Capturing hedonism on the Japanese island during the hangover of the Vietnam and Korean wars
As two decades and two wars raged – both the Vietnam and Korean – a tiny island in Japan subsequently provided some much-needed respite. A cocktail of drugs, booze and prostitution could work wonders for weary U.S. soldiers based in Okinawa – and who could blame them. At that time, it’s alleged that one in 30 of the island’s women were employed in the sex trade in U.S. military-approved bars, earmarked as ‘sign bars’, where photographers like Keizo Kitajima were snapping up the sights on their Nikon 35mm. First encountering the town in 1975 as the Vietnam War came to an end, two years after the Korean War had ceased, Keizo would return frequently over the next five years, watching as the towns drowned out the pain of the past two decades.
“The U.S. soldiers did not come to Koza only for sexual satisfaction. They dressed up for enjoying a festival more thoroughly,” says the photographer. “I did not take the photographs from the viewpoint of social concern – I have many close friends in Koza and I had wonderful time together with them.” As the 1980s rolled in, the hedonist haze faded, leaving a hangover of sex crime in its wake – still rife to this day. “Koza became very dull when the 1980s came because the Vietnam War ended and its reverberation disappeared,” says Keizo. “It was a very short period that I touched on the brightness of Koza city. I know a lot of sad stories there, however, I also know many good stories.” Here, the photographer shares some of these grainy moments from his recently published book – courtesy of GOMMA – titled Moduru Okinawa.