Michael Kenna was born in Widnes, England to a working-class Irish-Catholic family He initially aspired to enter the priesthood, but his passion for the arts led him to The Banbury School of Art, where he studied painting and then photography. Later he attended The London College of Printing and began working as a photographer and artist. He moved to San Francisco in 1977, where he was astounded by the number of galleries the city housed which allowed artists to showcase and sell their work.
Kenna's work has often been described as enigmatic, graceful, and hauntingly beautiful, much like the Japanese landscape. Kenna first visited Japan in 1987 for a one-person exhibition and was utterly seduced by the country's terrain. Over the years he has traveled throughout almost the entire country, constantly taking photographs. From these many treks, the book Japan, featuring 95 of these photographs, was conceived. The simplicity and clarity of Kenna's Japan alludes to, rather than describes, his subject, allowing the viewer to have a completely unique and tailored interpretation. He has described this body of work as, "more like a haiku rather than a prose." Kenna's photographs are often made at dawn or in the dark hours of night with exposures up to 10 hours. Kenna has said that "you can't always see what's otherwise noticeable during the day… with long exposures you can photograph what the human eye is incapable to seeing".
Michael Kenna's prints have been shown in numerous exhibitions throughout the world with permanent collections in the Bibliotheque, Paris, The Museum of Decorative Arts, Prague, The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Kenna has also done a great deal of commercial work for such clients as Volvo, Rolls Royce, Audi, Sprint, Dom Perignon, and The Spanish Tourist Board.
Japan is one of 18 books of Kenna's photography to have been published to date. Kenna currently lives in Seattle, Washington.