HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Tag: Japan (Page 2 of 4)

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

Chikurin no Komichi – Sunlight Sneaks Through the Canopy along the path of Bamboo Groves in Arashiyama

In the western part of Kyoto along the Katsura river lies a heavily templed area known as Arashiyama. Most famous of all the beautiful century old wooden structures in Arashiyama is the Tenryu-ji Temple complex. Tenryu-ji Temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), head temple of the Tenryu-ji Rinzai Zen sect, was built in 1339 by Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the first Ashikaga shogun. At its peak, Tenryu-ji Temple ranked as the largest Zen monastery in western Japan, with 120 sub-temples. The temple’s exquisite pond garden dates back to the Heian period and the garden itself is the work of Muso Soseki (1275-1351), one of the most respected Zen monks of the 14th century. Just outside the northern gate of the temple is Arashiyama’s famous bamboo forest path–Chikurin no Komichi.

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

The Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama

Protected by Soft Brown Layerings, Fresh Shoots Strike Through the Grove Floor

Depending on the weather and time of day the light and shadow along this serene 200-meter path in concert with the wind flowing through the canopy will transport you to a meditative world of centuries past–a world without phones, cars and trains where walking through the grove was a regular zen meditative practice.

Easy enough to find after contemplating Soseki’s garden mirroring the surrounding mountainous landscape, the bamboo grove offers another treasure: the former estate of Denjiro Okochi (1898-1962), Japan’s most famous silent film star. Known as Ōkōchi Sansō, the spiral garden and teahouse complex houses a wondrous history worth exploring (entry includes a fine ceramic bowl of whipped green tea). The views from the seat of Ōkōchi Sansō, Mt. Ogura, has been talked about in classical poetry since Heian times.

Assuming you find, enter and tea party it up at Ōkōchi Sansō (participating in the tea ceremony is integral to the zen experience), following the bamboo forest path back to the diminutive Nonomiya Shrine (you passed it on the way up) should prove another small feat. Listen to the wind rustling through the bamboo leaves and picture Lady Murasaki’s 11th century classic Tale of Genji. The petite size of Nonomiya Shrine–where much like in the novel, generations of imperial princesses once spent a year undergoing purification rites before moving on to the sacred heart of Japanese Shintoism, Ise Grand Shrine–makes one wonder where they all were purified.

Having completed the western leg of your journey into the zen heart of Kyoto, it’s perfectly acceptable to stop by one of the many riverside restaurants and get meditative with a few draught beer.

Tmymtur - Yusei 湧声

TMYMTUR – Yusei 湧声 – 5000 Gushing Voices

The microscopic particles were developed by myriads of voices. They make you feel the vitality as if lives are flowing over, and after a while, you will realize you are being covered by them, as if sinking into the deep psyche. Then, as if they correlate with the millions of flowing lives and nature in this world, reflecting and blending, we will eventually be touching the shared particles which connect all of us.

–Tmymtur

TMYMTUR – Yusei 湧声 – 5000 Gushing Voices

NOTE:This sample was recorded at 44.1kHz, and therefore is not capable of expressing certain distinctive elements (over 20kHz frequencies) of the work.

Yusei explores creating music in the tradition of a John Cage and Brian Eno android lovechild, digitally enabled to search for the objective “truth” in the depth of ultrasonic sound. But even God knows we need to listen to something in order to hear. Enter Tmymtur (pronunciation: as difficult as the work) and his method of using imperceptible, ultrasonic waves contained within the voice (as well as 4999 accompanying, melded voice tracks) to create a shared musical journey of the imperceptible symphonic whisper.

Released in late 2012, “湧声” was created by using microphones to record over 5000 voices, including inaudible, ultrasonic waves that human ears are incapable of catching evoking sounds of a mostly nonexistent pastoral nature–the flow of the river, wind blowing through trees–effectively relocating the brain to an artificial environment. Earlier this month he constructing a sound system at Asahi Art Square in Osaka that transmitted frequencies over 20kHz (above the audible bandwidth). His hope was to demonstrate a sound-art performance there, to create a “sound space” where people subconsciously felt something, such as everything being connected and shared by the sound creation “湧声” (Read: HESO as in connection). We were able to talk with Tomoya Matsuura of the Osaka-Based ENSL AMDC label representing Tmymtur.

Tmymtur - Yusei 湧声

HESO: How does Tmymtur produce the high-frequency sounds?

Tomoya Matsuura: Tmymtur’s voice contains an ultra-high frequency (super sonic waves) components which has over 20kHz. ※It is analyzed at the Japan acoustic lab.

HESO: Are any musical instruments used at all?

Tomoya: This work is created by Tmymtur’s voice only. Instruments are not used at all.

HESO: Is this analog or digital or both? What recording devices are used?

Tomoya: Digital recorded with ProTools, Live Microphone: MKH8040

HESO: How are the sounds processed?

