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Kai Keijiro: Clothed in Sunny Finery

Born in 1974, Fukuoka, Japan. Currently lives and works in Tokyo, Japan.


The sound of two human bodies colliding in a fight can be frightening. Imagine hearing the sound of a thousands bodies clashing. Being pressed uncomfortably against a writhing mass of sweaty, slimy skin reeking of body odor is terrifying.

The documentary series Clothed in Sunny Finery by Kai Keijiro is capturing the martial rituals from the perspective of the people involved in the festivals commonly referred to as “Hadaka” festivals (“Saidaiji Kaiyo” in Okayama Prefecture, “Zaru Yaburi Shinto” in Mie Prefecture, “Kuroishiji Su-min Festival” in Iwate Prefecture, and “Yassamatsuri” in Gunma Prefecture are on display). Sporting a minimal amount of clothing – usually a Japanese loincloth called a “fundoshi” and a pair of white socks called “tabi” – the festivals celebrate the blessings of a bountiful harvest, prosperity and fertility. When the lights go out at 10 p.m., a priest throws 100 bundles of twigs and two lucky 20-centimeter-long sacred shingi batons into the crowd. The men, packed in like sardines, jostle with each other to get hold of one of the bundles and/or the two sticks. Whoever succeeds is guaranteed a year of good fortune, according to legend. The whole event lasts around 30 minutes and participants emerge with a few cuts, bruises and sprained joints. Having this in mind, the photographs are a concoction of vulnerability, sensitivity, masculinity, liberation and untamable skins. The viewer is focused on their own affect, while navigating in a secretly connected network of pure humans overcoming their own fortune. The featured photos is part of the series Clothed in Sunny Finery, which has won the 20th Sagamihara Photo Award and the 45th Nobuo Ina Award for the exhibition of the same name held at the Ginza Nikon Salon in Tokyo.

Kai graduated from Tokyo College of Photography in 2002. His works take the viewer into the crowds of traditional fighting or sporting rituals all around the world that predate our modern concept of “sport”. By taking a close-up look at human interaction in these traditional settings, Kai’s photographs offer us an insight into the very essence of human life. He participated in group exhibitions at the Daegu Photo Biennale in South Korea, Taipei Photo in Taiwan, and the Noorderlicht International Photography Festival in the Netherlands, and has held numerous solo exhibitions including Totem Pole Photo Gallery in Japan. Additionally, he has published several photo books, and he has won the 28th Society of Photography Award in 2016, the 20th Sagamihara photography Award in 2020, and the 45th Nobuo Ina Award at Nikon Salon in 2021.

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Edited by Nikolaj Ahlefeldt