All posts tagged: editorial

Tokyo Portraits: Kengo Kuma, again

Recently I was asked to photograph a portrait of renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma for the third time, and it was to be at his office in Gaienmae again too. I definitely wanted to try something different to the first two times I had photographed him, and also wanted to have him pictured with bamboo, which is a medium he draws a lot of inspiration from. We shot at a bamboo grove at a shrine across the road from his office (which he helped design, incidentally), and he was a wonderful subject as always, barely batting an eyelid when I asked him to pop his head in between the two stalks of bamboo. Kengo Kuma is the man behind the design of the 2020 Olympic Stadium currently being built in Gaien. Hope I get to sit in it in 2020!

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!  

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 …

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 – 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 …

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 …

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 …

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 – Kominka Koya and Making Soba in Iya Valley

Despite having been a photographer in Japan for almost 10 years, until this year I never had a chance to visit Shikoku, which is one of the 4 main islands that make up the country. Last month, thanks to Japan Rail Shikoku and Rod Walters of Shikoku Tours, I finally had the opportunity to go, and I couldn’t be happier. Shikoku is the smallest of 4 main islands but is packed with rich history and tradition. We started out on a trip to explore some of the traditional crafts of Shikoku as well as to discover less often visited gems in the countryside. The first port of call was Iya valley, an area in the mountainous interior of Tokushima with some beautiful rivers and hiking trails. We stopped in at a small restaurant where a wonderful lady called Tsuzuki-san will teach you how to weave baskets from local vine, as well as teach you how to make buckwheat soba.   The next place we visited was our accommodation for the night; a place called Kominka …

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 …