Latest Posts

Chieko Toma – Goju-ryu Karate & Ryukyu Dance

Chieko Toma is a master of Ryukyu dance. On Sunday I had the chance to photograph her performing in traditional dance costumes.

Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance
Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance

The next black and white costume comes from Haebaru Town and I believe is worn for performance of the folk dances, rather than the court dances.

Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance
Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance

The next outfit is the karate gi with a hakama-style piece over the lower half. This was worn to perform the go shin no mai dances of self defense.

Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance
Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance
Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance

As well as a master of Ryukyu dance, Toma Sensei is a master of Goju-ryu karate, and a student under Tetsuhiro Hokama Sensei.

Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance
Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance
Photographing portraits of Toma Sensei at the Hokama dojo and karate museum. (Photo by Hirokazu Narumi)

If you look at the behind the scenes shot, and you’ve been following the Karate Masters Portrait Project since 2012, you’ll notice the change in the number of lights used to create the portrait.

In all the above shots of Toma Sensei I used two lights. James is holding one Profoto B1 strobe with a white softlight reflector (AKA a beauty dish) while Toma Sensei’s granddaughter is holding a second Profoto B1 strobe with a 1×4′ strip softbox which provides a rim light. In all the shots for the Karate Masters Portrait Project I only use the single strobe James is holding. In the Ryukyu dance portraits, the extra light provides separation from the black background, which is particularly useful if the person has dark hair.

Before the very first shoot with Taira Sensei and Arakaki Sensei in 2012, I had decided to use just a black background and a single strobe to keep things simple and easily repeatable. Since then, all portraits for the project have been shot this way. This meant that although I had two lights available, for the final few karate shots with Toma sensei I turned off the second light and shot them solely with the beauty dish.

Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance
Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance
Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance
Chieko Toma 4th dan Okinawa Goju-ryu Karate Kenshikai, Tamagsuku Udui Kanaharu – Master of Ryukyu Dance

A huge thank you to Hokama Sensei for the introduction, to Toma Sensei and Seki Sensei for letting me take their portraits (Seki Sensei’s photos in the next blog post!) to Rumiko Sunagawa for kimono fitting, and Toma’s granddaughter Harune for assisting with the lighting, and Hirokazu Narumi for the BTS shots (and the translations of Hokama Sensei’s upcoming interview).

Another great experience for James Pankiewicz and me. Even after 20 years living in Okinawa, there are so many aspects of its culture to discover.

Shuri Castle Reconstruction

On July 15 2020 I visited Shuri Castle to see the progress with reconstruction.

As you approach the castle, nearly everything appears to be as it was before the fire. The Shureimon gate is intact, locals were praying at the Sonohyan-utaki, and the stone walls and archways of the Kankaimon gate all bore no evidence of the disaster. At the ticket booth in the Shichi-nu-una courtyard you can purchase a discounted entry ticket, but it only as you pass through the Houshimon ticket gate into the main courtyard you are hit with the vast change to the beloved castle.

Shuri Castle , Naha City, Okinawa 15 July 2020 following from the 2019 fire that destroyed the main Seiden building.

Where the main Seiden once stood there is now a beige prefab building. Dozen of bags of rescued materials sit on the red and white stripes of the courtyard.

The two dairyuchu great dragon pillars that survived the fire now stand protected by scaffolding.

Shuri Castle , Naha City, Okinawa 15 July 2020 following from the 2019 fire that destroyed the main Seiden building.

Lying on the courtyard are small piles of charred rubble, and the remains of the dragon heads that once crowned the castle roof.

Rubble from the fire at Shuri Castle , Naha City, Okinawa 15 July 2020 following from the 2019 fire that destroyed the main Seiden building.
Shuri Castle , Naha City, Okinawa 15 July 2020 following from the 2019 fire that destroyed the main Seiden building. Ryutomunakazari (Dragonhead cresting) that had once been on the roof of the Seiden.

You can now walk to the rear of the courtyard, and up on to the walls to a spot called Agari no azama. From there you can look back on the castle walls and structures.

Shuri Castle , Naha City, Okinawa 15 July 2020 following from the 2019 fire that destroyed the main Seiden building.

The thick stone walls and the foundations of the castle remain. It can and will be rebuilt. As a tourist attraction it is still a fascinating place to explore, and well worth the visit.

