Skip to navigation Skip to main content
Emily Bates

The Sky is glowing with the setting sun

Amami-Ōshima is the largest of the Amami Islands, set in the East China Sea, with Kakeroma, “Shadow Island”, nestling beneath it. Emily Bates has ventured there several times, and bonded with some of the women who are preserving the old traditions as best they can. The villages, which are often isolated because of the mountain terrain and the dense sub-tropical forests, each have their own rituals and language. The authorities are trying to develop tourism so that young islanders will stay there and have a future.

© Courtesy de l'artiste, Production Mudam Luxembourg. Vue d'exposition Photo : Aurélien Mole

The sky is glowing with the setting sun

In the south of Japan, on islands with jagged shores and dense sub-tropical forest, old women live in harmony with a vanishing world.
They sing ancient songs to soothe the waters, swell the harvests, and lull Habu, the poisonous snake, to sleep.
Their singing is accompanied by the throbbing beat of the traditional drum of those parts, the taiko.
They know the sacred rocks and enchanted tree trunks conducive to their rituals.
For nature is powerful.
She has always imposed her spirit.
Her fearsome convulsions frequently endanger the fragile balance of human progress.
The old women are the guardians of knowledge gathered over centuries.
They breathe with their island, becoming one with it.
Some are shamans.
They communicate with the spirits of the trees and the sea.
Their husbands do not share this power.
And most are sadly now deceased.
Many of their children have left the island and gone to cities - Kagoshima, Osaka, Tokyo.
But the voices of the old women are not the only ones to be heard.
The modern world has brought its noises and sirens, altering the slow pace of traditional island life.
Tourists come ashore. And chimes ring out, structuring the day.
The women continue to sing.
But do the spirits still listen?
The sun is setting on a world which Emily Bates reinvents as she explores it.
Enrico Lunghi


  • Enrico Lunghi