“I’m only happy when I’m naked”

Japanese photographer Tokyo Rumando on nostalgia, darkness and not fearing anything.


Japanese photographer Tokyo Rumando explore nostalgia, darkness and self-reflection in her collections, baring both body and soul to her diffused self-portraits—and her viewers. Some of her work shows the artist in front of a mirror that reflects varying angles of her. But what part of Rumando are we looking at? The uncanny quality of these photos speaks of nostalgia, darkness, intimacy, past and present, and questions the male gaze. Although her work is very much personal, in its compression of different, mixed layers of intimate feelings and memories, she encounters spectators to look back into their own pasts and face their fears as a way to find light and freedom.

How would you define “Pain”? And would you say pain is a feeling you channel or evoke somehow through your work?

I see pain as a kind of experience. Instead of describing pain in terms of greatness, I divide it into layers. My hope is for pain to disappear, so I look into a specific layer of pain and by its information subjectively and objectively, then make a plan and execute it. That is how I create. My works are all about how to control pain.


Would you say that pain, in whatever form, has somehow mediated some of your professional achievements? How about the personal ones?

Yes, I would say that by putting out my layers of pain with my works I get to question myself and eventually accept myself, which makes me stronger and calmer as a person.

What are the main narratives you embrace through your work? And what are the main components of Tokyo Rumando’s aesthetic?

I am not sure about that. I have the slogan “I’m only happy when I’m naked” for myself and it’s like a prayer I do everyday.

When and how was your fascination with self-portraits in different love hotels born?

From the 1970s to late 1990s, countless numbers of “love hotels” were built for people to have sex. I think it could be considered as an unique culture of Japan. My Rest 3000~ Stay 5000~ series focused on photographing these love hotels. There are all sorts of different settings in the love hotels. Some have beds that can rotate; some are completely covered with mirrors, some have disco lights; some for BDSM; some mix Western and Eastern styles with strange decorating objects or funny devices—and people have sex in these amusement park-like places filled with interesting ideas. Couples, people in affairs, call girls, travellers, seniors or people who would like to do gang bang would go to these places. I wanted to play with these different roles openly: with desire and this unique Japanese background. Many love hotels are dilapidated nowadays and are being taken down or renovated, so most of them do not look the same anymore.


What’s behind the darkness and melancholy that characterises your imagery? And where do we find light?

My work may seem very personal as I am mostly the only individual that is being photographed, but the darkness and melancholy in my imagery can be applied to everyone, including myself. For Rest 3000~ Stay 5000~, the works also represented male’s subjective way of seeing. For Orphee, the viewers are the ones who would need to face the darkness. It suggests people to think about how to look back into their past. I would be very happy if my work can help you to think about your own self.

In our current society, where love and pain are emotions highly exploited, would you consider one or the other as either positive or negative? 

Love and pain are very much interconnected, in my opinion. Loving someone comes with physical and mental pain. If one is only being loved, it would feel too simple and boring, but if one feels too much pain, one will lose themselves. I think we need to train ourselves for more self-control or learn to transform pain into happiness.

As a rising talent, what is it you fear? And how do you overcome your fears?

There is really nothing to fear about. The world is big and life is short—if we think about that, there is really no time for us to be worried or scared about anything. I always push myself to think about ideas, so my brain is always occupied.

Is there anything that through your work you’d like to change in our current society to make it more amicable? 

It is extremely difficult to let the public understand one’s thoughts and feelings, but I would feel grateful as long as people who see my works get a certain kind of reflection or positive influence—e.g. freedom, strength, passion, determination to make changes or ideas to create. Fighting with oneself instead of against others would make an open defiance against the society that is unfair.


Follow Tokyo Rumando on Instagram and visit her website

Words by Alejandra Espinosa

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