Woody Gooch’s guide to sumo wrestling, snowboarding in the mountains, Japan’s skate scene and a suicide forest.
“These images are from a series of personal projects I have been trying to maintain since I moved to Japan. There is a sense of tradition, chaos, claustrophobia and movement to the cities of Japan, as well as the beautifully isolated mountains and very localised towns.”
“Japan is the capital of white everywhere. I’ve only done three winter stints over here in Japan and each year I’ve been overwhelmed with how much snow they get, even on an average season. You can go for dinner and come out after and it’s dumped six inches. I’ve been spending most of my time a couple hours west of Tokyo where it’s a little less populated from all the punters.”
“There are around 45 sumo stables scattered around Tokyo. This was my first time experiencing this amazing traditional sport with a good friend of mine. You usually have to get up quite early as that’s when training at the stables starts. The training went on for about an hour and a half, and we were only metres away from the ring where the wrestling happens. Besides the sounds of bodies clashing, it was quiet in the stable. They’re funny characters and are mixed ages and sizes which was interesting to see. The youngest sumo was being trained most of the time we were there, it’s a sport that takes plenty of patience, quick reactions and correct fighting techniques, none of which comes overnight.”
“Skating here has this raw grittiness and underground feel, unique to other scenes I’ve experienced. You don’t see as many skaters on the streets as you’d think. Police are pretty heavy here on skating in the streets which makes things quite tricky and also frustrating, as there’s a handful of some of the best street spots in the world.”
“I did a mission out to the suicide forest on the edge of Mt Fuji called Jukai (meaning – Seas of Trees) with three friends, one morning in winter. The forest is supposedly the most popular site for suicide in Japan and among the top three areas for suicide in the world. I’d never seen anything like it before, the forest looked completely symmetrical; right, left, up or down, it all looked identical. I’d read and watched plenty about this forest, which intrigued me to dig a little deeper and see what I could document.”
“It took a couple hours of driving from Tokyo to get to the perimeter of the forest, where we thought we had spotted the car park because there were a couple of cars covered in leaves and looked abandoned. I walked over to a little information box on the side of a toilet block next to the car park. After gathering some half – half English from a little, elderly Japanese woman, I was told the heavier spot was two kilometres drive from where we were, so we drove over to the right place. Five minutes walking on the entrance track and we came across a white rope, blocking a track that went deeper into the forest. There was a sign stating there were surveillance cameras for trespassers.”
“We ignored the sign and walked another hour until we started to find coloured string on the forest floor, weaving and wrapping around trees. There were bunches of deteriorating clothes, old lighters, wallets and bottles full of urine, signs that people had come this far into the forest looking for the right area to take their lives. The coloured string is used for guidance in the case of being lost. The people that have come this far usually have a gigantic amount of string or coloured tape, that they use from the beginning of the track until the spot they choose to take their life. If they change their mind once they arrive in the thick of the forest, they use this to find their way back out and avoid getting lost.
We got to a point where my friend Andy Gough wanted to film the natural sounds of the forest, so we all kept quiet. After a minute or two of quiet, my younger brother started to film on his phone. As he went to play it back, it wouldn’t allow him to view the video and the screen was pitch black. After several attempts of trying, this cold gust of air and feeling of being not in control came over us. We started to run our way back following the red tape we had used for a guide and once we got back to the car park, we all jammed into the car and couldn’t believe what just had happened.”
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