Tomoya: This work is created to record one voice and one voice and overlap more than 5,000 layers of the voices. Also, to output ingredients of super high frequency contained in the voices, microphones and recorders that can record super high frequency beyond audible range (more than 20kHz) are used to produce at sampling frequency 96kHz/24bit. Effect processing is not daringly employed this time.

HESO: What does 湧声 (yusei) mean?

Tomoya: Yusei is coined from Japanese word, “湧く(gush)” and “声(voice)”. There is a Japanese word “湧水 (Yuu-Sui: Spring water)”. The water from a spring in the mountain makes us relax and might be a sacred space for Japanese people.

Almost inaudible until the four minute mark, the entire 21 minute recording gently ebbed and flowed like a calm sea beneath a new moon. Though at around the ten minute mark, when the track suddenly grows in volume in a very conspicuous manner, my 8 week old daughter started to shuffle and cry in a way very peculiar to her. The 12 year old beagle stretched out next to her on the sofa, however, did not stir from her snoring slumber. There may be something to Tmymtur’s Yusei, and although I can’t hear it, I’m still listening.

A Floating World in Bloom - HESO Interviews Tokyo-based photographer Michael Nguyen

A Floating World in Bloom – Interview with Michael Nguyen

I first met Michael Nguyen on a beautiful spring day in Tokyo, the flowers in bloom. We were in a Shibuya park on Meiji Dori, where an anti-nuke rally climaxed in a costumed hippie drum offensive, bursting in the dappled light. If I remember correctly, Mike had a can of beer and a cigarette (he likes his tobacco, lights it with a Zippo with a dazzling flair that would make a seamus smile). It didn’t take long to establish friendship: he was a Gaucho and so was I, alumni of University of California at Santa Barbara, meaning we’d both known Paradise as younger men and that this heady knowledge acquired as twenty-year-olds had affected our lifelong trajectories. I’ve only known Mike for about two years but judging by his photography, I can see he’s never discarded the pleasures introduced in Santa Barbara. It’s nice to see that he’s still trailing after beautiful manifestations, glad he sees fit to share his gleaning with the rest of us. Mike’s wonderfully eccentric street tableaux aside, he’s well-known among his peers for his bathing beauties—what has been called his “babe in the onsen” motif, but really that is simplifying and involves not a little envy. There is an element in fantasy in such an intimate, sensual image. After all, most of us photographers are not Lothario types, and an attractive woman will not be seduced by the size of our lens. Something more is at work, something mysterious, which I suppose is a secret, and a well-guarded one.

We at HESO then are proud to present a sample of Michael’s work—his women, and because it’s spring, his flowers, for what better way to illustrate the ephemeral beauty that breaks our hearts, then to complement these lithe, youthful figures with the ambassadors of spring, in which we are reminded we have yet another chance to set things right.

A Floating World in Bloom – Interview with Michael Nguyen

A Floating World in Bloom - HESO Interviews Tokyo-based photographer Michael NguyenHESO: Why photography? Why not painting? Or music? Or triathlons?

Michael Nguyen: If you have ever heard me at karaoke then you would know why not music. Photography and painting do not necessarily really differ in terms of how we experience time and space, but the creation phase is different. Painting starts out in the light and develops gradually, but remains visible the entire time. A photo captures a scene all at once and is then developed over time in a dark laboratory. Digital is changing all of that, but that’s another story. Photography for me is the best means of expressing and hanging on to those little fleeting splinters of life we experience each day.

HESO: How did you get into photography? I believe you majored in it at UC Santa Barbara. Do you think studying the subject at university has made you a better photographer?

MN: I was a graphic design major actually. I started taking photography classes in college and fell in love with the zen state of mind in the darkroom. I can’t say I really learned much in college, nothing I couldn’t have learned by going to galleries myself and looking at books and hanging out with other photographers.

HESO: Which cameras do you prefer? And why? Does shooting with film matter?

MN: Ah, the obligatory gear porn question. I suppose it depends on what I shoot. For street photography I have my Leica M6 with a 50mm Sumicron, which is good for much single-subject shots. For portraits and landscape I have my Rolleiflex Sl66 for the slower process and higher film resolution, basically a Hassy with bellows that allows me to play around with the focal plane. I haven’t seen anyone else using one. To keep the film vs digital debate succinct, I’m of the opinion that from a personal expression point-of-view, the process does matter and the process of shooting film slows things down and allows one to think with deeper clarity. It doesn’t help that I’m a sentimental motherfucker who clings to bygone things. The well-worn cliche here being if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. There was nothing wrong with film photography when digital came along. Which isn’t to say that digital is bad or anything per se–it makes commercial work more efficient and streamlined, but it hasn’t added anything to the art form.

