《 From Traveling to Settling: Shitamichi Motoyuki’s Perennial Journey of Documentation 》 神谷幸江/Kamiya Yukie 


Freedom of travel has been put on hold. Unlike other natural disasters, conflicts, and unrest that may occur in one corner of the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has touched us all, wherever we live in the world, since it began in 2020. We are all in the same boat. Perhaps Shitamichi Motoyuki saw this change coming. Last year, he gave up travel—a driving force of his work—and chose to settle down in a new place: the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. He saw these islands as waypoints to create connections via the sea rather than fortresses isolated by the sea.

He is an observer of landscapes in his travels, and through his fieldwork, he has continued to document the people, customs, and local histories at his destinations. These encounters have led him to develop a cultural anthropological approach in his creative process. In this article, I trace the chronological trajectory of Shitamichi’s career, how he has transitioned from traveling observer to permanent resident, and what he can see from his new home.


Shitamichi first came across ruins from the Second World War in 2001 on the outskirts of Tokyo. They were part of a former military aircraft engine manufacturing plant destroyed over the course of three air raids in 1945, which left the structure pocked with bullet holes. This encounter precipitated his series Remnants (2001-2005), in which he traveled Japan to document how these scorched landscapes had been forgotten, covered by layer after layer of reconstruction, urbanization, and modernization. True to its name, his series is a record of the scant remnants of war that remain in inhabited areas around Japan. Shitamichi began to search for the vestiges of the war, finding crude concrete hangars and batteries in today’s flat and uniform landscapes: behind houses, on hills that have since become parks, in the corners of housing complexes built to accommodate the influx of people into the city during the postwar economic boom. It was as if a crack had opened up in the space-time continuum.

His pursuit of war remains eventually expanded beyond Japan. In his subsequent series, Torii (2006-2012), Shitamichi traveled to find forgotten torii gates from the Japanese colonial era. Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule from 1895 to 1945, having been ceded to Japan from the Qing dynasty of China after its victory in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95). Similarly, the southern part of Sakhalin Island below the 50th parallel was ceded from the Russian Empire in accordance with the Treaty of Portsmouth following the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) and was under Japanese rule from 1905 to 1945. After Germany’s defeat in World War I resulted in the loss of its colonies, Japan was among the nations who emerged victorious and was awarded the South Seas Mandate, which included Saipan and Tinian Island. Both islands remained under Japanese control until 1945. Countless shrines were erected in occupied Asian territories, which were often forced to adopt the Japanese language, belief system, and way of life. After the end of the war in 1945, many torii gates, which symbolized Japanese oppression, were destroyed, yet some remain due to the sheer durability of the concrete construction material. Shitamichi set out to track down these remaining torii. In a graveyard in Saipan where a cross now stands. On a verdant subtropical hillside in Taipei. In the vegetation of Tinian Island. On the hills of Sakhalin, Russia. In Changchun, China, a torii still serves as the gate to a street lined with houses. In Taichung, Taiwan, a torii was knocked down and took on a second life as a park bench.

Christianity, though introduced to Japan in the middle of the 16th century, was banned less than a century later. Japan subsequently experienced 200 years of isolation, only reopening its doors to the world with Commodore Matthew Perry’s arrival from the United States in 1854. Perry (1794-1858) became the commander of the East India Squadron after a remarkable victory as the captain of the frigate USS Mississippi during the Mexican-American War (1846-48). Aboard the Mississippi, he led his new fleet to Singapore, Hong Kong, and Okinawa before arriving in Uraga to force the opening of Japanese ports to US trade. America had its sights set on sea routes from the Caribbean to Asia through gunboat diplomacy and military force, a path that Japan would soon follow, exerting an ever-growing desire for conquest through several wars of its own. Japan built sugar plantations and torii on Tinian, which became a brutal battlefield during World War II. When the United States took control of the island in 1944, it became a major military base for air raids on Japan. In fact, the B-29s that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki departed from Tinian Island.

Remnants and Torii together make up a ten-year documentary that explores a deep interest in Japanese colonial rule. However, I should emphasize that Shitamichi’s works on these past wars are much more than just a record of events. His photographs possess an intricate aesthetic composition and modern perspective that reflect on Japan’s colonial past without the express purpose of criticizing it. Yet his research on the ruins of war reveals a negative legacy. He saw the vitality of nature in the lush grasses that reclaim the earth from military aspirations and the ingenuity of current inhabitants, who repurposed ruins in vernacular ways. The torii he found were covered in verdant subtropical vegetation. Hangars were transformed into dwellings and storage units. Anti-aircraft batteries are now flower beds and monkey parks. Shitamichi turned his gaze to how the imagination and tenacity of both people and nature have helped overcome the destruction and oppression of the past.

