incidents had happened in Japan, yet one was made public only in 1995. What a time delay!
Ishiuchi: I was so distressed because I could barely take photographs in Miyako [in Tōhoku, where she made her first shooting trip]. It suddenly occurred to me: What is the remotest place for me? Yokosuka.
Kokatsu: Yes, Yokosuka. That’s the first.
Nakajima: At that time, you had lived in Futako Tamagawa [Tokyo’s western suburb] for a number of years, after leaving your family house in Yokohama.
Ishiuchi: I didn’t live long in Futako; I soon moved to Meguro [in Tokyo].
Nakajima: After leaving Yokosuka, five or so years passed by then.
Ishiuchi: Yes. [In the Yokosuka series], I did not so much take photographs as pull out something that I was concerned with from inside me. I happened to encounter photography and I shot and printed. Then I realised I could burn the problems and those formless things that haunted me onto paper. So I love the darkroom work.
Nakajima: Perhaps there is some sort of physical transformation.
Ishiuchi: Yes. And also I think photography can capture not just the surface but things much deeper inside. In other words, although photography can only capture the surface, it indeed captures some deep and invisible things.
Kokatsu: And that will be teased out as you spend time in the darkroom.
Ishiuchi: Yes, printing was the most interesting part.
Nakajima: Somewhere, you commented, ‘I encountered photography instead of women’s lib[eration].'
[. . .]
Nakajima: [You also photographed Yokosuka while] some others also photographed Yokosuka.
Ishiuchi: Yes. When I saw the Yokosuka photographs by Tōmatsu Shōmei and Moriyama Daidō, I thought ‘It’s not like this.’
Nakajima: They were different, you mean?
Ishiuchi: Yes, they were. I thought: My Yokosuka is not like that. When they photographed Yokosuka, they shot Dobuita. That’s not Yokosuka. That’s America. I grew up being told, ‘That’s America.’ That’s why I thought they were different shooting Dobuita as Yokosuka.
Nakajima: So you see some kind of preconception about Yokosuka in their work?
Ishiuchi: As for Tōmatsu, his stance is very clear. His theme is ‘Occupation.’ But he shot Yokosuka not in this particular theme but in a larger context. So that’s OK. Moriyama also shot Yokosuka, and he needed to be different, too. I can forgive these two. But their photographs differ from mine. [Mine are] not like theirs. So I thought only I could photograph Yokosuka.
Kokatsu: Yokosuka where you grew up from the time you were in elementary school. Your own Yokosuka.
Ishiuchi: Yes. Put simply, the Yokosuka that is not Dobuita. When I shot Yokosuka Story, I could not shoot Dobuita. Because that’s a street I could not walk around. I could not walk, I was scared.
Nakajima: Are you afraid of Dobuita?
Ishiuchi: Yes, at that time.
Nakajima: It’s not scary anymore.
Ishiuchi: Not now.
Nakajima: Now it’s so tidily paved.
Ishiuchi: Yes. It was about [its psychological] imprint. It’s hard to escape from a ‘childhood imprint.’ I realized that at that time.
Nakajima: I saw your Yokosuka Story first, before seeing Yokosuka photos by Nakahira [Takuma] and Moriyama. I believe you renewed the image of Yokosuka with your Yokosuka Story.
Ishiuchi: In that sense, the series is about Yokosuka, but I borrowed Yokosuka. It was the starting point. When I wanted to do something, I chose Yokosuka. There is no such grainy Yokosuka in the world. There is no such dark Yokosuka anywhere. [Laughs]
Nakajima: The popular singer Yamaguchi Momoe commented that [she never knew Yokosuka was] such a scary place.
[Note: Ishiuchi sent a copy of her 1979 Yokosuka Story photobook to the singer (known for her 1976 hit, also titled Yokosuka Story). The singer’s comment is recorded in her 1980 book Aoi toki published by Shūeisha.]
Ishiuchi: Yes, that’s true. In that sense, my photos are fiction. It’s something I build up, working with chemicals in the darkroom while thinking this and that. It’s somehow very physical.
Nakajima: You mean your photography is physical.
Ishiuchi: The physicality of photography concerns shooting, generally speaking. Shooting is the body of photography. But not for me. Completely opposite. I am not good at shooting. I don’t want to shoot. Even now, I shoot as minimally as possible.
Nakajima: I heard that your shooting sessions do not take long.
Ishiuchi: I make very few shots. That’s easier later, too, in the sense that I can manage them myself. I could shoot many frames, but I would have to develop them myself. It involves many processes. I want to minimise them as much as possible. For me, it’s the same whether I make many shots or a few shots. If I can take one shot, that's just enough for me.
Nakajima: Your working method is very different from those people we know as photographers.
Ishiuchi: I know. I am not suited for a job of photographer. [. . .]
Oral History Interview with Ishiuchi Miyako Credits
Conducted by Kokatsu Reiko and Nakajima Izumi, 20 December 2010
Oral History Archives of Japanese Art
At Ishiuchi’s residence-studio in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
Transcribed by Katō Junko and Nakajima Izumi
Translated by Reiko Tomii