Okinawa Tourism Information:KenshichiHeshikiGallery,aSpecial“Heartwarming”PlacewhereDaughtersExhibitHerFather’sPhotos(UrasoeCity)

Kenshichi Heshiki Gallery, a Special “Heartwarming” Place where Daughters Exhibit Her Father’s Photos (Urasoe City)

post : 2018.02.14 18:00

(Photo by Kenshichi Heshiki)

Okinawa Prefecture used to be the Kingdom of Ryukyu, and still is. For example, Okinawa is “Kingdom of Karate,” “Kingdom of Handwork,” and “Kingdom of Traditional Performing Arts.” There are many kingdoms that we can refer to, but I would like to mention about “Kingdom of Photography” this time.  

Many famous photographers such as Minoru Yamada, Shomei Tomatsu, Daido Moriyama, and Nobuyoshi Araki visited Okinawa and took photos of scenery unlike Mainland Japan. Recently, a photographer Ari Hatsuzawa took photos of ordinary life of Okinawa (extraordinary life for Mainland Japanese) while he was living in Okinawa for over a year. 

(Photo by Kenshichi Heshiki)

Not only photographers from Mainland Japan, but also there are countless numbers of photographers from Okinawa. Not only a grand master Koshichi Taira, but also veterans like Mao Ishikawa, Choji Nakahodo, and young photographers like Ryuichi Ishikawa, Tomoyuki Toyozato, and Jun Taira come to my mind (my personal preference by the way). And there are more talented photographers who work in the media in Okinawa.  

(Photo by Nobuyuki Mori)

Among those Okinawan-born photographers, there is one photographer who has been reappraised recently. His name is Kenshichi Heshiki. He took photos of remote islands, prostitutes who were the backbone of Okinawa right after the ground battle of Okinawa, and ordinary citizens and children who lived hardily. His representative work is “Yagi no Hai” in 2007, and he received Ina Nobuo Award in 2008. He died at the age 61 next year, but you can see his reappraised works at a photo gallery which runs by his family.

About 15 minutes’ drive via Route 58 from the center of Naha City. I see a huge U.S. military base by the beach, and nostalgic concrete buildings on Route 58. Urasoe area makes me recognize that Okinawa is totally different than Mainland Japan. And Kenshichi Heshiki Gallery is located in such area.  

When I entered the door of gallery, monochrome photos were exhibited in this quiet space unlike noisy roads. Most of them were printed by Heshiki himself, and photo frames were his handmade. Nami Heshiki and Maki Nishihara, daughters of Heshiki, welcome every visitor every day except Tuesday at this gallery.

“We couldn’t understand his photos completely when we were children because they made people overcast, heavy, and scary. We seriously thought we can’t show them to anybody then. The series of Chibichirigama (a cave where many people committed suicide during the Ground Battle of Okinawa) in Yomitan Village were decorated in the bathroom hallway, so we couldn’t go to the bathroom even though we wanted to. After we grew up, we were able to see them from different angles…”

They realized the good things about their father’s photos after he passed away.

(Photo by Kenshichi Heshiki)

“People who knew him from at a young age or young people who my father took care of started gathering here to remember him. We got more opportunities to hear stories about him, so we started to recognize how he felt when he took each photo. Also, we started to understand what he thought when he took each photo. Even though some photos that we were not sure about, when we meet models of the photos and talk about the moment, we can finally figure out and feel familiar to those photos.” 

Just like the many artists, Heshiki had a stormy life. 

“Actually, he quit photographer once and managed jeans shop on Kokusai Street for about 10 years after Okinawa's reversion to Japanese administration. The shop was very popular, and many customers stopped by to buy jeans. However, he closed it because he wanted to take photos… we became poor after all. He started taking photos again while working part-time at a pottery studio and else. Oh, he liked snail very much, and it was the logo of his jeans shop.”

(Photo by Kenshichi Heshiki)

The character of photographer is obvious a little through his/her photos because his/her feeling is reflected to the models. Most of Heshiki’s photos are calm and unemphatic, and I do not see any impact and fanciness from his photos. They remind me of a film director, Yasujiro Ozu. 

