Art works depicting Japanese era on the Marianas on show

Three of Eijita Itakura’s twelve paintings that depict the lifestyle on Saipan during the Japanese era. Photo © Lori Lyn Lirio

THE Sugar King Foundation has donated to the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands 12 paintings that depicted the life on Saipan during the Japanese administration when sugarcane industry was still booming.

Keiichiro Saeki, Sugar King Foundation president, led last week’s opening of the Sugar King Era Art Exhibit at the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library.

The art works of Eijita Itakura will be at the JKPL for the entire month and will be transferred to the Northern Mariana Island Museum of History and Culture afterwards.

The paintings, according to Itakura, were products of his childhood memories and some of the period photos provided by the Sugar King Foundation.

“Four years ago at a Nanyo Kohatsu party, I was asked by Saeki to draw some old paintings,” said Itakura, who was born at a hospital in Garapan in 19333. The hospital is now the NMI Museum of the History and Culture.

The party was held annually for a group of people who were part of the factory of sugarcane and refined sugar in the Mariana Islands.

“My father was a teacher at Japanese elementary school. He was transferred at Rota elementary school. Then we moved to the island of Yap for three years and then lastly to Tinian,” Itakura said, adding he was only 10 years old when they moved to Japan.

The octogenarian painter said he accepted Saeki’s request to record the memories of Saipan during the Sugar King era. He said Saeki provided him some photos – in black and white – and started painting the sceneries of Saipan and Tinian and the people who worked at the sugarcane factory.

“I hope the paintings help the present and future generation of the Mariana Islands to study the great history of this land,” he said during the unveiling of the paintings.

Itakura said he started painting when he was 50 years.

Youichi Nuiizeki, Sugar King Foundation secretary/treasurer, said they wanted to donate something to the CNMI.

“We wanted something to remember the old days and these pictures sugarcane industry, at that time, was one of the biggest industries on the island.”

He said Itakura was suitable to make the paintings “because he has the memories of the old days.

There were pictures, but no colors at that time, but these colors were from his memories.”
Seaki, whose grandfather was Haruji Matsue – also known as the Sugar King, said he was asked by some officials of the NMI museum to assist in collecting exhibits.

“I donated albums and personal belongings of Matsue to the museum. I have also translated several books to English edited by my grandfather.”

He said he asked Itakura, an amateur artist, to paint some of the old days.

“Having lived here as a child and his passion as a painter have motivated him to take on the challenging task. The result are 12 paintings depicting the Sugar King Era in the Marianas.”

“I hope that these paintings will always be a part of the important memories of the long lasting relations between CNMI and Japan,” Saeki said.

Saeki thanked the JKPL director Erlinda C. Naputi and her staff for their assistance in organizing and hosting the exhibit.

Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter said “the paintings are important as it provide us with the perspective of life during that period from someone who lived here as a child.”

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