Fetish Nights in Tokyo: JOSHUA GORDON


“Toys, toys, toys. What is a toy?” artist Joshua Gordon asks in the foreword to Toys. The recently published photographic analysis of toy fandom in Japan explores the various meanings of toys while giving a portrait of those who dedicate their lives to them. Gordon has portrayed a number of subcultures, such as the fetish scene in Tokyo, where he has documented the city’s longest-running fetish night.

Gordon, who has been living out of his suitcase for the past five years, is on a never-ending quest “to be surrounded by proper counterculture and people who live on the margins: punks, people who freight hop, shoplifters, all different kinds of freaks, and weirdos.” In this phone interview with Paige Silveria, Gordon explains how he hasn’t regretted giving everything up—with but one exception.


PAIGE SILVERIA: Hey Joshua, how are you? What are you up to?

JOSHUA GORDON: Just got back from Muay Thai class. Living on the beach in Thailand, it’s really nice. I don’t want to move back to Japan. I’m getting a little upset about it.

PS: Why did you leave Tokyo?

JG: I basically had three days to leave Japan because immigration started investigating me for allegedly working on a tourist visa, which is super serious. It happens to maybe less than one percent of people who apply. But for some reason, they dropped the investigation last week and gave me my visa.


PS: But you dont want to leave Thailand now?

JG: I’m so happy in nature. I’m by the sea, grass, with nice fresh food. Not drinking or going to launches or doing degenerate stuff. Just a wholesome and healthy and happy life. I have such a busy schedule coming up. I’m here for a month, doing Muay Thai every day. Then end of June, I’m flying to New York, where Tom Fletcher and I will then drive to Ohio for the Gathering of the Juggalos. Then we’ll drive to Florida. Afterwards I’ll go to Ireland for my visa. Then I’m climbing Mount Everest. If I can get into good enough shape.

PS: Are you climbing Everest by yourself?

JG: I think so. Unless if I can convince my friend to come with me.It’s just to base camp. Only like 15 people die a year doing base camp, and 60 percent of people make it, so it’s not too hard. And the other 40 get airlifted down in helicopters. I’m trying to condition myself. But I’m going on a road trip with Tom, and he smokes cigarettes, drinks White Claws, and eats hot dogs—that’s his whole diet. I’m scared. I’m going to want to do that shit with him too.


PS: What were you like as a kid?

JG: I was weird and annoying and had no father figure. I was always trying to hang out with the older guys in the graffiti and record shops and be a part of the scenes I thought were interesting, like music, djing, graffiti, and skateboarding. I was overly eager and excited about everything. Dublin is small, so it’s easy to find the subcultures. I started doing graffiti and skateboarding when I was 12. The two were kind of combined. Everyone knew each other.

PS: And you were filming everything too, right?

JG: Yeah, everything. I was recording myself doing graffiti and recording my friends skateboarding. I shot disposable camera photos all the time in school.

PS: Were you directing people at all?

JG: No, it was just stuff to watch again. We’d just sit around and watch everyone skateboarding from the week before. It was more of a tool than self-expression. You had to document it to speak to other people about it.

PS: Do you still have it?

JG: I still have a lot of graffiti photos. A lot of them are of us being super young, breaking into buildings, and doing pills at raves—young degenerate stuff. It’s somewhere at my mum’s house in Ireland.

PS: Whats she like?

JG: She’s an old hippie. She’s pretty out there. She raised me and my sister on her own. She’s super into witchcraft. She was always talking about spirits and ghosts and demons. She saw my cousin die the night he died before he died. She has visions and reads cards. And she was also a documentary photographer when she was my age. She rode a motorbike and was shooting in Jordan and Syria.

PS: She sounds incredible. What are your thoughts on spirits?

JG: I believe in fairies and everything. It’s quite Irish. We have a lot of shamans and folklore around witches and druids.


PS: Youve been living out of a suitcase for a while now. How longs it been?

