4SEE Profile Robert Stanjek, Photography by Bert Spangemacher

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

We are all captivated by people that think outside the box, and places, ideas and products that make our imagination run wild. Totally individual, unique, and sometimes even eccentric, these are the people that we admire because they aren’t afraid to explore, reinvent, and go on an adventure to discover that truly great inspiration takes courage to turn into success.

Windward or Leeward, always looking forward: Professional Sailor Robert Stanjek

Professional Sailor
Berlin, Germany

“It gets harder the higher the pressure gets. That’s where the absolute top athletes differ.”

4SEE Profile Robert Stanjek, Photography by Bert Spangemacher
Professional Sailor
Photography by Bert Spangemacher

Concentration, intuition, and a spirit for adventure are three qualities perhaps essential to those who pursue the sport of Sailing. With ever-changing conditions, competitive success relies upon a fierce determination in a game of speed and tactics, navigating natural forces and pushing the limits of human (and boat) performance. A growing sport in Germany, sailing master Robert Stanjek’s ‘Stanjek Sailing Cup’ is fast becoming a regional highlight for young sailors, with more than 130 children and adolescents attending a two-day series on the Müggelsee in Berlin every year. Robert joined 4SEE to share a glimpse of his exhilarating world.

Describe yourself in three words

Enduring, optimistic, forward

How many regattas have you participated in? Which was your most memorable regatta and why?

I estimate a little over 1000. Becoming World Champion is very special. That’s a title you’ve got all your life, like a PhD. To beat everyone on the planet once is a very rewarding feeling.

How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically for regattas?

During Olympic times I worked continuously with a sports psychologist. To use your maximum capacity of concentration you must be able to put yourself intellectually completely in the present. It gets harder the higher the pressure gets. That’s where the absolute top athletes differ. Offshore sailing is about long, non-stop distances for days and weeks. The mental focus is a bit different. Here you have to be prepared for enduring time, strains and inconveniences. And of course physical training is the absolute basis for both disciplines.

Please describe a typical day on the ship during a regatta.

A day at sea during a competition is very simple. It’s all about keeping the ship at its maximum speed all the time. This is usually very exhausting and a job that you shouldn’t interrupt too long, because otherwise you lose distance. In total you sleep very, very little and always in small phases—sometimes 15 minutes, sometimes 2 hours. Food is very important to not burn out.

What is it like to race in the ocean, seeing nothing but water around you? There must be times when you don’t get enough sleep, you’re constantly wet, enduring many unpleasant situations. How do you cope with pressure or stress?

This has a lot to do with experience. Usually you know in advance where the competition demands everything and where it will be really hard. We talk about it and plan the energy management. If you shoot yourself blue once, then someone else on the team has to back you up or replace you.

4SEE Profile Robert Stanjek, Photography by Bert Spangemacher
4SEE Profile Robert Stanjek, Photography by Bert Spangemacher

Have you been in danger? Please describe your wildest moment.

Wind and water can be pretty violent. Out on the ocean you definitely notice how small you are. Storms with high waves and the speeds of the modern boats are very special. All this goes on at night in total darkness. You must never lose your respect! I think to someone who doesn’t sail offshore, it sometimes looks very, very risky and suicidal. I never talk too much about it at home.

Lately you have been concentrating on the world-class offshore races by initiating the German offshore team with a massive 60-foot racing boat. Is it a challenge to look for sponsor(s)?

It’s almost 20 years since a German racing team concentrated on Transatlantic and Round the World Races. A global campaign of this size requires a budget of a few million euros. There are German companies that are successfully and consecutively sponsoring projects like this, but often abroad. I am optimistic because we offer a very innovative product: global, clean, renewable energies, high tech, intelligent, teamwork, adventure… it is a fascinating sport with great stories.

You’re constantly on the road and you have a newly born baby, Albrecht. How often are you away from home in a year and how do you keep the balance between work and life?

I’m pretty much half the year on the road. This has become much harder since I became a father. But if you are disciplined to put in the quality time at home, then you are also a good father and husband for 50% of the days.

