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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (7)

Earning your dinner – how to ask for permission to take a photo.

I’m going to tell you guys a little photography parable today, because who doesn’t like a cute little story with a moral lesson at the end? Every now and then it’s nice to have a peek inside the mental process of a photographer in order to see how certain pictures are made. In this case it’s a pretty simple story with a simple lesson but sometimes those are the ones we need to pay the closest attention to.

Anyway, one of my favorite portraits of the year so far was shot with absolutely no preparation or foreknowledge of the subject’s existence. I’m in Fukuoka, one of Japan’s major southern cities and one of my favorite spots in all Japan. I’m there for a magazine photoshoot, which, as an editorial photographer is a rare treat. Traveling for photoshoots is significantly rarer nowadays so anytime I get to go anywhere to shoot portraits I get super stoked.

Anyway I digress. The magazine shoot was wrapped and in the bag, and I decided to stick around in Fukuoka because I had a personal shoot scheduled the next day for my Artisans project (which I’ll write about in the near future). That means I had an evening to kill in a cool city with no plans, I’ve just finished shooting and I have some serious post-shoot munchies. There’s this cheap hole-in-the-wall eatery I’ve had my eye on that’s supposed to serve the best gyoza in all of Fukuoka, so I know where I’m headed.

I dump all my gear except for my Domke with my Sony mirrorless kit and despite my great craving for delicious gyoza I decide to walk across town to the restaurant, which turned out to be a very good idea because on the way I walked past a shop and caught a glimpse of this:

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (13)

And here’s first thing I did – I walked straight past. I wasn’t even thinking about photos – I was thinking about fat juicy gyoza and the sign for the restaurant was just ahead. It only occurred to me twenty meters down the road that I had just seen something pretty cool, which then triggered the ages old internal debate for introverted photographers like me:

“Wow, that looks really cool, I really want to take some photos.”
“Nar, you’re busy and he’s busy, better stick to the original plan of going to eat gyoza.”
“Well the gyoza can wait, I’m sure…”
“Sure but you’re going to look like a real idiot turning around and walking back to that shop. Plus what if he tells you to piss off?”
“Yeah that would be pretty embarrassing actually…I wouldn’t want to look foolish…”
“You will definitely look foolish. Better leave him alone and go do what you were going to do.”

And so on. Some of you will know how this internal dialogue goes, and I find that even after years of walking up to strangers and asking their permission to take their photo, I still get that little devil voice inside my head telling me no, no, better not bother them, leave them alone, you don’t need to take a photo of them.

The thing is however, the more excuses you make for yourself to get out of interacting with people who might turn out to be scary or unpleasant, the better you’re going to get at it. And the better you get at making excuses for yourself, the fewer photos you’re going to make, which doesn’t really bode well for making a career out of photography. So let me share with you the golden rule in photography for what to do when you want something: ask for it. You don’t ask, you don’t get. Simple as that.

So what did I do? I screwed up my courage, turned around, marched purposefully back to that man’s shop…and walked straight past it again. And then I turned around and did it again. And again, until I felt I had built up enough momentum or courage or whatever I thought I needed to just walk inside and introduce myself and talk like a normal person. Because that’s what we are – normal people doing cool things, and everybody likes it when someone shows genuine interest in what you are doing.

So I guess the rest is history – although it could have been a completely different history if I had let that little voice in my head win out and just gone on to eat gyoza. These cool images wouldn’t exist, for one thing, and the next time I want to approach a stranger for a photo I’m going to find it that little bit much harder to do so. And guess what?? I went and had that gyoza afterwards, and it tasted bloody good! So I guess you really can have your cake (or gyoza) and eat it too.

All shots made with the Sony A7rII and the Carl Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 or the Batis 85mm f/1.8.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (12)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (11)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (1)

Bonus photos! Here’s the gyoza restaurant that I was crapping on about all post, and as you can see it’s basically just some old lady’s kitchen with a counter – she was eating her own dinner right in front of me! Anyway if a place like this gets a reputation then you know it’s going to be good, and hell yes it was! 10/10 would go again. Tasted like victory.