I’m excited about the reconstruction of Shuri Castle. It gives the chance for a new generation of Okinawan craftsmen to learn the traditional skills needed to work on such as large prestigious project.

I look forward to the day when the great dragon pillars are released from their shackles, and the vermillion castle retakes its place as the heart of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Intangible Cultural Asset Holders in the Field of Okinawan Karate and Martial Arts with Weaponry

On May 19th 2020 six Okinawan Karate Masters were recognized by the prefecture as an Intangible Cultural Asset Holder in the Field of Okinawan Karate and Martial Arts with Weaponry. I am honored to have photographed them all for the Karate Masters Portrait Project over the past 8 years. Congratulations to Iha Sensei, Kikugawa Sensei, Maeshiro Sensei, Nakahodo Sensei, Iha Sensei and Takara Sensei!

I’m also happy to announce that episode 8 in the YouTube series Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate is now online.

I’m really proud of all the work that went into this episode, the team that helped create it, and the sponsors and supporters of the series. Iha Sensei speaks a mix of Japanese, Okinawan (a separate language not a dialect of Japanese), and English. It made transcriptions and translations a challenge, and there were even a few corrections after it went live, after getting some extra feedback from Nakasone Sensei.  

Please like, comment, and share the videos so that the YouTube algorithm introduces it to others.

Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate #7 Tsuguo Sakumoto

Tsuguo Sakumoto, 7 times consecutive world champion, and coach to 9 world champions including Arata Kinjo, Takuya Uemura and Ryo Kiyuna. He is 9th-dan in Ryuei-ryu karate. Ryo Kiyuna is one of Japan’s best chances to win a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 (2021) Olympics so Sakumoto Sensei is more than ever a very busy man. Luckily he liked the portraits of him I shot in 2014 so we managed to get to interview him last September for the Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate Series.

You can learn more about the series, and even how to support is here: https://travel67.com/the-karate-masters-portrait-project/sensei-documentary/

Tsuguo Sakumoto 9th dan Ryuei-ryu. Photographed at the Naha Budokan Sept 1st 2014
Tsuguo Sakumoto 9th dan Ryuei-ryu. Photographed at the Naha Budokan Sept 1st 2014
Tsuguo Sakumoto 9th dan Ryuei-ryu. Photographed at the Naha Budokan Sept 1st 2014
Tsuguo Sakumoto 9th dan Ryuei-ryu. Photographed at the Naha Budokan Sept 1st 2014

Hidetada Ishiki at Itokazu Castle Ruins

Before shooting studio portraits of Ishiki Sensei and his son for the Karate Masters Portrait Project we visited Itokazu Castle ruins to get some location shots.

Hidetada Ishiki 8th-dan Okinawa Kobudo Shurei no Kuni at Itokazu Castle Ruins Nanjo City, Okinawa

Ishiki Sensei studied kobudo with Shinpo Matayoshi alongside students including Gakiya Sensei and Yamashiro Sensei. Studying exclusively with Matayoshi Sensei meant they delved deeper into the different weapons, so along with the more common bo (staff) and sai, they learned weapons such as nunchaku, sansetsukon (3 piece nunchaku) and the mini sansetsukon (which Masakazu Kinjo Sensei once described as the Saturday night special).

Hidetada Ishiki 8th-dan Okinawa Kobudo Shurei no Kuni at Itokazu Castle Ruins Nanjo City, Okinawa
Hidetada Ishiki 8th-dan Okinawa Kobudo Shurei no Kuni at Itokazu Castle Ruins Nanjo City, Okinawa
Hidetada Ishiki 8th-dan Okinawa Kobudo Shurei no Kuni at Itokazu Castle Ruins Nanjo City, Okinawa
Hidetada Ishiki 8th-dan Okinawa Kobudo Shurei no Kuni at Itokazu Castle Ruins Nanjo City, Okinawa

Always fascinating to have the opportunity to shoot with the karate masters outside the dojo, and I think I came away with some interesting new shots.

Images taken with the Pentax 645Z, 35mm, 55mm, 90mm lenses. Profoto B1 strobe with Softlight reflector.

Sensei: Masters of Okinawan Karate – Doug Perry

Major John Douglas Perry, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) 10th dan Shorin-kan Shorin-ryu photographed in Okinawa Nov 19th 2019

In the latest video in the series I’m making about karate, 83-year-old, 10th-dan Shorin-Ryu, Doug Perry talks about his life in the Marine Corps and martial arts, and his love of Okinawa. Also includes a conversation with his son Colonel Jason Perry. 