HESO: Though we are featuring a series of flowers and feminine beauty, you’re a bit of a street photographer as well. What is it you’re looking for on the street?

MN: Other than the typical “I wanna capture the fleeting moments of life” schpiel, street photography is my way of sticking it to the man so to speak. Like poker, the house always wins. Every now and then the perfect hand comes and you happen to bet big and take down the house. Most of the time we take shitty snapshots of mundane objects, but when that perfect moment comes where you’re at the right place at the right time and had the right settings on your camera, and, well, that time is beautiful.

HESO: Do you enjoy shooting in Japan better than elsewhere? How is it different than shooting in the States?

MN: Difficult to answer really. It wasn’t until I got to Japan that I took it seriously. So I can’t say I’ve had a good attempt at really shooting in other places. I did recently go to Spain however and found the light there to feel harsh and low, quite challenging.

A Floating World in Bloom - HESO Interviews Tokyo-based photographer Michael NguyenHESO: What is the most difficult aspect of being a photographer today?

MN: Coming up with something groundbreaking and new since everything seems like its been done. Cliche is the enemy.

HESO: So much good photography in my experience is due the serendipitous moment. Share with us a story of accidental good fortune.

MN: In life anyway, accidental is the only kind of good fortune I get. As far as photography, I can’t go as far as to say I’ve had any true serendipitous moments. You always try to be in the place with the best possibility of seeing something interesting and be prepared as best as you can. Photography isn’t a terrible John Cusack movie.

HESO: Flowers, youth, the elegant form of the female nude… what else do you find beautiful in this world?

MN: That’s just about it! Haha. With the sensory overload in this day and age I’ve become so jaded and numb that anything that stimulates any kind of emotion, good or bad, is beautiful in this world. Being rather immature for my age however, beauty remains a superficial thing unfortunately…

HESO: Your photos presented herein are just lovely. Any chance they’ll become part and parcel of a more comprehensive project on beauty?

MN: Ideally yes. but again like I mentioned earlier its really hard not to do cliche and redundant things, so who knows. I’m torn between just getting out there or hold out till I have something mind blowing. waiting for that epiphany.

HESO: You are somewhat notorious among your friends for the ‘babe in the onsen’ motif, but a lot of the ribbing is just jealousy. They would love to imitate you if only they could! Any tips for guys on making their beautiful girlfriends comfortable enough to pose in such intimate circumstances?

MN: Lots of booze! Seriously though, women tend to be insecure creatures. Reassuring them of how sexy they are and showing your passion in having them as such an integral part of your vision is key. Everyone just wants to feel needed and loved.

See more of Michael’s work here.

Coming of Age - The Long Journey

Japan’s Coming of Age – Long Journey

In the summer of 1995, I was 19 years old, living on my own a few blocks from the sea in Isla Vista, a suburb of Santa Barbara, adjunct to the city’s university. Though I had summer school classes and a job, it was a good time for me. Romantically, I was unattached, my bout with teenaged acne had finally cleared up, my hair had grown hippie brave and so had my fashion style. I was riding my bike to Sands Beach on sunny days and listening to classic rock all the time— Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Byrds. My closest friend that summer was a dude we called The Gripper, who was like a guru to me in what we called the art of jibbing (sic)— encountering beautiful girls and charming them into giving awkward young men a chance. That summer, on the 31st of August, I turned twenty years old. For the first time in my young adult life I knew exactly who I was and I was all right with that. To paraphrase, I was my own man now and have been ever since.

Of course, for Americans, the big birthday isn’t 20, but 21, when you’ve reached the legal drinking age (turning 18 gives you the right to smoke tobacco, vote in your political representatives and die for your country but that doesn’t have the same cachet as a six-pack for most of us). Personally twenty-one was a bit of an anticlimax— I’d had a fake ID for several years, and moreover had landed in Paris on the morning of my 21st birthday, where if you’re old enough to see over the counter, you’re old enough to order a drink.

There is a significant difference between a charming ass and an ass. Looking back, it was hard to parse what was and what wasn’t. Selective memory is an incredibly powerful survival mechanism. Click To Tweet

Japan’s Coming of Age – Long Journey

In Japan, all the aforementioned privileges of adulthood are granted at twenty. There is even a holiday for it, the second Monday of January, known as Seijin no Hi, literally ‘Coming of Age Day,’ in which everybody who’s just turned twenty over the previous year gets dressed up and attends a (reputedly) dull ceremony at the local assembly hall, where they are at once congratulated on their calendar years and reminded that they are now citizens with the responsibilities of adulthood to consider.