Stone Age

When the Apollo 11 lunar module brought the first moon rocks back to Earth in July 1969, Horikawa Michio turned his gaze to the river rocks in his hometown. A founding member of the contemporary art collective Group Ultra Niigata (GUN) and junior high school teacher at the time, he took his students to collect rocks from the Shinano River and create stone mail art, in which he sent people terrestrial rocks through the postal service. The postal workers did their job in good faith and delivered these strange gifts as requested by the sender. These fragments of the Earth gave their recipients an opportunity to think about the vastness of Earth, now trapped in a palm-sized stone, and the vast amounts of time it took to create it.

Like Horikawa, Shitamichi too has been captivated by the stones of the Earth. But it wasn’t until 2011, after the Great East Japan Earthquake, that his interests shifted from recording concrete—an artificial stone that comprises many torii and war ruins—to recording natural stones in the landscape. Creators were left speechless and tragically aware of nature’s overwhelming power in the wake of the landscapes destroyed by the massive earthquake and tsunami that followed. Despite the frequency of his travels, Shitamichi was still based in Tokyo, but the earthquake caused him to have doubts about living in a city that left him isolated from a relationship with nature. On one of his journeys, he came across the tsunami stones of the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands. As the name suggests, these stones are megaliths ejected from the depths of the sea and deposited onto the land by a tsunami. They are frequently found in the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands around the southernmost tip of Japan. The coral reefs here petrify into rocky reefs and are pushed out onto land by large waves in 600-year cycles to form a surreal coastline that is shaped by the same oceanic forces that caused the catastrophic disaster of the Great East Japan Earthquake. These giant boulders, heaved onto the land by a power far greater than human, are worshiped as gods and are used as breeding grounds for migratory birds. They gave Shitamichi a chance to ponder an ancient relationship between humans and nature. Tsunami Stone (2015–) is a series of videos that suggest these giant, windswept stones, which seem infinitely immobile on a human scale of time, do, in fact, move and steadily change on a global scale.

Born in Hanamaki, Iwate, Kenji Miyazawa published only two books during his short 37-year lifetime. He was fascinated not only by animals but also by volcanoes and stones, whose voices he borrowed in his poetry and fairy tales. Cultural anthropologist and critic Ryuta Imafuku reads Kenji’s unfinished drafts and notes the importance of his wisdom in modern society as a tool of deeply speculative self-projection onto inanimate objects like rocks. “Interacting with rocks and stones is a dialogue with the record of life hidden within oneself,” he says.* He also points out that Kenji’s writings are “a rare attempt to approach the world of intrinsic realities in inanimate objects that humans cannot see or hear. He does this as much as humanly possible through the structure of fictional narratives.”** Shitamichi humbly heeds the voices of the tsunami stones, which have seen evolution over eons beyond the scale of human time. And his point of view changes with his travels, bearing witness to the remnants of history. Shitamichi has said, “A stone, like a small planet, is a fragment of the universe, yet at the same time, it traps the universe inside it.”*** While his realization here is full of insight, he also thinks about the world from the stone’s perspective. A stone has witnessed the history of the Earth’s transformation, the source of so much destruction. Through it, we can see the pressing global issues that confront us: global warming, environmental degradation, even a more sustainable future after the pandemic. The stone voices heard on the islands resonate with the stone voices that so fascinated Kenji in Iwate.

An Island for Settling Down

Shitamichi decided to move to another set of islands, this time to settle down and embark on a new long-term work, one that would focus on the memories that exist on a scale he saw in the stones, far beyond any human timeline.

The Setouchi ”            ” Archive, which Shitamichi began in 2019 on the island of Naoshima in Kagawa Prefecture, may not be your typical artwork. Shitamichi announced that he was planning to remodel and operate an island archive at a place known as Miyanoura Gallery 6 Ward, which sits the former site of the only pachinko parlor on the island. Through renovations like putting in large glass windows to allow visitors to see the park next door, he aimed to create a place that was both visually and structurally open to the community. Playing the dual role of director and curator, Shitamichi not only selects the themes for exhibitions related to the island, but he also delves deep into their research, collecting materials and publishing his findings to create and preserve an archive that is accessible to everyone. The exhibitions unfold as a series of interdisciplinary projects related to the memory and history of the islands and the lives of the people who call them home, in a collaboration between himself and local islanders. For Shitamichi, the process of drawing out memories from the islanders is also a process of coming to understand the islands for himself. His first exhibition at the Setouchi ”            ” Archive featured the life of Midorikawa Yoichi (1915-2001), a dentist and photographer from Okayama Prefecture who captured many scenes of the Seto Inland Sea. Midorikawa’s production notes, negatives, and prints, all donated by his family, were on display, presenting in a new light the achievements of a local photographer who had begun to fade from people’s memories. The landscapes he photographed and the oral histories of the people who knew him have now been published and recorded through this culture center-cum-archive. The archive has become a device for documenting a region facing depopulation, but Shitamichi’s documentation differs from that of the photographer who captures a scene with their camera.

Wherever he goes, Shitamichi researches, travels, records, and presents his findings. Rather than appropriate the memories of others, which is always a danger lurking in this process, Shitamichi replants and shares memories that are increasingly forgotten. And he is taking his time to carry out this search. The Setouchi ”            ” Archive aims to be a place of experimentation, a place for collecting and preserving memories, not focused solely on objects, but creating a space where both creators and residents—who also serve as the audience—can share pressing local issues and sentimental emotions.

