10 Great Japanese Photographers You Should Know

yuji hamada primal mountain japanese photographers

Note: Contains nudity.

Japan has a rich history in photography. Think back to the hazy and dislocated black and white imagery that came out of Tokyo in the 60s, a time that was defined by a younger generation struggling with their country’s past and future.

Presently, there are numerous names that have made their mark both at home and abroad in the US and Europe in fields such as fashion and fine art. Here I’ll be looking at a wide range of contemporary photographers, who with their own unique visions have influenced the world in different ways.

Top: Mt Fuji made out tinfoil by Yuji Hamada.
Rinko Kawauchi japan photography pink light
The delicate layout and subtle shades mark out the photographs of Rinko Kawauchi.

Rinko Kawauchi

The dreamy and ethereal photography of Rinko Kawauchi can be seen everywhere from book covers to the inside of New York galleries. Her work uses soft colours and simple compositions to draw the viewer into her pictures. Zen-like and minimalist, she is not to be ignored.

Mika Ninagawa japan photography fashion flowers
A riot of florals and colour by Mika Ninagawa pays tribute to Japan’s rich culture.

Mika Ninagawa

With her heavy use of saturated colours and floral imagery, the photographs of Mika Ninagawa are intoxicating creations. Shooting mostly in the fashion industry, her art is simultaneously a traditional and ultra modern view of Japan.

Takehito Miyatake japanese photography landscape colour
Dances of light across a deep blue river: the spellbinding artistry of Takehito Miyatake.

Takehito Miyatake

Takehito Miyatake is a Japanese photographer whose beautiful landscape imagery has an air of poetry about it. Whether he is shooting a forest alight with golden fireflies or a volcano in the midst of an eruption, he finds the magic in the natural world.

Hiroshi Sugimoto natural history museum new york
Frozen in time: Sugimoto shoots New York’s natural history museum.

Hiroshi Sugimoto

The diorama series of Hiroshi Sugimoto is a visually ravishing project shot within the world famous Natural History Museum in New York. The choice to shoot in black and white covers the primordial imagery (think cavemen and prehistoric landscapes) in a further layer of nostalgia.

Yuji Hamada primal moutain
Hamada and his visually engaging series “Primal Mountain.”

Yuji Hamada

Hamada created his “Primal Mountain” photographs after getting inspiration from a postcard a friend in Switzerland sent him of a picturesque snowy mountain. After finding the right raw materials near his home in Tokyo, he then composed the shot against a real sky, so as to blend the real with the fake, the foreign with the home.

Nobuyoshi Araki photographer black white nudity erotic
An example of the often shocking and fearless art of Arākī.

Nobuyoshi Araki

Often called by his nickname Arākī, this controversial Japanese snapper has been photographing seductive nudes and exploring sexuality with his camera for many decades. Shooting almost exclusively in black and white, his work can be analysed in the same light as Nan Goldin: both capturing natural and flash-heavy images of nudity.

Tokihiro Sato black white light mist japan
Sato lights up our world with a little bit of enchanting magic.

Tokihiro Sato

Known and admired for his captivating interpretations of light and space in his black and white pictures, Tokihiro Sato is without a doubt a master photographer. Filling mythical landscapes with different means of light, he fuses the human and the natural world in spellbinding fashion.

Motoyuki Daifu japan photography food mess
Hungry? Daifu chronicles the everyday lives of Japan in subversive fashion.

Motoyuki Daifu

Born in Tokyo in 1985, Daifu is part of a new wave of young photographers challenging the establishment through their own brand of exuberant non-conformity. He stuffs his frames with as much colour and objects as possible. For example, he documents his family life in full exposure with nothing hidden from view.

Yosuke Yajima photographer japan portrait neutral colur
Strong and simple portraits shot by acclaimed snapper Yosuke Yakima.

Yosuke Yajima

Photographer Yosuke Yajima has a strong minimalist aesthetic to his work. The portraits in particular stand out for the way Yajima strips them back. He goes in for subtle lighting, drained and neutral colours and expressionless looks on the subjects’ faces. Very interesting stuff.

Haruhiko Kawaguch nudity shocking plastic bags couple
Kawaguchi captures the restricting aspect of love and relationships.

Haruhiko Kawaguchi

It’s near impossible to mistake the work of Haruhiko Kawaguchi for any other contemporary photographer. The Tokyo artist has made his name by asking strangers back to his studio to be shot in claustrophobic plastic bags. The resulting imagery is quite shocking, and in the process he is making interesting points on the oppressive nature of love.

Images © respective photographers.
Christopher Smail

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Christopher is based in the UK, the former assistant editor of Illusion magazine. Follow the author @ and view more articles.