These admonishments mostly fall on deaf ears. The real action is just outside, where several hundred young men and women loiter, either waiting to go inside or coming out, or else just rallying noisily over a bottle of shochu, or, conspiratorially, huddling over a smoke. Most of the men wear suits—their boy-next-door hair is neatly trimmed and carefully combed. A significant minority wears the hakama, and it being January, the haori, a hip-length kimono jacket. But we aren’t speaking of the formal-wear you’d wear to your grandmother’s machiya for green tea— the haori du jour is flamboyantly colorful, some featuring fierce animals (the tiger being a popular motif). Many of these youthful specimens have notable piercings and gratuitous tattoos; on not a few is an aura of aerosol, testified by a blonde, spiky haircut advocated by some trendy, tasteless youth mag. These young men might be adults now but their Japanese falls somewhere between uncouth and impolite and their communal laughter is shriller than a company of hyenas. Whatever you might think about Japanese men being shy, circumspect, and abstract in their indirectness would be dispelled by such theatrical yelling and falling over one other.

There is not a single young woman not wearing the fabled kimono and the foreigner (me) wonders how beautiful life in Japan might be if it had never been overrun by The Gap, Levi’s, and blouses from Donna Karan. The girls’ kimono are sometimes conservative, occasionally tempestuous, starbursting with enigmatic patterns and chic colors, their collared furs turned up against the winter wind; the devil is always in the details and the bolder blossoms are blowing all of our collective minds with deliriously manicured nails, half-inch eyelash extensions, vivid cheeks blush, and that sparkle stuff that only girls can ever remember the name of. They wobble in zori sandals to and fro, shrieking at each other’s comeliness. Hyper-aware of their adorability, nearly every woman is being photographed dozens of times by dozens of smartphones. I don’t even have to ask when I hold my camera up between us.

There is some hot rodding, but this being Japan, there are teen idols and Mickey Mouse paraphernalia painted on the sides of the vehicles, compromising the sinisterness of degenerate youth. Gunning their engines at five miles an hour, honking and heehawing noisily, the drivers are desperate to seen but on this day, narcissism levels being what they are, the babes in their daydreams are busy with their poses, so that only some members of the gauntlet of traffic cops glare indignantly.

I mill around, occasionally chatting up the young ones with well wishes and my compliments. I am there to take pictures, along with a small gaggle of Japanese retirees with big digital cameras. They move in packs, often piggybacking my shots, overwhelming the more extravagant peacocks, who pose grudgingly for rapid-fire shutter release shooting with a beautiful artifice of a smile. It’s only 1pm but already the drinking games are getting out of hand. There’s broken glass on the sidewalk and wanna-be hot shots with cornrows and platinum yellow braids are pounding beer cans and shochu bottles as their friends whinny in peer-pressurized chorus. There are some bad hangovers developing— you can see it in their eyes— that look in a twenty-year-old’s face, incomprehensible and insensitive to a body and soul’s limits. A dude one sip of sake away from tumbling, takes that sip and staggers—the crowd giving him a wide berth as many of the kimonos are rentals and anyways it would be embarrassing explaining the puke chunks to the dry cleaners. Some of the more inebriated “adults” are beginning to get really careless and I need to remove myself from the hullabaloo for a bit of air and perspective.

In the quieter environs of nearby Heian-jingu, a large shrine complex painted in bright, orange colors, I struggle reluctantly with introspective questions: wasn’t it so metaphorically tragic that the ceremony of becoming an adult entailed binge drinking and narcissistic posturing? Was this what Japanese men and women had a lifetime to look forward to? Humans: we’d come a long way since slaying a lion was our initiation into adulthood. But the questions engendered by this raucous setting were of a personal nature as well. For one, had I been something of an asshole myself at twenty? Did I know and respect my limits and the space of others when I danced with the elixir of youth? It was true that I had unique cultural values but I had my share of wild nights, and once I’d really known what a heady experience it was to abdicate control and give in to purely id proclivities. But had I handled myself mostly gracefully? There is a significant difference between a charming ass and an ass. Looking back, it was hard to parse what was and what wasn’t. Selective memory is an incredibly powerful survival mechanism. ‘It’s okay,’ I thought, hearing in the distance the ejaculatory shrieking of another drinking game going awry. Someday in the shockingly fast-creeping future, these presently intoxicated twenty-year-olds will come to this very same ceremony with their own kids. They’ll survey the drunken tomfoolery, wondering if they too had drunk one too many, and reflecting that if they had, what a long way they’ve come in the meantime.

Placebo with Zakuro © Ontoshiki

Interview with Tokyo Photographer Ontoshiki

In the old days, when a man was building his credibility as an artist, he did so rather anonymously. There might be a break here or there in this or that magazine or fashion catalogue but it would be difficult for this person to build a public name outside the small circle of his metropolitan environs. There was no forum for strangers to witness the flourishing of an individual’s sensibility. The support network could be minimal, the journey, lonely.

