photography by Dasha Love, interview by Britta Burger
What made you decide to go to Japan?
I went there to meet up with people for work, for my photography… magazines, photo agencies, and I’d found two cute girls that I just wanted to shoot for my portfolio. And I wanted to see the stuff I used to look at in magazines and cartoons.
You’re obsessed with Japanese culture, aren’t you?
I’ve been obsessed with Japan for the last 8 years, it’s so different, bright and funky. I first started hanging out with Japanese people when I was 16, I went out with this boy, and they were all cool and made music and wore crazy clothes. And they spoke to each other with respect, that was very special for me.
What was it like?
It’s a very crazy combo of really funky and innovative stuff and very traditional old things, and that relates both to the culture and the look of things.
I went to Kyoto first, it’s the cultural capital of Japan, it gave me a great insight into how people behave in social situations, and the various rules. They’re strict, you can’t smoke unless it’s a specific area. And there would be old men looking at you, whether you put your cigarette buds in the rubbish bin… I mean they’re totally casual about it, but people do look.
Kyoto was peaceful, the pace of life was really slow, and everyone seemed a lot more relaxed and more polite than in Tokyo. In Tokyo people are more hectic. Everyone is running around in the tube and on the street, sometimes they would push you by accident.
Were there things you hadn’t expected?
Some people are really shy, like really really shy, they can’t bring themselves to talk to you at all, that was kind of surprising, you don’t get this in England, like an 18-year-old who wouldn’t talk to you because they’re too shy. I’d heard that people don’t say no and avoid conflict as much as possible, but I only realised how extreme it was when I was there. They really don’t want conflict, at all. I noticed that mainly in work related situations. I’d literally have to ask them “do you want me to change something?” and only then they’d say “yes”, but they wouldn’t say “change something”.
How different is people’s approach to fashion in Japan?
Very different from England, people dress more unique in a way, and they can make a lot of money even in part time jobs, they have quite a budget they can spend on themselves, they’re all into their clothes and really take pride in their appearance. One thing that I don’t like is that girls really do wear a lot a lot of makeup, I’m a lot more into the natural look, and some of these girls go to extreme lengths, like they get contact lenses that make their eyes look bigger and weird things like that which is a bit much, but it’s part of their culture.
Was it hard to shoot fashion out there?
I was shooting two girls, one of them barely spoke English, the other one was super shy, she didn’t speak any English at all, I got my friend to translate a little bit, and when I was shooting them I just somehow managed to communicate with them easily, I was totally directing them and then some random photographer ran up to me and started shooting my model for some whatever… street style snap thing, saying my direction was so good, I was like, really? It was fun, it wasn’t hard at all, I reckon if you want to work there as a photographer, if you are nice, and friendly, it should work out ok.
In terms of work it’s really professional, so if there is a magazine and their credo is like ‘we don’t smoke’, they just don’t want their models to be associated with smoking, that’s it, that’s the end of it. If there is some cool girl, and she shoots for Elle Girl or whatever and everything is great but if there is a blog post of her smoking, they drop her, because it’s bad for the image of the magazine, which is fair enough. They’re strict and really on it, in terms of work, which I like, there’s no grey area about their work.
There are a lot of pictures of food in your diary, how come?
Food is really treated with respect. In England people are quite careless about what they eat, in Japan it’s a much bigger deal, a bit of food can even be a present for someone, to show your respect.
I shot a lot of the food pictures in department stores in Kyoto, there’d be a whole floor with the most amazing, freshest food you can’t find anywhere else. And if they close at, say, 8, they lower the prices at 7.30 and you can get something like eight pieces of sushi for £1. If you wanted something like that in London you’d have to go to a really expensive restaurant and it still wouldn’t even be as good.
Did you party a lot?
I was hanging out with a friend in Tokyo. She took to me some chilled bars and clubs and a 90s party. I liked the nightlife, but it’s not the main thing about Tokyo. In London you can always see the latest artists and go to the craziest raves, everything gets to Japan a little later, but it’s fun. But I ended up on a cruise which was a staff party for a stocking store, with food and karaoke, I was very impressed with how well the company owner treated his staff…
What was your weirdest experience?
Probably staying in a love hotel. The place was obviously designed for very specific needs. The light would turn itself on every hour. But the whole feel was like, oh people have been here before, what did they do? I don’t even want to know, but I’m right there. But it was fun and not expensive.
Was it one of the cool, funky ones?
Not really. We tried to go to one of these but it was me and two more girls and the guy there was really annoying and wouldn’t let the three of us go in the same room. So we went to another one which was called Caribbean…whatever, and I had to sneak in after, and pretend to be a hooker.
Did you skate in Tokyo?
When we first got to Tokyo, me and my boyfriend saw this guy with a skateboard and we asked him, like, where do you skate? And he was like, no no no, there aren’t any skateparks around here, you can’t skate on the street, you get a ticket, basically you have to go out of Tokyo, and we were like, ok, that’s weird. And then I met this other guy and he said, yeah there is this new Nike skatepark right here in Shibuya, so I guess this other guy was just a loser, but apparently you do get a ticket if you skate on the street.
The Nike skatepark wasn’t that busy, it was brand new and nice, next to some train tracks. If you want to go to the skatepark, you pay a fee, and then you have to rub your feet, on some rug, before you get into the skatepark, and right next to the door they have three different bins, they all do crazy recycling, even at the skatepark. Everyone is crazy about recycling, you get a Coco Cola bottle, you put it apart, you put the lid in a separate bin, you take the paper off the bottle and put it in a seperate bin too, you wash the bottle… and everyone has like five different bags for five different types of rubbish.
What did you shoot on?
I took my 90s 35mm Canon camera, and I also shot with Fuji Instax because it’s quick and you get really nice colours, and I shot with Impossible Project black and white film, which was weird, it came out sepia, and then after I scanned it it came out blue and sepia. I was pretty happy about that.