with Us
Thank you!

Sign up to our newsletter and be the first
to hear about our products, events,
stories and exclusive online features.

Jerry Ukai, Illustrator

Living life out of a backpack



Illustrator and art director Jerry Ukai stepped into the world of ultralight backpacking about 15 years ago. At the time, ultralight backpacking was only just making its way into the outdoor scene in Japan, and there were no more than a couple of dozen ultralight hikers in the whole of the country. Ultralight backpacking is a style of backpacking that focuses on carrying the least amount of gear so as to save energy and travel farther. Having been initiated into outdoor recreation in the second half of his thirties, Jerry was drawn to ultralight backpacking above all for its idea of reducing to the bare minimum.

“I was already leading a minimalist life to begin with. Ever since university, I had no TV or furniture, and was ready to pack everything I own in a trunk and move anywhere, anytime. Maybe I have some kind of disease—I get into a panic when I have too much stuff. I can’t keep track of all the things I own and end up losing them. Since that was how I had always been, I felt most comfortable keeping my room empty and living off a slight shortage of possessions. For my kind of lifestyle, ultralight backpacking seemed like a match made in heaven. I thought I’d be a natural at it.”

From then on, Jerry went on ultralight hiking trips in all sorts of settings, vying to build experience with his circle of friends who are by now big names in the outdoor scene, like Yamatomichi founder Akira Natsume, Hiker’s Depot owner Tomoyoshi Tsuchiya, and outdoor gear craftsman Mitsuteru Ozaki, aka Jackie Boy Slim. After having dedicated his forties to ultralight backpacking and the outdoors, Jerry is now enjoying his own style of ultralight backpacking without being too caught up solely in shedding weight.

“In the beginning, my goal was to keep going lighter and lighter. But then a point came when that alone felt like the wrong approach. Every year, makers release newer and better products, and everyone rushes to buy a product that’s 50 grams lighter than the last. I didn’t like being caught up in that game. Surely I have the physical strength to cover a matter of 50 grams, right? Now, I still pack light, but I go ahead and carry my favorite gear. For instance, I would get rid of all the excess but take the heaviest French-made water bottle. Or, where everyone cuts off unnecessary tags and straps, I would cover my pack with badges. The thing is, the backpackers I admired as a kid looked cool. Outdoor attire now is mainly made of synthetic fibers. But hikers back then dressed in chinos and a flannel shirt and sweater, and topped with a hunting cap, like a movie director. It may not be the most sensible outfit, but I get that it makes you feel great. You want to dress up in your favorite clothes and go out into the mountain. So my taste is now leaning toward offsetting an ultralight pack with a heavy old sweater.”

Now that he has passed the age of fifty, Jerry says ultralight backpacking is an outlook on life. Imagine living your life out of a backpack—what would you carry? Try giving this some serious thought and choosing your possessions carefully. It promises to add zest to your life.

“Do I need this or not? Ultralight backpacking forces you to ask this question about every single item and reduce the overall weight of the gear you’re carrying into the mountain. But in the end, that’s a philosophy—an outlook on life. The conclusion I keep coming back to lately is that I’d like to live my life doing only what I love. I’d like to draw and sell my drawings, lead a minimal lifestyle without having to spend much money, and enjoy every minute of the rest of my life. To prepare for that future, I’m trying to send little messages out on social media not to send jobs my way. I mean, it would make me feel bad to decline an offer, you know.”

Having arrived at this point, however, Jerry has found a new item for his backpack—fishing. Our 10-day tour of Shizuoka Prefecture equipped with a fishing rod (PAPERSKY No. 67 Shizuoka Issue) opened his eyes to the fascinating world of fishing.

“That trip left me in love again with fishing, and at the same time, frustrated that I couldn’t catch anything. I was left so craving the thrill of a catch and wanting to rebuild my skill from scratch that I’m actually practicing fishing in secret. After all, fishing is something you can do into old age. Fishing and hiking don’t take any money, and there are countless destinations up and down Japan and around the world. It’s up to you whether or not to go at all, and it’s also up to you how you spend your time there. The possibilities are endless. Thinking about all the fun I could have in the second half of my life makes me look forward to growing old.”

Jelly Ukai
Jerry Ukai is an illustrator and art director born in 1971 in Mishima City, Shizuoka Prefecture. He is a member of Mountain Poor Boys (MPB) along with Mitsuteru Ozaki, aka Jackie Boy Slim, and illustrator Jun Oson; as well as a member of the art unit Ultra Heavy along with stylist Akira Ishikawa and artist Ryuji Kamiyama. In recent years, Jerry has also embarked on a writing career, having published a book about his character Jerry Marquez.

A journey into the sea, peaks and rivers of Shizuoka focused on "fishing" and "fish." Guests for this trip are Shizuoka-born illustrator Jerry Ukai and outdoor craftsman Mitsuteru Ozaki, aka Jackie Boy Slim.
text | Yukiko Soda photography | Toshitake Suzuki