On Our Reading List: The Obsessed

A new photo book delves into the obsessive world of Japanese subcultures.

Latex label Kurage charts a course between art and fetishwear. (Courtesy of Irwin Wong/The Obsessed/Gestalten, 2022)

The last time Tokyo-based photographer Irwin Wong teamed up with art-book publisher Gestalten, it was to produce 2020’s Handmade in Japan, a tribute to the country’s traditional artisans and craftspeople. But the focus of their latest collaboration falls at a different end of the cultural spectrum: otaku, those die-hard devotees of Japan’s myriad subcultures. Photographed and co-edited by Wong, The Obsessed provides a vivid glimpse into the more offbeat corners of Japanese society — and we’re not just talking cosplay and Lolita fashion. The book’s subjects include the owners of itasha (cars plastered with anime decals and decorations), a sofubi (soft vinyl toy) collector, and a chiptune artist who lays down tracks using the sound chips of Nintendo Game Boy consoles.

Wong also introduces readers to the “latex haute couture” of cult fashion brand Kurage, and to characters like Hideaki Kobayashi, aka Grow Hair, a 59-year-old man with a braided silver beard and a penchant for hitting the streets of Tokyo’s Shibuya district dressed in a schoolgirl’s sailor uniform. “I have always admired the creativity and dedication of the Japanese people,” Wong says of the project. “But meeting the individuals involved in these subcultures has renewed my appreciation for loving what you do and being authentic about it” (gestalten.com; US$47).

The Utamaro custom garage in Gunma Prefecture caters to one of the more striking Japanese car cultures: dekotora, or decorated trucks, which are tricked out in gleaming chrome and outlandish attachments. (Courtesy of Irwin Wong/The Obsessed/Gestalten, 2022)

This article originally appeared in the June/August 2022 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Different Strokes”).

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