Sports sunglasses—what brand do you wear, what do you like about them, and what improvements would you like to see? Are you interested in using smart glasses or augmented reality when it becomes available? If yes, what kind of AI glasses are you yearning to own and how could they be helpful to you?

My sunglasses are polarized. This gives me more contrasts in the sky and on the water surface. Reading the wind on the water is a skill that takes decades. It is like reading the putting green in golf. You can’t support much around here. And I like to keep things simple.

In ten years where do you want to be?

My next goal is to race around the world, the longest and biggest offshore competition. Maybe I do 2 or 3. For this chapter I need about 8 to 10 years. After that I will slow down a bit and spend more time at home.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

We are all captivated by people that think outside the box, and places, ideas and products that make our imagination run wild. Totally individual, unique, and sometimes even eccentric, these are the people that we admire because they aren’t afraid to explore, reinvent, and go on an adventure to discover that truly great inspiration takes courage to turn into success.

Wild Rider: Steffi Marth

Professional Mountain Biker
Dresden, Germany
Instagram @steffimarth

“I feel like I truly am ‘riding the dream. I found my passion for it and for racing bikes and ever since this BMX track is my paradise.”

4SEE Profile Steffi Marth
Professional Mountain Biker

It was the speed and the feeling of freedom that got Steffi Marth hooked on the sport of BMX Biking. Racing BMX bikes since the age of 12, Professional Mountain Bike Athlete Marth is a five-time National BMX and 4X Champion and winner of the bronze medal in the 4X World Championships in 2014 and 2015. Passionate about nature, Marth’s life brings together the best of both worlds as she moves away from more competitive racing towards exploration, adventure and freeriding. A much-publicised face in the world of mountainbike media, Marth’s competitive nature has also seen her complete a Master of Science in Architecture and a Degree in Public Relations.

Describe yourself in three words

Active, outgoing, life-loving

When did you first start BMX racing? Did you have any role models when you started BMX?

I started at the age of 12 and loved it from day 1. I didn’t really have a lot of role models back then but now it’s for sure all the women that were successful in both, BMX and MTB such as Caroline Buchanan, Anne-Caroline Chausson…

What triggered you to get into a wild sport like Mountain biking / BMX in the first place? We are sure there were other options.

I played handball at the time I got into BMX. I was super into it and liked all the games when I had to be fully concentrated and put it all out on the field for myself and the team. I like to give everything and always loves competition. I come from a small village called Plessa, 50 km north of Dresden, it’s in the south of Brandenburg. We didn’t have a lot of options of things to do in our village. One day the mayor decided to close down the public swimming pool because renovation was too expensive and so they looked for other options for the youth. We finally got a BMX track in our village and all the kids rode at that time. I found my passion for it and for racing bikes, and ever since then the BMX track is my paradise.

How is it being a female athlete in extreme sports? Do you feel like things are becoming more equal in terms of opportunities, coverage, and sponsorship, for example?

I mean, this is a tough question… I believe female athletes have the advantage of still being quite rare and so there are many possibilities for a smaller group of people. It’s fairly easy to get sponsoring while there are so many men trying to get supported. But on the other hand, of course we have disadvantages in body shape and mental state. A female mountain biker just looks different to watch on a bike than men and I think this won’t change. Women are racing the same courses as men and sometimes get equal prize money (like at the Crankworx World Tour) but still… there is way more money going into male athlete sponsoring.

What is your favorite training to stay in shape, stay fit?

I love training… all kinds of it. I love to ride all my bikes (on the bmx track, in the woods, on the mountain or also my road bike). But other than that, I also love bodyweight training – like with the app Freeletics.

Have you been in danger? Please describe your wildest moment.

I think I have been in danger a lot when I ride really small paths at a high altitude, but honestly? I don’t feel in danger. If I feel scared or unsafe I won’t ride anymore. I try to be in my comfort zone all the time. My wildest moments were for sure back when I participated in the DH World Cup. There were some tracks that really scared me and we only had a few hours of practice so I mostly had to go for huge jumps and steep lines in my second run of the day.

