In the mid-90s, I lived on a tiny island in the Ryukyu archipelago called Kikai-jima. So small was Kikai that most mainlanders had never heard of it. The population then was a smidgeon over 2,000. There were no traffic lights, three pachinko parlours and regular earthquakes and tsunami warnings.
By day, I was employed conducting an ecological survey on exposed fossilised coral reefs (which is a rather long different story) and working on my Westie tan (I had to wear workboots and socks in a tropical paradise), while by night and all our other spare time we availed ourselves of local hospitality, endured more than one racist attack by elderly men still caught up about the War, became fluent Japanese speakers, broke an old woman’s leg following an unfortunate bicycle crash, and explored all the island’s crannies and nooks.
There were hidden plane hangars left over from the Pacific conflict, ancient temples, and a toothless old lady who sat by the road and waved to us whenever we passed. We played basketball at the local school, failed miserably at keeping our hole-in-the-ground toilet sanitary, looked after the stray kittens who lived in our roof, squealed most mornings when we found our soap had been supper for a big rat we were too afraid to kill, and taught English to a group of beautiful women I wish I was still in contact with.
Katsuyo Aoki’s ceramic skulls, however, were responsible for an altogether different memory of that time. One wet day we went exploring in the caves that hugged the coast a short distance from the main town. We swept aside Indiana Jones type vines to reveal small man-sized pocks in the cliff face. Each was filled with human remains. Lots of skulls, ribs, and femurs. They were leftovers from ancient burial rights. It did freak me out, but it was fascinating all the same.
The tenuous link to this story? Here you go: Katsuyo is a Japanese artist who makes these beautiful ceramic skulls. There you have it. Thank you for indulging my moment of revery. Or should I say domo arigato gozaimasu?
More pics and info here.
Images courtesy of Katsuyo Aoki.