KCrush Interview with Atsushi Okada

January 25, 2023 | 2809 Visits


途方もない夢がかなうと不思議な気持ちになる。岡田敦は写真探求の末、野生の馬が生息する幻の島「ユルリ島」に導かれた。KCrush America Magazineとのインタビューで、彼は写真の旅や作品、魅惑の聖域「ユルリ島」を世界に伝えられる幸運について語りました。

It’s a mystery to behold when one’s wildest dreams come true. And this has been the case with Atsushi Okada, when his photography pursuit led him into the fairy island of Yururi-the phantom island inhabited by wild horses. In an interview with KCrush America Magazine, Atsushi Okada unwinds about his photography journey, his works, and fortunate opportunity of revealing the enchanted sanctuary, Yururi island, to the world through photo stories.


1. 世間では岡田さんの写真家としての一面が知られていますが、本当の岡田敦とはどのような人物でしょうか?

People only know you as Atsushi Okada, the photographer. But who really is Atsushi Okada?


People around me say that I am a quiet man. However, despite having been alive for nearly 40 years, I am still not sure what kind of person I really am. I guess you could say I keep taking pictures because I don’t really know myself. Photography is a way for me to understand myself and the world I live in.


2. 写真を始めたきっかけは何でしょうか?また、岡田さんにとって写真とは何ですか?

How did you get into photography and what is photography to you?


I have loved drawing pictures since I was a child. I always felt comfortable spending time alone creating something. Eventually, that moved from drawing to photography. However, it doesn’t feel like I am doing something completely different. I guess photography became more compatible with my way of expression. People stop drawing in as they grow up. However, I still like the times when I can forget myself in the face of a blank piece of paper, just as I did back then. That has now changed to “photographs” instead of “paper and pencil”.


3. 最初の作品である写真集『I am』は、最も権威のある木村伊兵衛写真賞を受賞されました。この写真集はどのような思いで作られたのでしょうか?

Your first work, the “I am” book, credited you the most prestigious national award, the Kimura Ihei Award. What’s the inspiration behind the book?

『I am』は20代半ばに作った作品です。写真集にはたくさんの日本の若者のポートレートが収められています。女性のヌード写真がメインです。その写真の中には、自らの体を自分で傷つけた痕跡が腕に残る女性の姿もあります。若者が抱く特有な「生への希求」のようなものに、自分が20代のうちに写真を撮るという行為を通して向き合ってみたかったのです。

“I am” is a work I made in my mid-twenties. The photo book contains portraits of many young Japanese people – mainly female nude photos. Among them, there is a woman who has marks on her arms from hurting herself. I wanted to confront the unique “desire for life” that young people have through the act of taking photographs while I was still in my twenties.

I am



4. ユルリ島はメディア規制により、最も人里離れた島の一つです。どのようにして、そのような島へアクセスできたのでしょうか?

Yoruri Island is one of the most secluded islands owing to the media restrictions. How did you gain access to such a haven?




Yururi Island is an uninhabited island off the coast of Nemuro City in Hokkaido, the easternmost point of Japan’s mainland. Although it is a small island with a circumference of only about 8 km, the island is designated as a natural monument as a breeding ground for seabirds. As such, landing on the island is severely restricted.

I learned about the existence of Yururi Island around 2009. An editor I was close to in Tokyo told me that there is apparently an island at the eastern end of Japan where only horses live. But at the time, no one in Japan was aware of it. Even I, who was born in Hokkaido where Yururi Island is located and lived there until I was 19, did not know of its existence.

So, it was very difficult to get permission to go to the island, and there was very little information regarding it too. After two years of negotiations, I was able to cross over to the island for the first time in 2011. There is no port on the island, so we were taken by fishermen in a small fishing boat that could dock there.


5. ユルリ島の遺産を紹介できることは、写真家にとってどのような意味があるのでしょうか?

What does the opportunity of showcasing the heritage of Yoruri Island mean to you as a photographer?




I will never forget the first time I visited the island of Yururi and saw a group of horses standing in an uninhabited grassland. It was as though I had stumbled across creatures from a myth passed down from generation to generation. Yururi Island was covered with such unbelievable sights.

The only man-made object on the island is a lighthouse. There is not a single road made for humans to walk on. Misty grasslands spread out before my eyes. Only horses lived quietly in this meadow where humans rarely set foot.

I decided to capture that beauty in my photographs. Rather than going just once, I wanted to visit the island over a long period of time, to photograph the horses that lived there. Yururi Island had only female horses, and so they were sure to go extinct one day. I wanted to keep the beautiful scenery and the horses alive in my photographs, even though they would inevitably disappear.


6. ユルリ島に向かう前、世界中のファンが英語のウェブサイトをリスエストするほど、自分の作品が話題になると想像していましたか?

Before heading to Yoruri Island, did you expect there to be so much buzz from the works you were to produce; to the point that global fans would demand an English website?