Social media plays a big part of promoting yourself in this social media driven world. How do you view social media, which one is your favorite? Pros and cons? What do you think of the term, “influencer”?

Social Media is a blessing and a curse really. It gives us athletes a lot of possibilities to share our daily life; competition preparations, behind the scenes of a pro athlete’s life, like biking adventures. And also it gives all the riders who don’t have those top results a chance to share their lives and to make some money from being riders. There is so much more to it than just race results. On the other side, I really don’t like the term “influencer” because I know there are people who have not accomplished anything in the sport and get paid to “just present products”… we (humans) just like to see something beautiful (sunsets, kittens, beautiful humans) and it doesn’t always have a deeper meaning.

You have a Masters’ degree in Architecture and you have studied PR. Interesting combination. How have these two experiences helped to shape who you are now?

Studying for about 10 years besides racing bikes was tough but I am very happy that I finished it. With my 2 degrees I’m always ready to make a change in my work life if I want to… The architecture study helped me to be better at graphic design but also to plan big projects and execute them. PR studies were obviously super important for my job now. Besides the activities and sports it’s a lot about communication and media work, so those lessons I’ve learned were super important for my job now.

Sports sunglasses—what brand do you wear, what do you like about them, and what improvements would you like to see? Are you interested in using smart glasses or augmented reality when it becomes available? If yes, what kind of AI glasses are you yearning to own and how could they be helpful to you?

I am wearing RedBull Spect Eyewear glasses in all situations. I love my prescription glasses for traveling and working… and looking smart of course 😉 For biking I have a huge range of different styles of RedBull Spect Eyewear glasses. What I really like about them is the comfort… I don’t even notice I wear sunglasses. Another special feature of the RB Spect Sunglasses is the Dual Temple System which makes sure the glasses are not moving from their place while being in action. Polarized lenses are also super helpful when having to find your right line on a technical trail.

AI glasses… pheewww it’s a new topic. I haven’t really thought about it. But what comes to my mind first is the opportunity to use them while driving, for example to be able to keep your eyes on the road. Or even when biking to navigate or something like that.

In ten years where do you want to be?

I guess in 10 years I still want to work in the mountain bike industry… not sure if I’ll still be the pro rider in front of the camera or more in the background organizing something. I already have my hands in a couple of projects and it’s so exciting to think what will be in 10 years.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

We are all captivated by people that think outside the box, and places, ideas and products that make our imagination run wild. Totally individual, unique, and sometimes even eccentric, these are the people that we admire because they aren’t afraid to explore, reinvent, and go on an adventure to discover that truly great inspiration takes courage to turn into success.

Natural Essence + New York Spirit = MALIN + GOETZ

Co-Founder of MALIN + GOETZ
New York City, USA
Founded in 2004

“Your skin is your largest organ, so it’s imperative to take care of it. Fortunately, Malin+Goetz makes it super easy to incorporate a healthy and efficacious skincare into your life.”

Co-Founder of MALIN + GOETZ

MALIN + GOETZ is one of New York’s most distinguished apothecary brands. Known for their unique Cannabis Collection and sleek, minimalist packaging, MALIN + GOETZ stands as a formula for success in skincare products. Founded in 2004 by partners in life as well as in business, Andrew Goetz and Matthew Malin, MALIN + GOETZ has established itself internationally for its “uncomplicated luxury” approach, chic stores, and elegantly distinctive packaging and design.

A truly New York company through-and-through, the founders have remained close to home and committed to their original mission: To provide simple, balanced, high-quality skincare solutions to the modern man and woman, at affordable prices.

Remaining at the forefront of innovation, MALIN + GOETZ joined other luxury brands such as Heretic and Foria in Barneys New York’s The High End, the world’s first department store section for Cannabis lifestyle and wellness products.

Describe MALIN + GOETZ in three words
ANDREW: Malin and Goetz
MATTHEW: Making Skincare Easy

Cannabidiol aka CBD and hemp are undoubtedly a fast progressing trend, having successfully tapped into the modern beauty and wellness world. Your Cannabis Collection was launched about 5 or 6 years ago and it has become a very popular line, although actual CBD / Cannabis is not used. What is the story behind this line? Do you have any plan using the actual CBD ingredient in the near future?