For the curious, the store is Asahiken, in Haruyoshi.
Address: 2 Chome-13-22 Haruyoshi, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka
Phone: 092-761-3819

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (6)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (2)

CEO Portraits: Masaaki Kanai of MUJI

Quick post today guys; this one is a portrait of MUJI CEO Masaaki Kanai that I photographed back in 2014.

Japan is known as an exporter of many things but Nordic-style furniture is not one of them. That’s where furniture and lifestyle juggernaut MUJI come in – their empire of natural fibers and wood grains has expanded across the globe in an explosive fashion over the last few years.

I met Mr. Kanai at the MUJI headquarters in Japan for about twenty minutes and was able to make a variety of portraits before my time was up. On a side note this is the photo shoot that made me decide to give Nikon the boot once and for all – I used my Nikon D4 (quite a high end camera I’d say) and the number of back focused and otherwise unusable shots due to under-performing auto focus made me so fed up that I sold the whole system and bought a into the mirrorless system instead. But that’s a story for another day!

MUJI CEO - Masaaki Kanai, Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (1)

Tokyo Bars – Bar Ben Fiddich in Shinjuku

Tokyo is a great place to be a photographer. In a city this big you’re going to find a lot of world class institutions, and one such institution that Tokyo is not lacking in is cocktail bars. In this post, budget airline carrier Jetstar commissioned me to photograph one certain Bar Ben Fiddich for their in-flight magazine、and let me tell you, photographing bars are some of the shoots that I most look forward to. Mainly because you get to drink the subject matter afterwards!

Bar Ben Fiddich is located in Shinjuku, and would have been impossible to find if I hadn’t been told about it. The feel when you walk in is similar to that of an apothecary or the potions room in Harry Potter – the shelves behind the bar are lined with big glass jars filled with all manner of exotic spices and seasonings. The owner Kayama-san is actually a big absinthe fan, and studied in Switzerland in order to learn how to make it himself. I tasted a little of his home-brewed absinthe and was pleasantly surprised by its taste and fragrance. Up until then I had thought of it as the kind of drink you imbibe when you’re feeling you don’t have enough lawsuits in your life. Kayama-san also makes a mean cocktail too, as you can clearly see in the photos. For the purposes of the article, he is making a muscat-flavored gin infusion thing (which I’ve embarrassingly forgotten the name of), but I do remember that it tasted AMAZING.

Anyway here are the details for anyone wishing to visit the bar and check it out:
Bar Ben Fiddich
Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−13−7, 9th Floor

Enjoy the photos!

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Kayama-san pouring a glass of water – don’t worry it will come in useful later.

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Those are some premium looking grapes!

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A little bit of muddling and mashing

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Adding some fancy liqueur…

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Shaken and strained into a delightfully concentrated mix…

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Adding some spices for a bit of piquancy…

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Voila! Kayama-san places the cocktail on the glass of ice-water to cool it without diluting it

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Detail shot of the finished cocktail no #1…

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Detail shot #2

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The clean and cozy interior of the bar. I highly recommend checking it out!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong

Lens Review: Carl Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2

Ok I’m just going to start out by saying I absolutely freaking love the Loxia lens lineup from Carl Zeiss. So the TL:DR version of this review is: get this lens if you have a Sony a7. Just get it.

Anyway I know the Loxia lineup has been out for a while but I’ve spent a bunch of time with them on all sorts of jobs, especially the 35mm which was the first one that I purchased. I may not be able to provide the most technical review on the Internetz but I can definitely give you a sense of how the lens performs and feels working in the real world, where MTF charts matter less than how comfortable it feels in your hand.

So to keep things concise right from the get go:

Reasons why this lens is awesome:
– Superb rendering and contrast
– Super compact
– Solid all metal construction
– Manual focus throw is intuitively spaced
– Great close focus
– De-clickable aperture ring
– Out of focus areas have a characteristic look

Reasons why you may want to think twice:
– If you can’t live without autofocus then you might not like this lens

_DSC7356Cats are an awesome way to start a lens review


Ok so let’s go into specifics. The big elephant in the room that we need to address here is the lack of autofocus on a pricey modern lens. I can imagine that this would make more than a few people think twice about going in on this series of lenses. So let me attempt dispel your fears a little bit here. Firstly, in the vast majority of situations in which you’ll be photographing, manual focus lenses are in no way inferior to autofocus, in fact they are often better. This may seem like a bold claim but think about it this way – even if you completely master the autofocus system on your camera, there is still an upper threshold of speed and accuracy at which the camera can perform autofocus. With manual focus there is no threshold – the skill ceiling is as high as you want to make it. Plus you’ll never have to stop to dick around with your AF settings because your camera’s dumb software refuses to grab onto the right focus point. In addition to these mirrorless cameras making it easier than ever to nail critical focus with manual lenses, and the superiority of manual focus lenses is fully realized.

