DAWN – Yu Yamauchi / Photographer

A Record of 600 Days-How He Revealed the Unseen Face of Mt. Fuji.

Naoki Yoshioka
Naoki Yoshioka

XAMOSCHi Chief Editor

Establisher of tempo, Inc. a web production company. Naoki has been in the web industry ever since he established the company in 2000. He specializes in tech, culture and also loves international movies and literature. Naoki is also keen on studying old Japanese material arts (Sousuishiryu-Kumiuchi-Koshinomawari: Seirenkan and Aikido: Aikikai) and continues his training until today.
Yu Yamauchi lived in a small hut for 600 days to photograph Mt. Fuji. His art won the highest praise when it was released to the world. Mr. Yamauchi shows a a previously unseen side of Mt. Fuji. In this interview, we will explore the secrets of his art.(by XAMOSCHi staff)

Yu Yamauchi, who has loved taking pictures since he was a child, began taking different kinds of photos when he was in junior high school and would regularly make them into a series. Yamauchi says, “At the time, it was interesting to find that the way I see things is not exactly the way they come out on film.”


After he completed his studies in college, Yamauchi experienced working as an assistant for a photography studio. He then realized that he was not the type to take commercial photos and wondered if he should continue photography. When he heard from a friend that they were looking for someone to work at a lodge in Mt. Fuji, he decided to go, because he was planning to travel anyway. But there he met a person who would change his life.



Tsuguhiro Seki(関 次廣), who ran Taiyoh-kan(大陽館), a lodge at the seventh station of Mt. Fuji, did not like the modern ways of climbing Mt. Fuji or the lodges. The visitors would spend the night at the lodge and head for the peak while it was still dark to see the sunrise. Then they would take pictures of the sunrise and hastily leave.


In our everyday lives, we unconsciously see the world through a frame that matches the scales of human society. However, Mt. Fuji, 3776 meters away from daily human life, is a different world. There, we stand in a world of pure nature without the frame made of a man’s scale. There, there is a chance to realize who you really are, and what the world really is. Seki thought that this kind of opportunity, for a person to be able to feel that he is a part of the universe, was the true meaning of climbing a mountain. This kind of thinking is lacking in recent Mt. Fuji climbers. Most people would climb Mt. Fuji as an extension of everyday life and cut out a memory seen through their own frame. In such a way of thinking, there is no chance to stand in the middle of pure nature or meet the truth of the world.


Yamauchi was struck by Seki’s way of thinking. Seki was ill at the time, and Yamauchi thought that he would like to capture the works of Seki as a photographer. He felt it was his destiny to do so. There was no generator in Taiyoh-Kan and they were the only lodge that used a solar panel as their energy source. This was so that the lodge, which at times is responsible for the mountain climber’s life, would be able to run without depending on fuel for the generator. They also advised climbers not to climb a mountain while it was still dark. Moreover, the lodge was open for a long period aside from the peak season. They avoided the season where 300 thousand visitors would come in a 2 month period. Instead, they wanted to create an opportunity for climbers to see the true Mt. Fuji.


After a long time, Yamauchi realized his wish to spread Seki’s work. In 2014, the photos of Seki taken by Yamauchi were made into a book called “Living above the Clouds(『雲の上に住む人』, Say-zan-sya Publicayion ltd.)”. The same year, Yamauchi was invited to the Sustainable Summits Conference in Colorado, U.S.A., to make a report on the current status of Mt. Fuji and to introduce the work of Taiyoh-Kan. “Maybe Mt. Fuji called on me to do this,” Yamauchi said later.


However, it was not just for this that Mt. Fuji called on Yamauchi.



While years went by, spending 5 months a year on Mt. Fuji, something in Yamauchi started to change. Life in the mountains had no frame of human society. He would collect rain water, carry supplies of food, and light fires. The sun would rise from a sea of clouds, the moon would shine from the shadows of Mt. Fuji, and the earth would support him. He started to feel as if he was floating in space. The sun shone brightly, the clouds rose, the rain fell. He would drink the water, and then he would breathe. All of those proved that the universe maintains compete balance and connection. He was able to realize that humans are a part of it. Various kinds of concepts were peeled off within Yamauchi, and he felt as if he was being released. Thinking about photography seemed like something so small. If you were a part of nature, then the action of taking photos should be accepted as a natural phenomenon.