ANDREW: All the products in our brand have roots in historic apothecaries. Cannabis is no exception; it was a staple in the 19th-century apothecaries. I also think it’s imperative that there is always a story behind every fragrance. For me, the story of cannabis stems not so much from being in High (no pun intended) School in the 1970s, but rather from the years that I lived in Amsterdam in the 1980s. The scent of hash wafting out of every Coffee Shop as I rode my bicycle through the city is seared in my mind. Those were heady (pun intended) and happy days. Adding cannabis to our portfolio was a way of permanently documenting this very important chapter in my life. We don’t use CBD in our cannabis-infused scents, although we do use it in some other products for its efficacious properties. Our cannabis scents are meant to be evocative—not necessarily literal.

MATTHEW: Rooted in apothecary, we have used the concept of cannabis in fragrance as a fun, playful nod to its medicinal origins. We are currently considering cannabis in the product development of a new face product. Stay tuned.

Your products are unisex, appealing to men as well as woman. What is the ratio of your clientele? What is your advice to men who are still reluctant (or lazy) to do the basic skincare regimen?

ANDREW: Depending on the market, I would say our brand is 60% women and 40% men. My advice to anyone reluctant – let’s say timechallenged rather than lazy – is that skincare is incredibly important part of your daily regimen. It’s as important as flossing and brushing your teeth twice a day. Your skin is your largest organ, so it’s imperative to take care of it.

MATTHEW: The “beauty” of our brand is that it is based on the idea of making skincare easy. We suggest a necessary two-step regimen daily— a great cleanser and moisturizer. Pretty simple.

You develop your own formula and manufacture your products in New York. With Matthew’s background (cosmetic buyer at Barneys, global manager at Kiehl’s, Prada beauty, Helmet Lang Parfums), you could have produced in a place more well known for luxury cosmetics like Paris. Why have you chosen New York?

ANDREW: First, we are from New York—New York is part of our brand, our DNA. While Paris certainly has its fair share of luxury cosmetics, New York does too! It also allows us to work closely with our Labs; ensuring that we produce the best possible products. It’s difficult to visit a lab on a regular basis that’s half-way around the world. That’s not so good for the environment either. So, keeping everything close to New York, ensures the highest quality, and the lowest carbon footprint.

MATTHEW: No doubt that for Europe, Paris is the beauty hub. However, for the US and parts of the world, New York is home to beauty (Estee Lauder,Revlon, Avon, and L’Oreal and Chanel have huge offices here too). And, it is our home. Metropolitan New York offers significant manufacturing opportunity and resources allowing us to produce locally, of quality, and limit our carbon footprint, costs, etc. As importantly, there is no city more international or diverse than New York.

Your signature packaging has become a trademark of your instantly recognizable global brand. Tell us about how you came up with these designs. Andrew, your former experience at Vitra has greatly influenced your products’ packaging and flagship store design. Who is your favorite architect and designer?

ANDREW: Thank you. The packaging was inspired by old 19th-century apothecary jars that we’ve collected over the years. We love how straightforward and beautiful they are. So, when it was time to design our packaging, we brought these jars to our graphic designers, 2X4 (also from New York) and said that we wanted to create a modern interpretation of them. They came up with the idea of making Malin and Goetz into a “formula” – (MALIN+GOETZ), and creating a gradient graphic texture on the bottles.
As for choosing a favorite architect, that’s an impossible question for me to answer, as I love both historical and contemporary architecture. In terms of designers…if I had to look to one person, who was the most influential to me personally for the brand, it would be the industrial designer, Dieter Rams. His prolific approach to minimalism always captures my awe.

MATTHEW: Andrew has said it better than I could…

Wild thing – It seems you have been in for a wild ride. What were your wildest experiences along the way?

ANDREW: Tell me about it! There have been so many wonderful things that we’ve experienced, learned and been exposed to that I think we are talking book rather than interview.