_DSC7343Manual focus is silent and won’t wake up your subjects with loud AF noises when you are being a creep

I’ve used these lenses on high budget portrait shoots, editorial, reportage, street photography, and not once have I felt held back by the lack of autofocus – on the flip side I’ve found it incredibly liberating not to have to reposition my focus point every time I change up my composition. Not to mention that these Loxia lenses have been designed with manual focus in mind, so the throw (ie: the amount you need to twist the barrel to refocus on something else) is very intuitive. Zeiss has been designing manual focus lenses for over 100 years and the depth of their experience really shines through when you pick up one of these bad boys.

It’s wide enough! 


With the Loxia lineup, I think Zeiss is trying to do something that really has no precedent – they’ve made a premium quality compact lens that is amazing for both stills and video. It’s perfect for run-and-gun film making but to call it a run-and-gun lens would be doing it a disservice – this thing is solid and the optics are quite simply stunning. When you factor in its super compact size and relatively fast f/2 maximum aperture you have a lens that performs at an extremely high level on every front. Of course, the compromise was that they had to ditch autofocus but as I explained above, you no longer need that with mirrorless systems these days.

So on paper you have an ultra compact, fast high performance lens equally suited for stills and video. It sounds too good to be true but it is true. This lens does all of those things and it does them well.

 Works great for photographing the overall feel of a space while still maintaining an intimate field of view


Before I get into optics, let’s talk about how this lens feels in the hand. Now I’m not one of those nimrods online who would call a lens sexy (well, maybe I am), but the Loxia series really kicks ass in terms of aesthetic and overall usability. The body is milled from…some kind of metal, I don’t really know the atomic number and it doesn’t really matter; what matters is that it feels solid, has good heft and the focusing action is smooth as Hokkaido butter.

Also works great for casual street portraits! 

Now, I’ve seen some people complain that the focusing ring is too close to the aperture ring and that sometimes they twist both by accident or have trouble differentiating between one or the other. I can see how this may be true for a person with less than an average level of coordination or ham hocks for hands, but I have never once had a problem with operating this lens even with gloves on. Maybe it’s due to my exceptionally nimble and tiny Asian hands, who knows. But honestly people, it’s not that difficult. The focusing ring is perfectly situated for your thumb and index finger to grab it without overextending, and the aperture ring can be clicked over with a small application of pressure from the middle finger, meaning you never have to reposition your hands to change anything.

he field of view is perfect for including wider context within a street snap…

Did I mention this lens is also super duper compact? I think it bears mentioning. Yep. A fast, small FULL-FRAME premium prime lens, thank you very much. Everything fits perfectly in my Domke bag with a whole lot of space to spare for strobes, Pocket Wizards, ND filters, whatever I need. And that’s whether I’m shooting video or stills.

..or it can be used for detail shots like this.


Ok, now we come to the most subjective part of the review – the optics ie; how the lens renders all the things. So I’m just going to say stuff and hopefully people will take what they will from it and maybe we can all walk away from this without there needing to be a unnecessarily emotional conversation about what constitutes ‘good bokeh’.

Gratuitous bokeh sample shot

So, here are the things you’ll want to know about this lens. Firstly – this lens does not produce mega ultra silky smooth bokeh, so if you’re the guy who jerks off to that, go buy a massive L lens or something. Rather, the out of focus areas are rendered with a little more character – it is not messy bokeh by any stretch, but point light sources translate nicely into faded but distinct blotches, and focus fall-off is pleasingly gradual. The look and feel of the bokeh is a little bit like what you’d get using a small-barreled rangefinder lens, with the cool bonus of being able to close-focus.

