My first big fashion relationship began with the Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto in 1986. I had done a series of portraits in London the year before for i-D magazine and it must’ve had some effect in Japan because by the end of the year I had been contacted by Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons.
But my first trip to Tokyo was for the Japanese cosmetics house Shiseido. My assistant and I flew from London and spent 10 days there, working the whole time. There wasn’t any time for ryokans or onsens. So what I saw of the city was work-related: the photography studios and the shopping districts – including the famous Shibuya crossing.
You absorb a lot walking the streets of a city, driving its roads and interacting with the locals. Tokyo was my first Asian city – and it was at its height in the ’80s. You felt it being there.
I always imagine my work on billboards, buses, the sides of buildings. So I’m always very interested to see that space. The vernacular of the Tokyo streets felt completely different to any European city I’d been in: from how people dressed to the crossover of colours, billboards and signage splashed everywhere. It’s like a 24-hour, living, breathing painting.
There’s sometimes a feeling of violence in the streets of cities like Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles. Growing up in London, I got used to it and learnt how to deal with it. In Tokyo, I was amazed by the lack of this threat. The idea that anyone would try to mug you or cause you physical harm just wasn’t there. I found it so refreshing and it made me try to understand Japanese society in a different way.
Nick Knight is a fashion photographer and was a guest of ArtisTree in Hong Kong earlier this year for its exhibition Beyond Fashion.