MATTHEW: Manufacturing has been one of the more complicated parts of what we do. It is part science and part art—like cooking—and every single batch is like starting over. It requires attention to detail and oversight daily. Learning about other cultures as we have expanded internationally has also been challenging. The way we do business in the US is not the same as in the UK—and we speak the same language! And now we are expanding in Hong Kong and Germany so we are learning a lot! But, it does make things interesting.

What do you think we can do as companies and as consumers to build a more sustainable future?

ANDREW: We are both personally and professionally committed to building a more sustainable future… We do our best to minimize unnecessary packaging. We manufacture everything locally to reduce our carbon footprint. All our packaging is recyclable. We are currently looking to see if we can introduce second generation plastic in our packaging, as well as using plastic that is fabricated from sugar cane. On the consumer front, I think consumers need to do a better job educating themselves. Ultimately, we need to be much more thoughtful on what we are consuming, consuming less, and recycling and reusing as much as possible.

MATTHEW: Andrew seems to have offered a complete response.

You two are also partners in life as well as in business. How do you manage the work and life relationship?

ANDREW: Good question. Not a short answer. How we’ve done it manifests itself differently at different times of the business. When it was literally just Malin and Goetz in the company, we did everything together. As the business has grown, we’ve divided a good portion of our roles so that we are not stepping on one another’s toes. Fortunately, we have very different skill sets—so it was a natural evolution. Most importantly, we try really hard not to talk about work at dinner. When the day is over, it’s over. A glass or two of wine at the end of the day is also very helpful. And this being New York, there is also the Shrink—to keep my brain well flossed.

MATTHEW: Separation helps. After many years of working closely in an open office, we now have separate offices. Andrew likes to work late and I prefer a more traditional office schedule. We are also good at different things. For instance, Andrew oversees our hotel amenities and I manage our product development.

What glasses do you wear every day?Any favorite eyewear brand and why?

ANDREW: There was a time when I was sans-spec, but those days are long gone. I’ve worn Paul Smith eyeglasses by Oliver Peoples on and off, but now I’m sporting my New York classic from Moscot.

MATTHEW: While I do have some eye glasses, I am really a user of contacts.

We are also dog lovers. Do you two take your dog to the office every day? (We do.)

ANDREW: Not only does Mr. Greenberg come to the office with us every day, but he usually comes with us when we travel on business trips as well. He’s an old hand at going to the West Coast—he’s officially an Emotional Support Dog, so he sits on my lap the entire way—we’d never put him in cargo. When he’s not jetting around on my lap or ‘pugging’ (Mopshunding) his way around the office, he comes up to the country to our farmhouse in the Hudson Valley—where he loves to garden… or more specifically, eat tomatoes off the vine. Not bad for a rescue from Vermont.

MATTHEW: Yes, it would not be an office without our awesome Pug, Mr. Greenberg! Sometimes, our Director of Finance, Anna, brings her Golden Doodle (Donuts) and our Director of Stores, Stephanie, will show up with Ozzie, her Chihuahua. It is a lot of fun.

Natasha Lyonne on her Wild Past and Bright Future
The New York actress on her Netflix show, super heroes and sunglasses

Interview & Photo by NADJA SAYEJ

Russian Doll is a dark comedy on Netflix that might have you addicted. It stars New York actress Natasha Lyonne, who keeps dying and then returning to her 36th birthday party repeatedly. This bizarre loop takes Lyonne’s character, the tough-talking Nadia, through a series of personal revelations, from her noncommittal flings to her family relations and confronting addictions. After posing for photos at the Girls Club Spring Fling in New York City, we caught up with the star to chat about style, sunglasses and her love of 1970s comedy.

How do you feel about the positive reception of your new Netflix show, Russian Doll?
Natasha Lyonne: I’m moved and thrilled how it’s being received, I worked so hard on it for so long. Its deeply personal. I love that people are responding to the character, it’s very funny. She was based on Elliott Gould’s portrayal of Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. The female counterpart that I found was maybe Diane Lane in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. I’ve always responded to this idea of ‘what is gender in the first place?’ and ‘why is it my job to figure it out for you?’ but my character can get some on her own.