I’ve never met the man who goes by the mysterious name of Ontoshiki but that doesn’t mean I don’t know him. I first discovered him a little more than a year ago on flickr. I can’t remember exactly what shot it was but I think it might have been from his Tohoku series, which Ontoshiki visited shortly after the devastating March 11th quake. Amidst the destruction are solitary shots of people. What are they doing here? Looking through the ruins? Contemplating how life could ever be the same again? I learned quickly his Tohoku work is in no way emblematic of his oeuvre— Ontoshiki is not a photojournalist— but is consistent with his strong feelings regarding mood and emotion.

I am of the camp that the photos we take are like the results of a Rorschach test, giving ourselves away, what we feel about love, humanity, even political and spiritual viewpoints. You can tell from a man’s photographs whether you’d like the man himself. After all, it’s not just the way he sees the world— every photograph is an appreciation of a certain moment that is then publicized to express selfhood. A photo then is not just saying, “Look at this!” but is whispering in your ear, “This is me…”

That said I know I’d like Ontoshiki the man. Beyond technical commonalities (like me he seems to shoot mostly in color with film cameras) it’s his unmistakable interest in beauty and humanism that makes him simpatico. Yes, he photographs beautiful women but he is careful to allow them their sense of mystery. When I peruse his many photos of women I’m not just looking at their finery and appreciating their feminine charms; I’m also sensing their autonomy (as opposed to being mere sex objects). All too often fashion photography feels reductive (it is after all selling something) but Ontoshiki allows his subjects their vulnerability. Moodiness has precedence over glamour. This emphasis is something you rarely find in photos of beautiful women.

I suppose it works here because Ontoshiki is coming at photography with his dual interest in self-expression and aesthetic appreciation. Some people want to make perfectly abstract photos of buildings. Others find their eye in war zones. And then some just adore beautiful women. In his own words, Ontoshiki writes that sensuality “in photography is tantamount to having an intimate dance with a woman; timing, technique, intricate body movements…shooting someone for an extended period gives me a feeling of palpable intimacy.” It’s not a job then, it’s a life.

A Lust Restrained © Ontoshiki

A Lust Restrained © Ontoshiki

HESO: When did you first pick up a camera?

Ontoshiki: I’ve been shooting since I was a teen. I was born in Malaysia but my ancestor’s roots are from China. When I was 9 years old, my family immigrated to Australia so I was raised and educated there. 

In 2005, I made a big decision to quit a decent job (in the Australian government) and I eventually arrived in Tokyo. With a constant stream of culture, interesting faces and beautiful scenes happening right in front of my eyes, I felt like I needed something with a little more control in order to document these fascinating visuals. A year later, after being inspired by film photographers I came across, I ventured into film photography and immediately fell in love with the Pentacon 6 and a cheap plastic Holga. I eventually opted for the 6×6 format Hasselblad and the 35mm format Minolta. 

I don’t have any formal education but I will be going to Paris, France to study at SPEOS school of photography to eventually to work on meaningful long-term documentary projects which focus on community and inherent social issues.

HESO: You get up in the morning, look out the window, what do you see?

Ontoshiki: I’m not a morning person so maybe I see the world a little differently, moving in time-lapse. I feel like I’m a goldfish swimming around in a fishbowl watching the world go by. Going back in history, the last 50 years has changed more significantly than the last 1000 years. This phenomenon is known as “the quickening” and I believe this is a sign that the world is on the verge of major social, economic, political and spiritual change. We are living in an upside-down world full of misinformation. I used to be nihilistic and live in a world of existential ennui, but photography has given me meaning. When I quit my job many years ago and moved to Japan, I wasn’t sure what I was doing: perhaps it was to escape the my life back then. Picking up photography has given me a tool to explore my inner and outer Universes for truth, connect the dots of life and to understand the synchronicities that has led me to this point.

Secret Kyoto © Ontoshiki

Secret Kyoto © Ontoshiki

HESO: You have a very distinct portfolio, full of color and ranging across a variety of subject matter, from classic traditional to edgy counterculture. There is a sense of discipline and order underlying many of your images, yet, strictly speaking, they are not all in focus. What is your main objective in photographing something?

Ontoshiki: Quite the contrary, I really think my portfolio lacks order or discipline. If there were elements of any, perhaps the discipline and order may have come from the educational system in Malaysia. In Australia, the education system was free-flowing, interactive and students were allowed their own voice.

In terms of what I shoot, as with any rookie photographer or painter, I started out shooting scenes from daily life, flowers, stills, people but nothing out of the ordinary. To draw an analogy, it was akin to being born but without your vocal chords developed. You are but a newborn watching and observing, listening and learning but once you are ready, you gradually develop a voice. Now that I am ready, I want to communicate to people the way I see the world and the sights and sounds that have influenced and inspired me.

Lately, I’m sometimes paid to shoot things I/m not particularly interested in. but I do it in order to financially support my other photographic endeavors. Photography is not a “cheap thrill” but I’ll try not to sell myself out and focus on the subjects that interest me.