Yamauchi says, “I was able to believe that I could let nature take over on more things.” He decided to let chance take over, and started photographing without considering if it was positive, negative, or monochrome film in his camera. He would then point the shutter towards the mountain clouds that had a different look every day. The photos would be Cross processed, where photos lose their color balance and their contrast becomes stronger. You can’t tell what will appear in the photo until you develop it.


Wasn’t he anxious about not being able to know what would appear in his photo? Yamauchi said, “That’s how photos are.” Then I realized that the reason Yamauchi became attracted to photos in his early teens was for the same reason.


“My job as the so-called ‘usual’ photographer starts in the process after printing,” Yamauchi says. After the result of nature’s work is settled in the film, and when I print the photo, that is the first time I start to interpret the thing that nature tried to capture. One time, there was a photo I printed upside-down by mistake. The black crumpled ground was like the universe, and the sky that reflected the sun’s light was like the Earth’s surface. Yamauchi believed that he was made to capture the Earth as seen from space.



Along the way he formed this kind of connection with photos, and while he continued his work, he had another special experience. When he visited Hokkaido for work, he went to see a friend who just had a baby. The moment Yamauchi saw the newborn child, he realized that his past encounter with this couple was inevitable for the birth of this new life. He was shocked to find that the past coincidence was, by miraculous odds, an inevitable event for the present.


If all events are meant for future happenings, then the past events that created such a beautiful thing must be a miracle seen from the future. And, it means that this moment is a miracle seen from the future. He felt as if it was a wire of light. All existence is tied onto the wire of light and leads to one another. The light makes all in to a whole. This is the reason his photos show phases that seem to be planned by nature. They are actions of this wire of light. Nothing makes more sense. Continuously taking photos of the light of dawn is a photographer’s attempt to grasp the colors of the world by illustrating the light.



This is how he created his pieces on the expressions of the clouds on Mt. Fuji. They were praised widely and spread Yamauchi’s name rapidly.


Did Yamauchi ever take photos of Mt. Fuji again? I asked.


“I feel as if I’ve seen everything that Mt. Fuji wanted to show me,” Yamauchi said without hesitation. “I don’t know if I will ever be called back there again”. Yamauchi may never take photos of Mt. Fuji again, because a new subject has already called him.


After he felt the wire of light, he went seeking for the light in nature and entered the forests of Yakushima. However, taking a photo of the light in the forest will not show the shapes of the overflowing life there. On the contrary, while waking in the woods, the heart starts thinking of various things, and the heart leaves the forest.


There is a moment when his consciousness is suddenly pulled back to the forest. Yamauchi says that the forest looks terrifying in those moments. He thinks that such an aspect could be a projection of his own mind. This means that by taking photos of the trees of this forests, he is taking a photo of himself. His heart, which he thought overflowed with light, actually seems to have obstacles. Mt. Fuji showed him the world outside of himself. Maybe a forest would show him his inner-self. In the forests, Yamauchi now seeks to grasp his own heart that is blocking his inner light.

Yu Yamauchi (http://www.yuyamauchi.com/)

(b. Hyogo, 1977)Mr. Yamauchi began as a self-taught photographer at age fourteen.His fist book of photographs, Dawn (『夜明け』, Akaka Art Publishing, Inc.), was released in fall, 2010, followed by Living Above the Clouds (『雲の上に住む人』, Sayzansha Publications, Ltd.) in summer, 2014.Currently residing in Nagano, he finds time to display his work both in Japan and overseas.

YOUNG PORTFORIO 2011 / selected
International Photography Award 2009 Fine art /Honorable Mention(USA)
New Cosmos of Photography 2008 / Fine Work
Color imaging contest 2006 / specially selected

Public Collection
Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts.(2011) 

Yu Yamauchi – Dawn

Tankobon Hardcover
Publisher: Akaaka; 2nd edition (2012)
ISBN-10: 4903545792
ISBN-13: 978-4903545790
Product Dimensions: 11.9 x 9.1 x 0.6 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds


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