She doesn’t even have to take off her sunglasses!
She does it her own way, and that’s how it is.

How did your Netflix show Russian Doll come about?
Amy Poehler and I created a show based on my life for NBC called Old Soul. When it didn’t get picked up, I started thinking about a Choose Your Own Adventure kind of party where you take home each different person from the party. You know? Take them home for the night. I would still end up feeling hollow at the end of it, somehow. I’d still be stuck with myself. This idea that we are starving to death with limitless choices but are stuck with our own broken selves until we kind of resolve what it is to have a meaningful life. What does any of it mean?

Your character Nadia is non-committal bachelorette who does drugs, parties hard and has a ‘bad’ attitude. Is this how women can act onscreen today?
It feels as though a woman must be actively fixing something or searching for the guy, but rarely is she searching for her own soul. That’s usually the luxury of straight, white men on film. It’s very Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. In my experience, we don’t get to explore that as women, but universally, we’re all stuck with ourselves.

Why are you always wearing a pantsuit and sunglasses in the show?
It’s important in life to have a uniform. Nadia’s look is the perfect combination of Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci’s character in My Cousin Vinny. She is a blend of female and male looks, in my opinion. A genderless character I find deeply female but also deeply human. She is more about existential conundrums and less about a need to settle down. Searching for ‘the one’ is a false concept put on by society.

Is there any direct connection to your own personal life in the character you play?
This show is heavily autobiographical. It’s also heavily fictionalized. It’s almost like a super hero version of me, a person I’d like to be. The person my character is at the end of the show is closer to who I am today. Who she is at the beginning of the show is closer to who I was 15 years ago.

What do you mean?
It’s like Richard Pryor’s autobiographical film, Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling. It touches on his post-freebase fire, where he’s in a hospital bed looking back at his life. It’s about being so close to the end and saying ‘I’m going to get another round, what would I do differently?’ But also ‘What are the things that got me here in the first place?’

What is the core message in the show?
We’re all doing the best we can. I’m reading Michelle Obama’s memoir where she felt ‘I’m not enough.’ It’s easy to look at someone from a distance and say ‘Michelle Obama, you’re the ultimate of enough.’ The reality that we know it’s a universal feeling. It’s okay to be each other’s allies, instead of ripping each other to shreds. That’s the core of Russian Doll.

Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher

The Real Deal: Discovering Shinto with Masatsugu Okutani


Masatsugu Okutani, the only Shinto officiant outside of Japan, explains the ancient practice, its origins, and modern incarnation. In a world filled with distractions, Shinto has something to teach us about getting back to our roots and discovering what are the essential qualities that matter the most. Not confined to the culture where it originated, Shinto philosophies form the basis of a whole swath of practices that are gaining ground worldwide, from the minimalist approach to design, changing consumer behaviors, and even Marie Kondo’s new hit show on Netflix promoting cleanliness and order, Shinto presents an opportunity not just to cut out the clutter in our lives but to understand the world in a whole new way. Masatsugu Okutani is at the forefront of bringing this type of thinking to the western world, advising prominent companies like LVMH, as well as governmental organizations and creative agencies on how Shinto practices can make their businesses more meaningful and successful. 4SEE asked Masastugu Okutani to share with his insights gleaned from his decades of experience as a Shinto officiant and as an advisor and educator of Shinto all over the world.

Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher
Masatsugu Okutani

An ancient practice, time-honored traditions that span centuries and generations, a spiritual incubator that spawned a way of thinking so unique it is still difficult to put it into words—Shinto is somewhere between a philosophy and a religion. It is a collection of worldviews that link humanity with nature. It is, put simply, a way of life. And for Japanese people, it is so inextricably linked with their language and culture that it is at the heart of their way of thinking when it comes to everything from the design to food and from architecture to everyday life.

