Snaps at Mt. Fuji / A Case of Relentless Narcissism / The Camera’s View

me

So I posted a while back about visiting my college friend Harrison in Tokyo? Well one evening we had gone to the Golden Gai district in Shinjuku to down some drinks and we bumped into a few good ‘uns.

Among the new friends we made that night, we counted a charismtic Frenchman, a professional Australian golfer who boasted second-party affiliation with Tiger Woods (who happened to despise Frenchmen and straightaway got into an earnest row with the former), a music fanatic Japanese barman, and a Moroccan banker with his lovely outspoken Japanese host, Mutz.

Mutz lives nearby and so we made plans to meet up later. She randomly invited me to model for her troupe, at Mt. Fuji, and I spontaneously agreed, despite not really knowing any of them.

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Mutz, Mike, and Eric watching a video of a poor actor getting in trouble. Mutz is learning the tools of the trade from Eric and Mike. They’re considering opening a studio together in Tokyo. They’re an incredible bunch of non-typical Tokyoites: loud, expressive, not afraid to share their minds, artistic and spontaneous, and did I already mention~ loud?

In the picture above, we’re at a kaitenzushi, or conveyor belt sushi shop. Unlike American go-arounds, these restaurants don’t serve sushi rolls but specialize in nigiri items. My new favorite is sliced squid and shiso nigiri. When fresh, squid is chewy, translucent, and coats the inside of the mouth with a creamy texture.

At this kaitenzushi, eaters can serve themselves hot green tea, and special-order items, which come whizzing by on a speedy little train. I kept on forgetting to press the flashing green button to dismiss the train so others in aisle could also order items including fried calamari, ramen, jello, and a range of cheap nigiri (100-190 yen, about $0.82-$1.50 per plate!)

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There is a little touch screen above the conveyor belt for ordering off of the menu. Every five plates, you eligible to play a mini game to win a small prize. Mutz won a tiny little sushi cellphone charm. The photographers quickly realised that I love eating food (mainly for its texture) and when we were shooting, they would ask me to think of food when they were trying to get me to smile or laugh. Heh.

There are times I get in deep trouble for being spontaneous, fickle, and super open to complete strangers but then again, it can also pave the way for new realities that I never could have even imagined.

This experience was one of them.

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As an artist, I’m always the one behind the scenes. This was an interesting chance to become the muse/the subject/the object.

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Eric insisted on going for curry the first night on Mt. Fuji. We were a boisterous joyous bunch, and very likely irritated the poor polite servers.

Japanese curry is to die for. They arrange so that half of the plate is rice, half curry, and you can order condiments like corn, cheese, or sides like fried tonkatsu (pork), chicken, seafood, veggies, etc.

Curry spice levels can get dangerous. Some places offer *level 50 spicy* and you get name recognition if you “defeat” the level. 

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This was my favourite photo from the shoot.

Mutz, Eric, and Mike had an interesting way of choosing photography sites. We all bundled into Mike’s massive car and randomly drove around the Mt. Fuji area looking for suitably photogenic landscapes. It made for long hours of driving and lots of spicy music (Beyonce, The Police, and some really disturbing country music).

Mutz is opening up her own photography studio and tourism business in Tokyo, Eric is on vacation from Hawaii, where he works as an airplane engineer (?), while Mike works as a big boss at an established pharmaceutical company. They all share a fierce passion for photography and met through a Meetup photography event a while back.

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“What are you looking at?”

A bunch of old Japanese tourists from the city were visiting this waterfall (not pictured) and stared curiously at my crazy getup. Japanese people don’t often wear lipstick except for geisha costumes or formal traditional wear. The fad is to either dye or powder your face to be more fair.

In America, we “Orientalise” the East.

In Japan, everyone wants to be white, date white, or speak white.

It is quite common for Japanese “gaijin hunters” in the form of prospective boyfriends or friends to seek out company with foreigners, in order to improve their English language skills. In some ways, I’m pretty lucky because everyone assumes I’m full Japanese, rather than half, so I fly under the radar. This also means everyone is startled when I act as an American in public, for the cultural differences between the Japanese and the American public persona are jarringly different.

Japanese almost never eat in public, are quiet, submissive, and never ever dance or sing to music in department stores.

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Hawaiian photographer and airplane engineer Eric Wilson and I stand inside a “convini” or convenience store. He was telling me his hand gesture has something to do with Hawaiian sharks but never finished his thought. On the other hand, (ha) I’m making the typical kawaii scissors sign.

We made many pit stops at these corner stores for caffeination, hydration, and pretty decent microwaveable snacks and gummies. Eric is an intensely energetic individual powered by Japanese energy drinks and the drive to find the perfect shot.

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Mutz and Eric. Mike seemed to be a bit camera shy.

