He has collaborated with Hawaiian shirt makers, interior decorators and various designers, while one of his clients, NOAA, sometimes finds unknown specimens during its research expeditions and asks Naoki to document them by printing.
In pursuit of his art, Naoki tries to prevent waste and destruction, making sure to avoid animal cruelty or contributing to overfishing. Only catching fish for eating, and burying the bones of eaten fish in a yard for fertilizer are two ways in which he can make a contribution.
He also recognises Gyotaku as a tool for research and accurate scientific illustration. This has paved the way for the art to become a part of conservation work and an educational tool for marine animal anatomy.
Gyotaku gives people an opportunity to learn about basic fish anatomy and the adaptations made by their bodies to survive in the environments they live in, such as the big eyes of species that live in deeper, darker waters. Gyotaku is also a good example of art and science complementing one another and being taught together, as well as a way for people to discover their own creativity in an educational setting.
The most important thing to remember about Gyotaku, Naoki says, is what it really means.
‘Gyotaku started because people wanted to preserve the image of the fish that they had caught and were going to eat. Gyotaku should have three components – you catch, you print, you eat. If one of the three is missing, it’s not Gyotaku. It’s a fish print and must not be called Gyotaku. I always emphasise this when I explain to people what Gyotaku is. It’s also a fisherman’s collection.’
‘Sometimes people call their work Gyotaku without having those three main components,’ he said, in reference to prints of ornamental fish such as Moorish Idols that are never consumed as food.
‘All the value and meaning behind Gyotaku is brushed aside and not appreciated when people print a triggerfish or another tropical species and call their work Gyotaku. They don’t understand what is behind the image and what the art is all about.’
While sharing his work with the wider world, Naoki is keen to develop his interest in sustainability and conservation by becoming more involved with organisations that promote marine conservation and continuing his work in education.
‘My interest is to stay sustainable,’ he said. ‘Keep doing what I am doing and stay in a position where I get asked by schools to spend time with their students and share my two cents with them. That would be a positive contribution towards conservation and a more sustainable way of living. I am really grateful that I get to do that, and I have so much respect for the origin of the Gyotaku practice as well.’
As for the ocean, the environment that inspires him the most, Naoki describes it as the most beautiful place on the planet and a place to escape from the hectic way of life that’s seen all too often in society.
‘It’s where I want to spend most of my time, and that is a good enough reason for me to feel inspired by it,” he says. “I become part of this planet and much more free. We have so much control over the lives we lead and the decisions we make, and we want to be in control of things all the time, but I lose that feeling when I am back in nature and swimming in the sea. That is what I really love about the ocean.’