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Tokyo Portraits – Yuusaku Maezawa for Wall Street Journal

Being an English and Japanese speaking photographer based in Tokyo, I’m lucky enough to be able to get editorial jobs that require someone who can operate without a costly translator. However, when I get the opportunity to photograph the same person multiple times in the same year for various outlets, I definitely know I have found my place in the market.

The person in question is Zozotown CEO Yuusaku Maezawa, an avid art collector who was definitely the man of the hour having purchased a Basquiat for a record sum at auction last year. I had photographed him earlier in the year for Forbes and now the wonderful people at the Wall Street Journal gave me another opportunity to photograph him, this time at his luxurious apartment in the heart of Tokyo. Mr. Maezawa certainly remembered me from our last encounter and this shoot was much more relaxed and fun than the other one, due to our familiarity. With so much expensive artworks lying around I was a little nervous about bumping into anything, but they made for a very enjoyable shoot.

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Tokyo Travel Photography – Hoshino Resort for American Airlines

Recently I had the great pleasure of being able to photograph Hoshino Resort Tokyo for American Airlines business class mag, Celebrated Living. One of my images made it to the cover as well, which is always super exciting!

In many ways it was an extremely pleasurable photoshoot, not only because Hoshinoya Resort Tokyo is one of the most high end luxury accommodations in a city known for its amazing hospitality, but also because the staff on hand at the hotel were so incredibly warm, welcoming and friendly towards me. I honestly felt like a paying guest the whole time I was there, as they were so generous in listening to my requests and trying everything to make sure I could get the best shots possible. Not only that but they fed me (simply amazing food), and I was offered the use of their exquisite rooftop hot spring (which was tempting but I decided to work through the day).

At the end of the long, 12+ hour day I left the hotel feeling more uplifted and energized than when I arrived, which is an amazing feat given I tend towards curmudgeonly at the drop of a hat. Hoteliers take note – this is how hospitality should work.

Given that a room in Hoshinoya Tokyo is over $1000 a night, it’s not exactly somewhere I can recommend to everyone, but if you’re looking for an unforgettable experience and have some spare cash lying around, I cannot praise this place and its staff enough.

Here are some outtakes from the shoot, which I did using a Hasselblad H5D-40 and Sony A7rII.

  

It’s the Year of the Dog!

Happy New Year! I’ve finally returned to Tokyo where I can’t wait to resume photographing all of my ongoing projects.

As is my tradition, I’ve photographed a nengajo (Japanese New Years Greeting Card) with my close friends and family. This year, being the Year of the Dog, I was fortunate enough to be able to feature my good friend’s Shiba inu puppy Amaterasu (who has a bitchin Instagram feed ). It’s always fun to have live animals on set (as I have done in previous iterations of the nengajo here and here), and Amaterasu was by far the most well behaved talent I’ve ever had to work with, humans included. Possible one of the cutest as well.

Anyway without further ado, here are the photos, featuring myself, my wife, Hamish Campbell, Maiko Mita and of course Amaterasu. Kimono styling was done by the amazing Anji Salz, and the shoot hinged on the gorgeous cyberpunk style accessories crafted by Ikeuchi Hiroto. Hair and makeup was by the talented Misa Motoki. Looking forward to what hopefully will be a great year!Year of the Dog (1)

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Tokyo Portraits: Marie Kondo for The Times

A few years back I had the opportunity to photograph author and lifestyle consultant Marie Kondo in her Tokyo office.

Now in case you don’t know who Marie Kondo is, she basically rewrote the book for organizing your life, and her method of cleaning out your life so that the only possessions you own are the ones most dear to you has become so popular that her name has become part of the zeitgeist, in the form of the word ‘konmari’.  For people in the know, to konmari your life means to get your shit together and start ditching baggage – both physical and nonphysical – in order to make room for yourself to breathe. She’s basically one of the newest household names to come out of Japan.

