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Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo (4)

Box People at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

I’m primarily a portrait photographer in Tokyo but I’ve been posting a lot of reportage lately, so here’s another one! For photographers in Tokyo, few places beat the amazing hustle and bustle of Tsukiji Fish Market. There’s always such a swirl of activity as the marketplace thunders along plying its trade, and the amount of visual interest surrounding you is close to overwhelming. No matter where you look, there’s always something interesting going on and it’s all authentic.

Anyway with Tsukiji now officially closed and moved to a new location. I thought I’d share a fun little side project I did to try and get a fresh perspective on the the old fish market.

In Tsukiji like any other market there are countless vendors, and each vendor has a cashier. What’s really interesting about Tsukiji cashiers is that they all sit in these really tiny boxes all morning filled with random paraphernalia accumulated from over the years. I find them really fun and interesting to photograph, so here are some of my favorites.

As for gear I shot these with my Hasselblad 501CW with the CFV-50c digital back and the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 150mm f/4. I really love that digital back but the difficulty in shooting vertical is kind of holding me back from taking the plunge. If I ever get it I’ll have to do a review!

Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo (25)

Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo (24)

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Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo (17)

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Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo (8)

Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo (7)

Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo (5)

Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo (1)

 

Tokyo Launch of Nike Air Pegasus Zoom for Men’s Health UK

Sometime last year I was invited to photograph the Tokyo launch Nike’s newest training shoe, the Air Pegasus Zoom for Men’s Health UK. I remember owning a pair of Air Pegasus shoes when I was a little kid, thinking they were the coolest things ever; now they’re even more hi tech, made out of the lightest, springiest materials. The next day was a 10k around the Imperial Palace for journalists and bloggers to test out the shoe! Kinda of makes me glad I’m not a fitness/sports journalist because I would 100% keel over after the first 2km and have to be airlifted out, fancy shoes and all. Anyway, enjoy some shots from the event!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Nike (1)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Nike (2)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Nike (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Nike (4)

 

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Nike (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Nike (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Nike (8)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Nike (9)

 

Japan Travel Photography: Sake Brewing for Air Canada Enroute Magazine

Around this time last year Enroute Magazine, Air Canada’s stellar inflight mag got in touch with me to shoot one of my favorite stories of the year – sake brewing in three different prefectures in Japan.

The first city was a real treat – Tendo city in Yamagata, which is home of Dewazakura and Mitobe sake, both very famous but operating on vastly different scales. The combination of snow and steam from the rice and hot water made for some of my favorite sake brewing photographs ever, and I’ve photographed a lot of breweries!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (1)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (2)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (6)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (8)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (9)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (10)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (11)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (12)

The next city was Nagoya, a major city in Japan but also home to some of the best breweries in the country. The first stop was Kuheiji Sake Brewery, whose owner believes in the idea that terroir has a great influence over the taste of sake, much like wine. He is also trying barrel-aged sake as a way of introducing something new to the market.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (13)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (14)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (15)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (16)

Next in Nagoya we went to the absolutely magnificent Marutani sake bar and restaurant- a real hidden gem in a beautiful neighborhood. This place should be a must on your list if you’re in Nagoya and like great food and great sake. The restaurant is run by the Marutani sake brewery in the hills of Aichi prefecture, and you’ll be able to sample their wide range of delicious sake there.

Lastly we went to Gunma prefecture, home of Mizubasho, which is a sparkling sake that gets its bubbles from natural fermentation. There’s an absolutely wonderful park in the town of Kawaba where the brewery is located, where you can shop local organic produce, have a barbecue, go blueberry picking, and of course drink some of the very exquisite sake they brew there!

 

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (19)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (20)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Sake Brewing (17)

 

Japanese Artisans: Ki-Oke Master Shuji Nakagawa

Despite being a Tokyo based photographer I often like to travel into the countryside to find interesting people to photograph, because I find that’s where some real gems can be found. Here is ki-oke (wooden bucket) artisan Nakagawa Shuji, who lives in Shiga Prefecture.

Shuji Nakagawa’s workshop sits on a rise overlooking the glittering Lake Biwa – Japan’s largest lake. One wall holds every imaginable shape and size of kanna – Japanese wood planes which are capable of shaving mere microns off of an uneven surface. Other woodworking implements unique to ki-oke (wood bucket) making are lined up in the floor – crescent shaped blades with two handles meant for giving wood slats a concave inner surface so they can be fit together to form a bucket.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shuji Nakamura (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shuji Nakamura (1)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shuji Nakamura (2)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shuji Nakamura (6)

Shuji Nakagawa is the third generation scion of his family’s business in crafting ki-oke, or wooden buckets. He comes from distinguished lineage – his grandfather spent forty years perfecting the craft before starting the company, and his father received the coveted ‘Living National Treasure of Japan’ award, which is only bestowed on true masters for their services in protecting traditional craftsmanship.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shuji Nakamura (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shuji Nakamura (8)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shuji Nakamura (9)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shuji Nakamura (10)

Shuji has continued in the tradition of excellence by adapting 700 year old ki-oke crafting techniques in order to capture modern consumers’ attention, developing buckets into stylish and complex shapes that were once very difficult to make. As the need for traditional wooden buckets in households has plummeted in the last 50 years, Nakagawa’s efforts have been to pivot away from making a utilitarian object to crafting something desirable and attractive to international communities. The result is abeautiful range of products that have visual appeal as well as diverse avenues of usage. The ki-oke technique is still entirely done by hand, from chopping wood blocks into staves that fit together into a perfect circle, to sanding down the edges so that the bucket appears seamless.