“Our father kept telling us ‘I prefer the 2nd place instead of the 1st place.’ He was a self-effacing person, so he wasn't an assertive type of person.” 

Nami proudly told me that Heshiki looked after younger photographers, and also, he taught how to take photos to a blind person at his photography class. That was why some photographers gather for the exhibitions to support managing this gallery.

(Photo Provided by Kenshichi Heshiki Gallery)

For example, Heshiki went to a restaurant “rat & sheep” almost every day. This restaurant is managed by a photographer Jun Taira who is a representative of the gallery’s supporters. “Exhibitions by artists take place there sometimes, and Mr. Taira told me that my father showed up only for the paid events.” Nami had a slight smile on her face when she talked about her father. 

A photographer Mao Ishikawa involved in a work to choose a title and binding of Heshiki’s posthumous work: “Tou-chan wa Shashinka (My father is a photographer).”  Ishikawa goes to a beauty salon next to the gallery to get a haircut, and the beauty salon is run by Nami. 

“We don’t know anything about photography, but we opened this gallery 2 years ago on February to show his photos to everybody. However, we had no idea how to exhibit these photos or hold exhibitions in which themes at all.” So, some people help them to give advice on how to keep photos, write proposal, make flyers, and manage gallery. 

After they opened the gallery, they were able to meet much type of people who they would never meet unless they opened this gallery. “Sometimes young people show up and tell us ‘we take photos, but we don’t know what to take photos about.’ Such people read my father’s diary and find their answers. There was one person who came from Tokyo and spent time at the gallery from 14:00 – 20:00, and some people many times in a month. Maybe they feel comfortable being here. Some people told me ‘this gallery feels like a secret base’ or ‘I don’t feel awkward coming here’ or so on.”

At the end of the interview, I asked Nami and Maki about the memory of their father. 

“He was a good advisor when I was stuck at work. While I was giving him a haircut, I talked to him about my husband and work. Honestly, I didn’t like him when I was a child. Me & my sister played rock-paper-scissors when we were little, and the one who lost the game had to go to remote islands with him for shooting. I wanted to go home sooner then. Now I know that he didn’t know how to communicate with children.” Nami looked back on her father. Heshiki must be happy when she grew up and said “you are working hard” to him. 

“Since he was a strict person, he was unpopular by his grandchildren. Maybe it was because he communicated with everybody equally even to children. He was talking to them through his perspective and expected the same answers as adults to them. He had an opportunity to talk to a singer You Hitoto 10 years ago, and I thought he was really cool then from the bottom of my heart.” 

Maki was the youngest child, so she mainly acted the role of his assistant. Unlike her words, I can tell her love to her father through her face.

(Photo by Kenshichi Heshiki)

The gallery is filled with the love toward their deceased father, and their wish to help their mother who supported their father, and those people who admired their father. Their love and wish help to keep this gallery. Its name in Kanji fits well more than Katakana, I think.  

“He didn’t like the brand new and shiny things. He made his brand-new bag look like the old one, and also painted a brand new car and made it look dirty.” Usually children prefer new ones more than old ones, but they started to realize how good and valuable the old ones are when they grow up. Every time they go through good and bad things in their lives, they can have eyes for beauty.

(Photo by Kenshichi Heshiki) 

“My father kept telling me ‘poor, patience, and hope.’ He used to write about financing and personal relationship on his diary. He wrote something like ‘I need a work’ or ‘why the person said this and that to me?’ or so on.” By facing the problem, everybody realizes that we do not know a lot of things. 

“It is hard to tell the good thing about the vintage print, but we want to promote it slowly as snails. We don’t get many proceeds, but luckily, we are still able to run this gallery. Plus, we had opportunities to hold exhibitions in France and the U.S.” 

A person clicks a shutter of camera, models stand in front of the camera, and the models show up on photos. Memories will be passed for generations. That was how Okinawa remained for hundred years, and it will be forever and ever. Kenshichi Heshiki Gallery makes us realize it.

Kenshichi Heshiki Gallery

Address: 1-38-6 Gusukuma, Urasoe City
Tel: 090-3792-8458
Business hours: 10:00-18:00
Closed: Tue


Okinawa CLIP photo writer Nobuya Fukuda