To read Kikuji Kawada’s photobook, The Map, is to take a journey — a journey into an essential part of Japan, her reconciliation with war years and her reflections on them. The book’s own title was thought-provoking. There are no maps in the book. Rather, abstract and sometimes indecipherable images — such as the walls of Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome — are presented as maps. In a sense, they are maps, you can wander into their hidden dimensions and get lost in them.
The Map (Chizu) was originally published on August 6, 1965 — the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was indeed the starting point of the book. However, it covers pretty much everything: metal scraps, possessions left behind by kamakazi pilots, the remnants of fortifications, dead soldiers, Coca Cola ad and bottle caps, TV sets that were results, one way or another, of the Second World War. My favorite was the above black and white picture of the Japanese flag, laying on the ground, soaked and wrinkled — which has a certain gravitas to it.
The Map is more than a book, it is an experience. In their magisterial review, The Photobook: A History, Martin Parr and Gerry Badger wrote: “No photobook has been more successful in combining graphic design with complex photographic narrative… various layers inside peeled away like archeological strata, the whole process of viewing the book becomes one of uncovering and contemplating the ramifications of recent Japanese history. … The Map combines powerful graphic design with a masterful photographic narrative exploring recent Japanese history — its imperialistic past, western-influenced popular culture, and brutally violent clash with the United States.