Assignments, Island Icons, Japan, Okinawa, Photography
Comments 3

Island Icon: Wildlife Illustrator (and birdwatching guru) Ichiro Kikuta

Having talked about Ichiro Kikuta in my last post I realized I hadn’t put up an Island Icon interview I did with Ichiro three years ago. Here it is.

Wildlife Illustrator Ichiro Kikuta

Wildlife Illustrator Ichiro Kikuta

Wildlife Illustrator


Ichiro Kikuta is an artist trying to capture the spirit of Okinawa’s wildlife.

When he was only an elementary school student, Ichiro Kikuta loved to sketch and paint the birds that nested near his home. During high school, he was inspired by the work of British wildlife artist Charles Tunnicliffe. At that point,he knew what he wanted to do with his life. After graduation, he spent 6 months traveling around Britain exploring the landscapes and animals that had inspired Tunnicliffe. Upon his return to Japan, Ichiro began to explore his own country with sketchbook in hand. For the past 25 years, he has journeyed from Hokkaido to the Ryukyu Islands capturing the beauty of animals ranging from snow-covered crested cranes to the Okinawan rail. He now lives in the northern part of Okinawa known as Yanbaru. There, he continues to capture the spirit of Okinawa’s wildlife against the backdrop of the island’s wild and rugged landscape.


What materials do you work with?

“I use many different techniques ranging from simple pencil sketches and watercolors to woodblock prints. When I am out in the field, I take a notepad and small set of watercolor paints.”

Creating a woodblock print

Creating a woodblock print

Do you have a favorite creature to illustrate?

“That’s a difficult question. I like many different kinds of animals and birds, but the species really isn’t that important. What I am trying to do is capture the atmosphere of the animal in its natural environment. The subject could be anything – from an eagle to a tiny insect.”

How does your style differ from that of other artists?

“I think that many American wildlife artists concentrate on showing as much detail as possible, a style known as ‘super-realism.’ I prefer a more abstract style…I am not trying to produce an image similar to a photograph; I am creating my own unique vision.”

Blue Rockthrush (Iso-hiyodori) Illustration

Blue Rockthrush (Iso-hiyodori) Illustration


Why do you live in one of the most remote places in Japan?

“There are many beautiful places, but Yanbaru is special. Ada, the tiny village where I live, has a very organic feeling to it. In most towns there is a distinct line between the urban and natural environment – in Yanbaru you don’t feel you are living beside nature, but amongst it.”

Do you have any advice for budding naturalists?


“The most important thing you need is a pair of binoculars. Huge magnification isn’t important, as it makes it difficult to find the birds, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money. The more expensive models, however, do have better lenses that give a brighter, sharper image. It is much easier to spot animals in open areas along the coast rather than in the forest. Sandpipers and egrets are common along the shoreline, and there are colonies of terns breeding in the area around Okuma. For a beginner, a field guide that shows all the different birds can be confusing, so I’d recommend going out with someone with a bit of experience who can point out the different animals and teach you their names.”

Could you ever return to life in a city?

“I guess it depends on the city. I really don’t like Tokyo and Osaka – for me they are too full of concrete, plastic, and people. I would feel more comfortable in places like Sapporo and Kyoto that have more greenery, but even there I think I would miss the countryside too much. I want to live and raise my family among nature, not skyscrapers. ”

Common Kingfisher (Kawasemi) illustration

Common Kingfisher (Kawasemi) illustration

You can see more of his work at his blog.

This interview was first published in Okinawa Living Magazine May 2007.


  1. Mark Brazil says

    Trying to contact you Ichiro.
    Mark Brazil here ( Please get in touch.

  2. Pingback: Yanbaru – Visit Okinawa | TRAVEL 67 : Chris Willson Photography

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s