27 June 2017

Timeless Beauty in Japan

27 June 2017 - Written by Gemma Padley

Masako Tomiya's lyrical and contemplative photobook, Kito meditates on the themes of family, time, and nature.

© Masako Tomiya, from the book, Kito

Founded only within the last few years, Paris-based independent publishing house Chose Commune has quickly made a name for itself as a producer of fine photography books that feature fascinating subject matter realised in imaginative and well-crafted ways. Its titles, which include Astres Noirs by Sarker Protick and Katrin Koenning, and by Vasantha Yogananthan (who co-founded the imprint) are the epitome of sophistication and elegance; one gets the sense that each title is lovingly crafted from start to finish.

And Kito by Masako Tomiya is no different. The care and attention that has gone into making this book is immediately apparent from the colourful cover artwork by Japanese artist Satsuki Shibuya. Light, airy and dreamy, the splashes of colour waft across the cover from front to back as though they were feathers floating on a breeze. It sets the tone perfectly for what follows. Tomiya’s photographs are rendered in black and white, but they possess the same airiness and ethereal feel as Shibuya’s artful cover.

© Masako Tomiya, from the book, Kito

Born in the Tsugaru region of Aomori Prefecture, Japan, in 1981, Tomiya took up photography while at high school and went on to study photography at Osaka University of Arts and later at Tokyo College of Photography. In 2013 she published her first photobook, Tsugaru, featuring her meditative and enigmatic series of photographs of her home region - made over an eleven-year period - which ponder the themes of nature and the passing of time through the depiction of landscape, people, and place.

There is a similar sense of calmness, stillness, perhaps, to Kito: Japanese for ‘homeward’. As the publisher points out, this word can be rearranged as ‘toki’, which means ‘time’. Indeed, Tomiya’s latest work riffs on the notion of the passing of time, and the changes it ushers in - namely to family life and to identity. With Tsugaru, Tomiya poetically asks what the most important thing is in this era of continuous change, and for Kito we can ask the same question and find that ‘family’ is perhaps the answer.

© Masako Tomiya, from the book, Kito

For the work itself was inspired by Tomiya’s family. After living in Tokyo for several years, one day she received the news that her sister and sister-in-law were both expecting. So began her meandering visual journey into family life and the ebb and flow of nature, the result of which would lead to Kito, comprising staged self-portraits alongside images of her mother, sisters and their offspring, going about their everyday lives.

What Tomiya discovers is what the finest photographers for generations have long known: that there is great beauty to be found in the mundane everyday. For nothing remarkable happens in Kito, but conversely, everything is remarkable. Dandelions - among the commonest most unremarkable of plants - become mysterious and magical in front of Tomiya’s lens, gently backlit as they are here. Elsewhere, light catches what looks to be a monument, lighting it up in such a way as to make it almost divine. Grasses blowing in the wind and their accompanying shadows come alive, and even a tiny frog clutching the netting across a window is enchanting. As many Japanese artists have shown before and will surely show in future, it’s the simple things in life that are often the most magical.


Kito by Masako Tomiya

Publisher: Chose Commune // Date of Publishing: 30 June 2017

Essay: Masako Tomiya // Design: Bureau Kayser // Cover artwork: Satsuki Shibuya

Edition: First Edition of 1000 copies



Masako Tomiya is a documentary photographer and founder of publishing label, Hakkoda.

Gemma Padley is a photography writer and editor based in the UK.

Written by

Gemma Padley

Reading time

4 minutes