All posts filed under: Travel

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 …

Yokohama and Sydney Chinatown for Cathay Pacific Discovery

Being a photographer in Tokyo is not always easy. There are some jobs where I find myself navigating overcrowded subways with unfeasible amounts of gear, lugging them up and down staircases and enduring dirty stares from fellow commuters. Other times I have to maneuver my lights inside a tiny rabbit hole of a location, or contend with the dreadful lighting and drab interiors of the typical Tokyo office locale. Blessedly, there come jobs that are the complete opposite – such as this one from Cathay Pacific’s Discovery magazine, which was a feature on Chinatowns around the world. Luckily for me I got to photograph two of them – Yokohama and Sydney. My job was to be present, observe and capture the vibe of both locations, and nothing is more satisfying to a photographer than a good excuse to step away from the computer and spend some time roaming the streets. I also shot two videos for them: Yokohama Chinatown for Silkroad from Irwin Wong | Photographer on Vimeo. Sydney Chinatown for Silkroad from Irwin Wong …

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 …

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 …

Mukojima, the Tokyo geisha town

Somewhere in the middle of Tokyo’s older quarter, near Asakusa but slightly too far from a subway station to make it easy to access, is the quiet district of Mukojima. Hidden in the nondescript grey and brown buildings are the homes, restaurants, and training houses for Tokyo’s geisha. Here it is not uncommon to see a fully garbed geisha or maiko quietly having coffee in the homely kissaten (cafes), or crossing the street to go from one interminable location to another – a sight that is typically thought to exist only in Kyoto. It’s an undiscovered part of Tokyo that has quietly come along through the ages without invasion from the eyes of tourists. Here’s a few photos from a story I shot around the area, some of them are from the street, others are portraits of some of the subjects interviewed for the article. Hope you enjoy them!        

Zen and the art of taxi driving

Late late last year I had the wonderful opportunity to do a photoshoot for BBC’s Top Gear magazine, on a kind of documentary story about one life in the night of a Tokyo taxi driver.  In addition to shooting the story, I also had to do the fixing – eg; find a taxi company who would let us ride around with one of their drivers all night, so I had my work cut out for me.  Fixing is something I regularly do when shooting for magazines outside Japan, and is one of the advantages of being a bilingual photographer here, as I usually get a bonus. Anyway, you can see and read the great article in January’s Top Gear magazine (should be available worldwide), but here are some photos of Sudou-san, our driver for the night, whom I actually met on the way to a shoot. He was one of the coolest taxi drivers I’d ever met so I decided to ask him if he was interested in doing the story and he said yes. …

Aiko

Well, wow, I got a pretty big response for the PMS project on Facebook and email – so I’m going to go ahead with that it seems. Looking for ladies willing to be subjects for this – drop me a line in the Contact section or in the comments! This shot below is of my girlfriend’s grandmother taken while we were visiting Hawaii in March.  She’s a sweet chatty, generous old lady that loves to tell stories. She has a great bar fridge full of Pepsi which is awesome for me and she likes to sit in her favorite chair and drink coffee and chat.  Her husband passed away last year, which was a very sad time for the lady and her family. Like a lot of older people she gets forgetful sometimes and loses track of things.  Not sure whether it’s Alzheimer’s but it’s a bit of a worry. I photographed her at her old family home which is near Haleiwa, which is one of the coolest places to shoot I’ve ever been in. I also …

Volunteering up in Ishinomaki-shi – Part 2

For part 1 of this blog post click here: While in Ishinomaki we had the unique (as far as I know) opportunity to visit the suburb of Ibarazu. It was unique in the fact that we were sent there not to clean up mud but to pick up fish. A lot of fish. Ibarazu is a small part of Ishinomaki situated near one of the largest fish markets in Miyagi. When the tsunami came through the area, hundreds of tons of fish for sale were swept away, and mostly ended up in Ibarazu. These fish had been sitting there, rain and shine, for 2 months, despite the best efforts of the township to clean their streets up.  That’s where we came in. The fact that there was plenty left over for us to pick up is a good indication of the sheer volume that was simply just lying around. Needless to say, the smell was incredible. Fish had clumped together in schools and putrefied in ways beyond belief. Some were dried out from sitting in …

Volunteering up in Ishinomaki-shi – Part 1

We came back from the tsunami and quake stricken region of Ishinomaki city, Miyagi prefecture last week.  It’s been roughly two months since the M9.0 earthquake, and if any of you were think that it’s too late to go up there to lend a hand, you were wrong.  Ishinomaki needs plenty of hands right now, and will continue to need them for years to come, as work continues to clean the wounds before healing can even begin.  The situation gets even more daunting knowing that this is not the only city affected by the disaster, and that up and down the coast cities and towns have been subjected to a similar amount of damage, which even for one city is on a truly unimaginable scale. About 160,000 live in Ishinomaki city. About 7% of these people are homeless. This doesn’t sound like much but that’s over 10,000 people in refugee centers with virtually no possessions and no way of acquiring them except through the efforts of the government, army and aid organizations.  How many people …