anton kusters – soichiro



Meet Soichiro.

He has agreed to us getting to know each other. Through the barriers of different languages and cultures, we will be approaching each other with the broadest possible open mind. To learn, to tell our stories. To gain trust and to share views.

Soichiro and his family control Kabukicho, in the heart of Shinjuku, Tokyo. Not much happens in the streets without his approval.

After more than 10 months of preparation and ground work by my brother and our dear friend Taka-san, finally, for the first time, we all meet over dinner. At first, Soichiro lays down the rules. Tells us what we want to achieve is near impossible. He says that the things we want to document, no outsider has ever been allowed to bear witness to. We eat, drink, smoke, and exchange gifts.

He invites us to his office. we talk some more. I show previous work, I show prints of Oaxaca and I show prints of “Sugar”. He tells me I photograph with a Japanese eye. He laughs when we ask if it’s true that all family members have tattoos, and if it’s painful to get one.

Then he shows his.

Each tattoo is so personal, he says, full of meaning to the bearer and his family.  Only Sensei Horikyo tattoos for his family.

No rush. He understands and wants us to take time to get to know his family, time to develop our view. He believes in our way of working, and is confident we will bring this to a good end. He thinks in years, not days or weeks or months.

He does a lot of legwork in his family. Even though he is a boss, he still speaks to his bosses who in turn speak with their bosses. Within two days, we are invited to witness a closed meeting. Four members apologizing to the family for being in jail. My brother and I are nervous as hell going in.

No pictures allowed yet, but now we know. Soichiro walked the walk and committed. Our project has begun for the next couple of years. My brother and I… and Soichiro. Becoming friends, telling the story… I hope everything will work out.

Anton Kusters, january 2009


Editors Note:

This is a single picture that is soon to be part of an ongoing essay…An essay that could take several years..I am publishing this now to kick off our new section categorized as  “Work in Progress”. We are starting quite literally with just one picture. So this is a right before your eyes true beginning. You will be able to follow Anton’s thinking process, photographic process etc. , as he moves through the underworld of Japan.  I will take on four other photographers soon for this section as the work presents itself. You will be able to help Anton and others think about their shooting and their editing. You could be one of the photographers for whom this process would be most valuable.

-David Alan Harvey


70 Responses to “anton kusters – soichiro”

  • Stupid,
    I’m with U on this one…
    Mix it up.. Why not!

  • JOE..
    totally agree..
    Get involved, get in trouble..
    ANTON , you can DO it..
    when we met in C/Ville I saw
    that spark in your eyes..
    Great start ..
    Good luck and watch out..
    It could get really dangerous
    over there.. Language and culture
    harriers could kill you..
    Peace and hugs

  • … meant barriers..;-)

  • Anton.

    A couple more questions…

    How do you plan to proceed with this time-wise? Will you be based in Tokyo or are you going back and forth on a regular basis?

    Who decides when you will meet with Soichiro? Do you call to arrange a meeting or is it up to Soichiro to contact you?

  • hey cathy

    i will be going back and forth as much as i can… that is also where i realise the main weakness of my project lies. Even though i have a place to stay (my brother), i have to carefully budget for my flights, which are hideously expensive. because i also have a business to run at home, i cannot go to japan for more than a couple of weeks at a time.

    i am trying hard to find ways to make the $$ to make as many trips as possible… but i’m working overtime as it is already so i don’t really know what to do here. i suppose i should pitch my story to magazines or publishers?

    as to meeting each other, that pretty much comes from both sides, my brother, our fixer and Soichiro call regularly and discusses what’s happening over the next couple of weeks, and make arrangements. based on that info we decide when best to fly out. in any case, our fixer is always directly involved, as first contact always goes through him.

  • Anton, I hate to gush but I really am in awe of what you and your brother are doing here. It’s kind of mind-blowing actually. Sure would be PERFECT if you were to be awarded the $10,000 from the EPF. I’m going to hold that thought…


  • really really nice stuff. weather this is color or black and white i really want to see were you take us on this. i think this is going to be powerful stuff!

  • How’s it going Anton?


  • hey mike!

    all is well… i’m planning my next trip there, which should be in the first half of march… i don’t know what awaits me, but i sure am excited!

  • hey patricia/david…

    i hope to be able to return once more before the EPF deadline and make a few great images, and yes i hope to be able to submit. that in itself will be a victory for me already.. i’m planning and saving as we speak!


  • jeeeze anton.. you´re becoming an international playboy :ø)

  • next trip is set… leaving april 8th and staying for longer this time… a few days ago my brother and i recieved the final approval to actually start shooting……………………….. omg…………… we never thought this would ever happen, but we we allowed to state our case up to the highest level and we got approved… look at me standing naked with nothing to offer but my photographs

    so here starts the roller coaster ride, i have jumped in, a million film and memory cards are loaded, and a million more spare batteries in my pockets, off to a place where i don’t speak the language and they don’t speak mine, where my eyes will open wide in wonder, and i will go down every rabbit hole i can experience

    i feel like alice in wonderland

    but then a male version :-)

    i don’t know when i’ll re-surface, but i promise to get back to BURN to tell…

  • Anton, first, thank you for all you have done for Burn. You and your brother obviously have the trust of your subjects: I can’t offer advice but can send goodwill.


  • Anton …
    Sounds absolutely … WHOAAA!!!
    A one in a lifetime experience – something to tell your grandchildren for sure (or to tell us meanwhile) … Only sad, you do not get the language… yet. If it is a long time project you better get started to learn it! :)))

    By the way, I do not see the work-in-progress section anymore. The only way I could get here was through the link you left in “latest comments”. Obviously it has been moved someplace. But where?

    Cheers & Hugs,

  • Anton, it’s going to be amazing and historic. Truly. Work it ’til you drop because you have been granted a rare privilege. Sending mucho good energy your way :))

  • I have to tell you Anton, that if i have to choose fantasy art of the photoshop type or fantasy art of the tattoo type, i’ll take the tattoo any day of the week. I have been aching for a little reality, wondering if it’s been completely forsaken in favor of composite layering. This photo is just a wonder-joy to see, so good for the eyeballs..ooooooh, what i love, the thick-fleshed roundness of his body makes me want to sink my teeth into his shoulder, hear the roar of pain in return, the tattoos, the way they curve along his curves exalt the male form, the deep cleft of darkness below his buttocks a trick show of modesty, the way his arms are poised partially extended as if he is always prepared to use those hands, to wield those fists, make a bit of rough-handed love or count vast amounts of ill-gotten gains, his bowed head, deferring his brain and thought processes to the camera caress of his body art..the hint of gold chain at his neck, the white links at his wrist, his male peacock and its many colors. I also like that you took this in black and white..a strange choice to capture the subtle toning of tattoos whose coloring is always a source of pride to the tattoo artist and the subject him/herself. You tease us with the unknown..i like that a lot.

    ah yes, i am glad for the link in “thigh” to this photo. i wish you much luck and success in your project though i wonder really who is zooming who? And i say that in the most jovial way. But please don’t ask me to explain. It’s just something natural occurring when cultures are mixed and shared and certain traditional fictions are passed around the table to see who swallows what. Yes, it will be a very interesting journey for you and for us. More!


  • btw..I loved Joe’s comment..excellent advice!

  • Hi Anton,

    Good luck on your journey..i have been going back to Burma to photograph and as you have experienced, it always incredible to be in an environment where you don’t speak the language or too familiar with the culture and are allow to photograph..

    can’t wait to see more..



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