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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!

Japanese Handicrafts – Bunraku Puppets

In my travels across Japan photographing artisans – one of my absolute favorites was the Bunraku puppet artisan Hishida-san in Osaka. I am absolutely gutted that it didn’t make the book so I’d like to introduce him here. Bunraku is a type of theatre in Japan that uses articulated puppets in conjunction with an orchestra and chanters to tell as story. The technical prowess required from the puppeteers is daunting; three puppeteers are responsible for moving one doll; one to control the right hand and head, one to control the left hand and one to control the feet and legs. The makers of these magnificent puppets are called ningyoushi, and are declining in numbers nationwide.  Hishida Masayuki, 58, has been making puppets for Bunraku for over forty years, in the artform’s hometown of Osaka.  ‘Bunraku was a way for people to speak out against the Shogunate without fear of persecution,’ says Hishida-san. Because puppeteers traditionally wore black outfits with black masks, the identities of the troupe were often difficult to divine and thus arrest. Bunraku’s …

Japanese Handicrafts – Kokeshi

In my travels around Japan photographing artisans and craftsmen for my upcoming book, I met Abo-san, a Kokeshi craftsman. His workshop and art was absolutely splendid however we weren’t able to include him in the book for space reasons, so I am going to introduce him here. Kokeshi are a type of decorative wooden doll that is popular in the northern regions of Japan. They served as toys for children hundreds of years ago and now are valued as folk craft items that bring good luck. Although the prefecture of Miyagi is famed for having the highest quality kokeshi, Abo-san is from Aomori, and his dolls have been praised as some of the best in Japan. Watching him work it is very clear that Abo-san is a true master, as he transforms a featureless block of wood into a smooth and shiny kokeshi figure within minutes using a variety of well-worn chisels. The ground is littered with wooden shavings around his feet, which controls the spinning wheel. Painting the doll looks deceptively simple – Abo-san …

Japanese Handicrafts – Kanayama pottery

I have been touring Japan photographing craftspeople and artisans for my upcoming book to be published by Gestalten this year. 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! Kanayama-yaki, or Kanayama pottery is a very recent type of earthenware in Japan’s very long and rich history of pottery. It was established in the 1960s in Aomori prefecture, the second Northern-most prefecture in Japan, when the clay in a particular marsh near the town of Hirosaki was discovered to be extremely good for pottery. Now, there is a large wood-fired kiln as well as extensive pottery facilities for young artists to come and take advantage of. Foreign potters are often in residence in the huts behind the kiln. There’s even a charming pizzeria for …

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 …

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!    

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! 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. Next in Nagoya we went to the absolutely magnificent Marutani sake bar and restaurant- a real …

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. 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 …

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. 

Photo of the Week: Tokyo National Olympic Stadium

So I got a Leica M10 recently, and I’ve begun taking it everywhere in a way that I never used to do with my Sony or Nikons. The only other camera I used to take on walks was the Fuji XT-1, but the image quality was appalling at times, especially these days. Anyway here’s a photo of the under construction Olympic Stadium in Gaien, designed by Kengo Kuma, who I’ve photographed before. Shot with the 28mm Summicron, an awesome lens!