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‘Osaka feels like the future, but in the 80s.’

Gems in this



Explore Playbook

Feature by Interview: Michael Canning; Words: Marley Ng

For Matsu, splitting his life between Australia and Japan creates the flexibility to draw inspiration from two vastly different cultural palettes.

The photographer and filmmaker grew up in Perth, but found love in Osaka when he met his wife. Never one to sit still, Matsu’s portfolio includes work with Aussie music giants Flume and Tame Impala, as well as a solo exhibition on Osaka, music videos, and various commercial projects. He credits the diversity of his living situation for his creative drive, gaining a fresh perspective every time he travels between the two countries. In his Osaka Travel Playbook, we chat to Matsu about where he likes to go to uncover the authentic ‘deep Osaka.’


On a window or an aisle seat

I used to be window only. I'd plan it so I was away from the wing, to get a nice view with my camera. But as I get older, I've become an aisle person out of convenience. I get my camera out and start shooting photos of people on the plane. And that's actually become more interesting than shooting photos out the window — just little moments of people traveling.

On the best of both worlds

I grew up in Fremantle, which is sort of an artsy place. My dad is Jamaican, my mom's Australian, and I grew up in a kind of Rasta reggae, hippie vibe. Now, I split my time between Perth and Osaka. My wife is Japanese. When we got married, we always played with the idea of living between two places. A little bit of the Japanese craftsmanship of creativity has leaked into my brain — this idea of slowly, consistently working on something. It might not be perfect now, but in 10 or 20 years of working on it, you’ll have something that's worth something.

‘I actually value the challenge of going between the two countries because I then have to develop my creative routine and balance a lot more.’

On some of your most memorable work

I toured with Flume to shoot the Hi This is Flume mixtape, which we shot in WA over seven days with Jonathan Zawada. It was fun and really cool to be involved and do all the photography. I had photos of mine up in Times Square, and we were on tour in Thailand and there were billboards with my photos on them. It was humbling to be a part of something so big.

Images of Flume by Matsu.

On something you can’t travel without

Definitely my camera. I've got a Fuji X-E4, which is a small camera. I take that everywhere.

On creative flexibility

Every time I travel between Osaka and Perth, there's a three or four-day period where I have to adjust my thinking and approach to life. It's helping me be more creative, and giving me different ways to think of the world and my work. I value the challenge of going between the two countries because I have to develop my creative routine and balance.

On cultural differences

The Australian culture is very chill and relaxed. It's all about the vibes. Whereas Japan is more structured and rigorous. As you switch between the two, you have these two palettes to draw from. You have this built-up, urban palette, where everything is very dense and full-on. And then in WA, you’ve got this more expansive beauty with the coastline. It's simpler and great creatively because I can challenge myself in different ways.

All images of Osaka by Matsu.

On feeding your curiosity in Osaka

My favorite thing to do is to get on a bike with my camera. I'll ride for two or three hours, and just follow wherever my curiosity takes me, meeting random people. Last time I was there, I took a photo of this butcher and his father. I sent him the photos, and we chatted on Instagram. It was cool to have those grounded interactions. I think that's what makes it feel like home for me — it's those day-to-day vibes that I have developed a personal connection with.

On going back to the future in the city

My first trip to Osaka completely blew me away. The best way I can describe it is it feels like the future, but in the 80s. It's this retro future. What really gets me excited and sparks me to life is being in those areas where you feel like not a lot of foreigners have the chance to check it out. It's genuine Japan, without the dressing.

On where to experience deep Japan

My absolute favorite area is Kyobashi. If I want to vibe out with friends, I go there. It feels like you're in Blade Runner: it’s built up, with neon signs everywhere. It's where the Japanese go to party and get up to no good. The kind of place where you’ve got to be a little bit careful who you're talking to. It's loud, boisterous, energetic. It’ll still be packed at 2am. The thing that I love most about Kyobashi is that it feels alien. That is exciting for me. To be able to have that stimulus and see the world in that way — I feel like I could do it forever. For anyone who wants a really authentic Osaka experience, Kyobashi is the place.

All images of Osaka by Matsu.

On seeing the other side of Osaka

There's an area called Shinsekai where Japanese people will go to let their hair down, so you will see people being loud, and people will yell out and start chatting to you. It’s this mix of day-to-day Japan and deep Japan, but with tourism. It feels like you're getting a Japanese experience that you wouldn't get if you're sticking to the rails of the tourist lines. Culturally, the Japanese are very well presented. Even the language is very simple and direct. But places like Kyobashi and Shinsekai show you the other side, which is something I find really precious. It is starting to vanish a little bit as things build up and new businesses come in, so get out and see it while you can.

On where to go bar-hopping

I tell everyone who goes to Osaka, check out a bar called Ganja Acid — but there's no ganja or acid served at the bar. It's in this apartment building, but in the other rooms, there are also little bars. There are like four or five-person sized bars, and they've all got their own thing. I was on tour with Flume and we went out to Ganja and bar-hopped. It was so much fun.

On interesting cafés

I'm a big café dude — I’m opening a café in Osaka. So there's a café called Chaniwa Cafe, and it's built into a Buddhist temple, right near Namba. That's a beautiful café. There’s something nice about having a green tea in the middle of a temple. And Yanagi Cafe is really cool. It's near Ashiharabashi station. It was built and designed by a production designer from the film industry — he worked on a film with Nicholas Cage. It's got a really cool, interesting design and layout. It's definitely worth checking out.

‘My wife calls it deep Japan: you have to take off the dressing, take off the makeup, and look underneath.’

On a song that represents Osaka

‘Odoriko’ by Vaundy. When we were going through the visa process and getting ready to emigrate, it was a song that I discovered by chance. It is such a beautiful track. It's emotive, and there's a sweetness to it. It really placed me in Japan, and in this idea that I'm about to go on this new journey of my life.

On Osaka in one word

Deep Osaka.

I could forever be there, just watching life in Japan and these underground areas. My wife calls it deep Japan: you have to take off the dressing, take off the makeup, and look underneath.


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