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Miroco Machiko

Giving Life to Amami’s Unseen Creatures

Painting “creatures” on an island where spirits dwell in all of nature Miroco Machiko, painter and picture book author.


Painter and picture book author Miroco Machiko is celebrated for her depiction of “creatures” with a free and open, bold and lively touch. She moved from Tokyo to Amami in 2019.

“In my Tokyo days, I was painting animals out of admiration for nature. Then I discovered Amami. It wasn’t just that the nature was wonderful—that much goes without saying—but also that the people of Amami were very special. It was mind-blowing how they embraced nature, approached nature, and felt nature with their hearts. We all have that innate ability too, and I wanted to learn and relearn it, even a little. And so I moved.”

During the three years since her migration, Miroco says her respect for the people of Amami and their bursting vital energy continued to grow day by day. Amami residents have a profound knowledge of nature. They design their lives around the gifts of nature and use their creativity to make what they need. Moreover, they spend their days amid the sense of a mysterious presence.

Since ancient times, Amami has been the home of noro priestesses responsible for communicating with deities and conducting rituals, and yuta shamans who use their spiritual powers to alleviate the people’s concerns. Even today, spirits are a familiar presence, and animism remains part of the residents’ daily lives.

“They say things like, ‘That place gives me butterflies; it’s the pathway of the dragon’ and ‘Don’t go near that tree; it’s haunted by ghosts.’ The people of Amami often express what they feel in nature in the form of invisible creatures. I was filled with awe to actually find people like that here in Japan.”

Living in the wonderland of Amami has also had an influence on Miroco’s work. Her recent paintings depict spiritual creatures with a touch of fantasy.

Her color schemes have changed significantly too. She began incorporating Amami’s traditional technique of dorozome—mud dyeing—into her work, by either putting a finished painting through the mud dyeing process or painting with the mud dye. What’s curious is that Miroco says she used to prefer vivid colors and had no interest whatsoever in earth tones, like those produced by mud dyeing.

“Feelings that I feel here in Amami are best expressed with colors deriving from plants growing here. Even after dying, the colors continue to change and develop, as if they’re alive and their tiny grains are wriggling and writhing with life. I believe they’re infusing my paintings with energy.”

Stay tuned to the ongoing changes in Miroco’s creative expressions integrated with the complex nature, culture, and lifestyle of Amami.

Miroco Machiko
Miroco Machiko was born in 1981 in Osaka and currently lives and works in Amami Oshima. As a painter and picture book author, she has earned acclaim in and outside Japan for her free and lively depictions of animals. She received the grand prize of the 18th Japan Picture Book Awards for Okami ga tobu hi (The Day the Wolf Flies; East Press). Miroco is a prolific artist whose work includes book and CD covers, and live paintings in collaboration with musicians and creators.

An island getaway to take in the plethora of sights and sounds that Amami has to offer. Guests on this trip will be painter and picture book author Miroko Machiko and tie-dyeing artist Yukihito Kanai of Kanai Kogei.
text | Yukiko Soda photography | Yayoi Arimoto