An outsider’s take on 21st century Japan

An outsider’s take on 21st century Japan
Independent Mysteries — Since first visiting as a tourist, photographer Michael Magers has been enchanted by Japan. His new book collates work from the past eight years, in which he‘s captured a country bursting with ‘endless possibility’.

Photographer Michael Magers visited Japan for the first time back in 2012. “For most of it, I fumbled around like everyone else,” he remembers. “Especially in the days before I was able to really use Google Maps.” 

It wasn’t until he connected with Shinji Nohara – a man better known as ‘The Tokyo Fixer’ – that the country truly began to reveal itself. Nohara had a reputation as the go-to guide for the world’s best chefs, journalists and top-dollar tourists, helping them uncover places traditionally hard to access for many visitors. With Magers, he quickly set to work. 

“One of the first places he took me was to a coffee shop run by a man called Daibo. It completely shifted my perception. I had worked in the coffee business – early on, I would ‘cup’, or sample coffee for flavour profiles, virtually daily – I thought I knew coffee.  But what Daibo made rendered all previous experience useless.” 

“Here was a man roasting his beans to order, spending maybe 15-20 minutes to make a single cup, and it was otherworldly in its flavour.  The intention, and attention to detail touched me deeply. From there, I was hooked.”

Since then, Magers has travelled to Japan twice a year, usually staying for a few weeks at a time. As a result, he’s worked on various different projects throughout the country, documenting chefs, craftspeople, tattoo artists and more over the course of 15 separate different trips. 

His latest book, Independent Mysteries, sees him capturing “the opaque poetry of everyday life”. While the images featured are taken from work he’s shot all over the world, many find themselves rooted in Japan – shot during downtime and free moments in between assignments. 

For Magers, the country continues to hold endless possibility and fascination. “I have a deep admiration for the care and intention that seems almost effortless in so many things and find that attitude inspiring in and of itself,” he says. 

“It’s also a place that requires commitment and understanding to really get access to the hidden alleyways and secret passages where the magic happens, and I love that it rewards persistence.” 

Despite his outsider status, Magers captures modern Japan with the intimacy of a permanent resident. Whether it’s a candid shot of a commuter on the bullet train, a visit to a tattoo studio or a journey through the country’s rich woodland, there’s a warmth in every single image – one that demonstrates how the country continues to enchant him, even after all these years.

“It’s a video game with infinite levels,” he adds. “Each time I go back, I see something different, eat something new, experience an interaction that reshapes my own perception in the same way that first interaction with Daibo got me hooked. No place is perfect, and Japan can be dense and frustrating and complex… but I feel very at home there.”  

Independent Mysteries is available now from Hatje Cantz

See more of Michael Magers’ work on his official website

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