All posts filed under: Photojournalism

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. …

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 …

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! 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.   Yamashita-sensei tells me that cormorant fishing has been occurring in the Nagara River area for …

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 …

Hyundai/Genesis Design Center in Korea

Being a photographer in Tokyo is enough of a treat by itself, but sometimes I am privileged to go to other countries to take photos. This particular time I was sent to Hyundai/Genesis’s research and development lab in Korea. I had never been to Korea before so it was very refreshing navigating in a country where language was once again a barrier. The lab was about 90 minutes out from Seoul but I managed to get there without issues, and on time too! Once there I was treated with great hospitality and the design directors SangYup Lee and Luc Donkerwolke were very generous with their time. It was all in all a very tiring day as I flew over without an assistant, but after I got back to my hotel in Seoul, I had randomly stumbled across some of the best fried chicken I’d ever had in my life. So needless to say I’m very keen to go back to Korea and explore more! Enjoy the photos!  

The Shikoku Files – Candles from Uchiko – the Best in The World???

Further up the coast of Ehime, there is an old town with a wonderful set of meandering old roads and historic buildings called Uchiko. Uchiko by itself is one of those little country Japanese towns that is insanely Instagrammable – it’s charming, old and clean, dotted with trendy shops, cafes and hostels – just right for a stroll in a kimono. The highlight of the town however, is the old candle industry here that is originally what put Uchiko on the map in the first place. In the olden days, candles were made out of beeswax or paraffin; materials which when burnt produced a lot of smoke and unpleasant odor. The people of Uchiko however, discovered a way to make candle wax out of the haze tree, which is a very labor intensive process however the result is a pristine white candle that when burnt produces a pure bright flame with no smoke or odor. These candles were exhibited at the Paris expo in 1900 (or thereabouts, I actually can’t remember) and instantly became a smash …

The Shikoku Files – Experience Crafts in Mima, Tokushima

That afternoon we drove down from the mountains of Tokushima back into civilization – where we visited the old traditional streets of Mima, which I found to be absolutely lovely. In addition to beautifully preserved old Japanese buildings with cafes and shops built into them, there were several spots in which you could try your hand at some traditional crafts, one of them being making Wagasa, Japanese umbrellas. Having photographed a few wagasa workshops around Japan, I was surprised to find that Tokushima prefecture also had a history of making them, as the main centers of production are typically said to be Gifu, Kyoto, Kanazawa and Yodoe. There is a small workshop in Mima that is keeping the tradition alive by a thread though, and it’s only here that you can get hands on with making paper umbrellas. A short way down the street is a small indigo dyeing workshop where you can make your very own scarf or handkerchief dyed with all-natural indigo dye – said to be the most resilient color in nature …