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The Obsessed: An Interview With Irwin Wong

The otaku’s passion is all-consuming. Whether it be cosplay, gothic, or rockabilly, when the Japanese embrace a subculture, they do it like no other.

The Obsessed: An Interview With Irwin Wong

design & fashion

From Lolita fashion and latex couture to neon-drenched big-rigs, anime-plastered vans, and chrome-heavy hot rods, subcultures in Japan are as varied as they are fascinating. 

Irwin Wong, co-editor of The Obsessed, delves into these worlds in order to reveal the extraordinary passion devotees have for their hobbies and lifestyles. 

An editorial and commercial photographer based in Tokyo, originally from Melbourne, Australia, Irwin is known for his punchy portraiture and insightful documentary photography. 

We sat down with him to discuss his relationship with otaku culture, and his experiences in creating The Obsessed, in collaboration with gestalten. Here’s what he had to say. 

Q: Can you give us a short introduction to yourself, your background and your relationship with Otaku culture in the build up to creating The Obsessed?

A: I am an Australian photographer who has been based in Tokyo since 2005. My original reason for coming to Japan was that I was a bit of an anime otaku myself. I remember the first few months where I was thrilled to see shops full of all the toys, comics and DVDs I could only dream about getting my hands on in Australia. I spent a lot of money in those days.

(Photo: Irwin Wong, The Obsessed)

Q: What led you to create The Obsessed? And why was it important to you to celebrate this culture in further detail?

A: Japan's subcultures are such an amazing area for exploration. Subcultures here span every genre and are extremely distinctive, in many cases spreading their influence around the globe. I’ve always wanted to document as many of these cultural niches as possible, and after completing my first book about traditional Japanese handicrafts, I felt that it would be a good change of pace to dive into something so vibrant and current. The photos were originally part of another project that I undertook with another writer. After that writer unilaterally cancelled that project I was left with a lot of great photos and decided to keep going by myself, and that's how we have this book.

(Photo: Irwin Wong, The Obsessed)

Q: What was your main takeaway from creating the book? Did your perspective change in any way when delving into the topic further?

A: The creativity and dedication of the Japanese people are something to be respected. This was something I have always been very aware of but coming face to face with a lot of the people involved in these subcultures has led me to a renewed appreciation for loving what you do and being authentic about it.

(Photo: Irwin Wong, The Obsessed)

With dazzling photography, on-the-ground interviews, and cultural essays, this book showcases a kaleidoscope of scenes and individuals drawn from Japan’s many countercultural groups. Complete with texts profiling a diverse range of otaku and followers of other subcultures alongside features contextualising their place within Japanese society and global popular culture, The Obsessed opens the pages to this over-the-wall discovery of Japanese subcultures and the people that dedicate their lives to it.