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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!

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!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (14)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (13)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (12)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (11)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (10)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (9)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (8)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (6)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (4)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (2)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Hyundai (1)

 

Shibari Portraits with Hajime Kinoko and Kasumi (Probably NSFW?)

I did a collaborative shoot with master shibari, or kinbaku practitioner Hajime Kinoko and the lovely model Kasumi (who I have photographed before here). Shibari, or the Japanese art of erotic rope binding, is a really big subculture here, and one that I have been meaning to dop my toe into a little more, hopefully I can find more people willing to work with me.

For this shot I used a 4×5 Tachihara film camera, because these cameras are really awesome and should be used more. I wrote about the process of shooting 4×5 at length in a previous blog post here.

Anyway enjoy the photos! And probably don’t open these at work! (Unless nudity is allowed at work, in which case we’re all jealous)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shibari (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shibari (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shibari (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shibari (2)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shibari (6)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Shibari (1)

It’s…The Year of The Pig!

Happy New Year from this Tokyo photographer!

As is tradition I make a New Year’s Poster based on the Chinese Zodiac with some of my good friends. 2019 is the Year of the Pig, and last year I didn’t manage to get out to enough movies to watch anything super inspirational for the poster, but I did manage to binge the whole series of Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix while I was on business trips in my hotel rooms, and I loved it. This year’s poster is (very loosely) based on that series and features four eco-warriors (top: Drone Pilot/Photographer Hamish Campbell, right: Fashion Creator Yuka, bottom: My Wife Asuka and left: Makeup Artist Maiko Mita) set against industry, greed and environmental destruction, as represented by the pig general at the very top; me.

Credit must go to Yuka, who did an absolutely incredible job of coordinating these amazing costumes out of flea market goods. Maiko as usual did a stellar job of turning me into a menacing deformed pig, and thanks to Hamish for stepping behind the camera when it was my turn to be photographed, as well as letting me use his house in order to photograph all the ice, stone and wind elements that were needed. Of course, I couldn’t do anything of this without the support of my amazing and beautiful wife, who was 9 months pregnant at the time that we photographed this poster. We’re still waiting for the baby to pop, but it’s not going to be hard to imagine that 2019 will be a busy one. Hopefully it will also be a productive one!

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 hit, making Uchiko candles a household name and making the small Shikoku town very prosperous indeed, as international orders flooded in for these amazing odorless, smokeless candles.

These days of course, candles are less of a household item and more of a mood setter, and demand for them is a shadow of what it was, however the Omori Candle workshop is still making candles of all shapes and sizes, and has been for six generations. A lot of the candles are sold to burn at Buddhist altars, however there are plenty of candles for everyday use, if you’re in the market for some fancy lighting during a blackout (which almost never happens in Japan). So if you’re ever in the town of Uchiko, pop in to the Omori candle workshop to see how they are made, and down the road you’ll be able to see the massive compound where haze trees were processed into wax, which is an absolutely fascinating process.

Irwin Wong Tokyo Photographer Shikoku (24)Irwin Wong Tokyo Photographer Shikoku (1)

 

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Irwin Wong Tokyo Photographer Shikoku (26)

 

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 will make up the finished product. To this end, a bucket artisan has a dizzying array of chisels, saws and kanna (Japanese wood planes) in order to achieve delicate rounded shapes needed to form a perfect circle.

Once your slats are ready you then fit them together, and if you’ve done your job well the bucket will be watertight, hopefully. Lastly, the rough edges are shaved and polished away so it resembles a single piece of wood.

