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Japanese Masters: The Blacksmiths of Sakai

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. Here is one of many that I have met along the way! The Knives of Sakai from Irwin Wong | Photographer on Vimeo. The city of Sakai is a mere thirty minute drive from the neon-soaked streets of central Osaka – so close in fact that it feels like I never left. Still, the streets of Sakai are markedly different from the gaudy and brazen Osaka fare – there are fewer shops and zero tourists. A light rail trundles through the main thoroughfare. I notice other things as I drive towards my destination: a high frequency of workshops that advertise some kind of metal-working trade – polishing, smithing or sharpening. A high percentage of the shops are shuttered, their buildings too aged and run down to be operational. There are a few still open. I pull …

Photo Essay: Luxury Trains in Japan

Being a photographer in Japan has so many perks – not the least of which is the amazing, ultra reliable bullet train system that means I can zip from city to city with so much less effort being subjected to all sorts of cavity searches in order to board a flight. Japan’s trains are so good, clean and fast that once you’re used to them, it’s almost impossible for any other country to live up to them. Of course, Japan being Japan, they can’t leave well enough alone, and had to find some way to make the train experience even more sublime. Japan’s luxury train lineup is a serious droolfest for train nerds and luxury travelers alike, with berths on the most exclusive Shikishima train starting at around $7000 for a twin share. Not quite so expensive yet marvelous nonetheless is the Royal Express train, which I had the great pleasure of photographing for the Wall Street Journal late last year. The Royal Express runs from Yokohama down to the tip of the Izu peninsula …

Japanese Masters: The Last Maiko 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. Since 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 with this year coming to a close, I’ve decided to post the start of the series on my blog to show you folks where it all started. Please visit the original piece here where there are many more links to nearly a whole year’s worth of master artisans. Anyway, here’s the article below, enjoy! The Last Maiko in Gifu from Irwin Wong | Photographer on Vimeo. It’s twilight in Gifu, and the lights of the city sparkle prettily on the Nagara River. My assistant Will and I are standing on the bridge closest to where the boats dock, and as we watch, several pleasure boats peel lazily away from the harbor and …

Tokyo Portraits – Fumio Sasaki for The Times

Ok, this title is a bit of a lie, it may say Tokyo Portraits but I actually traveled to the outskirts of Kyoto to photograph Mr. Fumio Sasaki who is a famous Japanese minimalist and author of the extremely popular book Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism. While I suspect he may have had a residence in Tokyo at some point, on that particular day I met him he was staying on a university campus near Kyoto, in a tiny dorm room. True to his title, his room held nothing more than what he needed – not that it was completely devoid of anything but there was certainly no extra stuff, other than what the university had provided. A table, a chair, a bed and two drinking glasses were about the extent of what I could see. The shoot was a very quiet, genial affair, with me doing my best to maneuver my lightstands around his cramped (despite containing very little) apartment, and I made these images with a Sony A7rII. Many thanks to The …

Tokyo Portraits – Yuusaku Maezawa for Wall Street Journal

Being an English and Japanese speaking photographer based in Tokyo, I’m lucky enough to be able to get editorial jobs that require someone who can operate without a costly translator. However, when I get the opportunity to photograph the same person multiple times in the same year for various outlets, I definitely know I have found my place in the market. The person in question is Zozotown CEO Yuusaku Maezawa, an avid art collector who was definitely the man of the hour having purchased a Basquiat for a record sum at auction last year. I had photographed him earlier in the year for Forbes and now the wonderful people at the Wall Street Journal gave me another opportunity to photograph him, this time at his luxurious apartment in the heart of Tokyo. Mr. Maezawa certainly remembered me from our last encounter and this shoot was much more relaxed and fun than the other one, due to our familiarity. With so much expensive artworks lying around I was a little nervous about bumping into anything, but …

Tokyo Travel Photography – Hoshino Resort for American Airlines

Recently I had the great pleasure of being able to photograph Hoshino Resort Tokyo for American Airlines business class mag, Celebrated Living. One of my images made it to the cover as well, which is always super exciting! In many ways it was an extremely pleasurable photoshoot, not only because Hoshinoya Resort Tokyo is one of the most high end luxury accommodations in a city known for its amazing hospitality, but also because the staff on hand at the hotel were so incredibly warm, welcoming and friendly towards me. I honestly felt like a paying guest the whole time I was there, as they were so generous in listening to my requests and trying everything to make sure I could get the best shots possible. Not only that but they fed me (simply amazing food), and I was offered the use of their exquisite rooftop hot spring (which was tempting but I decided to work through the day). At the end of the long, 12+ hour day I left the hotel feeling more uplifted and …

It’s the Year of the Dog!

