Our fashion photographer lends her lens to the stylish sights of Japan’s curious capital … but first, ramen.
Written & photographed by Annie Deptula
A few years back, I had an opportunity to see Japan up close and personal. Unfortunately, I did not make that trip. It wasn’t until many years later that I would truly discover what I was missing. As a fashion photographer, you never know from one day to the next where you’ll be working. Some days your “office” is 5,500 miles away.
After the 11+-hour flight from Los Angeles to Japan, I arrived with excitement and a hunger for authentic Japanese cuisine—ramen. I made my way through the streets of Ebisu and stumbled upon what is considered one the best and trendiest restaurants for ramen in this neighborhood and possibly all of Tokyo: Afuri.
Ticket in hand, I was filled with the excitement of the unknown. I was guided to a place at the very crowded counter by a young, hip girl all of 25. Shortly after taking my seat, I received a full pitcher of water, one glass, one set of chopsticks and an array of sauces.
As my ramen arrived, I followed protocol and waited a few moments before indulging, as the spices and flavors need time to take effect. In ramen world, timing is everything for the perfect dish.
I’m beginning to discover that the Japanese take their food very seriously. I once read that Tokyo is home to 80,000 restaurants, compared to the 24,000 in both New York and London. With more Michelin stars than any other city in the world, the food in Tokyo is nothing less than exquisite.
The following day I stopped at M House—what I’m told is the “best outrageous coffee shop in Tokyo.” I snagged a cup of the house brew and boarded the train to Harajuku station, sipping my coffee en route. This very well could be the best cup of Joe in the East.
I made my way through the crowded street of Omotesando, a walk-through of who’s who of contemporary architecture. This boulevard links Harajuku and Aoyama. Four of Japan’s six Pritzker architecture prize winners have buildings here: Fumihiko Maki, Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito and SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa). SANAA designed one of my personal favorites: the Dior building.
I saw fashion at its finest for days between the two neighborhoods—once called the city’s living catwalk. The streets are lined with some of Japan’s most fashionably desirable trends. The upscale shops keep Japan’s most fashionable in the latest of this season’s couture.
Omotesando was originally designed as the official path to Meiji Jingu and is now home to high-end fashion boutiques housed in designer buildings of contemporary architecture. The likes of Dior, Louis Vuitton, Tod’s, Prada, Gucci, Michael Kors, Ted Baker and Farfetch—to name a few—line this regal boulevard.
I noticed how cohesive the Japanese culture really is. Yes, the streets were crowded, but everyone was simultaneously working together. Quickly I was spotted with my camera, and the shying away ensued.
I often feel photographing someone without their permission is quite invasive—maybe even intrusive. I made my way over to a group of well-dressed shoppers and asked two of the girls in the group for a quick photo … more a form of charades, as my ability to speak Japanese is minimal and their English is lost in translation. The moment I raised the camera to my eye, the two girls begin giggling and striking a pose for my camera. I was elated with this, as I assumed shooting street fashion photography would be much more difficult.
I took this approach over the next few hours, capturing Omotesando street fashion at its best. I found myself filled with a yearning to become one with these trendsetters.
I’ve been told that Harajuku comes alive in late afternoon. I was anxious to find this out for myself, so I made the journey to Harajuku—known as the gathering point for Tokyo’s eccentric fashion tribes.
As I stepped to the side and scoped out my path along the alley of Takeshita-dori, I saw there was only one way to wade through this trendy teen fashion bazaar—and that’s camera-ready. I looked around and discovered the birthplace of Tokyo street trends in a kaleidoscope of fashion and colors.
I simply love the fashion of Comme des Garçons, which is French for “like boys”—a must-see on anyone’s list with an appreciation of fashion. Designer Rei Kawakubo’s specialty is asymmetrical designs. She’s viewed in the world as a fashion icon and has pushed through barriers to make a name for herself with Comme des Garçons. Her flagship store in Harajuku is a go-to while in Tokyo.
Secondhand stores are also a huge hit here. I saw this season’s trends lining the corridors of each shop. The bomber jacket is everywhere here in Tokyo along with Doc Martens, wide-legged pants and berets. I was immediately taken by “Japanese cool.”
I saw girls, hand in hand, wearing makeup the likes of NARS, Takami, YSL, Three, Lancôme, Shigeta, Addiction Beauty, Suqqu and Flowfushi. The art of “reapplying and touching up” is a ritual not taken for granted by these lovelies—even in the middle of a crowded fish market. Presentation is everything.
Back on the streets, I saw what is referred to as a Kawaii Girl—best described as “cute, lovable and adorable.” These girls are dressed like little dolls, with pigtails, knee-high socks and character backpacks brandishing Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse and My Little Pony.
Hysteric glamour of poetic fashion in motion describes the scene. The great pride taken by the Japanese in their appearance and fashion impressed me immensely.
I spent the next few days milling about this exquisitely beautiful land. As my time there came to an end, I realized I had merely scratched the surface and looked forward to my return. I’m forever changed and grateful I had this incredible opportunity to see Tokyo up close and personal.
One of the nicest parts of the wine business is, well, wine country. During the decade or so that I worked as a sommelier in restaurants in NY and LA, folks would often ask me for recommendations on places to visit and while I could always speak to the juice, I rarely could speak to the experience.