HESO: Do you prefer analog to digital photography or vice versa? Or is it not important? Explain.

Ontoshiki: For personal work, portraiture, street and documentary, I definitely prefer shooting film especially in black and white — the tones and highlights are incomparable to a straight digital black and white conversion which is often flat, lacks contrast and depth. I shoot digital for assignments and editorials due to cost, speed and convenience.

Feline Fatale © Ontoshiki

Feline Fatale © Ontoshiki

HESO: You possess a knack for extracting color out of a scene. Yet you also have a very large, and quite masterful collection of black and white photographs. What do you feel is the main difference between the two and how do you approach shooting color as opposed to shooting black and white?

Ontoshiki: I love the masters of paintings: van Gogh, Monet, Degas; film: Wong Kar Wai, Ridley Scott, Tim Burton; contemporary photographers: Eugenio Recuenco, Damon Loble, Michelangelo di Battista, Elizaveta Porodina. Their colors are punchy, mood strong, voyeuristic, mysterious, yet the look is still dreamy and organic. If I can get anywhere close to a combination of their styles, I will be on the right track.

If I honestly critique myself, I am not afraid to admit that my digital work “sucks”. I am an amateur with artificial lighting and photoshop post-processing. On the other hand, I feel that my black and white film work is closer to where I want to be. I remember the story of the Master sushi chef who’s been making the same sushi for over 25 years and when asked if he were happy with his sushi, he promptly replied “My sushi is still not good.” On that timeline, I am only in my 3rd to 4th year since I was reborn photographically.

HESO: You have many photos of far-off people in some kind of cityscape. Do you prefer to shoot landscapes or vistas or people? A combination of both? Are these scenes candid or contrived? Do you use models or random strangers? If the latter, do you ask permission?

Ontoshiki: Initially, when I started photographing the streets and people, I would shoot them in the distance. Over the years, I learnt how to get closer and fill the frame and I think that is very much also a reflection of how I am a little less afraid of making the commitment to get closer to someone on a personal level. I suppose you could say that photography has granted me a sort of quasi-intimate relationship with the people I shoot.

Do I ask permission? I do a bit of both, obviously with my street photos they are all random strangers sometimes I stop to ask but most times I shoot them going about their daily business. I recently try to venture into places and go to events where I can likely meet interesting personalities but sometimes I am lucky enough to meet people and subjects serendipitously. In fact, one of the most interesting shoots Ive had done in my life I unexpectedly met at a bar in Shibuya. He is a prominent franchise owner in the U.S. who was in Japan to franchise his business but he was also here to learn the art of “kinbaku” which is the art of rope tying bondage. We got to talking, agreed on a price and I ended up doing a photoshoot for him at the studio of infamous “shibari” rope master, Steve Osada. On another day, I did a photoshoot of him, his girlfriend and two other guys having a four-some. Needless to say, that was the weirdest shooting experiences I’ve ever been involved with and Im not sure if Id do it again to be honest 😉 …oh, just for the record, I didn’t participate.

HESO: Hah! Who are your favorite photographers? Any images in particular stick out to you?

Ontoshiki: I’d like to pay homage to the masters: Helmut Newton, Nobuyoshi Araki, Eugene Smith, James Nachtwey, Daido Moriyama.

A few years ago around the time I started on my photography journey my good friend Mika who’s a professional photographer took me to an exhibition at a small gallery in Ginza to see the work of fetish photographer “Yasuji Watanabe”. It’s hard to explain but at the time, I was rather stoic about the experience. I know looking back, that deep down inside the images really grabbed me, yet I didn’t know how to react or what I wanted to do with it because I was still in my photographic womb. I realize now a seed was planted within me and a few years on, I am taking my first steps on the path to photographing themes of beauty, sensualism, fetishism and erotica. I would say that I have found the voice resonating deep within me which lay dormant at the time.

If You Stole My Sunset © Ontoshiki

If You Stole My Sunset © Ontoshiki

HESO: What do you do when you are not working?

Ontoshiki: I’ve been occupied with…spirituality, yoga, street photography, mixed martial arts, urban exploration, blogging, working on my website and venturing to places in order to meet new people for my photography projects.

HESO: How has the tragedy of 3/11 affected you? Those around you? Friends and family? What do you feel you have done to help? What needs to be done?

Ontoshiki: What have I done to help? Not enough. I was lucky enough to join the crew of JTI Foundation and Fukushima Future on their projects in Tohoku and Fukushima. I really wish I had more time, money and resources but what I did documenting the tragedy was for very selfish reasons. However, through this experience I was able to communicate my voice and viewers who came across my photos could feel hope and compassion among all the devastation. I would definitely like to go up there again if I have a chance to see the positive progress and to document happier moments.

