1965: Born in Osaka, Japan
1989: Studied as an exchange student at Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom
1991: MFA, Kyoto City University of Arts, Japan
1994–97: Stayed in Berlin, Germany
2008–present: Professor at Kyoto University of the Arts and the director of ULTRA FACTORY

In 1990, Kenji Yanobe made his debut with Tanking Machine, in which visitors could meditate inside an isolation tank. Since then, he has created many large-scale mechanical sculptures exploring the theme of “survival” in contemporary society. 

The source of his creations is his memory of the former site of the Osaka’s Expo ’70. This space used to be the artist’s childhood playground, which he calls “the ruins of the future.” His works are politically charged but humorous and have received a good reputation both within Japan and internationally.

In 1997, he began the Atom Suit Project, wherein he visited Chernobyl wearing his Atom Suit, a radiation-detecting protection suit. Soon after, at the dawn of the 21st century, he shifted the theme of his work to “revival.”

In 2003, he held a solo exhibition titled MEGALOMANIA at the National Museum of Art, Osaka, built on the Osaka Expo ’70 site. In 2004, he started a series of works with his father’s ventriloquist doll “Torayan” as the key character in his production.

In 2004–2005, he completed an artist’s residency at the project studio of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, and created Giant Torayan.

In 2009, he presented Lucky Dragon, a sculptural boat cruising along the waterways of Osaka City at the Aqua Metropolis Osaka 2009 festival, and he received the Osaka Cultural Prize.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, he created a monument of hope, Sun Child, which travelled around Japan and abroad; one of the three monuments was permanently installed in Ibaraki City, Osaka, in 2012. In 2013, at the Setouchi Triennale, he exhibited the mirror ball sculpture THE STAR ANGER and collaborated with Beat Takeshi to produce Anger from the Bottom, both of which were permanently installed. In 2015, Sun Sister was permanently installed in front of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art to commemorate 20 years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake.

In 2017, he began creating a series called SHIP’S CAT, travel guardians that carry good fortune. In addition to being permanently installed in Hakata, Kamakura, Kyoto, Takamatsu, Hiroshima, and Shanghai, the series has been shown at the Chouyou Art Festival (Fukushima, 2017), SHIP’S CAT (Paris, 2018), and the Shukusai-Celebration as a collaborative project with Setouchi Triennale (Takamatsu, 2019).

In 2019, KOMAINU—Guardian Beasts— was exhibited in front of Ninai-do Hall at Enryaku-ji Temple on Mount Hiei to protect people from a globally deteriorating environment and the division and conflict within humanity. In April 2020, he exhibited the work in front of the Kyoto University of the Arts gate, hoping for the COVID-19 pandemic to come to an end.

In 2021, SHIP’S CAT (Muse), created for the opening of the Nakanoshima Museum of Art, Osaka, was permanently installed.

Questioning the origins of art and its meaning, Yanobe has created works that interact with the environments in which they feature.

Individual Exhibitions

2023   SHIP’S CAT, Hankyu Umeda Gallery and Shukusai Plaza, Osaka
2021   Sun Sister (Rebirth), The new building of the Ohara Museum of Art, Okayama
            TANKING MACHINE REBIRTH YANOBE Kenji in 1990s, MtK Contemporary Art, Kyoto
2019   Come to Ship’s Cat + kame3 2019 Festival, Takamatsu Marugame-machi Shotengai [Shopping Street], Kagawa
            CINEMATIZE, Takamatsu Art Museum, Kagawa
2011   TARO 100 Festival / Kenji Yanobe: Children of the Sun, Children of Taro, Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum, Tokyo
2010   Mythos, Nizayama Forest Art Museum, Toyoma
            Phantasmagoria, Yurinso, Ohara Museum of Art, Okayama
2009   Suito Osaka –Aqua Metropolis Osaka– 2009: Torayan’s Great Adventure, Osaka-City, Osaka
            ULTRA, Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Aichi
2007   The World of Torayan, Kirishima Open Air Museum, Kagoshima
2005   KINDERGARTEN, Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Aichi
2003   MEGALOMANIA, The National Museum of Art, Osaka
2002   Time-Travel Double-Cycle Project, ISSEY MIYAKE FÊTE / MDS|G, Tokyo
1998   Luna Project –Last Amusement Park of the World–, Kirin Art Space Harajuku, Tokyo / Kirin Plaza Osaka, Osaka / Mitsubishi-Jisho Artium, Fukuoka
1997   Survival System Train and Other Sculpture, Center for the Arts Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco, USA
1992   Paranoia Fortress, Art Tower Mito, Ibaraki
1991   An Eccentric Life of Kenji Yanobe, Kirin Plaza Osaka, Osaka
1990   Tanking Machine, Art Space NIJI, Kyoto

