Tinzake: The Split Between Heaven and Earth

Tinzake: The Split Between Heaven and Earth

Aimi Chinen, 2023 Finalist

Tinzake: The Split Between Heaven and Earth, is an archival project which critiques the continued colonization of the sacred landscape, the U.S. Military aircraft, and their sounds on the islands of Ryukyu while tracing the escape path of Chinen Kenichi who was a five-year-old boy during the WWII Battle of Okinawa.

Henoko beach displays the contradiction of the powers of colonized and the colonizer. On the left is the current USMC (United States Marine Corps) military base Camp Schwab and its expansion. Nicknamed “Man Camp,” the land of the base was confiscated by force from the locals who were threatened with further violence after the “end” of The Battle of Okinawa. On the right is the ancient ritual site to worship The God of the Sea, the Ryugushin. Known by the islanders with ambilineal traditions as the women’s god, or the god of women. The Sea is considered to be one of the three Ultimate Ancestors with the Sun and the Earth.

Off of the main island of Okinawa lies many smaller islands. Uchibaru and Feuchibaru are used by the U.S. Military for island landing training.

Houses line the left, a grave looks to the right, sky fills with sounds of violence by deceptively large military aircraft.

Tanahara Ancestral grave housing multigenerational remains from 300 or more hundred years ago. Munchu haka is a family grave. This depicted haka, grave is from my matrilineal grandmother’s family. The matriarch and or yuta of the family that carries the family knowledge has disappeared with the modernization of the island post WWII. The word “munchu” holds multiple meanings and it is also known as record of ancestral information or knowledge. What happens when we lose knowledge of our grandparents, great-grandparents and the important family history?

Before WWII, every Ryukyu family home held an ancestral altar called the Butsudan. It was known as the family treasure and passed down ancestral information. The Butsudan is the satellite and transmitter for prayer to ancestors. Rituals and prayers follow the cycle of nature, the sun, the moon, and its seasons.

Located in Henoko, on the path to Ourawan bay. A heavily colonized town other than what this old grave is called, there has not been much available information. What I can imagine is how it was worshiped by the spiritual women in the community just as the other ancient uganjyu, prayer sites.

Yomitan's historical coral harvesting site.

As I stare into the horizon known in the Ryukyu oral language of uchinaguchi as tinzake, the split of heaven, the heavenly border, I can hardly imagine the horrors that sailed in on the eastern shores of Yomitan. Battle of Okinawa, 1945 L-Day invasion’s L stood for LOVE. How can love become the horrors the islanders saw? Love Day invasion tactics followed the same invasion methods of the Satsuma clan invasions that colonized the islanders almost hundred years prior. Today, the United States and Japan relations unites their colonizing tactics to silence the remaining colonized opposition of the island.

Noro are shaman priestesses that are chosen by the community. This Noro shrine is located next to the Tengan River in Uruma City. Where are the indigenous women that inherit community protection? The landmark speaks of the important past of peace keeping promoted through conversations with Gods of Nature.

Noro’s graves are scattered throughout the islands. Noro’s were the connection to the other realm, communicating with the past to keep peace in the present. Peace keeping happened through projection of violence into another dimension. These graves symbolize the spiritual power women have to bring life into this world through the connection to the Guso, the realm of the dead.

Located in Henoko, on the path to Henoko beach where Camp Schwab occupies most of the beach. This place was my childhood playground. As a kindergartener, I played under the protection of the gajimaru tree. Gajimaru trees are known to be the home of a troll/fairy-like creature called Kijimuna. Now in its bare form, the playground was desolate, absent of children and their shining souls. Has the Kijimuna left this site? Did it sense the close dangers of Camp Schwab encroaching upon its traditions?

With war came colonization, with colonization came democracy, with democracy came modernity, with modernity came roads, roads that paved over sacred sites, nature, and indigenous landscape. This play space with a metal slide, sits below a road bridge. Echoing the motors of modernity and vibrating the pollution of colonized ideas.

Indigenous Ryukyu religion reveres the island’s nature, community, and family as gods. Every natural site — protruding rock, cliff, cave, cove, forest, stream, river, spring — is a place for worship. The island structures here represent resistance to colonizing forces. 
U.S. military helicopters use the whole island as their flight zone for endless training, often in pairs, doubling their sonic impact. Military aircraft occupy the sacred heavens every 10 to 15 minutes as the locals tune out the reminder of World War II.
Sounds emitted by large military aircrafts become part of the island landscapes. Sounds continue to inflict memories of trauma into the environment. Silencing indigenous voices, numbing them to historical violence.

Concrete structures with faded advertisements for American goods marketed to locals by small mom and pop shops recall a post war American influences and control on the local economy.

Alley located in Koza frequented by many American military members looking for alcohol and entertainment.

On a route leading north to the Yambaru region of Okinawa island, U.S. military signs point to training grounds called Combat Town. Within these training grounds are models of “third-world villages” for the edification of young American soldiers. Little do the soldiers know that the colonized mountains are a sacred prayer site that once provided fresh spring water that sustained the Indigenous community for generations prior to World War II.

Stolen, colonized, and renamed. Property line marker for Camp McTureous, part of larger garrison chain of Camp Smedley Butler Marine Corps Bases. Small isolated community for service members' families, equipped with American school and grocery stores.

U.S. military bases are scattered all over Okinawa. This fence extends down to Yomitan Beach alongside natives' homes, reminding them everyday how their ancestral land has been forcefully taken under the pretense of democracy. Within the base is a private beach — a luxury amenity exclusively for U.S. service members and their families. At the Marine Corps Base Smedley D. Butler, there are facilities designed for the families of service members who work within neighboring bases; Camp McTureous, for instance, is equipped with residences, gyms and sports fields, and an elementary school, offering a mini-America for the comfortable colonization of another country free of conscience.

Bushes of Adan create a dark long winding path. What is on the other side is hard to see. For someone who has never seen the pathway, this tunnel can be an intimidating scene. What lies on the other side is guided by the Yuta, the female dominant island shamans who feel the open sea and the far away dreams of their ancestors. In the present, the Yuta sees both the past and the future, the realm beyond the sea. The Niraikanai.

Photographer's Statement: 
Tinzake: Split Between Heaven and Earth is a project that stems from a larger investigative research project called Finding Ryukyu that started during my time as a graduate student at University of Maryland Baltimore County. 
As I investigated the multilayer history of Okinawa, war imagery from the island was unavoidable. The black and white photographs of the island's history and the ghostly sensibilities of the physical index of light lead me to want to capture my own images. I want my images to acknowledge the past but create narratives of a future that can heal the traumas I embody and in turn heal my ancestral line and the continuing generations.   Through the lens of the mechanical camera and the darkroom process, I want to slow down time to absorb, digest, and abject all of Okinawa, its present, its past, and its future.
AimiChinen's picture

Aimi Chinen is an artist born in Okinawa, Japan, former Ryukyu Kingdom, to a native mother and a United States Marine father. Through her work, she creates territories of contradiction exposing the realities of everyday gender, power and war. Her research focuses on Sosensuhai (Ancestors Worship), the militarization of Okinawan culture, and the process of tacit learning. From 2016-17, Aimi was the Curator-in-Residence for the Baltimore Feminist Art Project. She graduated with an MFA in Intermedia and Digital Art from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2019. Her work has received recognition from the Dorothea Lang-Paul Taylor Prize from Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies and the Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life (Joy of Giving something) Award. She is currently based in Baltimore, Maryland and has been teaching studio courses in ceramics and foundations at McDaniel College since 2019.