AT THE END of World War II, with the city of Tokyo a smoking ruin, Hiroshima and Nagasaki pulverised, and food shortages so acute that throughout Japan people were dropping dead of starvation in the streets, a young photographer named Yoichi Midorikawa sought refuge from the cataclysm among the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. Since ancient times, boats plying this 450-kilometre wide stretch of water, which separates three of Japan’s four main islands, had formed the core of the country’s trade and transport. Even amid the post-war devastation, its many small islands supported thriving communities of men and women famous for their robust self-sufficiency.
For the next ten years, Midorikawa travelled the islands and waterways, documenting these hardy folk as they fished, farmed, gathered seaweed, and tended livestock: goats on the slopes, cattle on the flats. He photographed village people as they celebrated the launching of new boats and the birth of new babies, enjoyed plays in their own kabuki theatres and a unique form of life-size puppetry performed exclusively by women. In Midorikawa’s unstaged, unromanticised photographs, his subjects’ vitality is so palpable you feel they’re about to stride off the paper and dump a basket of still-flapping fish right at your feet.
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