Thank you to all the sponsors and supporters you’ll see listed at the end of the video I couldn’t do it without you! Please get in touch if you’re able to help with this project!

https://travel67.com/the-karate-masters-portrait-project/sensei-documentary/

Currently going through the final checks for two more videos. Will release Seikichi Iha Sensei’s interview hopefully in around a week from now, and then Tsuguo Sakumoto’s interview a week later.

Major John Douglas Perry, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) 10th dan Shorin-kan Shorin-ryu photographed in Okinawa Nov 19th 2019
Major John Douglas Perry, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) 10th dan Shorin-kan Shorin-ryu photographed in Okinawa Nov 19th 2019

Yanbaru – Visit Okinawa

A month ago I spent a weekend up in the Yanbaru forests to write an article for the Visit Okinawa website. Okinawan photographer Nirai was there to take the photos and video of my adventures for the website, so it was a really interesting to be on the other side of the lens. I was also able to get a few snaps over the weekend, when I wasn’t mugging for his camera.

Mangrove seed pods, Higashi Village, Okinawa
Kayak guide Enishi-san.
Waterfall, Aha Village, Kunigami, Yanbaru, Okinawa
Wildlife artist Ichiro Kikuta

I interviewed Kikuta-san many years ago for Okinawa Living magazine, you can read the article here. You can find out more about his birdwatching tours and his artwork here.

Sakishima suounoki tree, Aha Village, Kunigami, Yanbaru, Okinawa
Japanese bush warbler dead after being hit by car on roads of Yanbaru, Kunigami, Okinawa.

I didn’t mention it in the article, but we came across this dead Japanese bush warbler, that looked to have been just hit by a vehicle. The beautiful winding roads of northern Okinawa may seem like the perfect place to stretch the legs of your car or motorbike, but the local people and wildlife would prefer it if you slow down and enjoy a more relaxed pace of life.

Karate Masters Kanji Uechi and Sadanao Uechi

Uechi-ryu is one of the main styles of Okinawan karate. Literally translated it means Uechi style, its name coming from its founder Kanbun Uechi (1877-1948).

At 19, Kanbun Uechi went to Fuzhou City in China to study martial arts. He studied a style known as Pangai-noon and after 13 years returned to Okinawa. Many years later he began teaching Pangai-noon karate in Japan, and in 1940 the style was renamed as Uechi-ryu karate jutsu.

Kanbun Uechi’s son Kanei Uechi (1911-1991) was the second generation of the style. His grandson Kanmei Uechi (1941-2015) was the third generation. And today his great-grandsons Kanji Uechi and Sadanao Uechi continue the Uechi-ryu legacy.

Kanji Uechi 7th dan Uechi-ryu karate Photographed for the Karate Masters Portrait Project at the Karate Kaikan, Okinawa on 21 January 2020
Kanji Uechi 7th dan Uechi-ryu karate Photographed for the Karate Masters Portrait Project at the Karate Kaikan, Okinawa on 21 January 2020
Sadanao Uechi 7th dan Uechi-ryu karate Photographed for the Karate Masters Portrait Project at the Karate Kaikan, Okinawa on 21 January 2020

Motobu is the hometown of Uechi-ryu’s founder Kanbun Uechi. A couple of years ago a statue of the Kanbun Uechi was built in the Yaedake Sakura no Mori, Cherry Blossom Park, in Motobu Town.

Kanbun Uechi Monument, Motobu Town, Okinawa
Jasmine during cherry blossom 2019 in Motobu’s Yaedake park.

Motobu is also where we now live, so Kanbun Uechi often overlooks us as we picnic in the park 🙂

Sefa-utaki – Visit Okinawa

The Visit Okinawa website has an article I wrote about Okinawa’s Sefa-utaki, and a promotional video they made of me exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Great experience working with the VisitOkinawa.jp team.

Sefa-utaki, most sacred spot in Okinawa, ancestor worship, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chinen Village Okinawa.
Stone incense burners at Sefa-utaki, most sacred spot in Okinawa, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chinen Village Okinawa.
Yabiku-san one of the guide at Sefa-utaki, most sacred spot in Okinawa, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chinen Village Okinawa.
Stalactities that drip holy water into urns at Sefa-utaki, most sacred spot in Okinawa, ancestor worship, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chinen Village Okinawa.