Happy New Year! I’ve finally returned to Tokyo where I can’t wait to resume photographing all of my ongoing projects. As is my tradition, I’ve photographed a nengajo (Japanese New Years Greeting Card) with my close friends and family. This year, being the Year of the Dog, I was fortunate enough to be able to feature my good friend’s Shiba inu puppy Amaterasu (who has a bitchin Instagram feed ). It’s always fun to have live animals on set (as I have done in previous iterations of the nengajo here and here), and Amaterasu was by far the most well behaved talent I’ve ever had to work with, humans included. Possible one of the cutest as well. Anyway without further ado, here are the photos, featuring myself, my wife, Hamish Campbell, Maiko Mita and of course Amaterasu. Kimono styling was done by the amazing Anji Salz, and the shoot hinged on the gorgeous cyberpunk style accessories crafted by Ikeuchi Hiroto. Hair and makeup was by the talented Misa Motoki. Looking forward to what hopefully will be a great year! …

Tokyo Portraits: Marie Kondo for The Times

A few years back I had the opportunity to photograph author and lifestyle consultant Marie Kondo in her Tokyo office. Now in case you don’t know who Marie Kondo is, she basically rewrote the book for organizing your life, and her method of cleaning out your life so that the only possessions you own are the ones most dear to you has become so popular that her name has become part of the zeitgeist, in the form of the word ‘konmari’.  For people in the know, to konmari your life means to get your shit together and start ditching baggage – both physical and nonphysical – in order to make room for yourself to breathe. She’s basically one of the newest household names to come out of Japan. Marie-san herself was small, both in stature and in voice, but she was an absolute joy to photograph despite her newfound international celebrity status. This article appeared in The Times, and was later syndicated for use in The Australian Sunday Edition – here are a couple of …

Japan Portraits: Shuho Hananofu – Ikebana Master

Around December last year I did a little photo portrait project with the wonderful folks at Kyoto Journal, centering around profiling entrepreneurial women in Kyoto. Here’s one of the amazing ladies that I photographed, which incidentally made the cover of Kyoto Journal issue 89, a very handsome magazine which is available now. Here is an excerpt from the very top of the article, written by the talented Elle Murrell, one of the most fun writers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with: “Hananofu Shuho is an ikebana master who was in charge of flower study section at Jisho-ji, better known as Ginkakuji, the ‘Silver Pavilion’ – one of Kyoto’s most famous temples – for 10 years. Since leaving the Center for Cultural Studies (Jisho-ji Kenshu dojo) there in 2015, she continues teaching her art form, leading several classes per month in Kyoto, Tokyo and Kyushu. Her students come from all over Japan and even from China for these intimate sessions.’ I’ve seen Shuho-san do ikebana performances on several occasions, and I’m always struck by …

Japan Travel Photography: Uji Green Tea

Earlier in the year I was very privileged to join a press tour to Japan’s Uji area, in Nara prefecture. Uji is one of the premier locations for growing and refining green tea, especially matcha, which is said to be of the highest quality. I was excited to explore an area of Japan that I’ve only had the chance to superficially explore up until now. During the trip we were shown some of the oldest locations in Japan where tea leaves are still grown, as well as a variety of historical sites that denote areas where green tea was first introduced in Japan. The best part of course was visiting the remote terraced slopes where the tea leaves are grown en masse – the picturesque, fastidiously manicured hills are definitely a sight to be seen if you are into tea, photography or both, and they are definitely worth the effort to go the extra mile from the station. The other highlight of course, is tasting the matcha and wagashi (Japanese sweets) that are the product …