Video: Photographer Kosuke Okahara on Japanese Women Who Cut Themselves

For the past six years, freelance photographer Kosuke Okahara has been documenting the grave issue of self-injury among young Japanese women. According to a 2006 survey by Japan’s health ministry, one in seven Japanese women aged 20 to 24 have committed self-injury in one way or another, including cutting their own skin. 

“We cannot deny the possibility that pessimism has become a prevalent mood among young women particularly and that bitter feelings about society have caused them to harm themselves,” said Kunio Kitamura, who took charge of the survey.

Okahara uncovered lives of deep despair, haunted by violence and perpetuated by a “culture of shame.” “It’s not normal for a photographer to go into someones’ home, to live with them, take pictures, and see what's happening inside the family,” he said.

When I asked him how reacts when girls cut themselves while she's shooting, he said he asks them to stop. "There is ethics for journalism, but also ethics as a human being. "  

The theme of his work (and also the title of our multimedia project) is Ibasyo — which translates from Japanese into “the physical and emotional space in which people exist.”

While one would expect the photos to be graphic in nature, Okahara portrays these women with sensitivity and dignity. “As a photographer, its about story of recognizing the existence of people,” he said.

Okahara has covered powerful stories since he was 23, including Darfur genocide, Burmese rebels, and the Colombian drug trade. He’s currently documenting Japan's Fukushima zone after last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

In 2010, Okahara's Ibasyo was awarded the W. Eugene Smith Fellowship, sponsored by Asia Society.

About the Author

Profile picture for user Shreeya Sinha
Shreeya Sinha is an award-winning Journalist, Multimedia Producer and Social Media Editor for Asia Society. She was raised in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and India.