Lost in Translation, Enter the Void or this year’s award-winning Shoplifters have all one thing in common: they happen in Tokyo. A city that inspires and scares, a place where future and tradition coexist, and where people dress in white-collar shirts and suits, kimonos, or their favourite manga character. Yoshito Hasaka is a designer from there and loves his city above all. But it’s not his work as a designer that has caught our attention; it’s his superb photos of night cityscapes that have captivated us and made us travel forward in time to Akira’s Neo-Tokyo. We meet with him to discuss his love for all things artificial, shooting at night, and where can we get the best views of the city.
Hello Yoshito, for those who don’t know you, could you please introduce yourself?
I’m a Tokyo-based designer currently working as lead designer for Origami Inc., a fintech start-up company focusing on mobile payments. I relate comprehensively to design works, from digital products such as mobile/web apps and websites to marketing materials such as prints, corporate identity, etc.
You’re based in Tokyo, as we can see in your work. What would you say is the best thing about living there?
I think the best thing about living in Tokyo is that I can feel people’s energy. The city is always changing, updating itself. We have everything in this small area.
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 1.jpg
And the worst?
The worst thing is that it’s too complicated. In such a small area, many things develop and are mixed up.
What’s your favourite area, or the one you find most interesting and why?
My favourite areas are Shibuya and Shinjuku because I like iconic places that many people have seen and visited.
If you weren’t living in Tokyo, where would you like to be? What other cities inspire you?
I think it’s the same as for many lovers of urban life: New York City, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Los Angeles.
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 3.jpg
Your work moves between photography and illustration. Or at least, the postproduction of the pictures makes them look like digital illustrations. Could you please share with us your creative process? How is it since you start a piece until you finish it?
Since I was inspired by many old photographs taken with medium format and 8x10, I came to care about clarity and sharpness. I take pictures with a DSLR camera and use Lightroom/Photoshop to edit the colours and sharpness, and for that, I don’t need very large pixels. The important part is to shoot with full-screen focus. After doing so, it looks flat and sharp, which is suitable for editing the photo as if it was an illustration. One or two years ago, I was more keen to desaturate colours and make the images more monochrome or single-coloured (very blue, or red, or goldish), as you can see in my old posts on Instagram. Recently, I’ve been changing to a more cross-processed finish. For that, I’m careful about the ‘tone jumping’, like purple and green, red and blue, etc.
What’s your background? When did you start creating or using photography/art to express yourself? Did you study photography, fine arts, or something related to the visual world?
Actually, I’ve been a professional graphic designer for decades, not a photographer. When shooting, I’ve often worked next to photographers as the art director, discussing image creation, and I learnt from them. Also, as a graphic designer, I’m interested in new and fresh photography, fine art, etc., so I’m always in touch with these and I keep trying ideas I see. I post many of my pictures on social media like Instagram or Twitter, but it’s actually a hobby. As said, my job is being a designer, not a photographer. I’m going to update my website to include my personal work because now, there are only pictures of what I do as a designer.
I can see most of your pictures are taken by night, which is when the city probably looks more futuristic – when I first discovered your work, it reminded me of Neo-Tokyo, from the film Akira. Is there any reason behind this? Or do you just prefer shooting by night?
Definitely the latter. I worked for a jewellery company many years ago as a graphic designer. I was with photographers trying to shoot good photos and, to do so, experimented with lighting in the dark, the decoration, reflections, and so on. That experience really affected how I shoot at night – now, I’m aware of how to take clear photos of a cityscape with lights and edit it so they look sharp and bright like diamonds.
For years, I’ve been receiving many comments saying that my photos are similar to Blade Runner, Akira, Tron, and other cyberpunk movies. At first, I was really unconscious about the similarity, I was just changing colours. But now, I’m much more interested in those things and sometimes even try to make my photos similar to them.
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 8.jpg
Actually, Tokyo seems like a city ‘from the future’ (especially when taking a look at what you do). And nevertheless, tradition still plays a huge role in Japanese society. How is your relationship with this contrast?
I don’t care about the old traditional things in my works. I’m shooting ‘now’ and just expressing the ‘future’ when editing. I’m only interested in Japanese letters/characters in signs and logos – in people’s insistence to sell their services. It’s interesting that those shapes are so different from the alphabet. That feeling is similar when I go to other countries. I feel fresh when seeing those letters, signs, and logos in Paris, Bangkok, or Seoul. I sometimes shoot old or traditional stuff, but to me, it’s just a small spice within my images.
Lots of signs, neon lights, skyscrapers, and many, many people. Do you ever find it stressful? What do you do or where do you go when you want to take a break from this huge metropolis?
Never! It’s my food. I’m always geeking out searching for freshness. It’s kind of strange to say, but I might feel some stress when I have to stay in the dull nature. I like to be surrounded by artificial things through which I can feel humankind’s power and will of creation.
What are the three/five spots to get the best views of the city? Besides Tokyo Skytree, of course.
Maybe I can’t recommend something fresh, but these are my favourites: the Roppongi Tokyo City View, the Tokyo Tower, and the Seaside Top Observatory of the World Trade Center Building.
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 6.jpg
In case some of our readers are thinking about visiting Tokyo, could you please recommend us an art gallery, a traditional Japanese restaurant, two or three shops, and one or two other interesting places (temples, parks, iconic buildings, etc.)
Totally! As for the art galleries, I recommend visiting Roppongi, where you can find huge and modern spaces like the Mori Art Museum, the National Art Center, or the 21_21 Design Sight; or Ginza, with smaller and more designed focused venues, like the Shiseido Gallery or the Ginza Graphic Gallery. As for restaurants, I would recommend Niku Yokocho in Shibuya, Nishiguchi Memories Alley in Shinjuku, and the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. As for other interesting places to be in touch with Japanese culture, I recommend the buzzing street of Takeshita in Harajuku, the district of Jimbocho, full of second-hand bookstores, and Akihabara, the electronics district.
You mainly share your work through Instagram, but as far as I’ve seen, you haven’t had any exhibitions yet. Would you like to show your work through an art space, or do you prefer to remain exclusively on social media? Why?
I’m currently posting my work exclusively on social media because it all started as a hobby – before that, I was using EyeEm. But recently, I’ve been editing some of my works to printable formats. Someday in the near future, I want to try to show my works in an exhibition. But I know that they will be exhibited outside of Japan; I think it’s much better to open the very first exhibition somewhere outside Japan, where many of my fans are, so it’s meaningful for both them and me to see and touch the works.
What are your plans for the months to come? Any exciting project?
As I’ve been saying in some articles or social media, I’m now creating images under the theme ‘Tokyo, impossible to see (even if you come)’. I started creating images of the city that don’t exist based on pictures I’ve taken. There aren’t many yet, but I’ve posted some on Instagram with the hashtag #f7faketokyo. It’s a work in progress, and I’m planning to sell them when I’m finished.
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 9.jpg
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 12.jpg
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 2.jpg
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Yoshito Hasaka Metalmagazine 11.jpg