Marie-san herself was small, both in stature and in voice, but she was an absolute joy to photograph despite her newfound international celebrity status. This article appeared in The Times, and was later syndicated for use in The Australian Sunday Edition – here are a couple of images from the shoot for you!

All images shot with a Hasselblad H5D-40.

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Japan Portraits: Shuho Hananofu – Ikebana Master

Around December last year I did a little photo portrait project with the wonderful folks at Kyoto Journal, centering around profiling entrepreneurial women in Kyoto. Here’s one of the amazing ladies that I photographed, which incidentally made the cover of Kyoto Journal issue 89, a very handsome magazine which is available now.

Here is an excerpt from the very top of the article, written by the talented Elle Murrell, one of the most fun writers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with:

“Hananofu Shuho is an ikebana master who was in charge of flower study section at Jisho-ji, better known as Ginkakuji, the ‘Silver Pavilion’ – one of Kyoto’s most famous temples – for 10 years. Since leaving the Center for Cultural Studies (Jisho-ji Kenshu dojo) there in 2015, she continues teaching her art form, leading several classes per month in Kyoto, Tokyo and Kyushu. Her students come from all over Japan and even from China for these intimate sessions.’

I’ve seen Shuho-san do ikebana performances on several occasions, and I’m always struck by the poise and grace with which she pieces together the incredible flower arrangements that she is famous for. If you’re interested in learning from this master, she teaches at least once a month in Tokyo’s Mishuku neighborhood – I’m not sure where you can make inquiries to, but Google-sensei will probably have some answers.

Anyway here are some outtakes and the cover for you to look at! All photos shot with the Hasselblad H5D-40.

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Japan Portraits - Shuho Hananofu (8)

 

Japan Travel Photography: Uji Green Tea

Earlier in the year I was very privileged to join a press tour to Japan’s Uji area, in Nara prefecture. Uji is one of the premier locations for growing and refining green tea, especially matcha, which is said to be of the highest quality. I was excited to explore an area of Japan that I’ve only had the chance to superficially explore up until now.

During the trip we were shown some of the oldest locations in Japan where tea leaves are still grown, as well as a variety of historical sites that denote areas where green tea was first introduced in Japan. The best part of course was visiting the remote terraced slopes where the tea leaves are grown en masse – the picturesque, fastidiously manicured hills are definitely a sight to be seen if you are into tea, photography or both, and they are definitely worth the effort to go the extra mile from the station.

The other highlight of course, is tasting the matcha and wagashi (Japanese sweets) that are the product of this historical area. There’s matcha in everything here, so if you like green tea flavored ice cream, coffee, soba noodles and other things, Uji is definitely your place!

Anyway, enjoy some travel photography from Uji, and get your appetite for green tea going!

All photos shot with a Sony A7rii and a variety of lenses, but mostly the Zeiss Batis 2.8/135 and 1.8/85.

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Tokyo Portraits – Maezawa Yuusaku for Forbes

Earlier this year I was commissioned by Forbes to photograph a portrait of Maezawa Yuusaku, the billionaire CEO of Zozotown and art collector who has gained notoriety recently for dropping a record amount of money on an original Basquait.

Unfortunately at the time of shooting the Basquait wasn’t available to be photographed alongside Mr Maezawa, so here he is pictured alongside his original Picasso in one of his offices at his Chiba headquarters.

When I first entered the office the wooden wall really struck my fancy as I knew it would look gorgeous lit with my strobes, however there wasn’t anywhere to hang the Picasso. This meant that they would have to knock some holes into that beautiful wooden wall in order to hang the painting for the photos – something which I was loathe to ask for, however once I checked out every other area I could use for photos I became convinced that this was my spot. A little bit of polite wheedling and assurances that the photos would be worth the effort, Mr. Maezawa himself gave the OK and the Picasso was mounted on the wall just like I wanted.

The rest of the shoot went well, with Mr. Maezawa being a great photo subject, showing his playful side for a few frames, and I think the Picasso looks great where it is!

