A Japanese photographer based in the United States is holding an exhibition in Tokyo on the American Indian Navajo people of the American Southwest, including portraits of former World War II code talkers.
Kenji Kawano, 63, is showing 53 black-and-white pieces, which he took between 1975 and 2011, at Shinjuku Nikon Salon in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward.
During World War II, about 400 bilingual Navajo served in the U.S. Marine Corps where they used a coded version of the Navajo language to transmit secret tactical messages, which the Japanese military never managed to break.
For example, the word "tank" was replaced by "turtle" before the whole English text was translated into the Navajo language.
The Navajo code talkers served on Guam, Iwojima island and elsewhere in the Pacific Theater.
Long unheralded for their contribution toward winning the Pacific War, 29 former Navajo code talkers were finally honored and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2000.
Kawano, who moved to the United States in 1973, began living in the Navajo Nation the following year. The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian reservation in the United States, covering some 70,000 square kilometers across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
One day in 1975, a man who gave Kawano a ride during a hitchhiking trip happened to have been a code talker. That chance meeting sparked Kawano's interest, and he has devoted his life to documenting the lives of the Navajo people, especially the former code talkers.
A 1975 photo from the exhibition shows four former code talkers with proud expressions, clad in their World War II uniforms and chatting. The Navajo pay special respect to their military veterans, Kawano said.
Another piece, taken during a second visit after one of the code talkers had died, shows his bereaved grandchild holding his portrait that Kawano took on his first visit.
Not all photos in the exhibition are of code talkers.
One piece portrays young brothers, about the age of elementary school pupils, whose father died in the Iraq War.
Another shows sisters holding up photos of their sons who were serving in the Persian Gulf War.
Some other works show scenes of traditional rituals, including a portrait of a man who had his face painted white to participate in a Navajo Fire Dance Ceremony.
Kawano is married to a 57-year-old Navajo woman. The couple has a 30-year-old daughter and two grandchildren.
Most of the 400 Navajo code talkers have died, and the small handful left are well into their 90s.
"I want people to know more about the Navajo, who have links to Japan," Kawano says. "I want to keep photographing the former code talkers until there is only one survivor left."
The exhibition, titled "Faces of the Navajo," runs through Aug. 6. Admission is free.
Call Shinjuku Nikon Salon (03-3344-0565) for more information.
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