people, Tokyo, urban

in Japan’s train stations

November 21, 2023

This opened up or broadened into an urban photography that included the large format urban photography of Tsuchida Hiromi’s book Hiroshima Monument and Kitajima Keizō’s book A.D. 1991. Though I didn’t carry a large format cameras with me — it was impractical given that this trip was primarily a walking holiday I did try to photograph from that perspective. The photo below is of Omiya station whilst we were on the Tohoku Shinkansen traveling to Morioka. We had planned to spend a couple of days there looking around and exploring this regional city as a contrast to Tokyo.

I interpreted both the intricate underground train systems in the Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas and the high speed Shinkansen as signifying postwar Japanese modernity after the end of the official American occupation in 1952. This rebuilding was based on Tanaka Kakuei and the LDP’s development plan to establish a nationwide network of high speed railways and highways so that the nation could function as an extended metropolis; minimize the economic disparity between the regions and urban centres; and solve the problem of over-congestion in Tokyo and Osaka.

The three or so decades of economic development that had made Japan a global economic powerhouse ended in the early 1990s with the financial collapse of a bubble economy and in the land and stock prices. What resulted was the lost decades.

Unlike Christopher  Köller, the Melbourne photographer who was able to live in Kyoto for 19 months between 1982 and 1983 and was able to make Zen Zen Chigau (1984), a series of staged photographs with friends as models, or Kristian Häggblom who lived in Tokyo for 8 years from 1999, and was able to produce a substantial body of work including an exhibition of contemporary Japanese photography in Melbourne in 2018 I was just a 4 week tourist, and so closer to both Mathew Sleeth, who was a repeat short term visitor starting in 2002 and so able to make different bodies of work; and to Meg Hewitt’s short trips between 2015 and 2017 that resulted in Tokyo is Yours based on her extensive walking the streets of Tokyo.

I barely explored Shinjuku when I stayed there for the 4-5 days before going to Morioka — a tourist glimpse. The possibilities of any future urban photography in Japan would be structured around staying in a specific location and walking that part of Tokyo — what I did in Shinjuku. Realistically though any such photography could only be done on the basis of being a short term visitor making a number of trips over a several year period.

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