One half American, one quarter Japanese and one quarter Korean, there are a lot of places Will Goodan could call home. Six years ago he uprooted his life in LA and planted himself in Tokyo and hasn’t looked back ever since. Considered a foreigner in a country from which he originates, Will’s experience of Japan is curious, transient and exciting – he says it’s good for his soul.
What were the circumstances around you moving to Japan in the first place?
Japan was a place that I have visited ever since I can remember. It holds a lot of fond memories. Six years ago, my mother passed away in Japan and I found myself alone in Tokyo awaiting the one month of ceremonies proceeding her passing. Instead of going back to the States, I decided to stay in Tokyo and to learn more about a place from which I share blood. I had applied to Wieden + Kennedy, an advertising agency, in hopes to find some freelance work during my short stay. I had an interview with them and they had wanted me to hop on full time as an Art Director. There was a small bracket of time in which I had to answer. I told them over the phone without much thought that I would join them.
Six years ago, my mother passed away in Japan and I found myself alone in Tokyo awaiting the one month of ceremonies proceeding her passing. Instead of going back to the States, I decided to stay in Tokyo and to learn more about a place from which I share blood.
Six years later, I still call Tokyo home. I never really knew Tokyo as a child. It was a place that held a lot of mystery to me, a sort of fantasy landscape that seemed so distant from everything that I knew growing up in Los Angeles as well as any other place I had traveled.
During the first years of living here I was unsure how long this existence would last, every day distancing myself further from what I thought was my home back in Los Angeles. I wanted to spend every waking second seeing new places, trying new things, and furthering myself as a designer and photographer. It was a very difficult time for me and through that I had found photography to carry me to a place where I didn’t really exist, free from all thought. Looking through the frame and seeing life move forward frame after frame.
Your work feels intimate, solitary and romantic – in the largest city in the world, do these things come naturally? Or do you have to seek them out?
I’m not sure how or why they come out as they do. Perhaps it’s a reflection of my deepest feelings towards my own life and the relationship of those with the world around me. I think these moments happen all the time, and sporadically we just have to open our eyes a bit wider. My mother always had strange or interesting moments happen around her. I find that I share this same affinity without question. After being immersed in so much humanity over the last years, the desire to capture simple and solitary instances has become of great interest to me.
After being immersed in so much humanity over the last years, the desire to capture simple and solitary instances has become of great interest to me.
Given your long stay, what can you tell us about Japan’s relationship with the west?
Japan is its own being. A living and breathing landmass that is almost entirely, if not completely, different in every aspect to any other place in the world. One could say that about other countries as well, however the divide is the widest here just based on my own experience. It shares so many common things with western life, however somewhere in the process they get melted down and changed into something new (and often times better version of the original). It takes so many cues from Europe and America’s past, yet misses the mark by a long shot. Most Japanese don’t travel internationally or for long periods of time due to work schedules. On the other side of that, there are some that will travel to the furthest reaches of our Earth, alone, just to know what it’s like to smell that air. The image of the outside, since Japan is an island, is shaped by some deeper innate cultural background of which I will never understand the origins. Perhaps it’s curiosity. It’s one of most paradoxical countries I’ve ever traveled to.
Can you reflect on how the place has changed you? Culturally? As a photographer?
Living in this city, my views of the world have changed dramatically in my life and continue to do so daily. I feel like I signed some invisible contract saying that when I left my life and home in Los Angeles, it would be never be able to be returned to me. This isn’t a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just the way it is and will be for the rest of my life. The way I view our world and the way that I take images now are vastly changed from where I first started. There is a feeling that I have nothing to lose, and that I should try something that’s uncomfortable; that I should push my boundaries far beyond what I could have ever imagined was possible using my abilities. Photography to me now has become more about storytelling, as if shooting an entire movie in one frame. I’m excited to see how much more it will change me since it’s just the beginning.
Photography to me now has become more about storytelling, as if shooting an entire movie in one frame. I’m excited to see how much more it will change me since it’s just the beginning.
How has your idea of Japan changed since when you arrived six years ago? Are you still the outsider?
Unless you are born on this soil and have Japanese blood running through you, you will always be an outsider. I’m a quarter Korean, quarter Japanese, half American. Even though I have family residing in the south and my own mother was born here, I will never be treated as if I’m part of the whole. I saw Japan as a surreal place before I came here to live. There were so many things I couldn’t read or understand, and I was naive to a lot of the truths around me. Today Japan still holds that magic but in a very different way. Some smell in the back of an alley during the summer, or the way a server hands me my napkin before dinner; the moment will come and go hastily. Moments like this will always answer back to me why it is I’ve decided to call this place my home. Even if I left it, it’s with me now forever.
Through the image I can transcend several steps beyond my reality. Taken to a mental plane in which I rarely exist, free from all thought. There I can communicate without words and yet speak so much. It takes me to places I would never go, and it has answers to my curiosity.
@willgoodan | willgoodan.com