According to JNTO, July 2016 alone saw an excess of two million foreign visitors enter Japan. This means that for the first time ever, the number of tourists entering the country exceeds that of those travelling abroad. Why this sudden spurt in tourism? My guess is that people are finally cottoning on to the beauty of this country, the kindness of her people, and its infectious, youthful energy that is epitomised nowhere better than in the capital, Tokyo.
Here, there is a spirit of unfaltering ambition. People have an abundance of energy and the streets pulse constantly with life. Nothing feels stale, or recycled, or tired. The city may be old, but its energy and ethos is certainly still young at heart.
No one knows this better than Ken Oshima, better known by his social media tag of Ken Youth of Tokyo. In just nine months, this talented young photographer has become one of the country’s hottest online celebs due to his moving imagery of Tokyo’s youth culture. We meet in Shibuya on a steamy Sunday afternoon. Like a true local, he leads me to a hip café away from the madness of the station. I am surprised by what a gentleman Ken is. Laid-back, unpretentious and friendly, this guy is nothing what I expect an Instagram superstar to be like – for a superstar he certainly is. With thousands of followers and an inbox constantly buzzing with collaboration requests, this guy is in hot demand. I can hardly believe he has only been shooting for a few months!
Ken explains that this newfound fame happened quite by mistake. For many years, he worked in the local music industry as a producer, and casually dabbled in photography by way of promoting the young artists he was working with. People noticed his talents quickly, however, and soon photographing Tokyo’s young, cool and beautiful became his full-time obsession.
When asked to describe the spirit of Tokyo’s youth culture, he replies, “multi-cultural”. He is fascinated by this city that opens its arms to new people and backgrounds, and uses this myriad of cultures to shape itself into a place of texture and depth. A quick scan of Ken’s Instagram page reflects this. Here you will find striking images of both Japanese locals and newer, more international ones. All of these images, however, share the same depth of emotion and moody lighting that makes his work so interesting. This, for Ken, is the most important aspect of his photography: that it reflects that sensual, irresistibly youthful energy of the city.
As much as he loves Tokyo, Ken hopes to take his craft to other cities. This seems like a dream that is likely to come true, as he has already been scouted for a few gigs in NYC. Whilst his talent may take him to foreign shores, one thing remains true: Tokyo and her people will always be his main muse. After all, a city this exciting, enterprising and eternally young is hard to be unfaithful to.
Interested in working with Ken? You can reach him via Instagram at @ken_youthtokyo.