Japanese researcher focuses on U.S. minorities, without reservation

A Japanese researcher whose worldview was shaped by a transcontinental journey in his youth has spent years chronicling the lives of Native Americans and other minorities in the United States.

“While moving across the continents to the west, just like a runaway boy, the faces of people I met changed,” Jun Kamata, 44, now an associate professor at Asia University in Tokyo, said of his two-month trip from China to Portugal in 1990.

Attracted by the diversity he saw, Kamata left for the United States after graduating from high school. It was there that he happened to become acquainted with indigenous peoples while studying at a rural community college in New Mexico.

The encounters eventually led him to transfer to the University of California, Berkeley, where he researched the lives of Native Americans, before earning a doctorate in urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Kamata has visited more than 100 reservations over the past 25 years to hear what Native Americans have to say about their history and present life. He always totes his camera.

“I never learned photography professionally. I put priority on building a good relationship when I visit reservations, and then I just wait for the chance to snap photos,” Kamata said.

His interests have expanded to other minority groups as well.

He recently published two photographic volumes: “Indigenous Peoples in America: Passing Memories Toward the Future” and “America — The Pride of Diverse Minorities

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