それはまったく想像していないことでした。私がユルリ島に興味を持った2009年頃は、インターネットで「Yururi Island」と日本語で検索しても、ほとんど情報がでてこなかったのですから。日本人でも知らなかった小さな島に対し、海外の人が関心を寄せてくれるとは思ってもいませんでした。

It was something I had not imagined at all. When I first became interested in Yururi Island in 2009, there was almost no information available about it on the Internet. I did not expect that people from overseas would be interested in a small island that even Japanese people did not know about.

Yururi Island



7. 写真家としての人生をユルリ島の美しさを伝えることに捧げているということですが、どのような日常生活を送っているのでしょうか?

Given that you dedicated your photography life to showcasing the beauty of Yoruri Island, what’s your daily routine like?


I usually live in Tokyo. I only go to Yururi Island for photography a few times a year. However, since I have been visiting the island for more than 10 years, I have accumulated a huge number of photos and videos up until now. I spend my days thinking about what I can do to ensure that they will not just end up being consumed and forgotten, but will continue to exist in this world 10 or 50 years from now. Perhaps it is because I live in Tokyo – a city surrounded by skyscrapers – that I so frequently think about the sight of those horses, standing in a meadow, on a small island on the edge of the world.



8. 長い間、ユルリ島の本当の姿は謎に包まれていました。10年以上にわたるユルリ島での経験から、ウェブサイトの『ユルリが“幻の島”である理由』の章でも紹介されています。ユルリ島を写真でしか見ることができない私たちに、島を一言で表現するとしたら、どのように表現されますか?

The island’s real image has remained a mystery to the world for the longest. You have had an experience of over 10 years in Yoruri Island, and have documented about it including in the The Reason Why Yururi is a “Lost Island” chapter of the Yururi Island Website. How would you describe it in few words for us who only see it in pictures?


I am currently being interviewed about Yururi Island, but I do not know at this moment if the horses are even still on that island. It is unknowable. That is why I think its existence is precious and beautiful. And I do not even know if what I consider beautiful still exists in this world. So, I guess we could call it almost “Lost island”. The beauty of Yururi Island is not as simple as “horses on an uninhabited island”.


9. ユルリ島はよく『馬だけが住む島』と表現されます。10年以上この島に住み、旅をしてきた岡田さんなら、この言葉を証明できますか?

Yoruri Island is often described as “an island inhabited only by horses”. Having lived and travelled around the island for over a decade, would you attest to this saying still today?



We cannot prove that. Because at this moment, I cannot verify that there even is a horse on the island. That’s why sometimes I wonder if this is just one long dream. The island known as Yururi may very well be real, but whether the horses and the scenes I found so beautiful really exist at all…

To me, Yururi Island is a very sacred place. I think of it as a kind of sanctuary in the small port town of Nemuro, where Yururi Island is located. Therefore, I consider it to be an island that humans should not easily be able to set foot on. Myself included, of course. That’s why, from now on, I will not go there without a reason. The beauty of Yururi Island is so delicate that it would be destroyed immediately if humans were to set foot on it so easily.


10. 来年には、ユルリ島の興味深い情報を写真とともに綴った本が出版される予定です。また、美術館での展覧会も予定されています。人里離れた島で10年以上にわたり人生を捧げてきて、今どのように感じますか?また、この本についても教えてください。

Next year, the website; where you document interesting information about Yoruri Island coupled with photographs, is set to be published alongside an exhibition at the public art museum. How does that make you feel after dedicating your life on a secluded island for over 10 years and what would you tell us about this incoming book?



The book on Yururi Island will be published in the spring of 2023. It will be very important in my life because it is proof that the world I saw existed. If it does not exist as a book, the story I am telling now about Yururi Island may be no different than the dream I had yesterday.

In the summer, I will hold an exhibition of Yururi Island at an art museum in Hokkaido. I think it is very important to talk about Yururi Island within the framework of “art”. Because 10 years from now, there may be no more horses on the island. In fact, they may already be gone. But even so, every time my work is exhibited in a museum, people will remember the island and talk about the horses that were there. I believe that the horses of Yururi Island will live on through my works, not to be forgotten, but to be passed on.


11. ユルリ島撮影以降の作品としては、『MOTHER(2014年)』、『安田章大写真集 LIFE IS(2020年)』などがあります。作品は北海道立近代美術館などの美術館でパブリックコレクションされています。これらの作品は、ご自身がユルリ島に滞在していたことが影響しましたか?

Some of the works you have created since ensuing the Yoruri Island photography include “MOTHER” in 2014 and “Shota Yasuda Photo Collection: LIFE IS” in 2020. The artwork is also in the public collection of museums such as Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art. Were these works influenced by your stay in Yoruri Island?


写真集『MOTHER』は2014年に出版しましたが、この作品を撮影したのは2008年頃です。『MOTHER』は一人の女性の出産の過程を鮮明に追った作品です。人間が産まれてくる瞬間を撮りたいと思ったのは、その前年の2007年に、写真集『I am』を出版したことが影響しています。

『安田章大写真集 LIFE IS (2020年)』で撮影した安田さんは、日本で有名なアイドルです。「関ジャニ∞」(Kanjani Eight)という、日本で最も人気のあるアイドルグループのメンバーでもあります。10年以上前から私の作品を好きだと言ってくれていて、それがきっかけで安田さんの写真集を撮影しました。アイドルの写真集というよりは、1冊の芸術作品として二人で制作しました。安田さんはとても感受性が豊かで、心の優しい人です。

Visiting Yururi Island from Tokyo has had a big impact on my life. All of my works have influenced me in the same way. So, to some extent, I think all of my works have influenced each other.