As tragic as it was, it really helped me to understand myself better as a person. I am a selfish and complicated person by nature yet I feel theres a compassionate humanitarian part of me which is dying to be released from its shackles. I know one day I will find that altruistic part of me and pull him out of that deep, dark abyss.

My family and friends, much like everyone else were obviously concerned about what was happening in Japan. Watching the situation unfold on TV where “bad news is good news” is never easy on the families of people affected. At the same time, I don’t thing it was a stretch to say that Fukushima was minutes from the worst nuclear disaster in history.

HESO: Ontoshiki, if you want to mention anything else about yourself, your work or a charitable cause you work with—anything—please do so here.

Ontoshiki: Firstly, I’d like to thank the team at HESO, you Manny, Sean and to everyone who follows my work. Find me on my Facebook page and drop me a message.

This interview is part of HESO Magazine’s ongoing Summer Interview Series, where we interview photographers, musicians and artists about their work and what they think about the world of 2012. We may ask them similar questions, but the answers have been anything but the same old canned responses. Check out the entire series here.

Sobazushi at Owariya Soba in Kyoto (HESO Magazine)

Sobazushi at Owariya Soba in Kyoto

Visualize if you will, a spry young man in his work kimono, made of an easy to clean light fabric, walking down the dirt-paved roads of the old capital Kyōto to the clickety-clackety of hundreds of Japanese sandal-wearing passers-by as they go about their daily business, smiling and nodding while the deciduous trees rain orange and red fires of leaves all around. With a wave of the hand, a quick konnichiwa to his neighbors, and a right turn past the entrance curtains our man enters his shop. A small storefront with a tiny garden pond to the left and a backroom for kneading, mixing and baking makes up the modest shop, all separated by the thinnest of rice-paper sliding doors, yet somehow keeping the cool autumn breeze from disturbing the still sun-dappled air of the fine-milled flours and powdered sugars floating like benevolent ancestral ghosts around the confectionery. The year is 1465 in Nakagyo-ward, just south of the grounds of the Emperor’s palace, and you have entered Honke Owariya, which although new, has quickly become one of the favored confectionery shops of the imperial family. Sadly the Ōnin War, which will begin in just two short years and will last ten, destroys most of the city, scatters the population, and renders the emperor powerless: excellent timing soba-monger.

One day an influential member of the emperor’s entourage comes calling telling you His Highness really loves simple blue-collar fare, like Soba and should you decide to take advantage of the large natural water table upon which the city lies (thanks to its beneficial situation in the Yamashiro basin of the Tanba Highlands) to extend your talented hand into making the best dashi soup stock around, your legacy might still be around in 2012. Thankfully that or something like that is exactly what happened, which is why we still have Owariya, arguably the oldest restaurant in Kyōto- which would likely make it the oldest in Japan- 546 years later.

Sobazushi at Owariya Soba in Kyoto (HESO Magazine)

The traditional Seiro Soba is served cold with a dipping sauce

Sobazushi at Owariya Soba in Kyoto (HESO Magazine)

The cooks of Honke Owariya have been around for years and know their noodles.

When you are invited by the family to stay at the restaurant itself, and they casually drop that it was established in 1465, your mind begins to go numb. These kinds of numbers don’t mean anything to Americans. 544 years of uninterrupted service means that they had already been serving soba for more than 300 years by the time the thirteen British colonies got off their lazy bottoms and decided to unify into the U.S.A. The soup I was slurping was older than my own country’s constitution, and much more delicious, which made me wonder, 1) just exactly who are these soba-mongers? and 2) what’s the difference between their product and the stuff you buy at the store?

That first talented young patisserie chef who came from Nagoya along with some members of the imperial family, worked hard to turn the shop from strictly sweets to the soba du jour. Generally considered an everyman’s dish, fit for laymen as well as for a king, the initial proprietor Denzaemon (でんざえもん)–as has been named every master behind the Owariya (尾張屋) symbol–has passed down the recipe alongside the name from father to son since the end of the Muromachi and into the Edo period, until today. While the building itself has changed over that time, the shop has been located on the same soil–despite war, fire, and other misfortunes which prevailed upon a Japan still searching for its national identity during the violence of the 15-19th centuries–since 1465. Only open for lunch, the current establishment, a multi-leveled wooden building which can seat over 50 guests comfortably, located down a sleepy side-street near the Karasuma-Oike subway station, has been in use since the early part of last century, the 1920s or 30s.

Barring another civil war, a massive fire, an earthquake of great magnitude, a genealogical dry spell or any other potential disaster already having occurred in the storied history of Kyōto (Mothra’s Revenge perhaps?), the current incarnation could be around for another five hundred years.

