My Tokyo: Phases and Faces

For the first time in a long while, I felt I was in control

“You find yourself in one of the world’s most beautiful locations and a pinnacle of fashion—why not seize the moment with your camera?”

I whispered these to myself days before my trip to Japan.

I never actually planned to engage in any creative work during my Tokyo trip for Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour. I had been looking forward to a peaceful vacation after completing college, and starting a full-time job alongside managing my photography career on the side.

Without any expectations, I posted a casting call on my Instagram stories, trying luck if any Filipino models also traveling to Tokyo could do tests. When Onie, a Filipino model responded, I knew that it was a sign to begin packing my photography gear.

A common site in Tokyo, the trains.

With eight kilograms of tech equipment in my carry-on bag, I felt a surge of excitement and energy.

However, I wanted to do something more. I’m already in Japan, so why not shoot Japanese models as well? That thought led me to reach out to Japanese modeling agencies, hoping they could accommodate test shoots on such short notice. Fortunately, I found two more models to collaborate with, Ken and Kenya, both Japanese. Providing only a page of visual references and adjectives as our creative direction, I allowed them the freedom to express their style and do their glam.

“We just walked around the railway area where the wind was blowing generously, making Kenya’s hair flow effortlessly.”

It was not easy coordinating schedules at the last minute, as well as do location hunting and the commute around Tokyo—for a first-time traveler out of the Philippines. Conflicting schedules, unexpected train stops, and transit mishaps, it felt like the universe was testing me. Despite these challenges, we persevered to make our plans work.

Model Onie de Guzman in Shibuya

The first to shoot was Filipino model, Onie. We intended to shoot at golden hour, however, Raen, my high school best friend, and I got lost in transit picking up Onie as we mistakenly transferred to the wrong line heading toward the hotel where he was staying. When we arrived in his area, the sun had already set, but we were still eager to push through. We took the next train toward Shibuya and decided to shoot along the Tokyo subway and the bustling streets of Shibuya. The vibrant cityscape of Shibuya crossing provided the perfect backdrop for our spontaneous creative endeavor.

“I let Ken choose the locations he would like to shoot. We strolled around Shinjuku Fish Market, where he eagerly showed me around and passionately posed in his favorite spots.”

As Onie posed against the neon lights, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the energy and diversity of Tokyo. Onie was very graceful and easy to work with. We talked about his journey in the Philippine fashion industry as well as his dreams. When I told him in the subway that I probably wouldn’t be the first to say that he looked like Jay of Enhypen, he couldn’t help but smirk and brush off the compliment. It was a chill (literally and figuratively) fun shoot. We ended the night having dinner of soup and karaaafe and going around to shop at Zara and H&M for Onie needed boots and gloves.

Days after shooting Onie, it was Ken and Kenya’s turn. I shot both on the same day, in Shinjuku and Yoyogi, respectively. It was an enchanting experience even though I had approximately only an hour to shoot both because they needed to rush to their next schedule.

Model Kenya Dayoo

“How is my styling? Do you like it?” Ken greeted me as he smilingly showed off his outfit. I replied with a resounding “Yes I do love it!”

I let Ken choose the locations he would like to shoot. We strolled around Shinjuku Fish Market, where he eagerly showed me around and passionately posed in his favorite spots. Ken talked about his part-time job in Ginza, at Prada, and how he loved to dress and style himself. Ken and I were supposed to have lunch, but I had to leave because I needed to meet Kenya in Yoyogi before the fashion show where he’d be walking that night.

In Yoyogi, it took me a while to find Kenya for he was in the exit different from mine. I had to ask a local gentleman who politely gave me instructions on how to find Kenya’s location.

Shooting Kenya proved to be a different experience. Onie oozed with allure and mystery, Ken had infectious energy and passion, and Kenya was very composed and serene. Kenya was patiently standing when I arrived. We just walked around the railway area where the wind was blowing generously, making Kenya’s hair flow effortlessly. He was very calm and laidback. Kenya talking about his interests such as the movies and film photography, as well as about his part-time job in a café, made his personality even warmer.

All three models opened up and showed their unique charm, personality, enthusiasm and most importantly, their professionalism and passion in the work they do. It was a true delightful experience. We all collaborated and wrapped up our shoots feeling a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie.

Model Ken Takahashi

To me, these shoots were more than just about the portfolio. They opened my eyes to new perspectives and possibilities. Working with Onie, Ken and Kenya went beyond test shooting—into a cultural and meaningful interaction that enriched my experience as a photographer. It was a reminder of the power of creativity and collaboration to transcend boundaries and create something truly magical.

And these are the precise reasons I love photography and why I’m glad I did something creative on my  Tokyo trip. Capturing moments through photography is a moving way to connect with people and to see them on a deeper level. By immersing myself in shooting my subjects, I not only freeze a moment in time, but also gain insight into their personal stories and experiences, hopes, and dreams, even if it was only for a short period.

Shooting at Yoyogi park

Each click of the shutter allowed me to view through the lens the era they are in, their emotions, and their journey. It’s a beautiful way to bridge the gap between the present and the memories that will be cherished for a lifetime.

Back in Manila, my recent works revolved around commercial and editorial work which I’m truly grateful for, but planning and doing test shoots after a long hiatus felt cathartic. It felt personal. And for the first time in a while, I felt I was in control. I have learned so much from shooting my subjects–I get to know them and where they are in life. I’m grateful that I listened to my guts, and for these brief encounters of new faces and phases.

Models Kenya Dayoo, Ken Takahashi and Onie de Guzman

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