Let’s talk about the close focusing ability for a little bit – these Loxias are surprisingly good at it and this 35mm goes as close as 0.3 meters, so you can really get right in there for your daily Facebook post of your cafe latte. It goes without saying that this is an extremely beneficial feature for both stills and video. I mean, obviously right? I used to have a Voigtlander M-mount close focus adapter for one of my Leica lenses and dicking around with that extra focusing ring is a royal pain in the ass, trust me.

Every good lens review needs a photo of some hipster coffee. Also, you can check out the focus fall-off

Now let’s consider the way the lens renders the in-focus parts of the frame. Wide open at f/2 the lens is sharp but loses contrast, which is quite typical for a prime lens. Stop down to 2.5 or 2.8 and the lens regains punchiness as well as good micro-contrast – which helps the in-focus parts of the frame pop out at you a little more. The color and vibrancy from these lenses are also really amazing – something which is less relevant when shooting RAW stills but which really really makes a difference when shooting video. Straight out of camera, your video files will look amazing, which is just really nice.

 perfect lens for documentary or reportage

Am I bothered by the maximum aperture being only f/2? Nope. It’s still a damn fast lens and to be honest, who has ever actually been on a shoot and said ‘wow, I really need f/1.4 now, otherwise this whole thing won’t work’? f/2 is a really comfortable max aperture and especially given the small size of the lens I feel like I’m having my cake as well as eating it. Like, really eating it in a messy, gluttonous way.

lassic focal length and user-friendly manual focus, what more could you want?


Ok that was the long version of basically me saying just buy the lens already, so hopefully you skipped all that. Anyway the Carl Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 sits in a really interesting spot amongst the other 35mm offerings for Sony Alpha 7s. On one hand you have a really compact Sony/Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 which at $800 is a little bit pricey for what it is. On the other hand you have the monstrous 35mm f/1.4 which in addition to being huge is also really, really expensive. The Loxia kind of sits in the Goldilocks zone in the middle – really compact while not sacrificing image quality and still fairly speedy. Now, if you shoot video as well as stills then this is an absolute no-brainer of a choice, what with the de-clickable aperture ring, super smooth focusing action and great image quality. If you like to take photos one-handed then this lens probably is not for you.

deal for travel, documentary, portrait, you name it

In my own opinion, Zeiss has really hit it out of the park with their Loxia concept, optimizing them for photos and video especially since the Sony Alphas are already amazing at both. The 35mm is traditionally a very versatile focal length, made even more versatile with the design choices Zeiss has made; consistent filter ring diameters, de-clickable aperture ring, awesome portability and user-friendly manual focus. I’m really enjoying using this lens and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Loxia lineup in the future.



Irwin Wong - Tokyo Plastic Food (13)

Maizuru Plastic Food Company – Tokyo

Hello all! I’m back with another blog post detailing some my (paid and unpaid) photographic adventures in Japan.

As a professional photographer in Tokyo I often get to visit some of the more wacky and interesting places on this side of Asia and this time was no exception. Today we have a bit of documentary and editorial photography of one of Tokyo’s most famous plastic food sample makers, Maizuru Plastic Food Company. Earlier this year Australian-based magazine Smith Journal contacted me to go photograph them for one of their features and I was all to happy to go.

A bit of introduction to what the folks at Maizuru do – they hand make all of the plastic food samples that you’ll often see in the windows of Tokyo restaurants or cafes. That’s right – everything is hand made, right down to the molds and as such at the end of the day not a single food sample is identical, kind of just like actual food. Walking through the factory is a little surreal at times because there are scenes that look as if they could be from a chef’s kitchen – with artisans carefully arranging ingredients on a plate or delicately brushing sauce onto a burger patty, but actually everything’s made out of plastic and if you try to eat anything you’ll die.

Still, watching the sheer artistry that goes into preparing the tens of thousands of different little things that they have to make is quite awe-inspiring and I’m super glad to have had a peek into this weird and quintessentially Japanese industry.

Another reason to be excited about these shots is that I was using my new (at the time) Carl Zeiss Loxia 21mm and 35mm lenses, which turned about to be amazing for documenting and reportage style photography like this. I’ll be writing more about these lenses coming up so you can get an better idea of whether they’d be for you or not.

