Japan at night as seen by Ed & Deanna Templeton: Feeling the Culture by Taking PhotosCulture
Beautiful Losers is a documentary film that premiered in 2008 at the IFC Center in New York City, United States. In celebration of the film that became the bible for street culture/art videos, a group exhibition called Now & Then: A Decade of Beautiful Losers was held at the RVCA Shibuya Gallery and The Corner located in Shibuya, Tokyo, presented by the US west coast-based brand RVCA. Huntington Beach, California-based skateboard legends and photographers Ed and Deanna Templeton have joined the exhibition with their works. The pair are big fans of Japan and have visited the country every year for the past few years. This time, they are visiting for the release of a photo book titled City Confession #1 Tokyo (SUPER LABO), which captures the present affairs of Tokyo as seen by Ed Templeton. We asked the two visionaries about Tokyo.
– How many times have you visited Tokyo?
Ed Templeton (hereafter, E): Eight, including this time. The first time was in 1998. I came a few times for skateboarding, and the rest were for art exhibitions. My first exhibition in Japan was in 2001 – there was a trade show in Asakusa.
Deanna Templeton (hereafter, D): We took a ferry to Asakusa. Ed drew a famous Japanese TV star in the booth. Everyone was saying, "she's famous."
E: Then there was a 15 year gap, and we returned for the first time in 2016. We've visited every year since then.
D: During that time, we were visiting Europe every year, going to galleries and skateboard-related exhibitions. On our 25th wedding anniversary, we wanted something different - to go somewhere else - and we decided to come to Tokyo. In 2016, we stayed in Tokyo and Kyoto for about ten days, three weeks in 2017, and a month and five days in 2018.
E: We just fell in love with Japan. We've visited various places in Japan so far, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Kanazawa, and Fujisawa. We spend half of our time taking photos. We love to walk around, and even when we're lost, we keep taking pictures. Japanese culture is fantastic. Also, we get to visit all kinds of places and take pictures because it is so safe. We take pictures of all kinds of aspects of the culture. For example, we've been vegan since the 90s, and we noticed that there are many dishes in Japan that are made from just vegetables. The best of all is the Buddhist cuisine shojin-ryori. I think it's a great option for vegans.
D: The aesthetics - like architecture - are also great. I love Tokyo, too, but I liked how everything slowed down in Kyoto. It felt like I was able to breathe. When I return to the States and resume my everyday life, I feel myself stressing out because of work. I can let go of that stress by visiting Japan. In Japan, we're like kids – everything is like, "What's that?" "What's this?" Photography was always fun, but it kind of renewed my love for it.
E: I'm a fan of Japanese photography, so we always visit the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum when I am in Japan. I often go to galleries searching for things. Last time, I discovered the artist Tsuguharu Fujita. I didn't know about him, but I had seen photos of him in books and things. Now he's one of my favorite painters.
– What do you think about nightlife in Japan? I know that Deanna has released the photo book "The Moon Has Lost Her Memory" (SUPER LABO) which focuses on night scenes.
D: I do like shooting during the night. I don't really work with a flash, so I use natural light - we both like working on the quiet side, so we're just observing, waiting for a scene that we like.
E: I think that is our relationship with the world, anywhere we go – in Japan, as well as in the United States. Since we're not big partiers – we don't drink – we're just observing all the time. We walk the cities at night, observing the different cultures. It helps us understand the culture. For example, like all the businessmen in Shibuya, drinking too much and passing out on the streets. It's fun for us to observe these things. It's different from the United States. Everyone works so hard here.
D: In the States if you were that intoxicated, you would get picked up by the police pretty quickly. I think people in Japan understand that they are working so hard and that they needed a little bit of fun.
E: Because we're not native here, there is a lot that we don't understand. I think we're trying to understand more, but we don't understand exactly how the culture works.
D: I think the people here are so kind and they want to let the guy (the drunk businessman) rest a bit. We watched a guy sleep on the train and Ed was able to make a little video of the guy. Eventually, the police came, but they weren't violent. They were just helping him. Ed took a picture, too.
– This must be a late-night weekend train. This looks very Japanese.
E: When the train stopped, the door opened, and his head fell out. I grabbed his head to get him back in the train, but he was like "leave me alone!" (laugh)
– Where do you like to go shoot photos at night in Tokyo?