We sat together in the back of the car during the two day road trip and I learned a hell of a lot about homelessness in Hawaii, amongst other subjects. When Americans think about Hawaii, stereotypical images of hula dancing, pineapples, and glistening beaches come to mind.

However, Americans visiting Hawaii on vacation are bent on pursuing this stereotypical experience and might not learn that Hawaiian housing is insanely expensive, entire families live on the streets (sometimes in city blocks full of retrofitted boxcars, sometimes in tents), and that Hawaii is actually a set of 8 islands:

Kaho’olawe, (The Target Isle),

Ni’ihau, (called The Forbidden Isle, it is off limits to anyone except true native Hawaiians),

Lānaʻi, (The Pineapple Island with only one K-12 school serving the entire island),

Moloka’i, (previously host to a leper colony),

Kaua’i, (The Garden Isle, home to the Waimea Canyon State Park),

O’ahu, (The Gathering Place),

Maui, (apparently, according to Eric, Maui is the hippy-dippy place to relax),

and last but certainly not least Hawai’i.

And Hawaii is not simply pronounced hah-why-ee. It should be pronounced with more staccato force and a special emphasis on that last vowel. 


I was really interested in getting reeducated about Hawaii because I’m going to a different set of islands very soon and it is always important to remember that preconceptions do not accurately represent reality, but that they can alter reality all too easily. It seems to me there are three main categories of longterm foreign visitors, and I’m shooting for #3:

1) Those who seek to acclimate, blend in, and respect the culture,

2) Those who insist on maintaining their own customs, and are at risk of disrespecting locals,

3) Those who managed to tread that fine line in-between the two.

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Vacuous expressions are A+ material for a serene, slightly contemplative portrait. I’m literally slack-jawed here.

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So you can’t tell here but I spilled egg yolk ALL OVER this fox mask and then proceeded to accidentally wash some of the mask’s dye off with tap water. 😦 On the train to Tokyo, a friendly conductor from the Tokyo Metropolitan Youth Orchestra and his ancient mother gave me two fresh eggs to eat raw. I made the poor decision to save them for later and one was subsequently squashed all over clothes, backpack, everywhere. Thankfully the other bright orange yolk made it into my tummy.

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COLD. Winter in Japan, especially hereabouts near Tokyo, can get really brutal. I’m in Saitama (a 2 hour train ride away) for another couple weeks and I hear the wind can cut you to the bone. There are these padded blanket-sweater-things that you can get for 20 bucks a pop to ward off the chill. I need me one of those!

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I could barely see in those lashes. They were like oversized twitching caterpillars resting on my eyelids. And boy, if I didn’t glue them on properly, they even skewed my vision.

It was so bad I walked into a couple parked cars!

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Hereabouts, we’ve driven back to the city and have settled in Machida, a stone’s throw from a nearby park. There are giant cobwebs and mosquitos everywhere and everyone is wiped out. They’re going to party and drink and I’m going to trek out to meet my English language student in Urawa. That day never seemed to end.

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When we got to the hotel late that night, Mutz and I checked into a shared room and spontaneously decided to put me in a bath and blow some bubbles. We had a really hard time because Mutz had to both blow bubbles and take photos. Many good laughs were shared. But I was so tired! Later, we drank some nasty alcohol and fell asleep at 3 am. The boys (well men, I guess, since they are 30-50 years old) stayed up all night, driving around Mt. Fuji taking more photographs of the sleeping mountain.

Surprisingly, posing is akin to meditating. You leave the majority of the artistic agency to the camera, and the photographer behind the scenes. If the subject can follow directions well enough to strike a pose and hold it, then it just becomes a matter of knowing one’s attractive angles, shifting ever so slightly, and having the patience to wait and do it over and over again.

I’ve never modelled before but I do have to admit I fantasised about it as a wee little girl child in Los Angles. This experience felt more like drawing with friends in a new city and a chance to explore the outermost region of my ego than a practice in creating image.

Does that make sense? I’m not sure…

It is so weird, since as a painter and illustrator I have aways been the one scrutinising the object/subject. But it is pretty educational to flip that dynamic and act as muse because you learn what it is like to really explicitly be a passive receiving image. It doesn’t feel bad but it goes deeper than taking a selfie- rather than you appreciating yourself, its other entities who are looking and analysing the way your body is posed, and thinking about how to improve it.

It’s a really weird experience.

During the shoot, I was really aware of potential sexist pitfalls, since women (in contrast to men) are nearly always over-sexualised in photographic images. I think there are definitely power and gender dynamics at play here, since the world is still a goddamn sexist society but that wasn’t highlighted badly at all this time around, thankfully.

I’m becoming much more of a vocal feminist and at one point, one of the photographers started to say “Well, you aren’t a man, so you can’t jump easily” (context: we were doing a jumping shot, with me in heels) and I immediately cut him off and said “What the hell do you mean? What does this have to do with gender?” and he backed off.

Eeep.

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Until next time, dear Readers.

xoxo

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