Anyway, here are the photos, enjoy!

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Molds for different parts of a certain type of fish

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A lady is testing out a mold by painting the inside with silicone.

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Sample boxes stuffed with all sorts of fun stuff like…lemons

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More boxes filled with random food bits!

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A look into one of the production rooms, with the awesome Zeiss Loxia 21mm.

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An icecream is removed from a mold here, kind of trippy seeing it come out.

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Lining up bits of fish for baking! Yes they bake the samples to harden them.

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 This man’s job was to sort every single piece of plastic rice according to some criteria. 

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More rice sorting. Makes your head spin.

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Ladling some demiglace sauce onto a succulent looking beef patty – don’t be fooled it’s all plastic!

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A wider look at another workspace

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Making some magical levitating pasta require a lot of work piecing it together from single strands of spaghetti

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Rice sorting – side view. Look at the amount of individually sorted grains!

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Magical levitating pasta!

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Ready for baking. A surreal looking tableau if I ever saw one.

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Just a bunch of scoops of icecream hanging out like heads on pikes. 

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The vast amount of paints and colors required to bring out the natural colors of food is staggering.

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Crabs, fish, icecream cones, hanging out together like they belong together.

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Some sushi coming off the production line, individually wrapped in plastic seaweed

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Airbrushing a frankfurter, you know, the usual. 

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Top view: airbrushing a frankfurter

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This could be actual slurpee…but no it’s plastic like everything else.

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Some nice looking lemonades and sodas, ready to be baked.

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Painting some fat onto the sushi, because that’s normal.

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 Detail of the sushi, which looks delicious I must say

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More sushi because Japan

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Detailing the cupcakes. The amount of different things they need to make is mind-boggling

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Many areas look like a cross between a kitchen and a mad-scientist’s lab.

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The amount of visual interest in these places make it really rewarding to photograph wide with the Loxia 21mm

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Tiny banana slices and other things for less than 1:1 samples.

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A bunch of finished crepes just chilling out on the counter.

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Salads are made piece by piece, so I’ll never complain about making a salad again.

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Product shots: hard boiled eggs.

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Product shots: shrimp

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And finally there’s got to be a portrait, and this one is of the factory foreman Mr. Ebizawa

Tokyo Portrait Photographer Irwin Wong (1)

Portraits: Kengo Kuma

As a portrait photographer in Tokyo I get to meet some cool people, but occasionally I’ll meet a legend. Case in point, ridiculously awesome architect Kengo Kuma.

In addition to crafting some of the most recognizable buildings in Tokyo, Kengo Kuma has recently become a household name in Japan as the man who will design Japan’s National Olympic Station for 2020, after the government scrapped Zaha Hadid’s original design for being too expensive. He also beat out fellow Japanese architect Toyo Ito (who I also photographed here) to get the gig.

I was fortunate enough to visit him in his moments in his office photographing him for Blueprint Magazine a few years ago. Seeing as I’m working my way through Japan’s top architects little by little, will anyone hire me to photograph Shigeru Ban or Tadao Ando? I’d love to add them to my Pokedex.

Anyway, short post today but I’ll definitely be back soon with some ACTUAL GEAR POSTS because I definitely want people to follow me and we all know that camera prOn is the best way to get that happening.

Tokyo Portrait Photographer Irwin Wong (1)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Nissan Design Center (34)

Car Stuff: Nissan Design Center in Atsugi, Japan

Back in the day, when I was a young whippersnapper in Australia, my friends and I used to have dreams of owning a sweet import Japanese sports car so we could go drifting in the Dandenongs and pretend we were in some mountain drift racing group. We were fucking stupid, now that I think about it.

Years later the impulse towards suicidal driving is gone but the love of Japanese cars still remains. Cars like the Toyota Supra or MR-2, Mazda RX-7, Honda S2000 or NSX, Mitsubishi Evo, Subaru WRX, all such automobiles as to set the pulse racing with thoughts of irresponsible speeding and reckless endangerment of other motorists on the rubber-streaked roads of Melbourne, Victoria. High amongst them all though, were the offerings from Nissan: the turbocharged Silvia and the 180SX, the svelte Fairlady Z or best of all, the mighty Godzilla itself, the venerable GTR Skyline. The mere thought of owning such street machines was enough to bring a hotheaded youth to full tumescence. To us, Nissan was the company that made cool, fun, daring and above all, fast cars. Spotting that GTR badge on the dull streets of Melbourne was akin to seeing a mythical creature from a better plane of existence. To us in college, they what dreams were made of.