Travel Photography: Japanese Cormorant Fishers in Gifu

Although I am primarily a photographer based in Tokyo, you’ll often find me traveling to random cities and towns to find artisans and craftsmen to photograph as part of my ongoing personal project to document as many as possible. In the beginning of 2017, Zeiss has partnered with me to produce a series of videos, photos and text for their newly updated Lenspire blog. Now that that project is officially over, I thought I’d repost some of that content on my blog. Enjoy!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (11)

Along the banks of the Nagara River in Gifu city, there stands a centuries-old home. Its entrance is quite well hidden, a single unassuming stairway carved into the retaining wall, and you could easily miss it if you weren’t paying attention. Climb the stairs however and you’ll find yourself in a beautifully preserved Japanese villa from a different era. This is the ancestral home of the master cormorant fisher Yamashita Tetsuji, the 26th of his line.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (6)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (8)

 

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (9)

Yamashita-sensei tells me that cormorant fishing has been occurring in the Nagara River area for at least 1300 years. Over the centuries they have enjoyed the support of some of the most powerful warlords and patrons in Japanese history, from Oda Nobunaga to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun. The dissolution of the Shogunate with the arrival of the Meiji period stripped the cormorant fishers of the support they previously relied on, however shortly after that they were employed into the office of the Imperial Household as the Emperor’s own cormorant fishermen. To this day Yamashita-san and 5 other cormorant fishers in the Gifu City area still hold this office, passed down from generation to generation. These days however, the practice of cormorant fishing is done mainly for the benefit of tourists who watch from the riverboats. Compared to olden times, amount of fish caught in the river has dropped dramatically.

Yamashita-sensei himself looks exactly how you would want an old Japanese master to look like. His pointy white beard, weathered skin and diminutive stature do not diminish the fierce twinkle of vigor and humor in his eyes. He leads me through his ancestral home, showing me where the birds are kept and trained. Paraphernalia related to the art of cormorant fishing are kept in fastidious order around the house; there are grass sandals and grass skirts as part of their uniform as well as large bamboo baskets for holding the cormorants, not to mention the long boats crafted especially for cormorant fishing. Over a millennia of accumulated knowledge and expertise, contained in the fine craftsmanship of the tools, and more importantly, behind Yamashita-sensei’s glittering eyes.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (1)

Having never seen anything cormorant fishing before, I was a little nervous, especially as working with animals always brings an element of unpredictability to every shoot. Would the birds be well treated? Would they be scared of the camera or the flashes? Would they act up? I watch Yamashita-sensei handle a bird. He plops the cormorant on top of a bamboo basket and whispers to it while attaching a lead. The bird is skittish once noticing my big octabank and camera, but Yamashita-sensei rubs its neck in a soothing manner and the cormorant calms down. It lazily begins to stretch its wings, showing off their impressive wingspan, and the bird was relaxed for the rest of the photoshoot. According to Yamashita-sensei: ‘we live with and train the birds for three years before they become ready to fish in the river. We take great care in monitoring and tending to their health and as a result the cormorants that live with us have lifespans many times more than their counterparts in the wild.’ The record for the longest lived cormorant stands at 26 years, although he retired well before then, Yamashita-sensei says with a smirk.

That evening sees me accompanying Yamashita-sensei down the river to see the preparations for the night’s fishing demonstration. The large bonfire burns as cormorant fishers from the different houses gather around it, swapping jokes and smoking cigarettes. The birds splash playfully on the riverbank, honking away. At some unspoken signal, the bonfire is broken up and the fishermen carry flaming tinder down to the waiting boats in order to stoke the braziers suspended from their prows. The fire is a technique from olden times to attract the freshwater trout to gather around the boats. Within seconds each boat has a blazing star kindled in their lanterns, and the boats head off downstream.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (12)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cormorant Fishing (13)

Yamashita-sensei stands at the prow of the lead boat, his face lit dramatically by the burning lantern feet from his face. From his hands lead eight leashes, and on the end of each leash is a cormorant bobbing through the water for trout. Under Yamashita-sensei’s practiced eye, he summons each bird back to the boat with a tug on the leash once he surmises they have caught a fish. The bird then spits it out to be collected and then jumps back into the water to continue working. It’s a dazzling display of coordination and concentration, performed by the grandmaster of his generation. Every now and then he’ll scoop some new wood into the brazier, sending out a shower of sparks that are borne away on the wind. The tourist boats are rapturous in their applause and vocal in their encouragement. Yamashita-sensei and his five other colleagues are local heroes here.

