Nirai
Project info

On parts of the Sulawesi island of Indonesia, when a newborn baby dies, the body is laid inside a hole carved into a large tree, which contains a white sap like that of mother's milk. This is to prevent the dead baby from ever feeling hungry. In time the hole in the tree closes, but it is believed that the leaves that grow on the tree allow the baby's spirit to reincarnate into a new life.

Until quite recently, there was a burial custom called "aerial sepulture" on the Ryukyu Island of Japan and on some of the islands further south. The dead body used to be laid inside a cave or rock shelter along the ocean , instead of being cremated or buried. The spirit of the dead person was thought to gradually leave the body.

In Indonesia, there are also regions where natives put the dead in a boat-shaped coffin. On Yoron Island of the Amami Islands in Japan, the people are said to have bade farewell to the dead by saying, "you shall go on a beautiful boat." The spirit was thought to sail away beyond the ocean.

On the Islands of Ryukyu, centered around Okinawa, people have long believed in a world that exists beyond the ocean, which is different from the one they live in, called "Nirai Kanai". From the festivals that are held on those islands, one comes to understand that the people think that the gods who bring them happiness and fertility visit them from Nirai Kanai. On the other hand, there is also a tradition that says Nirai Kanai is where creatures that bring about the bad and evil in the world reside. These two different ideas that sound conflicting are in fact not contradictory. Folklorist and poet Shinobu Orikuchi once wrote that Nirai Kanai is a place where the spirits of the dead head toward. I prefer this way of thinking. Whenever I gaze at the sea, I also tend to visually hallucinate Nirai Kanai as the world where my spirit will go one day.

However, in this collection of photographs, I aimed to visualize Nirai Kanai as a place existing in this world that we live in now. This idea derived from my feeling that our lives are much too vulnerable in the state we are in today. Thus, the world of death is often perceived as being close by us, making us feel as if our spirits are ceaselessly crossing the ocean as we live our repetitive daily lives.

Within one person's mind, death not only exists at the end of life, or lies in opposition to life, rather, death coexists together which life, or life is encompassed within death. These notions might bee too evident to mention, but when one travels around islands that extend from the Ryukyu Islands to those further south, such thoughts on death are all the more keenly felt. Those perceptions become stronger as the temperature and humidity increase in the southern islands. Similar to tropical plants with twining vines, on those islands, the "present time" is created through the intertwining and merging of life and death.

The photos of landscapes and people include the hustle and bustle in the streets of Okinawa and Taipei; the sense of sweet, clinging, humid heat in Manila; and men and women who live on tropical islands. All of the existences that appear in the photos( as well as my own self ) live their lives as they are gently and fully encompassed by death. Nirai Kanai indeed exists within the present time in which our spirits indwell.