Fast forward 12 years or so and I live in Japan, the home of all these amazing cars. Now even though my enthusiasm for fast cars and irresponsible driving has waned a great deal in my recent years, it was still a thrill to be asked by Car Design News to do a photo spread on the Nissan Design Center located in Atsugi, near Tokyo. I mean, this place is where the magic happens – where car designs of the future will be born and turned into beloved motoring icons. Truly one of the highlights of my career thus far, although I was a little worried because the only rental car I could get was a Honda, which was a little embarrassing. I mean, it could have been entirely possible that they wouldn’t have let me drive a car from a rival company into the facility. A part of me wondered that they might have blown the Honda up on sight. Luckily no such totalitarian measures were in place and the 2 day photoshoot went off without a hitch, so please allow me to show you some of the photos from inside the Nissan Design Center!

Firstly of course we have some interior shots of the lobby and various other areas, just to give you a sense of the place:

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Then we did the obligatory portraits of the various interesting people who work there – chief designers, executives and whatnot:

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After all that was my personal favourite part of the photoshoot, which was seeing the designers craft a 1:1 prototype for a new car out of clay. In the photos below the car is actually of an Infiniti design, which I believe is a subsidiary of Nissan. Anyway, what a cool place to work, and not a bad place to photograph either! The sheer skill required for a team to carve out a hunk of clay by hand into the exact dimensions that the design dictates is absolutely mind boggling.

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Well that’s it for today! Hope you have enjoyed another automobile-themed blog post from the archives, I’ll be back (hopefully) soon with the last of my car-related posts for now, and I’ve got a few random gear-related blog posts in the works as well! See you next time.

Nakai Akira RWB Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong

Portraits: Nakai Akira – Rauh Welt Begriff (RWB)

So I meet a lot of people as a portrait photographer – it’s part of the job. Another part of the job is that the people who end up in front of my lens are generally pretty interesting people, which makes a lot of sense, because there are not many magazines out there who will pay me good money to go and photograph a regular someone who no one wants to read about. This fact notwithstanding however, there are a lot of times when I’ve gotten an email or a call about a job to go photograph someone, and I’ve never heard of that person or their company. This is not particularly unusual, because there are a lot of interesting people in the world and they each have their own thing going in their personal circle of influence, which just hasn’t happened to intersect my own yet. Exploring all of these circles that add up together to create the vast and varied weave of humanity is what keeps this job interesting and fun.

So when I got a call to go shoot a certain fellow called Nakai-san who owns this Porsche modding shop called RWB out in the countryside of Chiba, I thought ‘Cool, a car modding dude, this should be fun’. I drove all the way out to Chiba, met him, had a great time photographing him in his awesome man-cave slash workshop, and then I went home upon which I kind of forgot his name (my bad).

It was maybe a year later when I was in conversation with my older brother and I showed him the same shots that I had photographed at this cool Porsche-modding workshop out in Chiba that he exclaimed something along the lines of “Holy shit you photographed Nakai-san from RWB?’

I think I must have shrugged or something because he then began to rant at me at how famous he is in the auto world and how Nakai-san’s custom body kits for Porsches are some of the most sought after in the world and how his style has influenced the whole automotive design industry. He told me that any car enthusiast would give their left nut not only to meet Nakai-san but also to hang out at the original garage in Chiba where he started to mod Porsches in his own time, not knowing that they would become an international sensation and he would eventually have workshops in the US, Europe, the UK, Hong Kong and so on.

Definitely one of those ‘well, what do you know’ moments.

Anyway, my point is not that I need to do more research about my subjects, because I clearly have learnt from that mistake years ago, but rather that I love having this job where I can find myself hanging out with greatness, in his garage which is supposedly the Bethlehem of car modding, and that’s just a regular day at work for me. So I guess I should probably end the blog post at this point before I start sounding even more insufferable.

