Printmaking project connecting community and context of two cities built around energy – Aberdeen, Scotland and Yubari, Japan

Yubari is a city located in Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan. It is known as an active former coal mining city. The exchange between Aberdeen and Yubari was originated in a series of activities conducted in 2018 by Naoko Mabon, freelance curator, and Manami Sato, Director of Shimizusawa Project in Yubari. It was carried out in cooperation with Dr Leslie Mabon (Senior Lecturer at Robert Gordon University then) and Peacock Visual Arts, and supported by the partnership funds of British Council and Creative Scotland. Building on the 2018 activities, the team set up ‘Aberdeen // Yubari’, a new printmaking project involving their communities and context, with support from Peacock Visual Arts and Creative Funding of Aberdeen City Council.

To further the existing dialogue into a modest in scale yet creative and sustainable exchange, ‘Aberdeen // Yubari’ aimed to produce a limited edition print collaboratively with people in both cities. David Fryer, community entrepreneur, activist and cyclist based in Torry was invited as the Aberdeen participant. He was asked to take three photographs on the theme of ‘what you think of as the landscape of your city’. In Yubari, there was a call for submission from the pupils of Yubari Primary School, and fourteen children across all grades submitted images based on the same theme. The Selection Committee selected three finalist images taken by Hana Sakurai (sixth grade), Yukiji Hokao (third grade), and Wakana Tsuji (third grade). The images of both cities were exchanged. Mr Fryer selected the final image of Yubari taken by Wakana Tsuji, and three finalist pupils selected one final image of Mr Fryer for printmaking. At Peacock Visual Arts’ print studio, the image of The Victoria Bridge over the River Dee taken by Mr Fryer was printed in a gentle purple chosen by David himself. On the other hand, the image of Shuparo Lake and the old and new Shirogane Bridges taken by Ms Tsuji was printed in pastel pink chosen by Wakana herself.

The resulting print came out with a series of elegant harmonies of colour, composition and context. We do hope that the print successfully shows both city’s landscapes in a way that an internet search is never able to tell us. Organic substance formed by the natural cycle become fossil fuel through technology invented by humans; and generates, supports and grows not only economic activity but also non-economic values such as local culture and society. This production process resonates with the process that we aim for in this project through printmaking – re-discovering area’s culture and atmosphere, which can not necessarily be calculated in economic value, by capturing the landscape with technologies invented by humans (e.g. photography and printmaking), and turning it into artwork.

The project timeframe is well situated within the major bilateral programme Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-20. 2019 also marked the 160th anniversary of the Aberdeenshire-born ‘Scottish Samurai’ merchant Thomas Glover’s first landing in Japan in 1859. This project hence aims to celebrate and advance international exchanges between two distant cities/nations, and the views and activities of their communities.

[from left] Dr Leslie Mabon, Hana Sakurai, Wakana Tsuji, Yukiji Hokao, and Manami Sato. At work gifting ceremony in Yubari Community Centre in January 2020. © Naoki Kobayashi


[from left] Yi-Chen Huang (PhD candidate, Robert Gordon University), Dr Leslie Mabon, Tsukasa Atsuya (Mayor, Yubari City) and Manami Sato. At Yubari City Council in January 2020.


[from left] Satoru Yonemoto (Headteacher, Yubari Primary School), Dr Leslie Mabon, and Manami Sato. At Yubari Primary School in January 2020.


David Fryer is a community entrepreneur, activist and cyclist with a keen interest in environmental issues. Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Old Torry Community Centre, he is also Trustee for the Torry Development Trust, a charitable organisation focusing on the challenges of urban regeneration, the environmental protection of green spaces and coastal areas, and the recognition and protection of the arts, heritage, history and culture in Torry. For this project, he photographed three locations in Torry – Torry Battery, The Victoria Bridge and the Wellington Suspension Bridge – linking themes of structures, space, vistas and relationship between land and water. Mr Fryer commented: ’lights and shade helps defines the structures as well as their openings. Historically, they represent how connections were made as they define relationship, between build areas and between the land and the sea’.


Wakana Tsuji is a third grade pupil of Yubari Primary School (eight-nine year old). The Shuparo Lake that appears in her image is an artificial dam lake formed in 1962. With total area of 15km2, it is located at the Eastern area of Yubari City. This area’s peak population was 25,000 but all the coal mines in this area closed by 1990. Due to the expansion of the dam in 2014, people were moved and most of the town in this area was sunk to the bottom of the lake. Ms Tsuji commented ‘I am very happy to see how well my picture was transformed to become a print work’ when she encounter the resulting print in January 2020.



  • Organised by: Naoko Mabon (freelance curator),
    Manami Sato (Director, Shimizusawa Project)
  • Funded by: Creative Funding of Aberdeen City Council
  • Supported by: Peacock Visual Arts, Old Torry
    Community Centre, Yubari City, Yubari City Education Committee, Dr Leslie Mabon (Senior Lecturer, Scottish Association for Marine Science)
  • Project website:

‘The Victoria Bridge over the River Dee’ taken by David Fryer and selected by Yubari children. ‘The natural light coming through in this picture is just perfect and the impression of it caught our hearts the most.’ (Wakana, Hana & Yukiji)

‘Shuparo Lake and the old and new Shirogane Bridges’ taken by Wakana Tsuji and selected by David Fryer. ‘This picture shows the contrast between the past and present time of the region within a beautiful natural setting. People’s lives in this region have been changed due to industry and economic activity which are way beyond their control or influence.’ (David)


Yubari is a former active coal mining city, located in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island and prefecture. Over a total area of 763.20 km2, the city was formed along the Y-shaped convergence of two rivers – Yubari and Shihorokabetsu. The city announced its bankruptcy in 2007 as the result of an economic struggle after the final closure of the city’s coal industry in 1990s, and unsuccessful regeneration projects to make the city a tourist destination by building a ski resort and theme park. The current population is around 7,700 despite the peak population in 1960s was 120,000. Yubari is also known for the Yubari Melon and the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival.


Naoko Mabon is a Scotland-based Japanese freelance curator. Gained MA from Tama Art University,Tokyo (2007). Initiated a curatorial practice WAGON in 2014, after working in the contemporary art field in Japan and UK for over a decade. Recent work includes: Ilana Halperin: The Rock Cycle (Yamaguchi), Yamaguchi-Orkney (2019-2021); Kyojitsu-Hiniku, exhibition for 110 Years of Japanese Immigration in Brazil, São Paulo (2018); Leaves Without Routes, Taipei Botanical Garden (2016).


Shimizusawa Project is an organisation based in the Shimizusawa area of Yubari City that aims to build a community using the coal mining heritage of the region. Through various activities, together with residents, they try to build a community where people from outside and inside can meet while using local resources such as memories relating to coal mining. They also collaboratively work with Yubari City Council for projects such as Shimizusawa Ecomuseum Project and Relationship and Population Growth Project. Shimizusawa Project was originated in the Director Manami Sato’s MA work (2008) in Tourism at Sapporo International University focusing on the Shimizusawa area of Yubari City. Shimizusawa Project became a general incorporated association in 2016.