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"Southern Breeze" - capturing Okinawan tradition on film

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-11-06

Photography has been a lifelong passion for Shokyu Otsuka. For almost thirty five years Otsuka has dedicated his life, both professionally and spiritually, to this passion. Capturing the customs and traditions of Okinawa has been the ultimate source of inspiration for the man, and it has forever changed his life. As seen through the lens of this talented photographer, his recently published "Minami no Kaze" (Southern Breeze) is a collection of 20 years of work here on Okinawa. It is a beautiful portrayal of the Okinawan people and their islands.

"Minami no Kaze" takes you deep into the Okinawan way of life, by bringing you to the many small islands of Okinawa Prefecture. It captures the deep-rooted traditions that have been practiced for centuries, which visitors seldom witness. Ancient spiritual rituals, as well as everyday family life, come alive through the pages.

Otsuka was able to accomplish the very difficult task of entering into Okinawa's sacred world of folklore through his admiration, understanding, and long relationship with the islands' people. He first visited Okinawa in 1972, and was completely overwhelmed by both the natural and cultural beauty of Okinawa. A trip to Okinawa's southern islands the following year brought him even closer to the hidden paradise and unique culture of Okinawa.

"I was very moved by the friendliness of the people and their respect for one another. After that experience I continued to return to Okinawa year after year," he recalled.

Otsuka had been employed for 16 years by Osaka Toyota Motor Corporation's advertising department, where he traveled around Japan taking photographs for their promotional newsletter. However, his experiences in Okinawa were so influential to his life that he decided to resign from his job and become a freelance photographer in order to focus more on his work in Okinawa. He eventually moved to Okinawa in 1989, and has since been enjoying his life here. During his many visits to the southern islands of Okinawa, he has formed very close ties with the local people, who have accepted him as part of their community.

Otsuka has also taken his photographs abroad to the United States on two separate occasions, one of which was a combination concert in Pensacola, Florida. Working together with local musician George Murasaki, he put together both a CD ROM and video that mixes his captured images with music. "There are still many beautiful places left in Okinawa. These places are not just the treasures of Japan, but are the treasures of the world," explained Otsuka. "I want to show the many Okinawans living abroad the beautiful islands that they are connected to."

A love for nature is also very strongly projected in "Minami no Kaze". Hues of blue and green fill the beginning pages of Otsuka's book with many different scenes of Okinawa's beautiful surrounding sea. The 55 year old photographer has come to realize the importance of preserving the nature still present in Okinawa, after having witnessed much of it being destroyed over the last three decades. "I also hope that through my photographs that Okinawans can appreciate their culture and wonderful island," said Otsuka. "If everyone in their neighborhood planted just one tree, then the whole village would become beautiful."

Otsuka has also published a collection of Photographs titled "Utsugumi no Kokoro - Taketomi Island" (Heart of Cooperation and Togetherness), which is a photographic documentary of "Tanetorisai", a nine day festival that occurs annually on Taketomi Island. This book, which was published in 1992, is officially recommended by the Japan Library Association.

Another contribution Otsuka has made towards bringing the rich culture of Okinawa to many different people has been through the "Area Guide", a guidebook on Okinawa, Miyako, and the Yaeyama Islands. He also wrote the text for the book, which gives visitors to Okinawa an in-depth look at the islands' many fascinating points. The very popular guide book is still in circulation, and updated annually by Otsuka himself.

If you would like to purchase "Minami no Kaze", it is currently being sold for 4,400 at all "Book Box" stores.

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