Photographer #4: James Koji Hunt
JAMES KOJI HUNT
35.6762° N, 139.6503° E
1. Please give us a quick introduction to yourself.
I’m Japanese/Australian but have spent the last seven years living in Europe. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, you can feel a sense of disconnect from the rest of the world, so being able to travel, live and work in places I’m not 100% familiar with has always been alluring.
2. Were you visiting the place/country or do you live there?
I moved to Tokyo from Berlin in 2018. In many ways, the two cities can be viewed as complete opposites, but actually, they have a deep and long-lasting connection. When people were still allowed to travel freely, I would receive a steady stream of Berliners here in Tokyo and although they’re vastly different, it has made me feel that the two cities are not worlds apart. I just hope those gates can open up again soon as I do miss Berlin and the people that make the city.
3. What can you tell us about the people in the shoot?
I had some difficulties finding models to actually fit the clothes! Sizes tend to run smaller here, which limited the friends that I could ask for help.
When I first arrived here in Tokyo, my Japanese friend and hairdresser from Berlin was here too. Knowing that I needed some friends and a new hairdresser, he put me in touch with Akira – he’s been cutting my hair and taking me to the most off-beat places to eat and drink ever since.
My other friend Hiroki also modeled. We had done a few projects together when I was based in Berlin, so I knew I could always ask him for help – he also happens to be the biggest person I know here, so I knew he would fill the clothes out nicely.
4. Where did you do the shooting? Why did you choose this area?
Ever since COVID I’ve been avoiding populated areas like Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Shimokita – and these places are all kind of overdone anyway. There’s a favourite area of mine, one-hour north-east of Tokyo called ‘Tateishi’ which has a deep drinking and eating culture. Akira and I have been a few times, but I really wanted to try a very special Motsuyaki restaurant called ‘Uchida’. There’s no menu, a special queuing system with no instructions and the clientele exists of 99% retired men in their 60s.
Everything is based on the parts of an animal that you usually wouldn’t want to eat; think hearts, guts, intestines and cartilage served either partially raw, grilled or in a stew. Shochu is served at 2 euro a pop, and they stop serving you after three drinks (maybe four if you seem OK, according to the old man that sat next to us). Needless to say, we got extremely drunk and the place was so crammed there was no way to take photos anyway!
On the other days, I just grabbed the clothes and walked around my neighbourhood in Sasazuka (about 4km West of Shinjuku). There’s always something interesting in the neighbourhoods of Tokyo, whether it’s being able to see the patterns of people’s airing futons or peering into old shops with wooden facades, not quite sure what they’re selling (if they’re selling anything at all). The suburbs of Tokyo feel nothing like what you expect Tokyo to feel like: you can still find a lot of green, and you can still find a lot of very quiet places too. And contrary to popular belief, you can find a lot of dirty/run down places as well.
5. What are your favorite spots in this location?
As with most of my outings, everything is centred around what food or drink I can enjoy. Tateishi is known to be a local watering hole full of small hangouts where the clientele is mostly made up of locals and regulars, so it feels like a real treat being able to enter that world. If you ever get to go there, be sure to get the sui-gyoza (boiled dumplings) at 餃子の店蘭州 – it’s worth the one-hour train ride.
6. What photographer/artist influences your photography?
I like a lot of photographers, but I’m not sure whether they have any influence on my photography. I just try to always carry a camera on my body at all times and shoot as quickly as possible. I’m trying to get better at shooting without thinking, but oddly enough; it’s taking some practice.
As for photographers I follow: I’ll always be a Martin Parr fan, but lately, I’ve become fond of Nadia Lee Cohen and Sam Youkilis.
7. Famous last words – what would you like to share?
If you come to Tokyo: catch a train about 5-10 stops in any direction from the main areas. Get off and stroll around and I promise you, you will find something interesting; a family-owned restaurant, an old plum tree in bloom, or an elderly person going about their day with a certain grace and poise.