Yusuke Yamatani

ONSENーAssemblage,Environments & Happenings ー


2024 June 5th ~ June 28th

*June 14th wii be closed.
*This exhibition has ended.The next is scheduled for November.


* Open only Wed. Thur. and Fri 10am – 3pm
* Appointment Only
* The space is limited by only one person.
* Shoes are strictly prohibited in the space, so please wear socks.
* Donation needed for entry


Yamatani began photographing natural, unmaintained hot springs about fifteen years ago, around the time he first picked up a camera. He has continued to photograph hot springs to this day, and he recruits participants through friends, family and sometimes social media and zines. Onsen culture is very old in Japan. In the Nihon Shoki (finished 720) and Manyoshu (after 759), two of Japan’s oldest texts, Onsen are described as places where men and women drink together and deepen bonds through song. Yamatani believes that as he continued to take photos of the wild hot springs, he began to listen to the primitive age and travel beyond space, to other planets. This series is not only a photographic act that records the appearance of nature and humans transcending time. It is also an attempt to recapture the body itself in the environment—humans and the world anew.

About 15 years ago, I started walking in the mountains in search of natural hot springs across the country whenever I could. The roads to the wild springs were just as unmaintained as the springs themselves. Relying on books and the internet, I sought them out on foot and though I enjoyed finding them myself, I always wanted friends who shared the same interests. There was no deep meaning to this desire—it was the same desire as my childhood desire to build a secret base in the mountain behind my school. What changed was that I had aged. When I posted a call for participants on my social media, a few people would respond. At my exhibitions visitors would express their desire to participate directly. I gather such people and plan the search for the next hot spring. All the participants are people who have never met each other before. A semi-forced communication begins between people who have never met. Self-introductions and comportment to tell the story of who they are to the others. Some questions and a little bargaining to get to know the others. The excitement of starting a trip and the expectation of something out of the ordinary. A sense of solidarity that comes with having a common goal. A groove that is born transcends age and time. Perhaps it’s a groove that used to exist long ago.


Towards Paradise

Buddhism, using the theory of engi (which can mean omen, luck or interdependency) explains that all phenomena arise in relation to each other, in a state of constant change. Hence, all phenomena are impermanent and there is no fixed entity that can be grasped. Furthermore, if there was some kind of fixed entity, it would be something that is merely recognized by the human mind (the eight consciousnesses: the five senses, the region of conceptual thought, and the base consciousness), and the desire to seek truth in the outside world is an illusion. In other words, the essence of this fixed entity is “one’s own existence” and this fixed entity is nothing more than an expression of the impermanence that the mind is always aware of. The purpose of Buddhism is to be liberated from the suffering that one struggles due to this.

The photographic device is the observation device (which creates a new entity), but because the floating image is fixed by the support of the camera which itself is also impermanent, nothing is fixed. Because representation is impermanent, it is not good to talk about photography as real in a way that places too much trust in substances or entities. Also, from the perspective of consciousness, if the imprinted sensation from the photograph is stored in the base consciousness (ālayavijñāna), that sensation will unconsciously spread to behavior. This may be living AI, and we are being programmed. Reality and illusion are similar but not the same, and there remain agonizing issues. It is interesting when a photograph interacts head on with these issues and engages in a dialogue with the delusion of reality. Thus, it is truly enjoyable to take a photograph of the appearance of paradise (Amitabha’s Pure Land).

Buddhism teaches that the real world we talk about every day is a “virtual reality” and that “everything is empty, and reality appears as a screen of the self’s mind.” The conversion between the real and virtual that Buddhism seeks does not work so well due to the shared nature of social language in symbols and codes, similar to the story of Michel Foucault and René Magritte’s “This is not a pipe.”

According to the Buddhist understanding of Consciousness, which believes that the mind recognizes and creates the world in this way, the Amida Sutra, which describes Amitabha’s Pure Land may be a solid foundation for the metaverse world and may be a lesser known part of Buddhism. As ordinary people who cannot fully attain enlightenment, our desire to immerse ourselves in that state may be like a temporary sense of pleasure (a state of freedom) as we soak in a hot spring and cry, “Ah, paradise, paradise.”

The important thing is how to turn on the switch to paradise. The Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh taught that if we chant Namu Amida Butsu, paradise, Amitabha’s Pure Land will appear. Shinran taught that this world is already Paradise. Honen taught that faith in Nembutsu (the chanting of Namu Amida Butsu) will lead us to paradise. In any case, paradise may be what happens when our awareness switches.

It is easy to image Paradise as the opposite shore of “pain of things not going as planned,” a pain which arises out of everything being interconnected. However, the temporary paradise of such a place is probably merely simple hedonism that appears but briefly. Some people call the world we are in hell, but the more we recognize the world as such, the more we will crave that hell. In contrast however, I believe that if we can break free from attachment even a little, a paradise that arises from true self-illumination awaits.

Pure Land Buddhism is just like a public bus, with a feeling of “everyone goes together to Amitabha’s Pure Land.” Utopia is a sangha, a community, that pursues true freedom. Thus, let’s cast this shared feeling onto society. We, who commonly question the existence of existence will probably only realize the nature of real and reality when we finish our journey in life. Thus, we should enjoy being in a world of deconstructed real and reality in a nonexistent world and not get too attached to that question. This will prepare us for the future so that we may pass on one day. And as a way to share the self-illumination of the spiritual axis that is the self and to be liberated from suffering. Understand that transcendent freedom and paradise is a life of acknowledging the inseparable self. Break through the emptiness of fiction and enjoy our fictional reality. Because we were born as humans, and it is hard to be alive.


Born in Niigata Prefecture in 1985. In 2013, he self-published his first photo book, Tsugi no yoru e. Recent exhibitions include the 14th Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, 2022), the solo exhibition KAIKOO (Yuka Tsuruno Gallery, 2021), and VOCA Exhibition 2021 (The Ueno Royal Museum, 2021). Published works include ground (lemon books, 2014), RAMA LAMA DING DONG (private edition, 2015), Into the Light (T&M Projects, 2017), and Doors (Gallery Yamatani, 2020). His latest work, focused on hot springs, is ONSEN I (flotsam books, 2023).

*This exhibition has ended.The next is scheduled for November.