Although I live in Seattle, I consider Japan a home away from home. While I'm half Malaysian and have actually made Japan more frequent in my calendar than annual doctor's visits, culture shock is still prominent. It is a country where full self-expression is encouraged (and expected), where cleanliness and controlled chaos can be found walking among others in busy streets.
Fashion here sets precedent for new global trends and it's married to traditional cultural values that still remain of utmost importance, like showing respect. Behavioral nuances such as respect are woven into the fabric of Japan's culture so much so that you can even see the influence of this cultural differentiation even in the cuisine.
Making my way through the city as an outsider, I was able to find enjoyment in the otherwise mundane moments we take for granted.
The first thing I heard were the constant announcements I couldn’t understand.
Looking around were people wearing face masks, minding their own business and busy on their way. It was around 5pm, so rush hour was in full effect; employees orchestrated the swarms of people like water flowing into a funnel into the already overly packed train; a collective disregard to personal space.
In Japan, cleanliness and attention to detail does not go unnoticed.
Walking down the streets you may be shocked to find an absence of litter, no garbage cans, and vending machines for cold and hot drinks everywhere. Early in the mornings we would observe shop owners cleaning every single leaf off the sidewalk that has fallen the night before. Cleanliness is an act that everyone feels an obligation to participate in.
Tokyo is a streetwear photographers paradise. I was lucky to spend the first few days and nights there. Apparel is not simply worn to stay warm or to be practical with whatever place of employment they were hustling off to, their look is a full expression of themselves. Tokyo style is a hybrid of trends that combine with unique personal touches creating an air of effortlessness which is so intriguing.
I felt like I was a little kid again in a big city with everything new and exciting. There were beaming bright lights around every corner, playful typography among the seas of various signs and my favorite-- bunches of ramen and sushi shops everywhere!
Little toy vending machines selling cute trinkets for 200 yen became instant pit-stops.
Kyoto was next. The JR train, which is one of the bullet trains that run throughout Japan, made this extremely accessible. The warm and flourishing sights of the countryside were a stark, yet welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
Kyoto is one of the quietest cities I’ve been to.
Walking to the Airbnb while rolling my suitcase felt like a disruption because the noise of the wheels against the pavement was loud. It felt almost serene to be able to reflect on otherwise minuscule details with stronger attention because of this sound awareness. Even the food shops felt slow paced in comparison to Tokyo.
The next day, I went to the bamboo forest. It was a sacred area, filled with tombstones and shrines.
It is blanketed in bamboo as high as the eye could see.
The surroundings are enough to get lost in, so it was exciting to stumble upon new little things all along the way. Every detail about Kyoto is in complete opposition to Tokyo. From the ambiance and environment of Kyoto, I can still imagine sitting on the side of the road just listening to the gentle wind in a state of meditation.
Osaka was next. The first steps taken off the train from Osaka was immediately immersed into a river of people and shops. Once I got out of the street of shops, I was greeted with neon lights covering every single building, and food shops everywhere. Osaka was full of life, full of moments.
On the last leg of the trip, the journey continued back to Tokyo. I got the chance to shoot with a lovely model, Mizuki. While our communication was more visual than verbal, I'm happy that the positive energy was captured in a successful shoot.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to travel and document the wildly diverse parts of Japan. It’s one of the most unique countries in the world and I'm already in anticipation of when I can visit again!