The Coca-Colonization of Japan

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Shomei Tomatsu has been called Japan’s pre-eminent photographer of the postwar era. In the Review’s November 6 issue, Ian Buruma reviews Chewing Gum and Chocolate, a compilation of Tomatsu’s photographs edited by Leo Rubinfien and John Junkerman. “Tomatsu’s pictures,” Buruma writes,

were taken after the Allied occupation of Japan (though not yet Okinawa) was long over. Japan became independent again after signing the Peace Treaty of San Francisco in 1951. But for many men of Tomatsu’s generation the occupation was never really over; it continued inside their heads. Occupation was the title he chose for the pictures he took around the US base towns in Japan and Okinawa. Tomatsu was fifteen when Japan was defeated and the US troops arrived, casually tossing sticks of gum and chocolates at the children running after their jeeps. The rampant conquerors, who could often buy the favors of local women with a pair of silk stockings or a Hershey bar, were for young Japanese men a source of deep humiliation. But they also came with jazz music, easy manners, cool clothes, a promise of democracy, and what seemed then like vast wealth.

Here Buruma presents a selection of Tomatsu’s photographs with commentary.

Chewing Gum and Chocolate is published by Aperture.

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