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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!

The Shikoku Files – Back to the Ehime

The next day we drove back up the western coast of Shikoku to the prefecture of Ehime, where I first started my journey. On the way back up we stopped at the town of Seiyo, where we visited a gentleman called Okuno-san who is a Japanese cooper. Being a cooper in Japan is an essential job even today, and involves making a variety of large and small buckets and barrels for pickling or making rice for sushi. Unfortunately most buckets these days are dirt cheap plastic ones made in China, so fewer and fewer artisans are able to stay in work. If making a perfectly round seamless bucket out of wooden slats sounds hard, that’s because it is. Large blocks of wood have to be chopped down to smaller blocks of wood, which then have to be painstakingly shaved down to whatever dimensions your bucket will have. After that, they need to be further shaved to have a convex and and concave surface so as to fit with the twenty or so other pieces that …

The Shikoku Files – Mountain Blacksmith and Steep Incline Farmers

What I love about Japan is that there are all types of craftsmen – some of whom are national treasures who create priceless works of art or architecture, and others who are little known but are essential to the society around them. Case in point is Omori-san, the village blacksmith of the remote settlements in the wide area of Tsurugi township. The term village blacksmith doesn’t really gain much traction in modern society but here in the mountains of Shikoku the settlements can be so remote that driving to a shop is actually a whole-day endeavor. If you’re a local farmer and you need a new pitchfork, you’d rather go to Omori-san’s shack up in the mountains where he’ll have a selection of special implements for the special type of farming they do up there, or he’ll make you a new one to order out of scavenged scrap metal. Need a filleting knife? He’ll make that, and just about anything you need. Omori-san’s little forge is located just off an unnamed mountain road with a …

The Shikoku Files – Scarecrow Village, Kazurabashi and Tsurugi Shrine

After an amazing breakfast at Kouya, it was time to bid farewell to that wonderful place and head out on the road again. Amongst the twisting mountain paths we came across the small town of Nagoro, a town famous for being populated by more scarecrows than people. There is kind of a sad story behind it – a resident of Nagoro, having lived somewhere else for a number of years, returned to her hometown to find that most of her friends had passed away or moved somewhere else. Beset by loneliness, she began to make the scarecrows to ‘replace’ the people who once populated the small town. It’s a sad story that shows the struggle of isolated Japanese towns to maintain their population, although Nagoro is now very well known across the world as one of those unique oddities that one can only find in Japan.  If you’re an outdoors type then it certainly would be a good idea for you to visit the Kazura bridges in the Iya Valley. The kazura bridges are essentially …

Japan Travel: Farm to Table Wasabi for Korean Air

When you least expect it, some stories become some of the most memorable ones of the year. In this case was the time I was assigned to photograph wasabi from farm to table in Shizuoka, two hours outside of Tokyo. What makes wasabi such a unique produce is that it requires exacting conditions in order to thrive. For one, it requires constant flowing fresh water. On top of that the water has to be just the right temperature – not too hot, not too cold. Even in the many mountainous ranges of Japan there are few areas suited to the large scale cultivation of wasabi. Utogi, in Shizuoka prefecture is one such place. The fresh water requirements of wasabi require farming villages to be nestled in the midst of remote mountains. Although only an hour away from Shizuoka city central, the town of Utogi is located after enduring some dizzying mountain switchback roads. Upon arriving at the town you will see a plinth inscribed with the words: ‘Utogi – The Birthplace of Wasabi’. Utogi was …

Master Craftsmen: Kite Maker for Iberia Air

It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s always a pleasure when I get commissioned to shoot something that I always wanted to shoot. Case in point – Toki-sensei the master kite artisan, who I recently photographed for Iberia Airline’s inflight magazine. If you follow my blog, you may know that one of my favorite things to do is photograph Japanese artisans, which I often spend my own time and money doing in my spare time. Toki-sensei fits squarely into that category, making kites both small and immense from his small workshop right in the middle of the countryside of Chiba. Being a kite craftsman requires one to have feathers in many caps – one must be a proficient artist as well as being able to split bamboo into the right lengths and thicknesses for the size of kite being made. In addition there is no small amount of sewing and tying, and finally the kite has to be flown to make sure it doesn’t fall apart. The drawings on the kites themselves are complex …

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 …