Tokyo feels like the world’s entertainment capital, where idle boredom is an impossible option. Whether it’s going to an arcade, taking care of a digital pet on your cellphone, or heading over to acuddle cafe, personal amusement is obtained on demand, through an infinite number of avenues. But with all of these unending lists of pleasurable options, there also seems to be an unspoken discipline in Japanese culture; a silent code that dictates that recreation strictly occur before and after your daily obligations.
It’s because of this mentality that certain types of pre-packaged entertainment getaways appear to be more prevalent in Japan than in the United States, where onsen (hot springs) are one of the most common staycation preferences amongst Japanese locals. With more than 25,000 naturally-occurring mineral hot springs across the country, Japan’s geothermal areas help power 3,000 spa resorts. Ranging from the natural to the man-made, these hot springs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Traditional onsen are a collection of shallow pools where men and women gather separately to hang out in the nude and recoup from the daily grind. Onsen offer a variety of baths with jets, waterfalls, and weak, non-hazardous currents of electricity running through their lukewarm, rejuvenating waters.
On a recent trip to Tokyo, Japan, the possibility of bathing inside of a flavored onsen appeared on my radar. My girlfriend, Elena, and I decided to pay a visit to Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, a family-friendly resort two hours Southwest of Tokyo, where you can swim in a pool of green tea, wine, coffee, or sake.
Elena in a giant pool of green tea.
Like any other onsen, visible tattoos of any kind are forbidden at the Yunessun resort. I saw a lot of bandages covering biceps, ankles, and the lower area of women’s backs. If you come to the Yunessun with a lot of ink to cover, you’re forced to buy a white spandex shirt that you are required to wear throughout the spa day.
VICE Japan correspondents Kentaro and Masakazu travel to Beijing, China to check out Guo Li Zhuang, the local go-to penis restaurant in the city. First on the menu is raw donkey penis, followed by “Golden Pike of Iron Horse” (horse penis), “Dragon Moving Through Fire” (Yak penis), “Digging in Sand” (goat testicle and snail penis), and last but not least, a soup made up of some more penises. Watch and learn more about the healthy medical effects these dishes can have.
Japan is a country that is dying—literally. Japan has more people over the age of 65 and the smallest number of people under the age of 15 in the world. It has the fastest negative population growth in the world, and that’s because hardly anyone is having babies. In these difficult times, the Japanese are putting marriage and families on the back burner and seeking recreational love and affection as a form of cheap escape with no strings attached. We sent Ryan Duffy to investigate this phenomenon, which led him to Tokyo’s cuddle cafes and Yakuza-sponsored prostitution rings.
Bruce Gilden Takes Street Photos Like You’ve Never Seen Before
Bruce Gilden is most famous for his New York street photography. These days, that term might conjure up the idea of plonkers with DSLRs taking photos of Supreme-clad youths posing on street corners. But Gilden’s signature style of in-your-face street portraiture reveals far more about the world we live in than that. He’s taken photos of everyone from NYC locals to Haitian hurricane survivors to Japanese Yakuza members. We spoke to him about having thick skin, the state of modern America, and why Haiti is still his favorite place to shoot. You can see more of his work in VICE here.
VICE: “Street photography” is a term that’s become overused these days, and its meaning has changed somewhat. How you would describe what you do? Is that a term you’re happy with? Bruce Gilden: You know the Fifth Amendment? I plead the Fifth Amendment: “I can’t answer that question on the grounds that it might incriminate me.” Anyway, I’ve been called—and I would call myself—a street photographer. But, in reality, what is a street photographer? Does that mean anything that’s taken or done in the street? To me, street photography is where you can smell the street, feel the dirt. Maybe that’s a bit of an unfair definition, but that’s what I feel.
I think it’s a very urban thing for me: my style is street photography all the way through, but are my pictures of Haiti really street photography? Even I have trouble defining that as such. But maybe they could be, because it’s about style. I can get really parochial about this. A good photograph for me is one that works in the frame and has strong emotional content.
Your style of photography is very up-close and personal, which I imagine could cause problems. How do those dangers and risks compare to those taken by other photographers who are, say, embedded in a warzone? Well, look, when you’re embedded somewhere—or you’re allowed to be somewhere to take photographs—it’s always easier in some respects. People are mistaken about one thing: the closeness. If you work close and have a flash, that doesn’t mean that people are going to get more or less upset at you than if you were 12 feet away. You need a good bedside manner. What I mean is that you have to be comfortable, you have to know yourself. I look everybody in the eye. If you weren’t comfortable and you’re ten feet away and weren’t using flash, someone could look at you and say, “Wait a second, that guy’s taking a photo of me and he’s sneaking it!”
People assume something that isn’t always correct. Now, I’m close to people, I use a flash. Sometimes I’m so close that people don’t even think I took their picture—they’ll say, “He didn’t take a picture of me, did he?” But the thing is, as far as having problems, you can have a problem whenever you raise your camera.
The capybara (which, according to google, is the world’s largest rodent) at Nagasaki Bio Park in Japan love to take dips in the park’s hot springs. The park allows visitors to get up close with the animals, so we tried our best to make friends with these shy little beasts. We interviewed Mr. Ito, the head of the park, and checked out the rodents in their element.
Watch the new documentary Alone in the Zone, produced by VICE Japan for their YouTube channel
Interview and photos by Ivan Kovac and Jeffrey Jousan Article translated from the Japanese by Luke Baker
Today marks the second anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Japan and caused one of the most serious nuclear disasters in world history, when the Fukushima Daiichi power plant started leaking radiation. The surrounding towns were evacuated in a rush, leaving empty homes, silent streets, and uncared-for animals. In the small town of Tomioka, however, less than six miles away from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, one man refused to leave: Naoto Matsumura, a 53-year-old fifth-generation rice farmer who is surely the most stubborn man in Japan, if not the world.
“I was born and raised in this town,” he told us. “When I die, it’s going to be in Tomioka.” Naoto’s face is browned by the sun and wrinkled from smiling; his dark eyes peer out from under heavy lids—it’s not the face of someone you’d expect to defy the government by living in an area other people aren’t even allowed to visit, but Naoto wears his iconoclasm lightly.
Because he is being bombarded with as much as 17 times the amount of radiation a normal person is, and because for a while he was eating meat, vegetables, and fish that were contaminated by radiation, as well, some researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency wanted to run some tests on him. “When I went down and let them look me over, they told me I was the ‘champion,’” he said, meaning he had the highest level of radiation exposure in Japan. “But they also told me that I wouldn’t get sick for 30 or 40 years. I’ll most likely be dead by then anyway, so I couldn’t care less.”