Michael Wolf takes photos of the masses of people who live on top of one another in Asia’s biggest cities and who struggle to survive in environments that weren’t built with their comfort in mind.
Earlier this year I traveled to Nou, a fishing town on the north coast of Japan, to visit a sumo training academy. The country’s unofficial national sport dates back over 2,000 years. Rigorous daily training must be upheld in order to prepare the fighters for bouts that can be won or lost in seconds, and this school is where that regime starts for the sport’s future champions.
These children and teenagers eat, sleep, train, and study together 24 hours a day, with sumo training and preparation taking up their mornings and other studies their afternoons. They will remain at this school for six years, preparing their minds and building their bodies in the hope of becoming professional sumo wrestlers.
'B-stylers' Are Japanese Teens Who Want to Be Black
Dutch photographer Desiré van den Berg has spent the past seven months traveling around Asia. She lives in Hong Kong at the moment but when she was in Tokyo, back in December 2013, she met Hina, a 23-year-old who works at a trendy Tokyo boutique called Baby Shoop. Hina’s shop has the tagline “Black for life.” She describes its products as “a tribute to Black culture; the music, the fashion, and style of dance.”
Hina’s appearance is also loyal to what the Japanese call “B-style”—a contraction of the words “Black” and “Lifestyle” that refers to a subculture of young Japanese people who love American hip-hop culture so much that they do everything in their power to look as African American as possible.
I called up Desiré to find out more about her time photographing Hina and her gang.
VICE: How did you meet Hina?
Desiré van den Berg: She appeared in a documentary about B-style a couple of years back, which I happened to watch. This is what got me interested in the culture. It took a lot of effort, but I eventually got in touch with her on Facebook, through other B-stylers. I said I wanted to take photos of her, and she actually thought that was pretty cool. It was all a bit of a hassle though, because Hina and the other B-stylers didn’t speak a single word of English. We needed a translator both to make an appointment and at the actual first meeting, too.
How does that work in terms of translating rap lyrics?
Hina speaks some English but not fluently. She does like to use some English slang when she speaks Japanese with her B-style friends, like finishing a sentence with “man” or using bad words like “motherfucker” jokingly.
I Went to a Japanese Wine Spa
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.
The Japanese Love Industry
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.
Watch: The Japanese Love Industry