RD ABROAD: TOCHIGI PREFECTURE PT. I

A Japanese man stands looking out over a section of Ryuo-kyo (Dragon King) Gorge. Ryan prepares the cinema camera (bottom right) to capture footage for the By Nippon documentary. Photograph by Dylan Slater Brabec, 2014.

With a week to our backs, we departed Tokyo and fled to Nikko (lit. sunshine), a gateway city to the Tochigi Prefecture. Tochigi is popular amongst Tokyo residents looking to escape the weight of metropolis life. It sits approximately 140 kilometres north of Tokyo- a few hours by train- and embodies countless cultural artefacts and natural landmarks.

During October of 2010, Ryan visited Nikko for the first time and befriended local riverside hostel, Zen Hostel, owner, Scout. Summer of last year, Scout learnt of our impending return and encouraged us north. Nikko seemed an obvious destination as we began to gather footage for By Nippon. Despite each of our moderate educations on the Japanese language and Kanji, rural transit outside major cities can be somewhat of a gamble. Most Airbnb hosts in Tokyo provided us mobile WiFi hotspots, from which we could connect our phones, however; we'd left Tokyo with little luck at train station networks in reaching Scout to confirm our time or a meeting location. Expecting about a twenty-percent chance success, we were relieved to find him anticipating our approach, at the station gates. We adjusted our fares, and loaded his compact van with our bags. To this point, we had been led by a small oversight, miscommunication, or lack of entirely- that we'd be staying in the hostel with Scout, despite him having closed it for the winter. As he excitedly greeted us with open arms to a very cold and cloudy, city of sunshine, we began to understand this was not to be the case.

A stop by the 100-yen store,to stock up on snacks and supplies was strongly recommended. This only further alluded to a departure from our understanding of any plan made prior. Scout drove us then to one of his favourite, though not-particularly-interesting, Okonomiyaki restaurants in the area. (Okonomiyaki, お好み焼き, is a savoury Japanese pancake, consisting of grilled ingredients to your choice, on an open tabletop griddle). It was perhaps the same particularly-uninteresting nature of the restaurant, that allowed for the sort of comfort and satisfaction we felt. Stowing one's shoes in dank, wooden lockers, and sitting floor-level to embrace some unfiltered, Japanese culture was somehow incredibly familiar; rewarding, even. It was here that we inquired of the plan. There was no plan.

It was brilliant. What we'd failed to notice were Scout's bags, also packed into the van. Somehow, in all of our preceding spontaneity, through islands and fields and monkey-villages, we'd assumed a plan was in place. He suggested we drive deeper into one of neighbouring the mountain villages of Tochigi in search for a ryokan- a traditional Japanese inn. It being fairly late into the evening, he phoned his wife, to aid in the search. Being Japanese, she certainly helped in our efforts. But ultimately, the search became another gamble- a gamble well-decorated with Japanese tradition and culture.

Following a night of wonderfully-affordable, high-end Japanese whisky, mountainside onsen (hot springs), and rest in a hotel- akin to something of a Ghibli film creation- we awoke to a lobby lined of old-world monkeys harvesting wild yuzu outside the door. Scout led us to a day of exploration and adventure, starting with Ryuo-kyo (Dragon King) Gorge. As we could have only hope for, we were bestowed a set of mossy and icy experiences only best described, without words. Enjoy a glimpse into our journey with the Dragon King.

Photography by Dylan Slater Brabec, 2014FungiBy Nippon.

RD ABROAD: TOKYO PT. I

Tokyo Tower, from Facebook & Instagram offices, Tokyo.

We began, with coffee. To be blunt, however; specialty coffee ranked second in priority, only to our reunion with hot water and toilet seats.

The Land of the Rising Sun, is a loose interpretation of "the sun's origin," translated from Nippon, or, what most of us refer to as, Japan. Discussing its largest prefecture- the largest city on Earth at thirty-eight million, many draw assumption on what to expect from what visitors call the future of the 90's. And while in truth, Tokyo, may be laced with amber-lit ramen corridors, compartmentalised complexes, and flashing sidewalks, decorated with self-aware vending machines, it, and its country, embrace so much more- yet to be understood even by their own inhabitants.

This cultural shift is largely responsible for our draw to Japan, and the execution of our first feature documentary- By Nippon. (Nee-Pone). Boarding the metro at Shinjuku Station, a complacent working class of black-suited salary men make for a strange backdrop to the citruis-dotted, miniskirt-manifesto that is Japan's female throng of cram-school students. The country's recent natural disasters see to the employment of a utilitarianism workforce. All the while, the world's growing demand for fish from a climatically challenged planet recast the nylon nets of Japanese fisherman, as political ones. And somewhere in it all the Japanese chef humbly practices his mastery, abstaining from industry ferocity and performing at such exacting degrees, the gods know only as perfection.

Our first week was spent trekking and reallocating with the fast-paced, unforgiving flow of the city. A few missed trains and mistranslations, and we felt at home. While the iPhone in its entirety has drastically altered the selfless nature of the culture we learnt to love five years ago (and accompanying billboards), we made do with our new friend, Google Maps- which lead us successfully to each coffeeshop on Dylan's list.

