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Sakamoto Manshichi

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  • Born: 1900
  • Japanese: 坂本 万七 (Sakamoto Manshichi)

Sakamoto Manshichi was a noted photographer of the prewar era. He is perhaps best known for his involvement with the Mingei (folk arts) movement, and for his photos of 1930s/early '40s Okinawa.

Born in Fukuyama, Hiroshima prefecture, in 1900, Sakamoto began trying his hand at oil painting at the age of 19. Two years later, in 1921, he moved to Tokyo with hopes of becoming a photographer. By 1924 he was working as a photographer for the Tsukiji gekijo (Tsukiji Theatre), doing production photography of their performances. Sakamoto opened his own photo studio in 1926, and sometime later became a photographer for Kôgei ("Craft") magazine, which was established by Yanagi Sôetsu in 1931.

In 1939 and again in 1940, Sakamoto accompanied Yanagi and other members of the Mingei Association (Mingei kyôkai) on trips to Okinawa. These were Yanagi's third and fourth trips to the island. Sakamoto took numerous photos during his 1940 trip to Okinawa, documenting everyday life, marketplaces, the mix of traditional and modern clothing that was very much an everyday sight, architecture, historical sites, and folk crafts, including many aspects of the production of Tsuboya pottery. These photos serve as valuable historical documents of what Okinawan life and culture was like at that time, still retaining much of traditional architecture, clothing, hairstyles, etc., and also as documents of historical sites that were destroyed just five years later in the Battle of Okinawa, including the Buddhist temples of Engaku-ji and Sôgen-ji, and sites associated with the royal court, including Uchaya udun and Shuri castle. Sakamoto also documented traditional performing arts, including Ryukyuan dance and kumi udui performances.

References

  • Gallery labels, Okinawa no kôgei exhibition, Okinawa Prefectural Museum, October 2016.
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