“Black and White... the beginning - where curiosity and imagination come to life”
I travel to get lost, to get uncomfortable, for the experience of simple shit becoming obstacles. It’s when I find myself leaning into life, leading with a smile and rolling with it. My awareness of my surroundings becomes heightened. I notice the beauty of seemingly mundane things. I hit a place of calmness among the wild pace and chaos. I feel alive in foreign environments, and for me, all of these things peak in Japan.
JAPAN: AN INTENSIFIED VERSION OF NORMAL LIFE
I walk out of customs with a huge smile like a kid on Christmas morning. In a flash it feels like I’m home... although I’m in a wildly foreign place. It’s been two years since I set foot in Japan and I’m finally back!
It’s my 9th trip to Japan. I speak almost no Japanese... I travel alone. I remember my first trip with vivid clarity. I was so naive and didn’t even think about the language barrier as I navigated this foreign place; my excitement and curiosity overpowered everything; I gave no shits in every awkward moment. I had a huge smile no matter what was happening. I said yes to everything. It changed me.
My days in Japan are an intensified version of my normal life; the whole day is a dance of work with personal passions... they’re both so intertwined it’s nearly impossible to define which one I’m doing most of the time. As I run between meetings I explore an ancient shrine, then I’m arm deep in special fabrics followed by a visit to see my friends at the IWC Boutique while on my way to a tattoo session; finally, my day ends eating sushi with a local chef. It’s intoxicating, they are all very personal and all have an essence of work too.
Josh’s loyal companion in Japan: his Big Pilot
Walking the narrow alleyways of Tokyo
Pit stop at the IWC Boutique in Ginza
Josh Sirlin exploring an ancient shrine
I remind myself to blink with caution, so I won’t miss the next amazing opportunity on this journey!
NEW ELEMENTS OF THIS WORLD
The journey into fabrics in Japan could take multiple lifetimes to experience. I am introduced to new elements of this world on every trip. Denims, cottons and silks finished in beautiful dying washes and weaving methods. I fell in love with the fabrics of Japan years ago.
Quality, uncompromising, thoughtfulness, and intention; Japanese culture is intertwined in the fabrics. They provoke emotion. Physically being in Japan is the only way to experience this. You must go through the formal steps of the business ritual, receive approval for entry into the exclusive shit… it’s invite only, and without going through this you won’t tap into the best.
Each trip, each introduction, each smile, each friendship leads to more access. I remind myself to blink with caution, so I won’t miss the next amazing opportunity on this journey! After you think you’ve found the best you’ve ever seen of a particular fabric, an even cooler one is introduced to you. It’s wild. I feel as if my adventure in Japan took on a life of its own years ago, I’m just a participating passenger now.
THE ART OF TEBORI
Tattooing by hand the old way, and in my opinion, the best way. I don’t only prefer it... I love it. It’s a euphoric experience that takes me into a meditative place. Master Horitoshi is one of the most revered Masters in Tokyo. I cherish our friendship.
I walk up the last flight of stairs towards Master Horitoshi’s studio, down a hallway lined with ivy and plants that ends at three cherished bonsai trees and the door of the studio… I enter the studio and I’ve entered a spiritual state. I take off my shoes, I walk through the hallway into the studio and bow. I’m offered green tea as I wait while the Master prepares. Finally, I’m waved in and the ritual begins. I bow once more then raise my head with a huge smile on my face and he smiles back, I snicker.
The process of tebori is hard work. Tattooing by hand is taxing for any young man and Horitoshi is 76 years old. As a true master, he has spent a lifetime of devotion and dedication to his artform. He makes no compromises in his pursuit. From the thoughtfulness of design, to each pierce of the skin, everything is done with extreme intent. Everything is manual. It’s an elevated art, it’s engaged. Wildly complex yet simple. Little is said. Expressions and body language is how we communicate. This trip I’ll be tattooed for 9 days. I love the ritual, the process, it’s an experience I cherish.
Josh Sirlin with Tebori Master Horitoshi
Tebori has a rich history and tradition in Japan
“It’s a euphoric experience that takes me into a meditative place” – Josh Sirlin
Josh and Master Horitoshi in his Tokyo studio
Any weekday evening in Tokyo is as intense as New Year’s in Time Square. At first glance it is total chaos […] but when you stop and really observe, your mind is blown at what you see: harmony and cleanliness, it’s extraordinary.
Observing the apparent chaos of Tokyo
Josh Sirlin at Meiji Jingu Shrine
“Stepping into another world…
… and back in time.”
SEEING THE DESIGN OF THE WILD MACHINE
Tokyo is wild, intense, like a machine with a million parts all operating in sequence. The city can appear chaotic with all that’s happening, but when you look closely you see the order, the design of the wild machine. Any weekday evening in Tokyo is as intense as New Year’s in Time Square. At first glance it is total chaos. The lights, the commotion, the sheer number of people instinctively put you on the edge, but when you stop and really observe, your mind is blown at what you see: harmony and cleanliness, it’s extraordinary.
Amongst this intense and dense urban orchestra of Tokyo is a pristine 170 acre forest surrounding a 100 year-old shrine. The Meiji Jingu Shrine flips you out. The shrine is a sanctuary... a place of safekeeping of sacred objects. Walking through the forest to the shrine is like stepping into another world and back in time, you instantly forget you’re in the middle of a megacity. Your attention jumps from the beauty of a leaf, to a branch, to a tree, to the entire forest of perfectly manicured trees. The shrine is situated amongst the forest in perfect harmony, I fell in love with the roofs of each building. The swooping shape is powerful and elegant. From the trees, to the pathways, to the buildings... it’s as if everything was designed by the Gods. The intensity of the city calms then goes away... you are in a different world.
In Japan there’s art in everything. Everywhere I look, in everything I see, hear, touch... my senses are switched into overdrive. I get this everywhere I travel, but it feels magnified in Japan. The sounds of the city are sharper, the greens in the trees are alive, the reds in the Buddhist shrines are on fire... the textures in everything have wild depth. Coupling these with either the wild chaotic pace of the city or in the meditative pace in the forest of the Shinto shrine. I’m calm... in a state of peacefulness, I can see more details, I am absolutely present, and my attention is dancing gracefully from one thing to the next. This is above all why I'm here... I’ve found it.
Travel - To really give in to it, to go on your own to a foreign place... Really foreign! Smile, absorb everything and say yes to every wild thing you can. I’m sincerely curious in life. I ask a lot of questions. I run at adventure like it’s a drug... travel alone and wild opportunities will be thrown at you... I’ve traveled like this since I was 18 and it’s put me in so many situations that have altered my life, changed me, and given me life-long friends around the world. I’ve always been approached and invited to do shit and been on wild adventures around the world as a result. Smile, go alone, smile, say yes... there’s an aura that will surround you and the world opens up; it becomes more and more infectious. Travel more, do more.... don’t stop, lean in!
— Josh Sirlin
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