E: We like Shinjuku, it's a very nice area for taking photos. We also like the Kabuki-cho area. During our last trip, we finally discovered Ueno. We really like Ueno.
D: It was great for shooting at night because of all the lights coming from the restaurants and cafes. It's great for photography because there is enough light and you can shoot without getting in someone's face.
E: We were here in Shibuya for Halloween last year, it was quite crazy - the costume culture, noticing the differences from the US Halloween; it was great for photography. Like four people wearing the exact same thing. In the States, everyone wants to be their own special thing, so if my friend says I want to do this, then I have to do something different. Here it's kind of like everyone is enjoying doing the same thing.
– It seems you both like taking pictures of people.
D: For the most part, but I also like details.
E: For me, it's about getting close to people, filling the frame with what I am looking at. It's a bit of a challenge for me in Japan because I am a foreigner. I feel like a huge white guy when I'm here (laugh).
– What is Ed's photobook "City Confession #1 Tokyo" (SUPER LABO) about?
E: This is the first of a series. There's going to be one for London, Barcelona, etc. In the end, they will be cased together. This is the first one, and there will probably be six altogether. The work that I've been doing over the years will be used. For example, I've been shooting in Tokyo for twenty years.
– I see you have been to Kyoto. What about other cities?
D: We joined the paparazzi in Kyoto... trying to shoot the maikos.
E: In Gion, there is a street where all the tourists go to, trying to see a maiko. We discovered that all the maikos come to the Gion area in a taxi. So we waited on a different street where the taxis come. We shot inside the taxis using a flash - total paparazzi stuff. But we were totally ahead of the tourists because they would come later and by the time they got close enough for a shot, the guys from the restaurants would be pushing them back. We already had our shots by then (laugh).
– I believe you took pictures of the gay pride parade in Los Angeles. What were the photos for?
E: VOGUE asked me to shoot, so I went to the local Pride festivals in Los Angeles and Orange County.
D: They had a publication called "Teenage Kissers." They wanted him to capture couples kissing at the Pride festival.
E: We shot a lot of stuff for ourselves, too, and I posted a lot on Instagram. It was really fun. For a photographer, when you have a scene like that, with a lot of people - you know, letting everything out in public, getting crazy - that's like the best thing. It's easy to shoot because there's so much going on.
D: We agreed after the first one in LA that it just felt good. Because everyone was there, just supporting each other. There was a very positive atmosphere. There were people wearing T-shirts that read "free hug from a mom" or "free hug from a dad," for kids that could not come out to their parents, or that did and were shunned. We watched kids break down and cry, and I cried, too. It felt really special.
＜Recommended Districts to Visit in Japan＞
Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku is regarded as one of the busiest entertainment districts in Asia. At night, countless neon-signs light up the night streets as bright as day. Various types of bars and restaurants are located in Kabuki-cho, and the deep end is also quite a bit deeper than the average district in Tokyo. The infamous Japanese kaiju Godzilla welcomes you at the center of the district. The famous gay town Shinjuku Ni-chome is in walking distance. It is as charming and fun as it seems a little dangerous – a true night town.
With the 2020 Olympics coming up, the center of Tokyo is undergoing heavy development. However, there are a few retro looking districts in East Tokyo where you can still enjoy the feel of the Showa era. Ueno is one such town. In a train underpass, you will find a tavern that opens at noon and a long-established store run by an old couple. Ame-yoko (short for America yoko-cho) is a chaotic and exotic shopping district that does not look like Japan, or like anywhere else on this planet.
If you are looking for an authentic experience of a traditional Japanese city, you should visit Kyoto. Gion is an entertainment district with a long history where you can see traditional geikos (women that entertain through dancing and singing) work. You can enjoy a time slip into the old days of Japan just by walking down the main street of Gion called Hanami-koji. In the late afternoon, geishas and maikos (similar to geikos) dressed in beautiful kimonos and on their way to work will start to fill the streets. If you want to enjoy the traditional and historic side of Japan, this is truly a must-see.
Photo: Reiji Yamasaki
Text: Kana Yoshioka
Thanks: RVCA Japan, SUPER LABO, Nao Machida