Japanese Man Beautifully Documents His Family’s Life in a One-Room Apartment

Masaki Yamamoto documentary photography

“The Yamamoto family has always slept next to each other.”

Japanese photographer Masaki Yamamoto didn't have to go far to find inspiration for his work. Over the course of several years, the young photographer documented his family's life as they lived in a small, one-room apartment. For 18 years, his seven-person family thrived in these cramped quarters with tobacco stained walls. His photography book Guts is a collection of photos taken in that environment, and are a testament to the bond of the Yamamoto family.

After his family was evicted from an apartment when he was just 8 years old, Yamamoto spent 2.5 years in a children's institution—separated from his parents. They were finally able to reunite in their one-room dwelling, giving extra poignancy to the images. Amid the clutter and chaos, we see family members joking and laughing—genuinely enjoying the time spent together.

There is an intimacy and a comfort to their interactions, even when stretched out in bed, as though they are grateful for the opportunity to bond together. By breaking down walls and laying bare the truth about his own family, Yamamoto is pushing boundaries and challenging perceptions in Japanese society.

“The Yamamoto family is so human and so true-to-life that I couldn’t help but to strongly sympathize with the family’s mindset and sense of value, like what they feel attracted to and what is right and wrong to them,” he writes. “I have come to realize that this is my origin and where I will always return to.”

The family has since moved on, saving enough money to pay rent on a home. But, the legacy of the past hasn't been forgotten. After moving in, Yamamoto's mother pasted his photographs on the walls of their new bathroom. Two days later, they'd already fallen down. Now, they're lost to the growing accumulation of items that are beginning to swallow up the new home, undoubtedly recreating the cozy chaos of their former dwelling.

Guts is a poignant look at the love and laughter of the Yamamoto family, who lived in the same one-room apartment for 18 years.

Masaki Yamamoto photography

“My little brother trying to kiss my mother when she was trying to check his fever with her forehead.”

Masaki Yamamoto documentary photography

“Eating year-crossing noodles every year on New Year’s Eve.”

Masaki Yamamoto documentary photography

“While our mother, religious at heart for over 30 years, was praying, my younger sister was picking her nose.”

Masaki Yamamoto photography

“My father checking how much our 15-year-old little brother has grown up by trying to hold him up, saying ‘you have gotten bigger!'”

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Zen Foto Gallery.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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