Seriously though I love photographing the people and places in the auto industry here in Japan (there’s so much of it!) and through the next few posts or so I’ll be putting up some of the more interesting stuff I’ve been out shooting related to cool car stuff.

See you soon!


Nakai Akira RWB Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong

Tokyo Editorial Photographer Irwin Wong (5)

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Tokyo Editorial Photographer Irwin Wong (1)

Kimono - Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (34)

A Kimono Dyeing Factory in Tokyo

It’s a new year but I’m continuing my series from last year, which is to show you a bunch of cool kimono-related things I shot for this book a few years ago. In the last blog post I focused on a really exclusive and high end kimono dyeing atelier run by a single guy. Here is a different kind of kimono dyeing factory that is a little bit on the other end of the spectrum, but no less cool.

Kimono - Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (40)

The first thing you see when you arrive at this place is this enormous rack for hanging and drying these really, really long bolts of kimono fabric that have just been dyed. It’s really impressive and there are plenty walking about on top of it hanging bits of fabrics or taking them in for folding. More photos of this thing later.

By the way I used to have the Nikon system until I sold it and bought into the mirrorless camera revolution – I don’t miss anything about Nikon all that much except for the spectacular Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8. That thing is the most compelling reason to shoot Nikon and I used it a lot in this factory because there was so much visual interest that could be crammed into the one frame. You’ll see.

Kimono - Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (39)

When you enter the factory this is the first thing you’ll see off to your right. There’s steam everywhere and the whole place is lit up by frosted windows and bare fluorescent tubes. Massive drums of who-knows-what (probably dye) are in the middle of the floor and the empties are stacked haphazardly in a corner, waiting to come crashing down if a dumb photographer with no spatial awareness decides to walk into them. (it didn’t happen but I came close)

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A closer look at one of the work benches. That lighting from those bare fluorescents is literally the best thing ever. I need to take those with me for every portrait.

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Here’s a different workbench for what looks like a different type of work. This area seems similar to the stencil-type dyeing that I saw in Hirose Atelier.

Kimono - Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (36)

This old guy right here was the coolest dude in the whole place. He was just working away paying me no mind the whole time I had a camera in his face (which was a long time), more often than not with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I because slightly obsessed with him, needless to say.

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Here’s a closer look at what the old guy was doing – using a stencil and trowel to imprint a pattern into fabric.

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I have no idea what this guy is doing (they kind of just let me inside the factory and told me to have fun – no explanations) – but steam is cool. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t toxic.

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Another stencilling shot from above.

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Semi-completed bolts are waiting for rinsing before they can be dried.

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A worker sets a bolt of cloth in the rinsing machine, which is a really long trough and a metal tumbler that really violently drags the newly dyed fabric through the water. It’s really surprising no one has lost an arm to that thing.

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Here is the machine at work, rinsing or rather, beating the excess dye off the fabric.

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This multicolored stack of kimono fabric is awesome.

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Another worker wrings out the kimono fabric once it has gone through the rinsing machine.

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Not sure what’s going on here but don’t you just love the lighting and how cool the interior of the factory looks? Getting to visit places like these is what makes me glad to be a photographer.

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Really not sure what’s going on here but if I had to guess…actually I can’t begin to guess because I don’t want to look silly if I get it wrong. They are obviously doing something right though because the color is really starting so show through nicely.

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Pulled back shot of the same person doing the same process on a different piece of cloth.

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The lighting in these places just blows my mind. I’ve never had such an easy or enjoyable time taking photos.

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Back outside, under the massive drying rack for bolts of cloth that are over 20 meters long.

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A worker prepares to hang a few shorter pieces of fabric.

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That 14mm sure comes in handy in a place like this. Almost wish I hadn’t sold it…

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Now we’re on top of that structure with some other workers. Those gaps are big enough to put your entire foot through so you’d better watch your step! No safety equipment required, because ain’t nobody got time for that.

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Alternate view showing the biggest laundry rack in the world.

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Inside the room where the finished fabrics get rolled up and stored. Hope they’ve stocked up on mothballs!

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This here’s the owner of the factory, so I shot a few quick portraits of him while I was there.