My photo book “MOTHER” was published in 2014, but I shot this work around 2008. “MOTHER” is a work that vividly follows the process of one woman’s childbirth. My desire to capture the moment a human is born was influenced by the publication of my photo book “I am” the year before, in 2007.

Mr. Yasuda, photographed in “Shota Yasuda Photo Collection: LIFE IS (2020)”, is a famous idol in Japan. He is also a member of the most popular idol group in Japan, known as “Kanjani Eight”. He has told me that he has liked my work for more than 10 years, which led me to shoot his photo book. Rather than the photo book of an idol, we worked together to produce it as a work of art. Mr. Yasuda is a very sensitive and kind-hearted person.




12. 『THE WORLD』はとても芸術的です。どのような思いで作られたのでしょうか?

“THE WORLD” work is quite artistic. What was the inspiration behind it?

私がこれまで発表してきた作品は、作品によって被写体が異なっているように見えるかもしれません。しかし、私の中では全てが繋がっています。そうした意味では、『THE WORLD』という作品は、私のそれぞれの作品を分かりやすく結びつけていると言えるでしょう。『THE WORLD』には、出産の光景も、自傷行為をする若者の姿も、2011年に日本を襲った大震災の傷跡も、全てが同じ枠組みの中で写真で語られています。作品のタイトルは「私の世界」という意味ではありません。「私」が生きているこの「世界」を、写真を撮るという行為を通して認識しようと試みたのです。

In the works I have presented so far, the subject may seem different depending on the piece. But in my mind, everything is connected. In this sense, I would say that “THE WORLD” connects each of my pieces in an easy-to-understand way. In “THE WORLD”, stories of childbirth, self-harm, and the earthquake that hit Japan in 2011 are all told through the same medium of photographs. The title of the work does not mean “my world”. I tried to perceive this “world” in which “I” live, through the act of taking photographs.




13. 写真を撮影する以外の時間は、どんなことをしてリフレッシュしていますか?

When not doing photography, what do you like doing to rejuvenate?


This is a difficult question. I don’t think of creating my work as a job. Therefore, there is no ON and OFF for me that separates when I’m working and when I’m not working. I guess since I am not able to switch between them easily, I never really stop creating something. If I had to choose something, then the time I spend late at night drinking and thinking about the work I am currently making is probably the most rejuvenating time for me.



14. ユルリ島のドキュメンタリーを通して、どのようなことを達成したいですか?

What do you hope to achieve through Yoruri Island documentaries?




I have no desire to achieve anything. I did not start taking pictures of Yururi Island because I was asked to do so for work. So, I did not go to the island for money or to make a living. Rather, it’s something I personally have spent a huge amount of time, energy, and money on.

If someone asks me “what is the purpose of taking pictures of Yururi?”, I would not be able to explain it in a simple way. I don’t think it’s something other people will understand.

I don’t know what will happen to Yururi Island in the future. I don’t know if there will still be horses on the island in 10 years, or if they are already gone. So, I think leaving this piece behind is the only thing I can do.


15. 写真家として、個人の作品やユルリ島について、今後の展望をお聞かせください。

What are your future plans as a photographer, with regards to your personal works and Yoruri Island?




I am currently preparing for a book on Yururi Island to be published this spring and an exhibition to be held at a museum in Japan this summer. I can’t imagine what will happen beyond that. I don’t even know when I will next visit the island.

But back in 2011, when I first traveled to Yururi Island, I never imagined that 10 years later the American media would be asking me about it. In the same way, there may come another time in the future that I never would have even imagined would happen. For example, in a few years, there might be an exhibition of Yururi Island in an American museum. I look forward to such a future.

Thank you for asking about Yururi Island. I am glad that people in the US know about this small island in a corner of Japan.




Okada Atsushi / Photographer

Born 1979 in Hokkaido, Japan. Graduated from the Department of Photography, Faculty of Art, Osaka University of Arts in 2003, and received his doctorate (Art) from the Graduate School of Arts, Tokyo Polytechnic University in 2008. In the same year, he won the Kimura Ihei Award, also known as the “Akutagawa Prize of the photography world.” He has also won the Hokkaido Cultural Encouragement Award, the Higashikawa Awards Special Photographer Award, and the Fuji Photo Salon New Face Award. His published works include “I am” (AKAAKA Art Publishing, 2007), “ataraxia” (Seigensha Art Publishing, 2010), “THE WORLD” (AKAAKA Art Publishing, 2012), “MOTHER” (Hakurosha, 2014) and “Yasuda Shota Photo Collection: LIFE IS” (Magazine House, 2020). His works are in the public collections of the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, the Kawasaki City Museum and the Higashikawa Bunka Gallery. He has been photographing Yururi Island since 2011.




Yururi Island / The island of lost world





—-Karen Mwenda


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