Group Exhibitions

2020   KYOTO STEAM, Higashiyama Cube, Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art
            Fukushima Biennale 2020 “Sirakawa Art through FUGETSU(SiAtF),” Shirakawa Komine Castle, Fukushima
2019   Shogusai, Ninai-do, Sai-to, Hieizan Enryakuji, Shiga
            PARERGON: JAPANESE ART OF THE 1980S AND 1990S, BLUM & POE, Los Angeles, USA
2017   Eriko Horiki and Kenji Yanobe “SHIP’S CAT,” Salle Soufflot, Carrousel du Louvre, Paris, France
            JAPANORAMA–New Vision on Art Since 1970, Centre Pompidou-Metz, France
            Chouyou–Nihonmatsu Art Festival 2017, Nihonmatsu Castle (Kasumigajō Park) and others, Fukushima
2016   Fukushima Biennale 2016–indication–, Nihonmatsu Castle(Kasumigajō Park), Fukushima
2015   Rimpa 400 Year Celebration Festival: PANTHEON, Kyoto Botanical Garden, Kyoto
2014   G.O. Fire Yanobe Kenji × Maywa Denk × Ishibashi Yoshimasa, Kyoto City Hall Square, Kyoto
            Contemporary Art Biennale Fukushima 2014, Kitakata-City, Aizu, Fukushima
            Selected Artists in Kyoto The Way of Parasophia: Kyoto International Festival of Contemporary Culture 2015 [Special Exhibition], Annex Hall, The Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto
2013   Ohara Contemporary, Ohara Museum of Art, Okayama
            Setouchi Triennale 2013, Shodoshima-Cho and others, Kagawa     
            Aichi triennale 2013: Awakening–Where Are We Standing?–Earth, Memory and Resurrection, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art and others, Aichi
2012   NAMURA ART MEETING, Namura Shipbuilding Site, Osaka
            Artists and the DisasterDocumentation in Progress, Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito, Iaraki
            FUKUSHIMA BIENNALE 2012–SORA–, Fukushima Air Port, Fukushima
            First Kyiv Biennale of Contemporary Art
, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Ukraine
            Double Vision: Contemporary Art from Japan
, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Russia / Haifa Museum of Art, Israel
2010   Munasawagi no Natsuyasumi, Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art, Fukushima           
2008   Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan, ICP, New York, USA
2005   Little Boy: The Arts Of Japan’s Exploding Subculture, Japan Society, New York, USA
2004   Roppongi Crossing, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo 
2002   EXPOSE 2002 far beyond dreams, Kirin Plaza Osaka, Osaka / Yokohama Akarenga Redbrick Warehouses, Kangawa(-2003)
2000   Gift of Hope, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Tokyo
1999   Ground Zero Japan, Art Tower Mito, Ibaraki
1998   Donai Yanen ! Et maintenant ! La création contemporaine au Japon, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France
1996   Traffic, CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art, Bordeaux, France
            Art Embodied, MAC Museum of Contemporary Art, Marseille, France
1995   Japan Today, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, and others(-1997)
1994   Platons Höhle, Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum Hagen, Germany
1993   2nd Kitakyusyu Biennale–Aspect of Time, Kitakyusyu Municipal Museum of Art, Fukuoka

Public Collections

Osaka Prefecture / Kyoto-City / Ibaraki-City / Fukushima-City / Shodoshima-Cho / The National Museum of Art, Osaka / Nakanoshima Museum of Art, Osaka / Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art/ The Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama / Museum of  Contemporary Art Tokyo / 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa / Toyota Municipal Museum of Art / Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art / Takamatsu Art Museum / Contemporary Museum of Kumamoto / Kitakyusyu Municipal Museum of Art / Ohara Museum of Art / Miyanomori International Museum of Art, Sapporo / Takahashi Ryutaro Collection / The University Art Museum Santa Barbara / FNAC / FRAC / Centro per l’Arte Comtemporanea Luigi Pecci / Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna / M+

Installation Works

2021   SHIP’S CAT (Muse) , Nakanoshima Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan
2019   SHIP’S CAT (Fortune), WeBase Hiroshima, Hiroshima, Japan
2018   SHIP’S CAT (Returns), WeBase Takamatsu, Kagawa, Japan
            SHIP’S CAT (Totem), WeBase Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan
            SHIP’S CAT (Sailor) , Joy City, Shanghai, China
2017    SHIP’S CAT (Harbor), WeBase Kamarakura, Kanagawa, Japan
            SHIP’S CAT, WeBase Hakata, Fukuoka
2015   Sun Sister,  Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Hyogo, Japan
2013   Ultra Sun Child, Zent (Nagoya Kita), Aichi, Japan
            Star Anger, The former-lighthouse site at Sakate Port, Shodoshima-Cho, Kagawa, Japan
            Anger from the Bottom [Collaboration work with Beat Takeshi], Beat Shrine, Shodoshima-Cho, Kagawa, Japan
            Jumbo Torayan (Captain)  and Jumbo Torayan (Olive), The rooftop observation decks of the Jumbo Ferry, Japan.
2012   Sun Child, The roundabout in front of Minamiibaraki station, Osaka, Japan


2022   The 57th Osaka City Citizen’s Commendation
2017   The 29th Kyoto Fine Arts Cultural Award
2012   The Kyoto Prefecture Culture Prize and Distinguished Services Prize.
2011   The 21st Takashimaya Cultural Awards
2009   Osaka Cultural Prize.
2006   The 21st Exhibition of Contemporary Sculpture in Japan, Ube Industries, LTD. Prize.
1999   Sakuya Kono Hana Prize (Art).
1993   The Gotoh Memorial Cultural Award, Young Artist Prize.
1990   Kirin Plaza Osaka Contemporary Art Award, Grand Prix.


YANOBE KENJI 1969–2005, 2013, Kyoto; Seigensha.
ULTRA, 2013, Kyoto; Seigensha.
TORAYAN’S GREAT ADVENTURE [English / Kindle Edition], 2012, Tokyo; tempo-press.
KENJI YANOBE 1969–2005 [PDF Edition], 2012, Tokyo; tempo-press.
Sun Child Project in Fukushima–208 Drawings– [PDF only] 2012, Tokyo; KENJI YANOBE Supporters Club.
Sun Child, 2012, Tokyo; Akio Nagasawa Publishing.
The World of Torayan The Story of Lucky Dragon [Picture Book], 2009, Kyoto: サンリード.
Torayan’s Great Adventure [Picture Book], 2007, Tokyo; Akio Nagasawa Publishing.
Document City of Children Project, 2005, Tokyo; Bijutsu Shuppan-sha.
KENJI YANOBE 1969–2005, 2005, Kyoto; Seigensha.