top コラムRecommended photobook20 Yusuke Yamatani "ONSEN Ⅰ" 山谷佑介『ONSEN I』

Recommended photobook

20 Yusuke Yamatani "ONSEN Ⅰ" 山谷佑介『ONSEN I』

John Sypal

While the Garden of Eden has for millennia been depicted as a lush, verdant paradise, photographer Yusuke Yamatani has discovered a primordial utopia in rocky, unmaintained, natural hot spring (onsen) sites hidden across Japan.   


His latest book, ONSEN I, offers a mesmerizing flow of images taken on hot spring trips over the past fifteen years. Yamatani’s sojourns led him beyond the (wonderfully) kitschy and commercial onsen towns of Japan with their towels and faucets into antediluvian landscapes- places which seem to exist on the other side of descriptive constricts like geology and history. His environments exist beyond time. 


In these steaming primordial soups, those which he’s photographed here (friends, family, and even people met online) are not individual people with jobs and problems and dreams and insurance policies but Humans.



Amongst the otherworldly landscapes these wet, naked, often smiling creatures of bones and flesh gleam- their smooth skin envelops curves of pregnant bellies or wraps tight a smooth back, holding taut over bones and sinew. 


To me these warm, human forms contrast with the environment in two ways- The most immediate is a matter of texture- the wet, plump ivory/pink human bodies possess a vulnerable smoothness that contrasts with the fissures and shards and cracks and mineral deposits which equally fascinate Yamatani. 

The second contrast I note is of a glorious insignificance found in that same fleshy vulnerability. Rocks live longer than people- and Yamatani’s photographs suggest the preciousness of existence in the face of overwhelmingly unknowable geological time and power. 


This might be Eden, but there are no apple trees in sight. Unlike Adam, the gift of knowledge bestowed here isn’t the harsh, sinful reality of the human world but the suggestion that such a thing can be negated with communal submergence into hot water and mystery. 


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A note on the book’s construction-   the printing has a zine-like feel, with deep colors of a laser printer. The book’s pale moon-like yellow cover is an original silkscreen. In hand it has a milky touch- and a textured pattern which was somehow taken directly from an onsen itself.   Finally, the book comes with a small fold-out poster- an invitation (via QR code!) to join Yamatani on a future trip.  

The book is, at the moment, quite affordable- but I have a hunch will be sought-after in the future. I bought my copy at So Books but one can get it at Flotsam Books in Tokyo as well- or order it online via Yamatani’s website or





最新作『ONSEN I』(flotsam books、2023年)は、15年間の温泉旅行で撮影された、魅惑的なイメージの数々を収録しています。山谷さんの旅は、タオルや蛇口が並ぶ日本のキッチュで商業的な温泉街を越えて、人間の倫理的制約の向こう側に存在するような、前世紀の風景へと導かれていったものです。土地の歴史というのは、私たちの時間を超えて存在しているのだと実感します。















♨️   ♨️   ♨️   ♨️   ♨️










この写真集は、現時点では非常に手頃な価格ですが、将来的に人気が出る予感がします。私は代々木上原にあるSO BOOKSで購入しました。東京のflotsam books(代田橋)でも手に入れることができますし、山谷さん自身のウェブサイトや、からオンラインで注文することもできます。ぜひご覧になってください。




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