In the 1990s, a new curation methodology invited the public to join the conversation. Participatory projects sprung up around the world, due in part to an increasing number of international exhibitions that sought involvement with regional and local communities. Shitamichi is now attempting to practice a more sustainable methodology in his projects by becoming a permanent resident, putting himself on the same footing as the people he is documenting. Susan Sontag also touched on this in a magazine interview. “A good rule before one goes marching or singing anything: Wherever your tug of sympathy, you have no right to a public opinion unless you’ve been there, experienced firsthand and on the ground and for some considerable time the country, war, injustice, wherever, you are talking about.” **** 

Today, in a world so divided into “heres” and “theres,” it can be difficult for us to try and imagine what others are going through elsewhere. Shitamichi avoids positioning himself in the overlapping labels of “here” or “there” that pit one perspective against another. Instead, he lives on the islands, continuing to listen and record everyday conversations, in any number of ways, to gain the freedom to interpret and document the past.

Kamiya Yukie  ( Gallery Director, Japan Society, New York)

*Imafuku Ryuta. Miyazawa Kenji: Dekunobono Eichi. (“Miyazawa Kenji: The Wisdom of a Nobody”) 2019, Shinchosha, p.158.
** Ibid., p. 26
***Shitamichi Motoyuki. “New Stone Tools.” http://m-shitamichi.com/newstone
Shitamichi, Motoyuki, “New Stone Tools.” http://m-shitamichi.com/newstone
****Susan Sontag. “Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo,” in
Where the Stress Fall s, ed. 1. Susan Sontag (UK: Jonathan Cope, 2002), p. 298

『移動から定住へ 下道基行が続ける「記録」という行為』




 戦争の痕跡を追っての移動は、さらに海を渡っての旅へとなった。続く《Torii》(2006-2012)のシリーズで下道は日本統治時代の忘形見である神社の鳥居を見つける旅をする。日清戦争(1894-95)の勝利によって中国・清王朝から獲得した台湾(日本統治期間1895-1945)、日露戦争後、ポーツマス条約によってロシア帝国から割譲された北緯50度以南の樺太島・サハリン(日本統治期間1905-1945)、第一次世界大戦に敗北したドイツがすべて失うことになった植民地から、戦勝国の一つであった日本の委任統治となった南洋諸島、サイパン島そしてテニアン島(日本統治期間1920- 1945)。日本の思想、偶像信仰、言葉を強いたアジア地域の占領地に多くの神社が建立された。1945年の大戦終了後、日本統治を象徴する鳥居は破壊されていくが、コンクリート製の堅牢さゆえ、なお残る鳥居のある風景を下道は追った。サイパンでは十字架の掲げられた墓地の中に。台湾・新北では亜熱帯の緑が広がる山腹に。テニアン島の潅木の林、ロシア・サハリンの高台、中国・長春では民家の並ぶ通りをまたいで門となり、台湾・台中では公園となった場所に倒され、ベンチとなり第2の人生を歩んでいた。




 下道が香川県直島で始動した《瀬戸内「 」資料館》(2019—)は、美術家の作品というには少し風変わりと見えるかもしれない。島で唯一のパチンコ店跡を改装し『宮浦ギャラリー6区』として起動していた場所を、島の資料館として下道が企画・運営に乗り出すというのだ。隣接する公園がガラス窓から見えるようさらなる手が加えられ、視覚的、構造的にも地域に開かれた場所を目指した。館長と学芸員の二役を担うべく、島に関する展覧会のテーマを選び、これを掘り下げリサーチし、資料を集め、展示・公開し、閲覧可能なアーカイブを作り保存する。島に定住し、その土地の記憶と歴史、島民の生活の営みに関わる一連の学際的プロジェクトは、自と島民との協働となる。島民から思い出を引き出す過程は、同時に下道が移り住んだ島を知る過程となる。初回は歯科医であり地元の瀬戸内海を数多く撮影したカメラマン、岡山県出身の緑川洋一(1915-2001)を取り上げた。遺族から寄贈を受けた緑川の制作ノートやネガやプリントが展示され、時間の経過と共に、人々の記憶から薄れてしまう一人の地元写真家の実績と、彼によって撮影された土地の風景、証言者たちの語るオーラルヒストリーは、「資料館」という文化施設を通じて公開され記録に留められる。「資料館」は過疎の土地での記録装置となり、下道は自身がカメラを向ける撮影者になるとは違う形で「記録」を焼き付けている。


神谷幸江  (ジャパン・ソサエティー、ニューヨーク ギャラリー・ディレクター)

*今福龍太『宮沢賢治 デクノボーの叡智』2019年、新潮社、p.158
Shitamichi, Motoyuki, New Stone Tools, http://m-shitamichi.com/newstone
Susan Sontag, Where the Stress Falls, 2002, Jonathan Cope, UK, p.298

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