In fact, the ancient Japanese practice has an uninterrupted history that far predates written record: the unbroken chain of rites and rituals has been passed down, from generation to generation, by families devoted to continuing the Shinto practice. And now, for the first time, Masatsugu Okutani, a Shinto officiant from the mountainous region of Nagano Prefecture is bringing these practices to the Western world—first in Paris, and now in Germany.

Who better to learn about the ancient and often mysterious practice of Shinto than Masatsugu Okutani. As the only Shinto officiant living and carrying out Shinto practices outside of Japan, he is uniquely qualified to offer a glimpse into what makes Shinto so compelling and how its essential characteristics can apply in a western context and in our technological world.

Masatsugu Okutani comes from a long line of Shinto officiants. He is the 25thchief officiant (or leader) of the Yabuhara Sanctuary, which traces its history all the way back to 680 AD. After studying Japanese classics, history, and Shinto ceremonies at the Kokugakuin University in Shibuya, Tokyo, Masatsugu Okutani or Masa-san joined the association of Japanese shrines before embarking on an unusual educational path for a Shinto officiant by traveling to the UK for an MBA. But it was probably exactly this experience that made his skills so unique and invaluable to the organization.

Upon returning to Tokyo, he joined one of Japan’s largest and most famous shrines, the Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo. Due to its location and fame, he came into regular contact with the throngs of tourists curious about the site, using this as an opportunity to begin to explain to them about Shinto. He quickly realized this was no simple task and so he decided to develop his methods further at the Meiji Jingu Research Institute—where he studied how foreigners, and Europeans especially, viewed and could relate to the core principles of Japanese culture.

Eventually, Masa-san felt like it was an important step to put his research into practice by bringing the Shinto principles to all new audiences in a completely different context abroad when he moved to Paris in 2011. Now living in Hamburg with his wife and newborn son, I had a conversation with Masa-san to try to understand the fundamentals of the deeply complex system of beliefs that is Shinto and discover what makes it relevant outside of Japan and in our world today.

Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher
Masatsugu Okutani

Did you always know that you were going to be a Shinto officiant?

My family job is to be an officiant of Shinto. It has been handed down for more than 800 years, it is quite a long history. We have a family tree and portraits of the ancestors and descendants. We hand down from generation to generation all the stories and history.

My father told me you can do whatever you want to do with your life but my parent’s home is just next to the sanctuary (jinjain Japanese) and so I saw my entire life what my father was doing. Growing up in a small village all the people saw me as a future officiant of Shinto. So, for me it was quite natural to become an officiant of Shinto and I wanted to ever since childhood.

Is it very common for Shinto to be practiced outside of Japan?

There is only one officiant outside of Japan: I’m the only one.

There are some fundamental characteristics of Shinto—there is no founder, there is no sacred scripture like a bible or text, no doctrine and teaching, no theology and philosophy, no concept of belief or non-belief, therefore also believers or non-believers and no provision of good or bad. We don’t have a missionary approach to convert believers.

So, what drives you to raise awareness about Shinto in Europe?

If we can reach the core values of Shinto, the cultural context or traditions don’t matter. If you see people who work at the jinjaor shrines, of course people think it is Japan. People see only the surface, but deeper down it doesn’t matter what it looks like, in fact.

In Shinto there is a concept called musuhi. Musuhi is the vital force including the meaning of birth, propagation, and interconnection, the formation of an organization and the creation of networks. It is the force guiding constructive and sustainable evolution and development and creating harmony at the end. This is the meaning of musuhi—a central value of Shinto; vital force of the human being as a part of nature.

Shinto jinjasare a space or place to maximize the vital force. It is like when you use an iPhone or a gadget you have to charge the battery, otherwise it doesn’t work. It is just like that. To charge the vital force, it is the role of the jinja.

In Shinto, we do lots of Harae, orceremonies of purification in English, to purify the human or a place. This is because things that can weaken the vital force are called Kegare. Ke is like the spirit in Japanese, and kare/gareis like when you don’t give water to flowers and the flower gets weaker and weaker until it dies. This is kegare. We try to remove this kegare as much as possible. The biggest kegareis death—the opposite of the concept of musuhi. Kegareis death, arrested growth and development, and illness or abnormality in the life force—anything which diminishes beauty: objects that are neither sufficiently beautiful or useful (like in Paris, (laughs!)).

Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher
Masatsugu Okutani

Speaking of Paris, how is it that you ended up working with some major retailers to integrate Shinto philosophies with their brands?

In France, I did ceremonies in boutiques, for example, and they would bring their dogs or small babies. In Japan, we shouldn’t bring animals to sanctuaries but I couldn’t say no to them. But interesting things happen when I start the ceremony. A baby may be crying, or a dog barking, but just after I start the ceremony they become really quiet and calm. This is because the baby and the animals have no rationality, only sensitivity, so they can feel the space and place change suddenly with the ceremony.

From my experience working with French companies and Shinto, working with major retail brands and fashion labels, they have boutiques but they are worried that this won’t work in the future because people simply come with their money and exchange it for products. So, these companies want to create some kind of place that is more experimental or experiential, which is quite similar with the idea of a jinja. If I can do something to create a space for the consumers, not only to exchange money but a bit more than this. It is going to be more interesting if I can produce something that when people come, they can feel the origin or activate their sensitivity in the space.

What could you teach them about Shinto that is important for us all to know?

In one word, I can say it is all about back to the roots. There is a concept called honmono, which is translated into English as ‘genuine’ but my understanding is a bit different. Honcomes from ki or tree. Honmono consists of two Chinese characters as well as ideographs, honand mono. The derivation of the word hon is the mark on the thickest roots of the tree, therefore honmeans origin or source. Monomeans all energy of all material visible and invisible. People translate it as things, but in Japanese things is shina. Actually, you could write a series of books on the meaning of mono, there are very diverse meanings. From these meanings of the two words, the definition of honmonois an entity which contains and or shows the source. The opposite of honmonois nisemonoor fake. It is a combination of two Chinese characters of human and nasu, which means to do something intentionally. This means using rational thought.

When people say nisemono, it is something people do intentionally. The opposite of rationality is sensitivity. The original meaning of this word honmonomeans natural providence. Nature is honmonobecause it is created with no artificial elements at all. It also means there is no pretense in nature. In other words, fake doesn’t exist in nature. Artificial elements are a function or action of rationality.

Humans have both rationality and sensitivity, but nature doesn’t have rationality. And sensitivity is directly connected to the vital force. In this sense, I worked as an officiant of Shinto from Japan, but these kind of things—sensitivity and rationality—they don’t relate to culture or background so I can communicate them anywhere.

Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher
Masatsugu Okutani

How is it that Japan and Japanese culture continues to be incredibly influential and yet still mysterious at the same time?

One of the reasons that Japanese culture attracts western people is because geographically Japan is the end of the Silk Road. Many things arrived in Japan and we ‘japanized’ these things. Especially during the Edo Period, we closed the country. This period was kind of a period of fermentation for Japan—to accept something new, modify it to fit Japanese people, and then innovate something different.

Does this have anything to do with the reason why Japan is considered the absolute top place in the world for manufacturing eyewear?

Japan is a small island and in between Japan and continental China there is a sea, but the sea is quite an aggressive one. In a way, Japan is a bit like Galapagos. That is why subjectivity rather than objectivity is more important.

For instance, Japanese swords, in the world of antiques, only Japanese swords have value for cutting. Other swords from western countries or China, the value is always in the saya, which is the case, because they put jewelry to adorn it. The logic [in Japan] is different. Japanese are more inductive and Europeans are more deductive.
People with a deductive way of thinking, they are very good at strategy and they are curious about theory. But people with an inductive way of thinking, they are really bad at strategy but they are really good at techniques, so they can go to the details a lot.

Is this one of the reasons that you chose to live abroad and bring your knowledge of Japanese culture to a foreign context?

When people say diversity, for example in companies, and they speak about countries or backgrounds, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me to generate dynamism is collaboration between inductive and deductive ways of thinking. They have opposite approaches but when it works it creates dynamism.

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