Okuno-san is a retired businessman whose wife’s father was a traditional cooper – he says he learned about the craft from him, as well as inherited all of the tools, which are especially hard to come by these days. He’s the last such craftsman in the area, and the buckets he makes are beautiful in form and function.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (2)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (28)

 

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (25)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (19)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (11)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (10)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (9)

 

 

 

The Shikoku Files – Mutemuka Sake and Shochu Distillery

In the previous post I detailed how we stayed in a lovely guest house called Kuro Usagi in Kochi prefecture, and also how they brew their own potent form of bathtub rice wine called doburoku. Well, during dinner we managed to sample a few pitchers of the stuff and things got somewhat blurry after all that, although I do remember yelling at Rod from Shikoku Tours about how Dragonball Z is to Japanese pop culture like Shakespeare was to the English language. I don’t think he understood or accepted my position.

I do remember waking up the next morning at 6am feeling awful, and upon staggering to the car we then proceeded to drive two hours through an interminable stretch of mountain roads whose twists and turns threatened to make me hurl on more than one occasion. I’m not sure how Rod managed to keep us on the road, as he had had quite as much as I had the previous night, but thanks to him we arrived at our next location largely unscathed, albeit much grayer in the face.

Our next location was actually another brewery ensconced in the hills of Kochi prefecture, called Mutemuka. They are quite famous in their area for the unusual types of distilled liquor (known as shochu) they produce, a notable example of which is the chestnut shochu. Being savagely hungover as I was, I declined to sample the wonderful product, however the marvelous old wooden construction of the distillery, plus the crisp mountain air served to perk me right up, and I was happily snapping photos of the place.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (2)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (8)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (24)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (28)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (32)

Due to the hungover nature of the entire group, we decided to take it easy that afternoon, and whiled away several hours at a delightful public hot spring, before taking a jaunt to the Shimanto river, whereupon Rod promptly stripped down and jumped into the river. We also saw some of the traditional riverboats taking a leisurely dusk cruise with tourists on board. It was quite a tranquil scene. Alas, that night we were to leave Kochi and drive up to Ehime prefecture for the last leg of our long journey, but I will always have fond remembrances of my first visit to Kochi and I definitely can’t wait to be back for another photoshoot!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (35)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (36)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (37)

 

The Shikoku Files – Seared Katsuo, Inkstone Craftsmen, and Bathtub Sake

From Tokushima prefecture we cut down through the middle of the island and drove straight to Kochi prefecture, the southern-most in Shikoku, where we found ourselves in the lovely town of Shimanto. Kochi is apparently famous for the high quality of katsuo, or bonito, that is caught in the waters around there, and so our first port of call the next morning was the Kuroshio Ichibankan – a restaurant where you can not only eat the local specialty katsuo tataki (seared bonito), but you can also enjoy the rare experience of being taught how to fillet and sear it by yourself. A grizzled old fisherman will expertly guide your knife as he shows you how to slice three triangular fillets off the freshly caught bonito, and you get to sear the fish over an open fire yourself. A little bit of sea salt, green onion, lemon juice and sliced garlic, and you’ve got yourself an amazing regional delicacy that’s seriously quite yummy, do yourself a favor and eat it. Enjoy some photos here of a nervous looking Rod Walters of Shikoku Tours being taught how to do it. I’m glad he washed his hands first!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (11)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (12)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (14)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (9)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (10)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (4)

The Inkstone Craftsmen

Next up we went across town to a workshop where they make inkstones for kanji calligraphers. If you’re a long time follower of me (I’m sure there has to be at least one), you’ll know that craftsmanship and artisans are things that get me extremely excited, and this was no exception. Each stone is meticulously shaped out of chunks of volcanic rock dug from the surrounding hillside, before being inscribed with decorations and polished to a lustrous jet black sheen. Each inkstone is unique – the design is decided according to the natural shape of the harvested rock and is yet another example of functional, simplistic beauty that is a hallmark of traditional Japanese crafts.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (41)

Then the craftsman uses a circular saw to cut the stone roughly to a design sketched directly onto the surface.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (16)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (15)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (42)

A little bit of sanding to make the top and bottom surfaces completely flat – this is possibly the most important step, as a wobbly inkstone is about as useless as a asshole on your elbow. I guess it would be called an elbowhole then. huh.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (39)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (38)

