She’s a woman of mystery. When first meeting Yuko, you may distinguish her edgy haircut, her simple but innately stylish outfit or the camera strapped across her chest. But there’s so much more to her than meets the eye.
Yuko is originally from Japan but she has called Ottawa home for the past four years. Much to our dismay, we met the fellow journalism student towards the end of our time at Carleton but, as they say, better late than never! Yuko is a brilliant photographer and she is gaining quite the reputation taking photos at events around the city. She’s also a talented writer and painter – so much creative juice in this gal.
Her imagination and originality doesn’t stop with art and photography. It extends to her style and eye for home décor. Whenever we saw Yuko at school, she looked wicked. She rocks simple tees, comfortable fitted trousers and often throws on an item for a splash of colour (our fave is her bright orange puffer jacket.) Her style is timeless.
It’s no surprise that Yuko lives in a blissfully serene room on the top floor of an old Ottawa home. The walls are painted sky blue, a single window lets in gorgeous afternoon light and a snug, squishy mattress rests on the floor in one corner. It is like living in the sky, with a cloud for a bed. Not to mention the huge tree branch attached to one wall. Yuko saw the branch on the side of the road after a big storm and, being the wonder she is, decided it would make a good wardrobe. Her clothes and bags hang from the branches. The whole set up makes you feel like you’re floating.
“My room is happy right now,” she said in response to our awe.
In here, Yuko edits her amazing photos, writes (there is a pencil tacked to the wall by her bed, because who would ever want to leave the cloud bed?) and smokes wormwood from a wooden pipe.
Her inspiring drive, intriguing persona and knack for finding beauty in small things is remarkable. Yuko leaves her mark wherever she goes. On people she meets and on objects she encounters – like the walls she transforms by incorporating holes and dents into paintings…
When the shops are closed and Yuko needs a coffee filter, she rips up a piece of cotton and uses it. When she needs a closet, she finds a tree branch and uses it. When she needs a haircut, she finds a buzzer and does it herself. Yuko is full of secrets. Here, we attempt to share some of them…
Did your style change when you moved to Ottawa from Japan?
Yes and no. Before I came to Ottawa, I was into expressing myself through clothes, to an extent. The couple who recommended Carleton, who are Canadian, vetted all my clothes before I came! So the first two and a half years in Ottawa, I was wearing the clothes my mum bought for me. It helped me focus on studies because I didn’t really give a fuck about what I wore. At least I pretended not to! But they wore out so I started to gather clothes from various places in the city. I think since then, my style has become less flashy.
Are you happy that you moved to Canada?
I think so! Maybe in 10 or 15 years, I can give a better perspective. I’m glad I’m not in Japan. I prefer the university system here. In Japan, it’s hard to get into university but easy once you’re in – you can take notes to all exams and it’s generally easier to slack off. I’m easily influenced by the world around me so if everyone else is slacking off, I will too. Also, the only journalism school there was a private one. I thought it would be cool to see my other options, and Carleton was one of them!
What do you miss about Japan?
The seaside! I used to miss it a lot, so I went to Halifax to smell the sea air – salt, dead fish and the warm wind mixed together is nice. I also enjoyed taking walks in wooded areas in Japan.
What don’t you miss?
Growing up in a homogeneous country really was a thing. There’s a specific word for bicultural people – half. So they would just call me half (Yuko’s mother is Polish and her father Japanese.) So there was that, and I really didn’t want to stand out. Maybe that influenced my style – it’s simple.
Do you think you’ll go back?
When I Skype my mum, she tells me it’s probably not a very good idea for me to come back – mostly because of my hair. She likes it but I would definitely stand out in Japan. Girls can have short hair there but it would be hard for me to find work.
Do you feel you express yourself with your clothes?
I feel comfortable. That’s the most important thing to me. It might change but I try to buy pieces I know I will still wear in 4 or 5 years. Timeless pieces.
Where did you get your orange coat?!
Mountain Equipment Co-op. I’m very specific about colour. I wanted something orange. It was the most affordable and looks like bubblegum, so I bought it!
We noticed some paint in Yuko’s glorious bedroom so of course we had to ask…
Do you paint?
I used to do it more. I sold a few paintings at a local Ottawa craft show. I love painting! There was a period after high school where I compulsively painted. I’m usually quite mute so I think that’s one way I vent.
She says this whilst whipping out some wormwood to smoke from her wooden pipe. “It was the cheapest pipe at the smoke shop and I love the smell of wormwood.”
Where did you get your hair cut?
I did it myself! I used the bathroom mirror and a handheld mirror to see the back. And I just went for it. It’s like how I came to Canada – a reckless decision. I used to have really long hair. One day, I was looking at myself in my window reflection and thought, ‘It’s so weird that girls always have longer hair than guys do.’ Then I made the decision to go to the hairdresser and get it cut. After that, I decided to shave it and that was all me doing it myself! I can’t really see the back too well – is it patchy?! (It’s not, it’s perfect.)
If you could get a photography job anywhere in the world, where would you want to be?
Um, that’s tough. People say Ottawa is boring; others say it’s really fun. I guess wherever is tolerant of un-staged photography. I like taking photos of people without them knowing. It would be really cool if I could pursue that kind of photography, wherever it may be.
Have you done much travelling?
Not too much. I’ve been to different places on family trips. I’ve been to England and took an English course there. I also won an essay contest at school and I got to go to Switzerland and stay in the mountains. I think the essay was about what my dream was. I think it was in second grade and I’m quite sure I talked about photojournalism.
Where’s your favourite place in Ottawa?
I would say my roof. I often sit up there, smoke and watch the city.
After hanging in Yuko’s haven, she took us to the roof. She waltzed on up like Spiderwoman as we watched mesmerised. “Your feet will grip the tiles, I promise!” she said encouragingly. Although with no elegance, we made it up on the roof, lay down a blanket and watched the sunset. It was bliss, as is getting to know Yuko.
(half on the roof, half off – casual Yuko – she didn’t notice she was standing there til we showed her the pictures)
See more of Yuko’s photos here !