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Japanese Handicrafts: Noh Shozoku – Theatrical Costumes

I have been touring Japan photographing craftspeople and artisans for my upcoming book to be published by Gestalten this year (out next month, preorder here!!). In total I managed to photograph some 70 artisans, all of them wonderful, however due to space constraints in the book not all of them were able to make it into the final cut. I plan to introduce some of the ones that we unfortunately couldn’t include here, so I hope you’re in the mood to learn about some crafts! One of the most demanding and expensive types of garment produced in Nishijin also requires one of the most flexible approaches. Kyoto’s Nishijin is home to many of Japan’s finest textile weavers, however one of the most demanding jobs in terms of quality would have to be the production of Noh Shozoku, or costumes for Noh theatre. An extremely rare type of craft, Noh costumes have similarities to kimono but also include a great deal of other types of garment in order to depict every different type of character ranging …

Japanese Crafts: Gold Leaf/Kinpaku

I have been touring Japan photographing craftspeople and artisans for my upcoming book to be published by Gestalten this year (out next month, preorder here!!). In total I managed to photograph some 70 artisans, all of them wonderful, however due to space constraints in the book not all of them were able to make it into the final cut. I plan to introduce some of the ones that we unfortunately couldn’t include here, so I hope you’re in the mood to learn about some crafts! The incandescent beauty of many Japanese national treasures and temples are due to the application of gold leaf. Kanazawa produces 99% of it.  The kanji for Kanazawa translates literally to ‘Gold Marsh’, an extremely accurate designation for a city that produces 99% of all domestic gold leaf. It is a staple craft industry in the country, with many other crafts being reliant on it to exist. Kimono, architecture, sculptor, lacquerware amongst some use kinpaku – Japanese hammered gold leaf – on a daily basis. One of the most recognizable Kyoto …

Japanese Handicrafts: Kinu Ito – Silk Strings

I have been touring Japan photographing craftspeople and artisans for my upcoming book to be published by Gestalten this year (out next month, preorder here!!). In total I managed to photograph some 70 artisans, all of them wonderful, however due to space constraints in the book not all of them were able to make it into the final cut. I plan to introduce some of the ones that we unfortunately couldn’t include here, so I hope you’re in the mood to learn about some crafts! It goes without saying that the strings of musical instruments are an important factor in the quality of sound they produce. Before modern advancements, Western instruments used animal gut for their stringed instruments whereas traditionally Japanese instruments such as the shamisen were strung with pure silk. With the recent advent of nylon strings there are very few workshops left in Japan that produce silk strings, and only one town where the silk is also locally harvested. The small town of Ooto, Shiga prefecture, is a window into this fascinating process. …

BOSS Coffee Campaign for ANZ

Late last year I was contacted by Peter Grasse, the man behind Mr Positive, a fantastic production agency helping overseas clients to set up shoots in Japan and Korea. He wanted to know if I was available to do a shoot for the launch of BOSS Coffee in the Australian and New Zealand region. I was of course stoked for the opportunity and said yes straight away. BOSS Coffee is an ubiquitous can coffee brand here in Japan, quite well known for its domestic ad campaigns starring Tommy Lee Jones as an alien (it’s very hard to explain). I’m quite a fan of the BOSS Rainbow Blend if I am on assignment somewhere in the countryside and need a quick sugar and caffeine hit to get my head in the game. Owned by Suntory, BOSS Coffee ventured a new product line into the Australian/NZ market – both very well known for extremely high standards of coffee. The pitch was, BOSS Coffee is the beverage that gets Japanese people through their extremely hectic day. Peter, myself …

