Black Lives Matter.

There’s nothing I can say about the Black Lives Matter movement that hasn’t been said somewhere else online. If you have followed any of my social media accounts, you know where I stand. You may also know how I feel about police states and carceral systems. Not just in America, which runs on white supremacy, but my tiny island nation of Jamaica as well. It’s a very complex issue that has found ground far and wide. But that’s not what I’ll be writing about today.

On the 21st of June, there was a Black Lives Matter March in Tenjin, Fukuoka in Japan. I was fortunate enough to be able to take part and document it. 

Left to right: Riane Victoria, Athena Lisane and Bako Nguasong

I’ll be focusing on the efforts started by some brave women, Bako Nguasong , Athena Lisane and Rianne Victoria. They came together to organize one of the few BLM marches held in Japan in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. 

This march was not centred on just Floyd. All the most recent victims of American police officers were mentioned, as they all deserve to have their names heard. 

I say “deserve”, but we shouldn’t have to do this in the first place. It should never have had to happen. They should be alive. The afternoon started with everyone gathering in Tenjin Park to listen to Bako and Athena speak. You could hear the emotion in their voices as they reiterated the importance of what was being done and why it was necessary. 

The crowd kneeled in solidarity as they observed a moment of silence. They were then directed to view photos and the victims of police violence, and to read their stories at a small exhibition that was set up. People were able to learn the stories of the victims, speak with organizers, and gain a greater appreciation and understanding for the day’s events.

A note on marches in Japan; as a non-resident, we do not have a constitutional right to protest. We aren’t allowed to protest the government itself (it’s in some of our job contracts). As a result, marches are held. A permit is needed from the city office, and police personnel have to be on site. The officers on the site helped to coordinate some modicum of social distance. Athena stood at the start of the line of approximately 500 people, bullhorn in hand. They practised chants with the crowd while Bako walked alongside them. And then, the march began. Attendees held up their signs, chanting in unison while they marched through the streets of Tenjin. While they didn’t have the numbers that similar marches up north had, they had the spirit and the energy. 

The march ended back in Tenjin Park, as energetic as when it began. There were more speeches, with some from members of the crowd, speaking on their experiences or showing solidarity. It was a powerful day. 

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to racism in Japan. While it doesn’t have the same level of violence as other countries in the global north, it’s far from harmless. Microaggressions are the order the day, as well as employment and housing discrimination. I’ve never faced it personally, but I know many who have. It’s the climate in which we live. It is safer, but not ‘safe’. 

The support the march received from not just the attendees, but people on the streets who cheered with the crowd wasvery heartening. Although racism isn’t a topic that is spoken on enough in Japan, we can see that the narrative has slowly but surely began to change. For that, I’m grateful.

This post is anything but poetic. There’s nothing profound to be found in these words, as I’m just relaying, roughly, the events of the march. If I began to write about Black Lives Matter as a whole, there would be too many words; you can follow my twitter account for that kind of stream-of-thought discussion. There was a great turnout, and the organizers, not just Bako and Athena, but everyone who put in the work to make it happen, did a tremendous job. I’m proud of them, and I’m happy I was able to play a part in documenting parts of it.  Please go to the the Black Lives Matter Fukuoka Facebook Page and Instagram Page.  You can also read more about the Black Lives Matter movement and racism in Japan in this article from the New York Times.


Now here’s some information for the folks who love film. I captured a few frames with my Mamiya M645 1000s using Kodak Portra 400 120 film. If you know the camera, you know it’s… slow. Shooting medium format film with a 40-year-old camera with no autofocus, while in motion, is a challenge. But it’s one that I’m glad I took on. I didn’t meter that day; my cellphone was dying, and I don’t own a handheld light meter.  So I kept the Sunny 16 rule in mind (I barely understand it myself). But I find that after some years of shooting and metering with digital, it has translated to shooting film; thank goodness. Apart from a few focus issues (my fault) I think they came  out fine. When shooting medium format film, you need to have a steady hand and eye. You focus as best you can, hold your breath, wait for the right moment… and then you take the shot. There’s no focus beep. No light within the viewfinder guiding your process. It’s you, your nerves, your eyes, your reflexes, all working in tandem to make each frame count.

The negatives were developed by Matsuo Photo Studio in Yame, and I scanned the negatives via DSLR and did the colour conversion myself. On another day I’ll run through my process of scanning and my overall journey with film photography thus far. There is a cliche about shooting film, wherein people will tell you it gives you the chance to slow down and appreciate what you’re photographing. While it can be a mixed bag, there is some merit to it. This was a wonderful opportunity to test my limits and capture an important and moving event for many, and it’s an experience I’ll cherish.

You can view the film images below.

Bako Nguasong (left) speaking to the attendees in Tenjin Park, Fukuoka.

Athena Lisane (2nd left) speaking to the crowd inTenjin Park, Fukuoka.

Athena Lisane (left) leading the chants for the march.

Athena Lisane (left) leading the chants for the march.

Left to right: Riane Victoria, Athena Lisane and Bako Nguasong

Using Format