 

The fishing ends and the boats laden with tourists head back to land. Yamashita-sensei and his boat crew, including his 20 year old son have returned upriver with the boat, no doubt to attend to the cormorants and clean everything to be ready for the next night of fishing. Gifu has returned to being a sleepy, quiet city. The Nagara River quietly flows by.

Japanese Crafts: Ozeki Lantern in Gifu

Late last year I had the opportunity to travel to Gifu, Japan to photograph the superb craftsmen at the Ozeki lantern workshop. Not many people know this but during the Shogunate Gifu was a cultural and economical hub due to a combination of geography and high quality natural resources. Gifu is surprisingly famous for a large number of core crafts, including smithing, washi (paper) production, bamboo crafts and the like – and as a result a great deal of higher level crafts flourished in the city as well – such as lanterns, which used a combination of the high quality materials produced in the area. .

For the most part, the lanterns made at Ozeki are decorative interior lanterns – different to the ones I photographed in Kyoto, which were mainly for outdoor use (a blog post for another time!). For this purpose, the lanterns needed to be compact and aesthetically pleasing, requiring a much more delicate approach and also an artistic design sensibility. The bamboo ribs are far more delicate and closer spaced than lanterns meant for outside use – the paper used is also extremely thin and translucent locally produced washi, adding to the luxury factor. Finally, each lantern has its motif hand painted directly onto the paper by an artisan so skilled and unerring that his brush strokes look effortless.

The famous Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi was so impressed with the skill and craftmanship of Ozeki’s artisans that he collaborated with them to make a series of art deco lanterns that are on display in the city right now. The geometries of the lanterns, some of them sinuous and organic, others with rigid and sharp lines, shows the adaptability and virtuosity of these artisans.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (1)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (8)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (9)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (10)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (11)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (12)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (13)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (14)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (15)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (16)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Lantern Artisans (17)

 

Tokyo Portraits: Maezawa Yusaku again

Ever since I photographed portraits of Tokyo billionaire Maezawa Yusaku 2 years ago for his record breaking purchase of a Basquiat, he’s had a hard time staying out of local and international news as an example of an unconventional CEO. Most recently he took to Twitter and told all and sundry that he would give 100 random retweeters one million yen (equivalent to about 10,000 US) each – prompting it to become the most retweeted tweet in history, predictably. Just like anything popular on the Internet it sparked a bit of backlash, with some commentators saying he was only doing it for attention and to lord his cash over everyone, however his response was pretty notable – ‘I didn’t make all this money by myself, rather I did it with the help of a lot of people. So rather than hoarding the money for myself I thought it would be good to spread it around and put it back into the economy’

These portraits were from the third sitting I’ve had with him – he seems bemused that I always show up at his apartment whenever there’s an article in the foreign press about him. He’s a very good collaborator and he definitely felt more comfortable with me this time around. Shot for The Times Magazine last year.

 

J-Rock Band Uverworld for Rockin’ On Japan

Late last year Tokyo based magazine Rockin’ On tapped me to photograph J-rock phenomenon Uverworld for an 8 page spread about their new album. We were to have an hour to fill those pages with some kind of shots, so we looked around Tokyo’s trendiest neighborhood Daikanyama for a good pot we could use. Luckily there was a nice photogenic abandoned lot right by their studio which we could use with impunity. Side note: it doesn’t matter who you’re photographing in Tokyo, if you choose your spot unwisely, some rentacop with no real authority will come up to you and tell you that you can’t shoot there.

Anyway the guys were really nice, even being fine with me blanking on their names halfway through (6 new names all at one time is a LOT for me), and the lead singer Takuya seemed quite interested in me, grilling me with questions about my home country Australia while we were taking photos. Hope you enjoy the photos!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Uverworld (1)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Uverworld (6)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Uverworld (2)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Uverworld (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Uverworld (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Uverworld (5)

Photo of the Week: Asakusa, Tokyo

Just a photo of a guy cutting through Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. Sensoji and its surrounds have become quite a tourist destination, to the point that navigating the shopping areas as a local can become somewhat of an ordeal. It’s worth remembering that the temple regains its solemnity and tranquility in the early hours of the morning, when the selfie stick toting hordes of tourists are still in bed. Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Asakusa

Tokyo Portraits: Kengo Kuma, again

Recently I was asked to photograph a portrait of renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma for the third time, and it was to be at his office in Gaienmae again too. I definitely wanted to try something different to the first two times I had photographed him, and also wanted to have him pictured with bamboo, which is a medium he draws a lot of inspiration from. We shot at a bamboo grove at a shrine across the road from his office (which he helped design, incidentally), and he was a wonderful subject as always, barely batting an eyelid when I asked him to pop his head in between the two stalks of bamboo.

Kengo Kuma is the man behind the design of the 2020 Olympic Stadium currently being built in Gaien. Hope I get to sit in it in 2020!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Kenga Kuma (2)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Kenga Kuma (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Kenga Kuma (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Kenga Kuma (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Kenga Kuma (1)