Kazuma Obara





»Essay/Book Review




Copyright Death Railway Interest Group



Triumphalism and victimhood shape nationalist narratives of history, obscuring histories and realities of victims of war in other places. These narratives are not innocuous stories. They are often created and employed by nation states to serve geopolitical and governmental ends.


In 2015, on the orders of local government, the Osaka International Peace Centre, one of the few public war museums in Japan, removed all material pertaining to the Japanese invasion of Asian countries before and during World War II. The centre’s subsequent focussing on the material damage done to Osaka during the war seems indicative of a widespread public forgetting of the nation’s violent imperialism. A historical wounding is easier to bear (and, crucially, more important to re-present) than a reminder of aggression; than a reminder of that that might provoke guilt and responsibility.


Japan’s status as the only country to suffer a nuclear attack and a lack of education about the Japanese occupations of the period has created a sense of national victimhood in the population. Aside from a few exceptions, such as public pedagogies on the Nanking massacre and the abuse of so-called ‘comfort women’ in South Korea, there is little Japanese recognition of violence against its neighbouring countries. With the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki dominating public consciousness regarding World War II, the victims of the Japanese war efforts in SE Asia are largely invisible.


This project takes the tragedy of the Thailand-Burma railway in which approximately 200,000 people of 10 different nationalities were forced to endure hard labour and extreme hardship, and presents counter-narratives of suffering, loss, and remembrance. Rather than re-staging state-sanctioned narratives of war which reduce conflict to a static idea of victory or loss, these images and texts trace the ongoing echoes of war in the contemporary. They call us to account. Images were made and interviews conducted with the families of Australian, British, Japanese, Korean, and Malaysian victims who survived and who guarded camps associated with the railroad. The ‘site’ of the the railroad is expanded to include landscapes of memory associated with life back home after the war to trace war’s ongoing reverberations in the present. Archival family photographs on the tragedy are included to explore how narratives of conflict differ from place to place.


Some people refused to be meet me because their families felt that my presence as a 32 year old Japanese man might traumatise survivors of the camps. In interviews I felt guilt, as if I were in some way responsible for Japanese aggression and survivors’ discomfort. Although the war happened before I was born, my ethnicity made me guilty. Questions over responsibility arose: in the midst of conditions we have not chosen, why is responsibility felt so keenly in the body? This discomfort and ambivalence stands in stark contrast to the protection offered by hegemonic narratives of victor or victim.


Thus, each portrait is photographed while looking directly at me: our eyes are locked at the moment of shutter-release. I, the photographer, do not stand behind the camera as neutral investigator, but am looked at, accused perhaps. The gaze of the subject to the side of the lens – typically a tired photographic trope used to confer gravitas – here represents instead a confrontation and an invitation to rethink guilt in an expanded sense. It calls the viewer to ask whether moments of discomfort and discord that run against the grain of received and state-centric narratives of war might provoke an expanded understanding of war’s pain and war’s responsibilities.



In Malaysia, the project has been co-worked with Death Railway Interest Group.

Camera equipments are all supported by FUJIFILM.

I express my sincere gratitude to all people who have been supported the project.



«Photo Exhibition»

⇒GEXTO PHOTO 5th-30th September, Spain.


«Photo Book»





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