Gretchen Talks Photography, YouTube and Yaki-imo in Tokyo
Jetting off to a new country is an exhilarating but daunting experience. Gretchen, aka @tokyokittendoll, represents most foreigners living in Tokyo: English teacher by day, chasing her dreams by night. She’s an avid YouTuber, theatre nerd and photographer. But at the end of the day Gretchen always manages to prioritize the important things in life—whether that’s discovering yaki-imo (baked sweet potatoes) or having laugh-out-loud culture shocks. Read on to find out how Gretchen is living out her dream halfway across the world.
Please introduce yourself.
Hey, my name is Gretchen! I love fashion, vlogging, photography, singing, dancing, makeup, parakeets, and yaki imo!
When did you decide to move from the US to Tokyo?
After studying abroad, I went back to the US to finish school, and to see how I felt about Japan after leaving. I missed it more than I ever missed the US. I felt comfortable in Japan. Not necessarily like I belonged—I’m not sure I will ever really feel like I belong somewhere—but I felt like I could make a life that I was happy with instead of just floating along and doing what I’m “supposed” to do with my life. I chose Tokyo specifically because it’s where the fashion and music communities I wanted to get to know were.
You mention yaki-imo in your Instagram bio as an example of the food you discovered in Japan. What are some of the other experiences you’ve had in Japan that still strike a chord with you?
I guess my job. I never thought I would have a job that I’d truly love and get to be myself at. It’s challenging and creative, and I make money and do a good job, while still having enough freedom to pursue my hobbies. I’ve also been able to meet so many people with similar interests to me here. I met one of my best friends through swing dancing and a bunch of friends through fashion meetups, as well as photographers, models, Youtubers, who I wouldn’t have ever been able to meet otherwise.
Who is your biggest cheerleader when it comes to achieving your life goals?
Definitely my boyfriend. No matter what crazy idea I wanna try, he doesn’t ever roll his eyes or say it’s impossible, he’s like “Yeah!” and let’s me talk about it and throws ideas. He’s very supportive.
What is English teaching in Japan like?
I don’t really have much else to compare it to as I’d never been a teacher in the US and I’ve never taught at an actual Japanese school. I’d had an awful eikaiwa teaching job here before and heard many stories of awful English teaching companies, but I found the one that’s right for me.
It requires lots of energy, singing, dancing, creativity, and I have to commute to many different places and do a lot of other things outside of just teaching. To some, I can imagine this would be a stressful, tiring nightmare, but to me, it makes me feel alive.
Tell us a bit about your photography.
All throughout high school I’d bring my little point-and-shoot digital camera and snap pictures of my friends and daily life. I’d pushed that little camera to its creative limits, as a new fancy camera was not possible for poor high school me. Then before studying abroad, I’d finally splurged and got a Nikon d3200. I never studied photography, but I’ve been doing it for so long by winging it and pressing buttons, and I think I get pretty decent results. I take my camera with me almost everywhere, and snap people, fashion, city, nature, everything.
Tokyo has amazing shoot locations. What have been the most memorable shoots?
I’d have to say one of the Harajuku fashion walks when I was going through a rough time and being surrounded by fun, bright, shiny people and getting to capture all their unique styles and personalities along with the magic of Harajuku as the backdrop.
I love shooting shows in live houses too! I shoot a lot for the Motegi Smith Band, and it’s such a fun atmosphere to shoot in! It’s all Japanese, music I love, and all really good open-minded creative people. And each venue has its own cool mood and lighting.
What is the difference between an average photograph and a good photograph for you?
Making me feel something, along with being aesthetically pleasing. Like beautiful, but not just that. Something that catches or pops out, or fun colors or something more. Juxtaposition of beauty and grungy, flowers and lace and rust.
How does the Japanese creative scene compare to the US one?
I never felt like I truly belonged in the US creative scene. Like I didn’t get references to certain things that were just common knowledge among everyone. Here, I have met people not necessarily like me, but different from me in ways that open my mind and push and pull me to be even better.
Tell us about some of your favourite hidden gems in Tokyo.
Makotoya ramen is the best ramen I’ve ever had. It’s a small chain. All C’s cafe in Koenji. Kotori cafe, which has parakeets and small birds which I am obsessed with! Any thrift shop that’s in a non-fashionable well-known place. That’s where the true treasure hunting fun begins!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
More or less where I am now, I hope. I’m really happy and content with my life, my job, my love, my friends. I guess I’ll have accumulated more clothes and plants by then though. And hopefully some more friends and photos too.