Japan Day 5: Propaganda, Usokae and 11/92: From Lies to Truth at the Kameido Tenjin Shrine

Mixing business with pleasure is the best way to be, so yesterday afternoon and this morning was spent taking in the big city, bright lights atmosphere that Tokyo has to offer. From tea with Maids and the Otaku sub-culture to the total sensory overload of streets filled with neon, anime and a million people a day crossing the road in the same place; Akihabara, Shinjuku and Shibuya were our playground for 24 hours – plenty of shopping at Shibuya 109 for Miss J.San @ The Secretary General and funnily enough it was also the only place I found a free internet connection. Checking emails and uploading photos will never be the same again – standing outside a shop on the fourth floor that simply sold ‘anything and everything’ but only in pink is a moment to cherish.

You can enjoy these photos from Tokyo here.

In the afternoon, along with Zaw Zaw Hlaing and Aung Naing from DVB, we headed to Koto-Ku to meet former political prisoner Ma Kyu Kyu Win. Having already photographed in the streets earlier in the week, the idea this time was to go to a temple, so we made our way to the Kameido Tenjin Shrine and it was perfect if for nothing else because of its significance.

Best known for its arched drum bridges and purple wisteria hanging from overhead trellises (unfortunately not at this time of year) the shrine dates to 1662 and is dedicated to a 9th century scholar, poet, and politician named Sugawara no Michizane, familiarly referred to as Tenjin Sama. The Japanese tradition of ‘Usokae’ is practiced at shrines dedicated to him whereby people receive wooden dolls carved in the shape of Uso (bullfinch), known as a lucky bird, and pray for good fortune. Tenjin Sama was remembered as an honest man, never telling lies and some say that the origin of Usokae comes from the Japanese word uso meaning ‘lies’, which also corresponds with the name of this bird. Everyone tells lies, whether they intend to or not, and in order to exchange ‘lies’ told in the previous year for ‘truths’, people bring their old wooden Uso dolls to be exchanged for new ones. Photographing a former political prisoner jailed because of the lies of the military regime, perhaps we can we exchange it for the truth with what we are now doing.

Kyu Kyu Win was a first year student at Hlaing College RC2, Rangoon University when she first became involved in the student movement – it was 1987 and Burma had just been brought further to its knees overnight when Ne Win decided to demonetize the currency. Throughout the mass uprisings of 1988 through to 1991 she was part of the student underground network. In October 1991 when Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, students at Rangoon University held a ceremony in honour of her, demonstrating and demanding her immediate release. Kyu Kyu Win and twenty of her colleagues were arrested and taken to Insein prison. Soon after being detained and with no investigation or fair trial she was sentenced by Military court No:1 to 10 years imprisonment. Despite denying that there were any political prisoners at all (3,000 actually in jail), on 29th April 1992 the SLORC declared a General Amnesty and under Declaration 11/92 stated that all political prisoners not deemed a threat to national security would be released.The newspaper article above is from the “Workers People Daily” newspaper on 30th April 1992 – propaganda by the ruling SLORC about the release of prisoners in a General Amnesty under Declaration 11/92. Top left is Cho Cho Kyaw Nein (currently involved in setting up a political party to contest the elections of this year). Middle picture is of Mahn Nyunt Maung, General Secretary of the Karen National League Party. Kyu Kyu Win was released under Declaration 11/92 on 29th April 1992 havung served 4 months of her 10 year sentence. Pictured above, sitting second from left, along with her colleagues also due for release she was lectured by Dr Tun Maung from Rangoon University (under orders from the military regime) and ordered not to be involved in any further political activities. This newspaper article, as though sending a warning to the ordinary public, epitomises the propaganda that the regime consistently release, especially with regards to political prisoners. After her release, Kyu Kyu Win returned to her studies. She was constantly monitored, harassed and intimidated by military intelligence, often being offered bribes for information, being promised a job and money if she would become an informant. She ignored the regime at every turn instead continuing her previous political activities. By 2000 she became a tourist guide for Japanese visitors and in attempting to pass information through her visitors to the outside world, she once again feared for her arrest so she fled to Japan.

The light was fading fast when we finally got round to taking Kyu Kyu’s portrait and despite having to dodge passing visitors coming to pay their respects and a rapidly disappearing sun in the cold evening we just about managed to get the shot and also a full interview with her for DVB – it might have taken about 20 ‘takes’ but we got there in the end!

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