Adobe Collection Highlight – Kodawari by Liesel Böckl

Many years of living abroad have eroded my Japanese mannerisms but whenever I return to Japan, I am reminded by many aspects of Japanese culture that makes it so unique. This summer I spent 5 weeks in Japan and photographed over 15 stories travelling between Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Shizuoka and Tokyo. A traditional glass carving workshop, a popular ramen bar, a family run sweet shop in Kyoto…The shoots allowed me to appreciate and reconnect with the things that make Japan so complex and interesting. The project was a collaboration with Mint Images and recently featured on the Adobe Creative Blog. Links below:

Adobe Creative Blog 2016.12.20  US Kodawari        Adobe Creative Blog 2016.12.20 JAPAN 日本のこだわり

Craft Movement

Tradition has always been a big part of Japanese culture but I noticed a very strong interest in “craft” and making things the “traditional way”. In Japan, where space is limited and as a country that has been obsessed with modernisation for the last half century, doing things the “old way” is often the more difficult and costly. The LOHAS (Lifestyle Of Health And Sustainability) trend has been around for a while (see Ku:nel magazine) but now there seems to be a strong focus on running businesses and making things the traditional way. I also saw many of the younger members of the taking over the family business instead of going to work for a corporation.

Japanese “Kodawari”

Another characteristic which is related to the craft element that kept turning up over and over again is the incredible attention to detail is known as “Kodawari”. Whether is about using the best ingredients or creating the perfect environment for the family to communicate, the Japanese determination to achieve perfection, no matter how small the job was so prevalent wherever I went.

Sushi Arai – Setagaya, Tokyo

Arai-san, the itamae (sushi chef) is also a trained sake sommelier and offers expertise advice into what sake to serve with what fish. A dry sake for richer, fattier fish and something a sweeter for white fish with a more delicate taste. Every morning before he starts his daily preparations he offers salt, rice and sake to the kami or gods of nature. He explained to me that as a sushi chef, those three elements are essential to his work. He then washes the rice for the day, grates fresh wasabi from a wasabi root and makes his own gari (pickled ginger). Plastic does not exist in his work area, only steel, Japanese cedar, ceramic bowls and traditional knives.

Mashimo Family – Azabu, Tokyo

So much thought and attention to detail was put into the Mashimo family house, who live in Minami Azabu int the center of Tokyo. The kitchen was warm and designed in a way that the young children could help out with daily chores and a round table made family meals more enjoyable. A small flower bed and a fish tank were used to teach the children responsibility and how to care for other living things. I spent two lovely afternoons with this family and they even invited me to have lunch with them in their lovingly designed kitchen.

Planning & Challenges

Researching and planning took about 4 months. With the help of an a few local friends, I managed to book most of the shoots from London. There were many challenges I encountered such as the sheer physicality of shooting constantly over a 5-week period and being on my own. I was also uploading files every night for the Mint team in London and the UK to review and select. Time was also very tight as I was only allowed access to the businesses for a few hours. Also because I was planning the shoots from London, the actual shoot was the first time I could see the locations. I needed to be ready to shoot in any light condition.

Kirameki Chicken – Ichijoy-ji , Kyoto

Kirameki means “twinkle” and is a popular ramen bar in Kyoto’s Ichijoy-ji ramen row, specializing in thick Taiwanese-style “maze soba” noodles and ramen served in a rich and deeply flavoured chicken broth. As a ramen lover, I wanted to capture the buzz, passion and artistry involved in ramen making. I spent two hours behind the scenes as the cooks prepped their fresh ingredients from scratch to create the broth, noodles and daily special. Freshness, texture, contrasting flavours and appetite-whetting visuals combine to draw a queue of loyal customers every day when the door opens at 11am. The staff were vey welcoming and allowed me into their kitchen to photograph the daily preparations. A kitchen thick with steam, huge mountains of chicken carcasses, several large pots of brewing broth…I couldn’t help but think of the “ramen western” Tampopo by Juzo Itami where two truck drivers go to extreme measures to get the secret recipe for the perfect bowl of ramen.

Maiko – Gion, Kyoto

With their distinctive white face and scarlet lips, the image of a Geisha or Maiko can be thought as an over-used representation of the traditional Japanese woman. For many Japanese people, the closest they would ever come to seeing a geisha is perhaps glimpsing a geisha drive by in a taxi or disappearing behind a nameless sliding door. Surprisingly the very same characteristics still exist in modern Japan. As a half German half Japanese woman, I am intrigued by the definition of Japanese femininity.

To experience geisha culture you must head to Kyoto. Under 100 Geishas still remain in the city, living and working in the traditional tea houses as they have been for 200 years. The first geishas were men, and were highly trained and talented entertainers, experts in the arts of music, dance, poetry and conversation. The white face was a symbol of class as well a way to ward off unwanted evil spirits. Covering up the body with layers of fabric but leaving the neck unpainted was just one of the many ways femininity was expressed.

Baird Craft Brewery –  Shuzenji, Shizuoka

The Baird Brewery is on the banks of the pristine Kano River in Shuzenji on the beautiful Izu peninsular, southwest of Tokyo. Bryan and Sayuri Baird founded the business with no staff in 2000; now they have five taprooms across Japan, and export their beer internationally.

As farmers as well as brewers, they aim to highlight the intricate connection that exists between land and beer. Baird Beer is made in small batches with painstaking care – and with both reverence and irreverence for tradition. Floor-malted barley, exclusive use of whole-flower hops, and soft local water treated minimally all contribute to the authenticity of the beers. The flavours of the malt, hops and yeast are highlighted and celebrated, rather than being suppressed by over-processing. All Baird Beer is unfiltered and undergoes a secondary fermentation in the keg or bottle from which it is served, producing a natural carbonation that is soft yet effervescent. Moreover, the beer remains alive and evolving until it is consumed.

Special thank you to my friends who helped organize the shoots and made this project possible. Madoka, Yone, Yuki, Saku, Ririko, Jason and Reiko.  And the lovely team at Mint Images!

See the entire Kodawari collection by Mint Images on Adobe Stock.