Hanafubuki Ryokan for 1843 mag

Hanafubuki Ryokan is a super nice place to stay on the coast of the Izu peninsula. Izu is a beach and mountain paradise for hikers and surfers located about 30 minutes by bullet train west of Tokyo. Take a local train further down the east side of the peninsula for some of the more secluded, premium accommodation options, like Hanafubuki. I photographed this wonderful hot spring hideaway for 1843, the Economist’s lifestyle magazine last year. Hanafubuki is not a single big hotel building, it’s rather a collection of smaller cottages linked together via wooden walkways. Its open air plan and proximity to the forests make it a great place to recharge after a grueling spell in the city. The air is beautiful, crisp and filled only with the sounds of nature, and there are some short forest walks adjoining the property that allows you to do some shinrinyoku, or ‘forest bathing’, which is a fancy way of saying you can sit by yourself in the unspoiled tranquility of nature for a bit. Don’t knock it …

Japanese Handicrafts – Hagoita

A few years ago I photographed Mr Nishiyama, a hagoita artisan in his Tokyo workshop. Nishiyama Kogetsu’s workshop makes hagoita – decorative paddles meant to bring good luck to Japanese households. The workshop is on the second floor of his Tokyo home, where there are two work tables. Nishiyama-san’s father occupied the other one until he passed away – now he continues the tradition alone with no apprentice to take up the workload.  Hagoita are in effect paddles for an ancient game called hanetsuki, which was a very early form of badminton. With a history as far back as the Eikyo era (1429-1441), hanetsuki was enjoyed by members of the Japanese aristocracy as a New Year’s diversion. Shaped like a wooden trapezoid with a handle, there was plenty of space to add decorations, which started out as pictures painted directly onto the wood.  The paddles became more and more complicated as artisans strove to outdo each other, and on entering the Edo period (1603 – 1863), the idea of using fabric collage with cotton padding …

Nanbu Tekki (Iron Kettle) artisans

My book on traditional crafts in Japan – Handmade in Japan, published by Gestalten, will be out in September this year (hopefully – this covid thing is keeping everyone on their toes), so I thought I would share some of the crafts that I had photographed but for one reason or the other could not be included in the book. Originally the book was slated to run at under 300 pages but we ended up extending it to 340 pages and there still wasn’t enough space for all of the awesome crafts in Japan. Nanbu Tekki is the kettle you want. It is a solid cast iron piece that – according to tea experts from China to London – apparently makes the water boiled inside very delicious, due to an infusion of iron into the water. Nanbu Tekki is of course handmade and very time consuming, requiring clay and sand molds to be created before a specialized craftsman presses an intricate design into it. The clay mold for the spout and body are combined before …

Street Photography For Shiseido

Early last year I was very lucky to do a quick gig with Japanese makeup giant Shiseido for their online global content. The job itself had very little to do with makeup – in fact the shoot was more about capturing the feel of Tokyo’s most upscale neighborhood Ginza. It was an absolute delight to spend a chilly but sunny February afternoon people watching and shooting photos on my Leica, and for a great company no less. Because it was to be used for promotional purposes on the web, the brief stipulated that no faces were to be recognizable, a no easy feat on a crowded Sunday afternoon but a fun limitation to shoot around. Here is the link to the finished article on the web: https://www.shiseido.com.hk/en/CrossingFeature.html I thought I’d post up a selection of my personal favorites photos from the afternoon including ones that weren’t used.

Portraits from Japan – Hikakin

If you live in Japan, there’s a good chance you know about Hikakin. He’s Japan’s #1 Youtuber by a long shot, appealing to younger audiences with his zany humor, personal style and videogame playthroughs. I had the opportunity to photograph his portrait recently for Forbes Japan. It was a quick shoot – maybe only ten minutes or so, but luckily I had the interview to plan my approach and lighting. When he jumped in front of the camera he quickly proved to be personable and cooperative, putting on a show for the camera. The only backdrop available was a green screen in this empty studio in the depths of Mori Tower in Roppongi. I felt the green screen worked thematically to show the somewhat manufactured nature of most Youtube stars’ lives, so I leaned into the idea and it turned out ok! Thank you Hikakin for being such a great sport!