My grandparents had an arranged marriage in 1935. © Kai Yokoyama

The Day You Were Born, I Wasn’t Born Yet

Kai Yokoyama

2020 — Tokyo, Japan

About this series

This is what I have to do now with my life. When this pandemic began in 2020, I lost control like people around the world. I talked with my parents more than ever and shared almost all my time with them.
I searched for photos of my family in the past. I walked where my late grandparents lived and kept taking pictures. Then I tried to connect the present and the past. It was a kind of spatiotemporal movement as if I went back to where my soul had been. There were memories full of love and sadness.
This April, my father said, “This year’s cherry blossoms don’t look beautiful at all.” I couldn’t help feeling the death from the scattered cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms are drawn on the fighters, and the military song says,
“Since we are flowers, we are doomed to fall. Let us fall magnificently for the country.”
My grandfather went to the Pacific War. He came back and gave birth to the daughter who gave birth to me. I think it’s a miracle. There are countless reasons why I wasn’t born here.

When I began to make this work, there was one other phrase that has stayed with me for a long time, in addition to my father’s words. That is the opening line of the old Book of “Hojoki by Kamo no Chomei”.
“The current of the flowing river never ceases, yet the waters never remain the same. In places where the current pools, bubbles form on the surface, burst and vanish while others form in their place, never for a moment still. People in the world and their dwellings are the same.”
It made me realize that I have to accept this life and flow through it like a river. This is something that is connected to my grandparents and ancestors,
and I realized that they also flowed through the river.
A photograph becomes the past when it is taken. Isn’t photography a means of finding a connection with the past and the dead? I think so now.


When this pandemic started, I couldn't live a normal life, it was hard on me mentally and I even thought that I might not be able to live. It meant that I and my family might die. I'm not exaggerating. Then I decided to do something as a photographer. This first image was the starting point for this work. I opened the window in my room and took a picture of the light in the window of the building across the street. At the time, it wasn't clear to me what I was doing or why I was photographing this light. In this light, I looked at my past and was in awe of my countless ancestors. © Kai Yokoyama
My mother is the first daughter her father had after he returned from the Pacific War. © Kai Yokoyama
My mother's family photo. She says, "This uncle did a lot of bad things during the Pacific War." My grandfather is not in this picture. © Kai Yokoyama
Little is known about where my grandfather was and what he did during the war in 1944-1945. He didn't tell his family anything about it. © Kai Yokoyama
My paternal grandfather was too short to go to war. © Kai Yokoyama
I live in the downtown area on the east side of Tokyo where my grandparents and parents lived. © Kai Yokoyama
I was separated from my parents for a little while in the neonatal intensive care unit, wearing this name tag with my mother's name on my ankle. © Kai Yokoyama
My mother doesn't go out because of this pandemic, but she wears a kimono at home. This is a momento of her late mother. © Kai Yokoyama
My mother's hand holding a picture of my grandfather. My relatives always say that I look like my grandfather. But it always gave me the fear that one day I might go deaf too. © Kai Yokoyama
A picture of my parents when they were young. © Kai Yokoyama

Photographer: Kai Yokoyama
Nationality: Japanese
Based in: Tokyo, Japan
Instagram: @kaiykym

Kai Yokoyama is a photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Starting out as an architecture student at Saitama University, he switched his major to photography and completed his studies at Tokyo College of Photography.
He has traveled the world photographing refugees, children with disabilities, and victims of terrorism. In recent years, having lived abroad, he has been photographing foreigners living in Japan. His work has been published in publications such as The Washington Post.
Yokoyama’s work has been awarded or shortlisted at KLPA(2019), PX3(2019, 2020), IPA (2020), Athens Photo Festival(2020), and he won first place in the LensCulture/Journeys series category(2020).
In 2020, he participates in #ICPConcerned exhibition at ICP, Home Museum exhibition at LagosPhoto, and the online exhibition at PHmuseum.
Also, he receives Yumi Goto(RPS)’s a one-year mentorship program in Tokyo.
He is a member of Native Agency.