JG: Coming up on my fifth year. I was living in London, and I was super depressed, overweight, unmotivated, and uninspired. Then I started doing these long-form art projects. I did the film Krahang in Thailand over a few months. And then I did Butterfly in Cuba, shooting for two months and editing for seven. I was spending a lot of time abroad.

When everything changed from Covid-19, it gave us time to reflect on what we wanted. A lot of my friends decided they didn’t even want to make art anymore. They just wanted to live at home and have a garden. I wanted the opposite; I wanted to go to different places all around the world and make projects about different people and subcultures. Also, about myself, I don’t want to just be this subculture guy—my projects are quite varied. But yeah, I want to be surrounded by proper counterculture and people who live on the margins: punks, people who freight hop, shoplifters, all different kinds of freaks, and weirdos. So, I started traveling.

PS: And before you left, you sold everything you owned, right?

JG: Yeah. It’s crazy, I had these 15 Daniel Johnston paintings that I’d bought for like 110 dollars or something. I had a watercolor that his brother sent me, and he never did watercolors. That’s the only thing in my life that I regret selling or giving away. I don’t regret anything else. But I walked into Komiyama Books in Tokyo around four months ago and all my Daniel Johnstons were on the wall. I was like, “Whoa! That’s so crazy. Where did you get these?” They were like, “What? You sold them to us.” That whole time was such a blur. I’d forgotten. Like my friends just came to my house and filled bags with stuff. It was super freeing. My fiancé and I broke up. My dog went. My apartment went. Everything was just gone. I felt total freedom.

PS: Thats so brave.

JG: It’s not something I’d recommend to everyone. I’m so lonely sometimes. I go weeks sometimes without using my voice or speaking to people.

PS: If its so lonely, why do you choose to isolate yourself?

JG: I need moments of total solitude to think about my craft and to get inspired in different ways. When I’m in Tokyo, every second person visiting hits me up to show them stuff. I end up meeting like four people a day. It’s a full-time job just showing people around.

You need the space. I think so many people are in relationships and with their friends all the time because they don’t want to think about their lives, desires, and dreams. They’re filling space so they don’t have to think. That’s why we’re sitting on YouTube watching “Korean Children Eat American Snacks” or “What’s in T-Pain’s Backpack?” We’re just filling space. I like when I’m alone and I think, “What do I want to do today?” I can go to church or do yoga or go swimming.


PS: What projects are you working on?

JG: I’m working on this fetish book. There’s this longest-running fetish night in Japan, and I go with my friend Lisa who’s an amazing writer. I photograph every type of sexual fetish there: queens, gimps, leather daddies, cross-dressers, subs, masking, latex, everything. That’s been super fun. When I’m shooting the fetish stuff, in my head I’m thinking, "this is why I exist.” Like, I was born to be here and be shooting this gimp. This is the meaning of my life.

I’m also making a book about the male host industry. It’s tough to shoot, because they’re such rude himbo airheads, but publishers are adamant about me doing the book because no one ever has done a book about them before.

I was making a book about the Yakuza, but that went wrong … and I can’t do it anymore. I just think that with any capital city, Japan is the strongest with subculture. It feels like New York in the 80s. Every subculture is represented so well there. It’s safe and people are friendly. The language isn’t too hard to learn, and it’s quite cheap now. I was looking at other places, such as the US, but it’s a little too dangerous and uncertain politically. I think American people are a little insane. I do really like them though. I love modern American culture and cinema. I’ve just been comparing everywhere in the world for the last five years. There are nice people in Berlin but it’s too druggy. London is too boring and expensive and gray. Paris, I love. If I wasn’t in Japan, I’d be there. Thailand is incredible. But to me, Tokyo just edged out everywhere else.

PS: Is it hard to gain peoples trust when youre documenting such intimate moments with them?

JG: It’s so easy! I just ask. No one has ever said no. The only people who were ever rude to me were surfers in Honolulu. 98 percent of people whom I ask to photograph are so nice and welcoming: juggalos, gangster kids, black metal dudes. People are so chill. Well, apart from the hosts. They’re really strict.