‘Dad was a Photographer’

Kenshichi Heshiki's pictures documenting the legacy of war, occupation, and Okinawa's sex workers were released in a book by his children.


‘山羊の肺 / The Goat’s lung’ (1970) (C) Kenshichi Heshiki

Born in 1948, Kenshichi Heshiki is one of the stalwarts of Japanese photography. In the years following his death, the photographer’s children wished to pay homage to their father’s work, producing the posthumous publication Dad was a photographer – The last photo book of Kenshichi Heshiki, Japan. Kenshichi Heshiki is famed for the warmth he brings to the chronicling of daily life in the Ryukyu Islands, from cultural observations to life under US occupation. 

Heshiki documented on small, remote islands a legacy of war, occupation, and the sex workers of Okinawa. He died in 2009, leaving behind an inheritance of atmospheric black-and-white photographs of people, places, and an epoch. 

Having dropped out of engineering college in 1969, Kenshichi Heshiki graduated from the Tokyo Sogo College of Photography in 1972, going on to exhibit across Japan, with his work also being acquired by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA. In 2008, he was awarded the 33rd Ina Nobuo Award. 


A distinct history

The islands have a dark and complex history, one that is distinct from that of other parts of the Japanese archipelago. During the Second World War, Ryukyu was the only inhabited part of the Japanese isles to experience land battles, and in 1945, the Battle of Okinawa saw around 300,000 people killed. Kenshichi Heshiki excavated the memories of these events, taking a series of images of Chibichirigama, where a number of inhabitants committed suicide in order to avoid rape or torture. 

According to his gallery, ‘Heshiki focused on those Okinawans whose lives tended to be forgotten amidst the political shifts in post-war Okinawa.’

Kenshichi Heshiki published over 20 photo books during his lifetime, including the iconic The Goat’s Lung in 2007, his last publication, which would also document the lives of Okinawa’s inhabitants.


Dad was a Photographer (2016) is a photo book by Kenshichi Heshiki and is released by Mirai-sha Publishers.

‘山羊の肺 / The Goat’s lung’ (1973) (C) Kenshichi Heshiki

‘山羊の肺 / The Goat’s lung’ (1980) (C) Kenshichi Heshiki

‘沖縄をすくった女性達 / Women who saved Okinawa’ (1975) (C) Kenshichi Heshiki

‘沖縄をすくった女性達 / Women who saved Okinawa’ (1973) (C) Kenshichi Heshiki