Photos shot with Hasselblad H5D-40 and 80mm and 150mm lenses. Lighting is Profoto B2 with two heads. Maezawa Yusaku, Zozotown for Forbes (1)

Maezawa Yusaku, Zozotown for Forbes (2)

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Maezawa Yusaku, Zozotown for Forbes (8)

Corporate Photography – Lotus Biscuits

Here’s a spot of corporate photography that I shot in Tokyo for Lotus Biscuits earlier in the year. The images were used in the global annual report, and we shot it at the Segafredo in Hiroo, which is a big favorite for expat soccer moms.

Halfway during our shoot the cafe opened up for business, which made it a little difficult! All in all though, everything went fine and here are a few outtakes and a tearsheet for you to take a gander at. All photos shot with a Hasselblad H5d-40 and various lenses.

Short post this time but I’ll have more gear-related posts for you in the near future, I promise!

    

Japan Portraits: Kumiko Otsuka

Sometime it’s good to post some good old executive portraits because because I sure as hell manage to photograph a lot of these here in Tokyo. Being able to reliably make good portraits of executives in a tight time frame with all of their minders and PR staff hanging around is a skill worth learning in order to keep the jobs coming and the cash flowing.

With that in mind here’s the first in a series of CEOs of major Japanese companies that I’ve photographed recently for Forbes, the first one being Kumiko Otsuka, CEO of Otsuka Furniture. Recently she’s been in the news over the acrimonious power struggle with her father over the right to lead the company. Under her leadership she has turned the company around and managed to bring it out of the red.

Forbes sent me in to grab the portrait on a media junket day when every news outlet was covering the redesigned look of their flagship Shinjuku store, so I knew that I’d be little more than a blip in a full day of media commitments, and it’d be up to me to squeeze as much time out of my engagement as possible.

Rule no.1 – arrive early, especially if you’ve never seen the place before. The quicker you’re able to start setting up your lights, the more dominance you’ll have when it comes to grabbing the juiciest locations. Just like at a busy Beijing food court – you stake your claim to a table and you don’t leave it until the job’s done. Case in point was this interesting frame-within-a-frame display that I found near the entrance that would be perfect for a full page vertical.

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Japanese Artisans: Koinobori in Gujo Hachiman

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. Since 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 with this year coming to a close, I’ve decided to post the start of the series on my blog to show you folks where it all started. Please visit the original piece here where there are many more links to nearly a whole year’s worth of master artisans. Anyway, here’s the article below, enjoy!

The Carp Streamers of Gujo Hachiman from Irwin Wong | Photographer on Vimeo.

Carp Swimming up a Winter Stream

As I write this I am sitting in a trendy cafe in Gujo Hachiman watching the snow pile down outside in swirling flurries. My hands and toes have been frozen two days of standing in a river taking photos and video but as usual with these shoots I’ve been having the time of my life.

The town of Gujo Hachiman might be one of the greatest undiscovered treasures in a whole prefecture of undiscovered treasures. It’s a small mountain town of merely 43,000 situated over the confluence of three crystalline rivers, with beautifully preserved townhouses, picturesque bridges, temples and shrines. Its traditional veneer added to a lively mix of trendy cafes and bars makes this small town impossibly charming in a rustic way that Kyoto can no longer match. Oh, and did I mention there’s a castle on a hill?

Culturally, the town boasts riches. Amongst many other traditions, every winter, on the coldest day of the year, there is a rite unique to Gujo Hachiman that unfolds in the pristine rivers flowing through the small town. This rite is called Koinobori no Kanzarashi, and it involves the washing and cleaning of freshly dyed carp streamers in freezing waters overnight. Gujo Hachiman is the only place in the world that you can see this custom in practice.First, a little background – let me take you inside the workshop of Watanabe Shokichi, the 14th generation owner of the Gujo Honzome Indigo Dyeing workshop, a place that has been in business since around the year 1570 (more than 400 years ago, for anyone counting). Indigo dyeing is a treasured practice in Japan, as due to its commonly occurring natural ingredients and its hardiness it is one of the oldest traditional methods of coloring textiles around. Needless to say, everything made in this workshop is hand-dyed, either by Shokichi himself, or by his younger brother or son. They make everything from handkerchiefs to shirts, totebags and more, and visitors to Gujo Hachiman or surrounding towns will be able find his works in museums or stores (for exceptionally reasonable prices).