It was while in transit, however, from Airbnb to Airbnb; we explored the famous Bear Pond Espresso. Stowed away, down a gloomy Kitazawa, Tokyo, you'll find behind the tiny bar and his self-built La Marzocco espresso machine, Katsu Tanaka. He will determine if you're allowed to stay and sit in his shop, whether you know it or not. Fortunately for us, we have a penchant for coffee, and made long-lasting conversation as he told us of his time in New York, at ASU, and on A Film About Coffee. He allowed us to stay after 2PM, (though he refused to pull a shot, as he felt his calibrated machine fell too far out of precision beyond this time), and shared with us his unfathomably intricate sketch pad, where he records his new findings and configurations- every morning. He claims he's not tried another coffee than his in Tokyo, for twenty years, and on his return visits to NY, he withstands from eating for seventy-two hours, to prevent any sort of digestive irregularity. Katsu is a character, if we've ever met one, and we expect to visit him on our return, to Tokyo.

Japan is intriguing. It is alluring. It is always content and never satisfied. We love it, and align with it. We pay the $7 for a cup of coffee, and smile at the bag for $38.

Photography by Dylan Slater Brabec, 2014

RD ABROAD: INDONESIA PT. II

The second week of our time in Indonesia began with Pasar Seni ITB 2014; an epic arts festival with attendance in the hundreds-of-thousands, and an equally historic InstaMeet, hosted by our fearless leader and friend, Nyimas Laula (@nyimaslaula). We awoke Monday morning, worn and weathered from its passing, with only one question to be answered: What's next? After squabbling with DAPP founders, over the list of potential destinations, and the negotiating of inane-to-practical ratios with one another, we settled on what we agreed was both celebratory in nature and crazy enough to warrant our departure. We hastily prepped our bags for an afternoon flight to Bali.

And so with an adventure such as the one that ensued over the course of our last week- the exploration of Bali's beaches, jungles, and Indonesia's best kept secrets, it becomes difficult to articulate the magic of it all. We were greeted, then escorted over the duration of two days on the island, by @usdiumbara and @blitutde, to some truly remarkable environments. Thanksgiving weekend on warm sands of hermit crabs and brittle stars- to fresh prawns, Bintang and "Hotel California" from the accompanying Balinese Mariachi band- Bali proved simply another fantastical tale from Indonesia.

Our return to Bandung saw an urgency through us all, to explore, gather and celebrate the beauty of new friendships abroad. We trekked humid chalk mines, wet, pine forests, and continued our unstable journey across Indonesian cuisine, (digestive turmoil aside). And while the stories are plenty, and memories are rich, we feel, the photos and videos we captured best do our time justice.

Enjoy. You were very much a part of our adventure and motivation onto the next.

(Above) Photos by Dylan Brabec | Captured on Sony a7R, Zeiss 55mm f/ 1.8

(Above) Photos & Video by Ryan Neal Cordwell | Captured on iPhone 6 Plus, Moment 60mm

RD ABROAD: PASAR SENI ITB 2014

When we set out to commence the first session of production on the By Nippon documentary in Japan this winter, we were swayed by our friend Nyimas Laula to first visit Indonesia. One of her more convincing points; that our travel dates would coincide with one of the largest arts festivals in the world, held once every four years in Bandung, Pasar Seni. This year it was, coincidentally, to be held on her campus, ITB (Institut Teknologi Bandung, Bandung Institute of Technology), and she'd also been invited by the event to host a concurrent InstaMeet- surely to set a record attendance at a festival expecting hundreds of thousands. We agreed,

By 7:30 AM, the InstaMeet had set such a record, earning an attendee tally exceeding 1,000. Nyimas hosted the meet cooperatively with Aji and Jo, (@ajiooo, @johanesadriano). Fortunately for us, Nyimas had informed the event directors of our presence, and we were invited to play a role in documenting the day, and specifically, the epic Instagram meet-up. A short featurette captured on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is in post production, for a holiday release. Dylan spent the festival in its entirety successfully photographing the beauty its heritage.

When it weren't the ornate performances and costumes, erratic weather and dreamlike corridors of handmade decoration from 1.5 years of collective manpower, led one to feel as though they'd stepped into another realm. And in many ways, we had. See you in 2018, Bandung- if not sooner.

Photos by Dylan Brabec | Captured on Sony a7R, Zeiss 55mm f/ 1.8

BY NIPPON: A VISUAL DOCUMENTARY BY ROYAL & DESIGN

Preceding the inception of Royal & Design in 2012, we began work on By Nippon. Having both traveled Japan, we continued to foster a deep appreciation of its culture and people. We knew the best way to honour this would be through the application of our aesthetics in documentary form.

By Nippon is a  visual documentary, taking a categorical approach to understanding modern Japanese culture. By focusing on its people; their crafts and diverse lifestyles, the film explores cultural differences as well as personal ones, including daily routine and social hierarchy. Relying on first-person narrative and dramatic cinematography, By Nippon demonstrates the abstract relationships between a set of objectively unrelated individuals.

We are currently seeking monetary sponsorship for By Nippon, as we depart Indonesia for Tokyo to execute the first phase of the film. We have included the DOWNLOAD link to the entire documentary treatment below (a PDF about the film), for your review and education on our purpose. You will also find a SPONSOR button, which allows the input for a desired amount to become sponsor or producer of By Nippon. As we continue funding production, we will continue to develop a limited run of goods for our contributors. We've shied away from crowd-funding platforms for a number of reasons- one being that we are still designing goods themed around By Nippon- but we can expect posters, Moleskines, an other branded materials created in-house by Royal & Design and our affiliate, Nanogram Studio. All sponsors will receive By Nippon packages including these materials.

Your support is appreciated and necessary as we set out to capture a beautiful insight into modern Japanese culture. We love the brands and companies we've been able to work with over the past few years, but being that this is an entirely self-made piece, we couldn't be more excited to see it through. Sign up below to receive updates on the film, and follow @royalanddesign and @bynippon on Instagram to see the journey as it unfolds.

Thank you.