Kimono - Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (5)

Kimono - Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (1)

To end with, here’s a photo of my favorite dude 🙂

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Monkey (2)


Wahey! Congratulations all for surviving another year, although judging by the amount of KFC I just ate, that sentiment may be short lived for me. ANYWAY the new year is a time for reflection, a time for taking stock and quiet contemplation, and I’m happy to say that looking back on last year I can hold my head up high. For one thing, I all but DOUBLED the number of blog posts I put up compared to previous years (6 compared to 3) and managed a net gain of 13 Twitter followers, which for me is a really big deal because we all want to be popular, especially if you’re an Internashonal Fotografer like myself. So here’s to a successful 2016 in which I consolidated my status as social media powerhouse.

By far though, my most favorite thing I made last year was definitely The Last Sentoshi – a camera-themed special effects superhero short film which I wrote, directed shot and edited, which NO ONE WATCHED, so that was cool. Hope to create more film in 2016 and since it’s really fun even though it can cause you to tear your hair out although the hair tearing is of the fun kind so I don’t mind so much.

Some things are a constant though and this year is no exception for my annual Nengajyo, which involves bringing together some awesome people that I’ve worked with/hung out with and making them dress in silly costumes to make a greeting card. The year of 2016 is the Year of the Monkey, which was really convenient as Maiko was able to bring out my simian qualities using her wicked makeup skillz, saving us from having to use real animals like the debacle that was this one.

Anyway here it is and I hope you enjoy 2016 a million trillion billion times more than 2015! Thank you to all those around the world who support and follow me and I’ll try my best to make 2016 as goofily awesome as possible.

If you must know, the gear used was a Hasselblad H5D-40 w/ Carl Zeiss T* 40mm and 80mm V-series lenses, with lighting by Profoto and maybe one token Einstein.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Monkey (1)
Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Monkey (2)

This is me! I look pretty awesome as a space monkey, I must say, although it might have something to do with the colliding planets behind me or my skeleton buddy, or the awesome makeup Maiko did to monkify me. Protip – when in doubt always include a skeleton in your photos – you immediately get mad cred for juxtaposing life and death into the one picture, which makes you look smart. Plus you can quote Shakespeare and it doesn’t seem out of place.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Monkey (6)

It is my wife! She deserves all the credit for putting up with my money spending ways and occasionally disappearing to do photoshoots in odd parts of Japan. I’d watch out for her because if you get on her bad side she’ll hit you with her triple nunchuck made of femurs, and that would not be a pleasant thing to see, make no bones about it.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Monkey (3)

Maiko is the only other person apart from me and my wife who has been in all 4 of my Nengajo so far. She’s a makeup artist monster and will transform you into whatever you need. Also, kudos to her for sticking around for 4 whole Nengajos and not getting scared away by requests such as ‘make somebody look like a snake‘, ‘make me look like a monkey’, ‘give him a gaping wound’ etc.  Also, fun fact: all of her tattoos are real, which really helped sell the post apocalyptic wasteland raider theme that I was trying to go for. Gotta love the cake on the left arm.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Monkey (4)

What’s galling about Hamish is that he does such a good job assisting me that I keep getting him back, which means I keep needing to pay him. In fact he does such a good job that I may as well just hand the camera to him as well. JOKES. Seriously though Hamish is a fine art/landscape photographer who actually has shows in Sydney and Tokyo coming up this year, and if his website was up and running I would have linked it. Oh well. Pro costuming tip: ever need a futuristic looking space helmet but don’t have two nickels to rub together? Never fear – find two bits of roughly spherical plastic, spraypaint them, stick them together and fudge the posing until it looks vaguely decent. It’s a photo, not a video!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Monkey (5)

Last but not least there’s Jamie, who’s having his first Nengajo shoot with me. If you’re wondering why he looks so at home in his role of psychopathic wasteland murderer, then it’s probably because he would be one, if he could. Mad props to him for taking the shinkansen up from Osaka just for the shoot, and also for having that scar under the right nipple put in as per my request. Fun fact: Jamie was the only one with whom I engaged in watersports with this year, and you can interpret that as you will.

Thanks for sticking around! I’ll try to post even more this year, I’d say hopefully I can get into the 10s of blog posts but I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.