Amongst the other things made at Watanabe-sensei’s workshop are koinobori – or Carp Streamers. Koinobori are an important decoration in Japanese culture; basically a colorful carp-shaped windsock, they are flown outside en masse on the Japanese national holiday of Children’s Day. The streamers themselves take a variety of designs and range wildly in quality, but few match the impressiveness of the ones made in Watanabe-sensei’s workshop. Dyes and techniques perfected over 400 years of craftsmanship help make the streamers more vibrant and vivid colors than their mass produced counterparts. The process is relatively straightforward (if you’re a master); starting with a blank canvas, the outline of the carp is drawn on with a special paste made out of soybeans. Once the paste has set, the colors are brushed on with deft strokes, carefully so as not to let the dye clump or blotch unevenly.

The real trick though, comes from the 400 year-old practice of kanzarashi, ie soaking the carp in the freezing rivers overnight. This custom is useful in several ways; it is said to fix the vibrancy of the colors, and the extreme cold is purported to have a bleaching effect on the undyed portions of the fabric, making the colors pop even more. Every winter, on the coldest day of the year, the Watanabes and volunteers from the town take the prepared carp streamers down to the Yoshida River and anchor them in the fast-flowing water using cinderblocks, turning them over every couple of hours. There is a festive, momentous feel to these proceedings – Gujo Hachiman is lovely, but doesn’t rake in massive amounts of tourists like other popular spots. Few other people are standing by watching as the work goes on. The people of Gujo continue doing this simply for the love and respect they have for their traditions.

As the day winds down and and golden hour approaches, the carp floating in the stream are lit up by worklights. The winter chill becomes more biting yet the snowy scenery starts to take on a magical, surreal aspect. The carp appear ever more vivid bobbing here and there in the river. As if on cue, a score or so of local photographers have appeared out of nowhere, and I can see why; it’s pretty hard to beat this view. One of the volunteers has produced a bamboo flute from somewhere and is playing a haunting tune over the dull roar of the terraced waterfall. It’s the kind of insanely picturesque scene that photographers dream of.

The next day broke with snow flurrying down from an overcast sky. Despite this, the crowd of spectators has doubled in anticipation o the day’s proceedings. Having been left overnight in the freezing river, the carp are ready to be cleaned and harvested. The soybean paste that was used to mark the lines of the carp has hardened from exposure to the cold water and is now meticulously scraped off, exposing the crisp white fabric underneath. The flakes of paste are then brushed off into the water with precise strokes, every care taken not to smear it onto the textile. The finished product is stunningly vibrant, delineated by crisp white lines and lustrous colors. One by one the carp are lifted out of the water where they are cut from their frames and taken to dry.

And just like that, the ritual of kanzarashi is over, and you’ll have to wait until next winter before you can see it again. The date of the next one is not set until late in the year, so you’ll need to remember to look it up once winter rolls around again, but it’s worth it. The sight of beautifully painted carp floating in a snowy river is literally one you cannot see anywhere else in Japan – the small town of Gujo Hachiman is the only place that is keeping this tradition alive.

As I wrap up this blog post, the snow outside has continued to fall. It’s a long lonely drive back from Gujo Hachiman to Nagoya where I’ll take the bullet train back to Tokyo, but I know I will come back to this little town nestled in the mountains because it’s just so cool. Plus, I hear there’s a festival where the locals dance in the streets for three days straight. How can I miss that?