Lifelong Modularity - Documenting Hironobu-san By Leanne Cloudsdale

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking that growing old is a privilege. They say a society’s worth is measured by how it treats the elderly – so it stinks, to think of millions of pensioners, stuck indoors with only a cup-a-soup and mid-afternoon quiz shows for company. Maybe if more people listened to Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker singing, ‘Help the Aged’, they might be less likely to adopt the stereotypical viewpoint that ageing automatically means weakness and irrelevance. As a self-confessed appreciator of senior citizens, the photos taken by Kota of his grandfather Hironobu, are honestly some of the most joyful and beautiful images I’ve seen in years. They radiate life and the strength of being alive, with humour, wisdom and self-assured grace.


It’s not often we get to see an energetic 88-year old Japanese man rocking Studio Nicholson in the way Hironobu-san can, especially on a social media platform normally reserved for millennial mercenaries on the hunt to secure their next sponsorship deal. In a bid to find out more, we spoke to Kota about the Instagram project he began after the death of his grandmother in 2019, in a bid to keep Hironobu’s spirits up. What first began as a novel mode of recovery has become something much deeper – an important ritual, bringing grandfather and grandson much closer together.




Where does Hironobu-san live and how does he spend his days?


He lives in Suzuka city, which is famous for the Japanese Grand Prix circuit. Before retirement, he worked at a small, local ironworks but these days he spends his time reading books or catching up on his favourite TV shows. When the weather is good, he likes to pass the time sitting on his bench watching the world go by, or gardening in the sunshine.


How did the project begin?


When my grandmother died, I knew that I had to do something to help him recover – and this is the reason I asked if he’d like to set up the Instagram together. Of course, this wasn’t something he was familiar with, but after showing him how he worked, he agreed. I don’t live close-by, but this project has made sure that I have reason to see him more often and gives us the opportunity to develop a new kind of relationship. I travel up to see him, and we swap and change the clothing I’ve brought for him to wear. Even though he’s much older than me, I’m always surprised by how much energy he has – we always really look forward to seeing each other.


When I started posting the pictures of him, it was great to get words of encouragement from our followers. He gets embarrassed when I read aloud to him some of the comments. He and laughs and says, “who wants to be happy, seeing an old man like me?”. Deep down though, regardless of his laid-back attitude, I think it really cheers him up.


What are his favourite pieces of clothing from Studio Nicholson?


He’s a big fan of hats, so he’s been very pleased to have the beanie. The thing he loves the most though, is the yellow pants – they’re a really good fit with an elastic waistband. Super easy for him to wear and really comfortable for when he’s moving around, getting on with things during the day.



Does your grandfather have a favourite food, or a dish that he loves eating?


He’s a big fan of Castella, which is a kind of intricate Japanese confectionary and he loves Inari Sushi, where the rice is wrapped in fried bean curd.


What’s his most treasured piece of clothing?


He’s not really interested in ‘fashion’ as such, but years ago, when I gave him a Patagonia fleece as a birthday present it became something he treasured. When I bought it, I was thinking it would be ideal for him – it’s so casual, it’s warm, it’s easy to wash and wear; but instead he likes to keep it for ‘best’ and special occasions only, which always makes me laugh. He once told me he was complimented in the street by a young person when he was wearing it – he was really pleased about that!


Do you think he enjoys his new pastime as a model?


He really does, but of course, he’s 88 now and we both know his body is getting weaker. I have deep respect for the fact that he can still take on, and take off his clothing himself, even though he’s not as strong as he once was. There aren’t many models his age out there in the world, and to be honest, I think he dresses better than I do!


I love my grandfather like a best friend. This project has lifted both our spirits. I want to make sure he stays looking cool, feeling happy and is always pleased to see me.


Click here for Kota and Hironobu-san's Instagram Page 



Leanne Cloudsdale is the Studio Nicholson Editor-at-Large