Atsushi Fujiwara: ‘Poet Island’ – Soul-Stirring Photos of Sanatoriums in Japan’s Nagashima Island

Atsushi Fujiwara is a Japanese photographer. He is the co-founder of and the main contributor to the Japanese photo magazine Asphalt. His work has been exhibited both in Japan and internationally.

Japan – I was an eight year-old child when I first visited this island. My parents brought me along to visit to my uncle, who served as general manager of the island sanatorium where Hansen’s disease patients were isolated. Though deeply impressed by the untouched natural beauty of the island, I also recall the anguish I felt in my young heart at the sad fate of its inhabitants (patients). Returning to the island thirty-five years later, this time as a photographer, I came across a poem: -Like luminescent fish dwelling in the darkness of the deep sea, there is no light until I alight from within    - Kaijin Akashi

The words of Kaijin Akashi, legendary pre-war poet and resident (patient) of this island, were familiar to me as the motto of a well-known cultural figure. That individual was the late film director Nagisa Oshima. These words had a great impact on me in my twenties when, although having determined to pursue a future in creative expression, I struggled yet to find sure footing.


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They had since lodged deeply in the back of my mind and remained there, dormant. Holding those reawakened words close to my heart, I visited the island every four years thereafter to continue shooting photographs. The preface to Kaijin Akashi’s collection of poems ‘Hakubyo’ closes with the following lines: Cut off from the human world, I came to understand it; and severed from the bounds of flesh, I learned to trust love. And when sight was taken from me, I saw lush mountains and lofty clouds rise before my mind’s eye. Leprosy was divine revelation as well. I walked through the island searching, in its buildings and scenery, for the traces and presence of those lamenting poets (patients).  

Written & Photographed by Atsushi Fujiwara

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