Art and Remembrance: Gima Hiroshi, the Marukis, and Representations of the Battle of Okinawa

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The battle of Okinawa in 1945 was one of the bloodiest battles of the Asia Pacific War: nearly a quarter of the Okinawan civil population perished. Yet whilst the battle itself has been exhaustively researched, the relatively few artistic representations of the subject have been largely passed over in silence. Okinawan artists themselves, keen to avoid conflict with the U.S. authorities once the region had fallen under the control of the U.S. administration in 1945, were reluctant to address the subject head–on. Their reticence was only compounded by Japan’s own failure to acknowledge its complicity in the 1945 massacre of Okinawan citizens. Thus, through the insidious mechanisms of self–censorship, an event that had decimated the region’s population and left an indelible scar on its landscape, remained almost invisible in contemporary cultural production.

It was only in the decades following the battle that artists began to develop idioms that allowed them to express, through the brutalized landscape or female anguish, the suffering of the Okinawan people. These works served as powerful expressions of communal trauma. They also contested the gradual objectification of Okinawa in the mainland imaginary. Within two decades of the war, the region had been newly identified as a tourist destination, marketed in visual media as an exotic paradise. For Okinawans themselves, the conscious branding of their land carried the painful consequence of erasing the memory of loss and destruction that fundamentally informed their experience of it. Art, that is, became a means of rectification: of countering the power of silence and the myth of the exotic with the trauma of history.

This paper focuses on visual descriptions of the Battle of Okinawa both as (semi–covert) expressions of communal trauma and as a means of communicating to mainland Japanese audiences the pain, the suffering, and the struggle of its recent history. A key figure in this discussion is the artist Gima Hiroshi (1923–2017), an Okinawan born on Tinian Island who subsequently moved to Osaka, who over a period of three decades used a combination of media – oil painting, woodblock prints, albums, children’s books and collaborations with Okinawan poets – to bring into the open an event that defined the lives of the Okinawan people. These works played a crucial role in recasting Okinawa in the mainland imaginary, of retrieving its pain from the margins of nation and history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-84
Number of pages28
JournalMutual Images
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2018


  • Battle of Okinawa
  • Okinawan modern and contemporary arts
  • Gima Hiroshi
  • Maruki Toshi and Iri
  • Kyō Machiko

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