Made in Ryukyu: phantom camera that was witness to history

Made in Ryukyu: phantom camera that was witness to history

June 1 is “Photograph Day.” Seishin Oyama shows off his NEW PAX and smiles, saying, “This camera is my family heirloom.”

June 1, 2011 by Hutoshi Hanashiro of Ryukyu Shimpo

June 1 is “Photograph Day.” Before the return to Japanese sovereignty, cameras inscribed with the words “MADE IN RYUKYU” were produced in Okinawa. One such camera is the NEW PAX. Originally produced both for export and for sale to U.S. military personnel, at about US$12, production started in the Tomari area of Naha in 1963, but came to an end just two and a half years later in 1965 due to problems with the availability of the lens. Prized for its rarity, it is known as the “phantom camera.”

Its creator was the late Seiho Oyama, who passed away in 1996. Well known for discovering the Minatogawa man, the oldest example of modern Homo sapien in East Asia, he also founded the OK TRANSPORT Limited Partnership Company.

A NEW PAX, known as “the phantom camera.” Its back cover is inscribed with the words, “Made in Ryukyu.”

According to 59 year-old Seishin Oyama, second son of Seiho Oyama, his father emigrated to Canada, but then came back after the war to the devastation in Okinawa hoping to set up a business to help the Okinawan economy get back on its feet.

Seishin said, “Despite of its short time in production, the camera recorded two historically important events.” One is the excavation of the Minatogawa man, and the other is Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. When a friend of Oyama visited Czechoslovakia on holiday, he used his NEW PAX to take a picture of the invading Soviet tanks. The picture then appeared in newspapers in the main islands of Japan.

Ninety-three year-old Minoru Yamada, who owns a NEW PAX camera, said, “The camera was made during the Vietnam War. It has been witness to many of the historical events that have occurred between Okinawa and the United States. I really treasure mine.”
Sixty-nine year-old Takaaki Uehara, who also owns a NEW PAX, looked at his beloved camera, saying, “There are only few of them left. It is known as ‘the phantom camera.’ Those who know about it even come to take pictures of it.”

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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