But what exactly is soba? According to Owariya, soba “are thin grey noodles made from sobako, or buckwheat flour.” Depending on which area of Japan you live, they range in percentages of purity from 100% juu-wari inaka-soba found in the rich buckwheat fields of Nagano to mixtures containing various wild mountain yams, green tea and even mugwort. It ranges from the traditional kaiseki-esque 500 + year-old stuff of Honke Owariya all the way to small shacks serving bowls of the stuff as fast, cheap food for businessmen who don’t have five minutes to sit. Despite sounding a bit boring, soba has a flashy side: sushi. Or more properly pronounced: Sobazushi.

How, you ask, is it so highly favored among the blue bloods, the proletariat and, of course, the wayward traveler? Despite the ancient mama-san trying to hurry you up to free space for the next customer in line, the important thing is to go slow. In order to be able to appreciate the finer subtleties amidst a symphony of salaryman slurps, you have got to eat it often and eat a lot of it. Which shouldn’t prove a problem as according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition eating whole grains, such as buckwheat, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature death. Another benefit would be eating the 100% juu-wari soba for people with wheat allergies (it’s a fruit seed, which does not contain protein glutens).

With seasonal specialties like the roasted duck, where the crispy skin reminds one of the falling leaves crunched underfoot walking in the chill dusk evening toward your lady friend’s house, there is reason for hedonistic celebration. The centimeter thick layer of beautifully textured fat redolent like the bearskin rug before the hearth of the roaring fire which throws flame light on the open bottle of vintage old world Pinot noir said lady friend is holding. Finally past the skin and beneath the fat comes the tender flesh, reminiscent of the autumnal elements, of the mingling of fire and air, and as you bite down and union is achieved, you taste the fine seiro fish stock now with a hint of oaky barbecue added as ballast and realizing that this meal too, perfectly balanced as it is by the light buckwheat noodles awash in their own sobayu, like others, will pass, you slow down.

Taking things slowly at the beginning of the year is important. Yet done’t mean we should take their presentation for granted. Soba, like mochi, is a traditional food for New year’s day in Japan. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat it in the traditional–dare I say it, boring–manner. Get crazy. Yes, go ahead and take an example from American culture and deep-fry your healthy buckwheat noodles. It’s not as if the Japanese have always been staunch traditionalists, despite claims to the contrary. They haven’t always celebrated their New Year on the 1st of January. No, that estimable tradition hailing from the Gregorian west began under Emperor Meiji’s modernization rampage in the late 19th century. The original New Year is based on–as with many other Asian cultures–the Chinese Lunar Calendar and generally falls on the second new moon after Winter Solstice, marking the beginning of spring, and signifying links with the Middle East’s Nowruz and Carnival (Mardi Gras) in the west.

Whatever your culture, your religion, your food and drink, whenever the new year comes where you are from, it goes without saying that your firsts are very important. In Japan the hatsuhinode: first sunrise of the year, hatsumōde: first trip to a shrine or temple, waraizome: first laugh, hatsuyume: first dream, and especially hatsuzushi: first sushi of the year. Why not head to Honke Owariya for you first lunch eating out of the new year and ask for the Sobazushi (you may have to specify deep-fried). It may be your first time trying it, but you won’t be sorry. Especially if you get the chilled bottle of Momo no Shizuku (Peach Dewdrops). May all your firsts parallel your dreams of laughing at the sunrise from the shrine steps. Taking your time now, you look out the window and watch the bundled people passing and the wind whipping the snow to the edges of your vision. Things inevitably change, but thankfully some things do not.

Sobazushi at Owariya Soba in Kyoto (HESO Magazine)
Homeless in Tokyo

Homeless in Yoyogi Park

Homeless in Yoyogi Park

Homeless communities peak out of the hidden areas of Yoyogi Park in Shibuya

Homeless in Yoyogi Park

As the weather worsens and the pace toward the closing of the years quickens, take a Saturday morning to drop by the Sanyukai NPO & free medical clinic in 32 No. 8, 2-chome, Kiyokawa in Taito-ku, accessible via Minami Senju station. Help make bento lunches, go along to pass them out among homeless people along the Sumida River, donate some food, clean blankets and clothing, sit down on a bench in front of Sanyukai and have a conversation over tea with someone. Act human in a time when that is beginning to seem so out of the ordinary. Find out what happens when the 2020 Olympics comes to Tokyo.

Charlie Lumanlan - HESO Photo of the Week

HESO Photo of the Week from Charlie Lumanlan

Charlie Lumanlan - HESO Photo of the Week

Charlie Lumanlan - HESO Photo of the Week

Being a photographer is not defined by art school degrees, or bound to rigid expectations and judgments. A photographer experiences life, friends, cultures, and captures the briefly passing moments of time. Photography allows me to appreciate the momentary, forever documenting a tiny portion of the joys of living. Currently I am fascinated by the stories portraits tell, and the use of natural colours and light to evoke emotion. I live and travel a natural film life from the san francisco bay area to tokyo, where film, love, and friends guide me back and forth.

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