Submit your photographs NOW!

ART : Nangokusho – ode to the southern lands of Japan / Atsushi Fujiwara

Nangokusho – ode to the southern lands of Japan / Atsushi Fujiwara


Journey to a Phantasm

At the foundation of this volume of photos lies Fujiwara Atsushi’s sentiment regarding his grandfather. As Fujiwara had his primary and secondary education in Shiga Prefecture, he personally has no memories of Kagoshima or Okinawa. His grandfather Fujiwara Hiroji who went into teaching after graduating from Waseda University, taught in secondary schools in various parts of the country thereafter, and finally tenured at Kagoshima Shogyogakko (Kagoshima Commercial School, currently Kagoshima Commercial High School) in 1924, where he retired in 1943 after holding the post of vice-principal. Hiroji died in 1962, a year before Atsushi was born, so the two never met. Regardless, Fujiwara related deeply to his grandfather’s world through a collection of poems he left, entitled “Nangokusho,” the name that Atsushi took for the title of this work as well. This was a voluminous collection of poems he penned about Kagoshima and his beloved Okinawa, and the scholastic life. Hiroji had in fact joined Kitahara Hakushu’s poetry society “Tama” in 1911, and studied under that celebrated poet.

I heed the voice of Mistress guiding me through the receiver, take the back roads

this way to Izumi.

This was a verse he composed on a visit to Hakushu’s home. Hakushu had also established a society for children’s songs (of which Kaneko Misuzu was a member), and was passionately involved in the popularization of poetry. Hiroji was one of many who benefitted from this. He wrote under the pseudonym Fujiwara Tohmon. His tanka poetry was exceedingly decorous, built upon sketches of life, and while reflective of Hakushu’s mentorship, his unique talent also clearly shone through.

The five-ringed stupa of Hayatotsuka tilts as the tobacco blossom passes its prime.   Shoots of spring grass beneath the tottering hooves, as the Suzukake bell-laden horse dances.

The Suzukake-uma horse is a festive occasion unique to Kagoshima, reflecting the local customs of that region. Apparently, Fujiwara Tohmon held particular ideals as regards education, and had a history of clashing with school principals and submitting his resignation each time, and it seems that he finally found a place he could settle in Kagoshima. His sincere caring for his students comes across in the following poem:

The parentless and fortuneless fall through cracks, leaving scores of excellent pupils.

In this poem, he laments the hardship of many outstanding students from single-parent or underprivileged homes in seeking employment, and how they are often left behind. I might mention, though this strays from our subject, that the Kagoshima Commercial High School has always been well-known for its performance in sports, excelling in judo, sumo wrestling and baseball since before the war. Hence the scenario in the following poem:   Kasagiyama calls, donning a suit to bid Yoshimatsu to join sumo wrestling but in vain.   The sumo wrestler Kasagiyama (peak rank during his career was Sekiwake) attended Waseda University, junior to Tohmon. There have been no Sekitori (high-ranking) sumo wrestlers hailing from Waseda University since. Nothing came of the negotiations described in this poem, and after the war, Hayashi Yoshimatsu went on to become a heavyweight in the world of Kodokan Judo. Tohmon depicts both pre- and post-war Okinawa in his poems, for which he mourns greatly.   Now, there may be readers wondering why there is no mention of the photographs in this commentary. In closing, I have this to say. The photographs speak for themselves. In the critique of photography, I make it a general rule to comment on the background from which the photographs arose. If these were paintings, the past might be portrayed from memory or imagination, but as regards this collection, photographs will capture only what is currently there. Today, Kagoshima and beautiful Okinawa are dramatically different from how Tohmon saw them, and there is nothing remaining of that now. Fujiwara Atsushi undertook to pursue sceneries that no longer exist. If the reader should sense a certain emptiness from these photographs, this must be understood to be the emptiness of post-war Japan.



Leave A Comment