Next up the outline for the inkwell is drawn onto the rock and then roughly cut out using power tools. Later it will be hand-carved and polished but for now the the rough outline is all that’s needed.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (36)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (34)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (33)

Once the inkstone has started to take shape then it’s back to the workbench where various specialized types of chisels are used to refine and smooth the edges, as well as deepen the inkwell. As you can imagine this is painstakingly precise work, as any overuse of force could result in unwanted chips, rendering all of the work up until now worthless. Any intricate designs are also added at this point.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (29)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (28)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (27)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (26)

One of the last steps involves polishing the inkstone with a variety of sanding implements. There is apparently a final step in order to finish the inkstones before they are put in the showroom window but I wasn’t allowed to see that part. Some trade secrets need to be protected I guess!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (24)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (23)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (20)

Doburoku – AKA Homebrew Sake

After a long long day we just had one last item on the list, and luckily it turned out to also be the place we were staying the night. Guest House Kuro Usagi is located in the spectacular countryside of Kochi, surrounded by pristine rivers, mountains and rice fields. It’s a clean, cosy and spacious place run by a husband and wife team that’s a perfect place to let your stress just evaporate. The other notable thing about this place is that they have a license to brew Doburoku, which is kind of like sake, but without having gone through the koji process. So basically it’s fermented rice porridge booze, and it’s very potent, I can attest. Doburoku used to be brewed all over the place in Kochi apparently, until regulation stepped in and officially banned anyone from making it without a license. The proprietors at Kuro Usagi have a nice side operation brewing this delicious but dangerous beverage, and are more than happy to let you drink it alongside the delicious home-cooked meals they serve up to guests. My night at Kuro Usagi Guest House was one of the most memorable I have had all year, drinking home-brew sake with delicious tempura and sashimi made with local ingredients, and chatting with the owners and my companions about all things late into the night. Things must have gotten rather silly because I don’t remember bathing or going to bed, but that’s what happens when you drink Doburoku, I guess.

     

 

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.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (1)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (5)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (19)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (20)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (21)

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 and also great for keeping away bugs. It’s worth mentioning that in Shikoku, it is far cheaper to have these hands-on craft experiences unlike tourism hotspots like Tokyo and Kyoto.

All in all, I wish I had had more time to leisurely explore Mima to stroll around and photograph some of the architecture as well as relax at one of the beautiful cafes they have there – I love old townscapes like this and I’m definitely looking forward to going back soon!

In the next installment of The Shikoku Files, we take a long drive to the southern coast of Shikoku to explore Kochi prefecture, and there are plenty of shenanigans to be had there!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (8)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (9)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (17)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (18)

 

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 stunning view over the surrounding ranges – I felt very lucky to be there photographing him as there was absolutely no way I would have been able to find him on my own; I doubt he has the Internet let alone a website. Thanks to Rod Walters from Shikoku Tours and the good folks from Japan Rail Shikoku for helping me with that one.

 

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (1)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (18)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (19)

He may not be a designated national treasure artisan, but Omori-san’s work is a very important cog in the infrastructure here, as he is the only one who makes the specially angled farming implements for Steep Incline Farming, which is a type of farming unique to Tokushima prefecture, not practiced anywhere else in the world.

Steep Incline Farming is exactly as it sounds – rather than on flat or terraced ground, farmers grow their crops on 30-45 degree inclines, due to their settlements being so high up in the mountains. These farmers are actually descendants of refugees from a 1000 year-old war; their ancestors fled here to escape their enemies – judging from how remote these locations are, I’d say that their enemy must have been very scary indeed.

The slopes on which these farmers plant their crops are no joke – I felt that one misplaced step could have sent me rolling down the hill, camera gear and all, yet this 78 year old fellow was swinging away with his pitchfork under the full summer sun, despite being hungover!

I’ll be back with some more Shikoku Files, in which I document my journey across this under-explored island of hidden gems!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (20)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (21)

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Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Shikoku (26)