Japan Day 2: Stopping the Traffic in Tokyo

As we experienced in Norway, most meetings and opportunities to photograph people can only really happen at the weekend so the flying start to this trip continues at full speed. The first meeting of the day is with everybody. Not all 35 million people in Tokyo, but with a large gathering of representatives from many of the various Burma organisations here in Japan at a monthly meeting: NLD-LA; FWUBC; Burmese Women’s Union; Chin Nationality Community; Burmese Refugees Serving Association; People’s Forum on Burma; Karen, Mon and many other representatives to mention just a few. Getting an audience of important people like this doesn’t happen everyday and thankfully the Secretary General was able to translate my garbled explanation about this campaign for political prisoners and explain to everyone in a much more coherent fashion exactly what it is all about. It was warmly received and supported by all. Before heading of to lunch with everyone we managed to do some interviews with former political prisoners Phone Myint Tun and Htin Kyaw – and not to be left out I had one with DVB! There are not too many former political prisoners in Tokyo but we had 3 people lined up to photograph today – Htin Kyaw, Maw Gyi and Dr Aye Chan.

Htin Kyaw was a second year Physics student at Hlaing College Rangoon when he became involved in the democracy movement in 1988. Like so many of his colleagues at that time it was the events of March 13th that we now remember as Phone Maw day that proved the final straw. In August 1988 at Aung San Suu Kyi’s famous speech at the West Gate of the Shwedagon Pagoda he became a member of the Tri-Colour student movement that provided security for her (pictured here standing far right second from Daw Suu in Kachin State April 1989).

Htin Kyaw was arrested in Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound on 20th July 1989 with many of his Tri-Color colleagues including Moe Myat Thu (previously photographed in Mae Sot last year) and Maw Min Lwin @ Maw Gyi (who we photograph here in Tokyo shortly after Htin Kyaw). They were all detained under 10 (A) of the infamous State Protection Law 1975 of which Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained under Section 10 (B) for much of her time under house arrest – “The law to safeguard the state against the danger of those desiring to cause subversive acts”. In total about 40 people were arrested that day in the compound and Htin Kyaw was detained in solitary confinement in Insein prison. He spent almost 1 year in Insein before being released. In 1991 he fled Burma to Thailand where he stayed for 2 years before moving to Japan where he is currently the Vice Chairman of NLD-LA Japan. Maw Gyi remained in Insein for a further 2 years until in March 1992 he was taken to the martial court and sentenced to 8 years imprisonment with hard labour. However, he was released a month later according to the General Amnesty 11/92 in April 1992.

Yesterday was the first time we had really photographed someone outside in a public place and as this trip was all about trying to capture the essence of Tokyo there’s no better place to do that than on the streets amongst everyone. We tried some tests at the Hachiko crossing the day before but it was just too busy so we found some other locations. Despite shooting in the thick of it the final pictures have managed to capture an essence of isolation that I wanted to show.

Having had a great lunch with everyone and got two great portraits of Htin Kyaw and Maw Gyi in the bag we made our way from Ikebekuro to Takadanobaba to meet up with Dr Aye Chan, former political prisoner and currently Professor of Southeast Asian History at Kanda University of International studies here in Tokyo. He became a student at Rangoon University in 1968 and became involved in the pro-democracy movement and was first arrested when handing out leaflets in an underground movement during the college’s 50th anniversary celebration. He managed to graduate and became a teacher and moved to Japan in 1993 being awarded a scholarship – he became friends with Aung San Suu Kyi who was also studying there at that time. He returned to Burma in 1988 and resumed his teaching at Rangoon University. He was sympathetic to the student movement, regularly serving as an advisor to the young men and women pushing to have democracy replace the military government. Many student leaders fled to Thailand, and Aye Chan had planned to join them. But he was arrested May 17,1990 when two student leaders came to his house to seek refuge – they had been followed by Military Intelligence. He was sentenced under section 17a to 15 years imprisonment. He spent 7 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prisons. You can read full details about Dr Aye Chan’s experience here.

The final event of a very long day was a brief visit to Mon National Day celebrations in Itabashi-Ku. It was also Karen Revolution day as well but unfortunately time was running short and when we got there it was finished. Still, last year I was in Karen State at Brigade 7 headquarters enjoying it so I’m lucky enough to have experienced it then.

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