© Sakura Yasuyuki, photograph by Francois rousseau, POWER SCULPTURE

Sakura Yasuyuki: mysterious KABUTO PROJECT

Men wearing giant beetle horns on their heads in an “almost real” mock cavalry battle!?? This peculiar performance by contemporary artist Sakura Yasuyuki called Kabuto Project has already been touring around the world: Tokyo, Osaka, New York, and Paris. (Kabuto means armor helmet but also beetle in Japanese)

Living in such a peaceful country such as Japan, one hardly ever gets to see a physical battle. But remember! We humans are all living animals!!! We live, because our ancestors had been the winners of uncountable serious fights fought with bare survival instincts. To those of you, who have never experienced such rocking shock rushing through your spine, this Kabuto Project may just be the right thing to revive your forgotten nature. Ping contacted Sakura Yasuyuki in NY about his unusual project.

Written by Kaori Nishida


© Sakura Yasuyuki, Photography by Kensyu Sannohe

© Sakura Yasuyuki, Photography by Kensyu Sannohe

Sakura-san, what is the “Kabuto Project” essentially? Are there any special meanings to this strange combination of a ‘beetle horn’ and a ‘mock cavalry battle’?

First off, I need to explain that the beetle horns symbolize ‘human instincts’. ‘Beetle’ in Japanese, is called ‘KABUTO-insect’, and the sound ‘KABUTO’ is taken from the Japanese word for armor helmets that were worn by the feudal warlords. One of my favorite phrase by author Tetsuya Akikawa says KABUTO, it’s the playback machine for barbaric human instincts. In the Kabuto Project, people wear the very symbol of barbaric instincts and throw themselves into a cavalry battle. What it does, is simply a playback of the real survival battles in the old days in a mock style. Using beetle horns, instead of the real armor helmets, and mock battles instead of a real killing battle field.

A little side ways from the interview but some of the Japanese armor KABUTO helmets are known for being shockingly original in their designs and the use of motifs. Rabbit ears, Sun haloes, and even the Chinese characters are incorporated into designs. These weren’t for practical usages, rather to show off their characters and status. They were design-KABUTO helmets.


Design Helmet sward in middle which actually looks like a beetle horn.

Design Helmet with rabbit and frog elements

Design Helmet: sun halo

Design Helmet with the Chinese character for LOVE

I heard that the Kabuto Project was initially inspired from the 9.11 incident, is that true?

Yes. I was in a few blocks away from the World Trade Center when it got hit. I watched the black smoke ascending into sky… From that day on, I confined myself in my studio only kneading clay for a while. Outside the studio, star spangled banners marking the phrase “with pride” were mounted all over the city. Still, I kept kneading and all of a sudden, this shape formed itself out of the clay, shaped itself to a long, rising horn. I watched this horn and thought of the black column of smoke again. Then the thought of a Kabuto Project came to my mind.


© Sakura Yasuyuki, size: 150×650 mm, Yes, it’s huge!

So what happened then to this wearable beetle horn?

In the following winter, CG designer Kayoko Ito designed the project character and outlined the basic rules for the mock cavalry battle. Thinking to make replicas of the horn, I contacted Sankyo Co. Ltd., for mass production, but the original form which I molded out, was too sharp to copy. We went through so many samples!

After completing the final horn model, I asked body-builder Kenji Kondo for modeling and photographer Kisei Kobayashi took photos. At that point, the base for this project was finalized.

© Sakura Yasuyuki, photograph by Kisei Kobayashi

What a strange and fascinating project! The Kabuto Project has already traveled from New York to Tokyo, Osaka and Paris. What is the main part of the project?

We had an open production shooting of the Kabuto Project movie in New York, back in 2003. Our crew consisted of a videographer Robin Adams, TV director Hideo Nakamura and 48 African American males wearing horns – ready to fight! The fight was of course a mock, but as it proceeded it always went beyond what we originally planned! But that is essentially what the Kabuto Project is all about: creating a moment where instincts tremble with excitement, bones make squeaky sounds when bodies collide and teeth are grinding! Everything becomes so real.

© Sakura Yasuyuki, photograph by Francois rousseau, serious fight!

Apart from the proper fighing, there are also Kabuto Project side activities. For instance, New York pedestrians were asked to wear the horns and pose and in Tokyo models wearing the horns marched through the business district of Marunouchi. What a nice match!


© Sakura Yasuyuki,photo:HIROAKI SEO, Kabuto in Town: NY, CALUM

© Sakura Yasuyuki,photo:HIROAKI SEO, Kabuto in Town: NY, VICTORIA

© Sakura Yasuyuk,photo:HIROAKI SEOi, Kabuto in Town: NY, IMRE

© Sakura Yasuyuki,photo:HIROAKI SEO, Kabuto in Town: NY, BADRIAN
© Sakura Yasuyuki, Marunouchi Costume Walking

Also in 2004, Sakura-san cooperated with photography students at the Japan Institute of Photography and Film in Osaka for a photo shoot. Fathers of the students dressed in office worker suits were encouraged to wear Kabuto horns and join a cavalry battle. The students then created photos titled “Employed Fathers”. Other class mates currently running around for job interviews were also asked to join the photo shoot. These were then titled: “Job Crunch – the Kabuto Wars!”.

© Sakura Yasuyuki,photo:HIROYUKI OTA+TEAM6, Job Crunch KABUTO: Offer me a job!

Amazing! Seems like we can’t beat that fighting nature, hm? What are the next moves for your Kabuto Project?

Well, it keeps evolving fast. Seems like the form of the horn also keeps finding the right collaborators! Please look forward to the next news!


© Sakura Yasuyuki

This July Sakura-san had an open TV shoot of the Kabuto Project for the TV program “TOP RUNNER” on the Japanese TV NHK. This time, 68 bulky rugby players fought with horns. I asked Sakura-san what the shooting was like. “NO!”, he said “You can’t describe that in words. You have to feel it for yourself”. His interview and the Kabuto Project shooting will be On Air this Sunday, September 10th from 19:00- JPT.

Thank you Sakura-san! Very much looking forward to watching your performance!

  • http://www.zeusbox,org kuswanto

    I don’t really understand why Japaneses is fascinated by beetle ?

  • http://www.hanamiweb.com/log ヤーッコ

    sugoi ne.

    Japanese beetle kabutomushi is certainly one scary looking, although apparently perfectly harmless beetle

    I think the horn of kabutomushi is cute

  • http://www.tudza.com Mike

    Where can I get my own beetle horn?

    Perhaps I must make my own!

  • じゃぷ

    I am Japanese but I don’t understand too.
    Because maybe old old human was eating insects…

  • Pingback: Semanoesis » Blog Archive » Kabuto Project

  • http://www.theflyingdutchman.co.za The Flying Dutchman

    Much respect and admiration for bringing such a project into life. So much more creative than Western art with all its baggage. Beautiful too.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/clairish/ Claire

    I love the one with the guys in suits fighting. That made me laugh.

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