Ricardo Nagaoka‘s photographs from ‘A Distant Land’ introduce us, or at least me, to a little known history. A story of immigration between Japan and Paraguay in the mid 20th Century. Nagaoka is himself a third generation Japanese man whose grandparents arrived in Paraguay in the late 1950’s part of a diaspora that was intent on escaping from a country that was both physically devastated and psychologically traumatised after World War II. A nation that was only coming to terms with the withdrawal of the American army and occupational government in 1952.
For these Japanese pioneers it was to the earth that they turned to for sustenance and, over the following decades, cultivated a new life in the rich soil of Paraguay. And it’s this dichotomy, between his adopted homeland and the country of his forefathers, that gives rise to these photographs from ‘A Distant Land’, pictures that seek to explore the evolution of the Japanese community in this South American country. Here’s what he has to say about his project:
June 25th, 1936, a boat with 4 separate families from Japan arrives in Paraguay. These 33 people were part of the first wave of Japanese immigrants in the Paraguayan landscape, the group that began to work the land in hopes of developing an agricultural way of life.
After the events of World War II, Japan needed to disperse its citizens in light of their postwar conditions. It was in the second wave of immigrants, from 1953 to 1963, that my grandparents arrived to make a new life on the foreign land of Paraguay. The deep, burgundy, iron rich soil of Paraguay became a home for thousands of immigrants. Fields were sowed, and from the fertile landscape bloomed hopeful generations of men and women.
I too came from the same ground.
Growing up as a third generation Japanese person in Paraguay a sansei as the Japanese would call me has led me to question the importance of my cultural identity as successive generations are born and old ones pass away. These images are part of a continuing documentation of the Japanese diaspora in Paraguay as they undergo a generational transition; a meditation of cultural delineations, historical frameworks, and the effects of rapid globalization. This body of work is not seeking truths, whether objective or subjective, but rather reflecting, reframing, and recontextualizing the world I was thrust upon.