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Takazato Suzuyo (b. 1940) is a Japanese feminist, activist, and politician. In 1995, she founded Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, an activist organization challenging the American military presence in Okinawa. As an "internal colony" of Japan, the islands now called Okinawa were the independent Ryūkyū kingdom until it became a vassal state to the Satsuma domain in southern Kyūshū in 1609 and was colonized by Japan in 1872. Marginalized as colonial subjects, communities in Okinawa faced horrific violence during World War II both from Allied and Japanese militaries. After the War, the Allied (American) occupation of Okinawa continued twenty years longer than in the rest of Japan, and the American military presence in Japan is extraordinarily concentrated on Okinawa. American military brings risks such as pollution, accidents, and violence. Takazato formed the Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence partially in response to a particularly egregious act of violence. In 1995, three American servicemen kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old girl walking home from school. Takazato was already an elected member of the Naha city assembly and began organizing sit-ins, vigils, and other protests to demand responses from the Japanese government. Within the global network of activists she has created, Takazato continues to challenge the sexist and racist assumption that a military presence necessarily brings security. Through her ongoing activism, she asks: Whose safety is acknowledged? Whose safety is ignored?

"If all of Okinawa's seventy islands were put together, the prefecture would account for 0.6 percent of the entire area of Japan. This means that approximately 1 percent of the entire Japanese population lives on 0.6 percent of Japanese land. And this area is host to 75 percent of all U.S. bases located in Japan." Takazato Suzuyo, 2000.

"Takazato Suzuyo, who led the Okinawan delegation to the 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing, explicitly links the 1995 rape of a young girl to an allegorized image of Okinawa as a daughter sold by Japan into prostitution: “Okinawa is the prostituted daughter of Japan. Japan used her daughter as a breakwater to keep the battlefields from spreading over the mainland until the end of World War II. After the war, she enjoyed economic prosperity by selling the daughter to the United States.” Takazato quoted by Linda Isako Angst, 2001.

Artist Statement

Ippee Nifee Deebiru is a portrait of Takazato Suzuyo 高里鈴代, a feminist peace organizer who has dedicated her life to helping make Uchinaa a safer place from U.S. military violence and base expansion. After the 1995 kidnapping and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. military servicemen, Takazato and other women founded the first women’s health clinic in Okinawa as well as Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence. Today, Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence and others from around the world who are negatively impacted by the U.S. military, created the organization called Women for Genuine Security. The group is made up of people from Okinawa, Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippines, Korea, Hawai’i and other places harmed by the U.S. military and have come together to resist further occupation. 

My obaachan (grandmother), Makaso Nakasone, survived the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, and I’m here today because of the sacrifices so many women in my own family made to protect my grandmother. This collage consists of my own digital images, photographs made by my grandfather and a portrait of Takazato Suzuyo made by Japanese photojournalist Noriko Hayashi. There’s also a photo of the original group of women who came together after the 1995 rape and brought awareness to the United States. In this portrait you’ll see images of traditional Uchinaanchu bashofu and bingata fabrics, deigo, lillis and other flowers, drawings of hajichi and tuigwaa to recognize the indigenous peoples of the Uchinaa Islands, which the U.S. and Japan still do not recognize as the rightful stewards of the land. 

Ippee nifee deebiru or thank you very much, Suzuyosan and all the women who came before me.

For further learning

Elaine Cromie

Elaine Cromie

Elaine Cromie is an independent photographer and visual journalist based in Michigan. She contributes regularly to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and other publications. She is a 2022-2023 Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan and is working on a project with the Uchinaanchu diaspora in the U.S. about the reclamation efforts of one of the indigenous Uchinaa languages called Uchinaaguchui. Cromie is a board member of the Authority Collective, a member of Women Photograph and a teaching artist for a local non-profit. She is a proud third generation Uchinaanchu and Puerto Rican born in Colorado.