The Ibasyo project is a photographic project that documents the lives of six young Japanese girls who suffer from self-harm. In Japanese, ibasyo refers to the physical and emotional space where one can exist.
Domestic violence, rape, and bullying are some of the reasons behind self-harm. For better or for worse, the “culture of shame”, inherent in Japanese society, has prevented these stories from being told. Domestic violence seems to be prevalent in many families and rape is quite commonplace, yet self-harm victims choose to remain silent. Deep emotional wounds have robbed these girls of their self-esteem. Faced with depression and panic attack disorders, they are unable to live a normal existence. They cannot appreciate their own value, and therefore, believe they are worthless. For these girls, harming themselves is a form of self-punishment for perceived notions of worthlessness, while also easing their anxiety and stress. And so, such destructive behavior has become the way for these girls to reaffirm their own existence. However, when they see their scars, the girls despise themselves more for what they have done. Like the Möbius strip, the cycle is endless. The girls have found it difficult to feel their ibasyo. While the girls don’t justify their acts, the existence of self-harm reflects one of the darker side of Japan’s modern society.
Book Journey Project
My name is Kosuke Okahara and I’m a Japanese photographer. For years, I have been trying to publish Ibasyo as a book, but I did not quite succeed. Eventually, I began to rethink and reflect on the original aims I had for this project.
The first aim was to tell the story of these girls. I hope that their stories can serve as a window into the world of those who suffer from self-harm. Also all of the girls I photographed told me that they want to see themselves through someone else’s eyes. It can help them reevaluate themselves. Before they told me that, I could not have imagined that the pictures I took might be of any help.
While I was photographing the girls, I realized that all of them faced the same challenge of not being able to develop their self-esteem. This is due to the trauma that they experienced at various points of their lives. But, if the girls know that other people out there in the world care about them and their stories, then maybe this could be a small step for them to re-develop their self-esteem. In a way, this might sound a little patronizing, but I want the girls to feel that they are important. This is the second aim of the Ibasyo project.
Although both aims are important to me, I now believe that it is not enough to just publish Ibasyo into a book and distribute it. I feel that above all else, to help the girls I photographed should be of first and foremost importance.
As a photographer, I believe that keeping people informed is important. Through my photography, I try my best to commit myself to accomplish this task. However, another part of me, the ordinary person part of me, cannot disagree with what people often say about photographers: that we are making a living on someone else’s grief. I know that I am not as idealistic a person as I was when I first began taking photographs. However, I still want to see what I can do for the people that I photographed. This is why I made this book.
– What I want to do –
I have made six copies of this book. What you will have in your hands is one of the six books. The second half of the books are blank pages. I kindly ask you to write anything you feel. It can be just a thought about the pictures, or a message to the girls, or anything you wish to write down. Even a very short text is fine. I appreciate your kindness.
After letting the books float around for a certain amount of time, I want to bring these six books back to the six girls I photographed, so that they can see there are people out there who recognizes their existence.
– Tangibility –
Since the books will travel around and many different hands will hold and flip through the books, there will most certainly be signs of wear. I think these traces are tangible evidences that people recognizes the story and existence of these girls. The important thing is that, when the girls receive their books, they can then actually touch and feel the traces that viewer of the books have left behind.
About the author: Kosuke Okahara
Born in 1980, native of Tokyo, currently based in Paris. This “Ibasyo” project received W.Eugene Smith Fellowship. He is currently working on a long-term project on the aftermath of Fukushima. He has been honored with several awards and grants including Getty Images Grants, World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass, PDN’s 30 etc… His photos have also been exhibited in various venues including museums, galleries and int’l photo festivals. He keeps shooting the stories that touch him.
Visit his website to see more works: www.kosukeokahara.com
Proofread: Sheila Zhao