architecture, Tokyo, urban

in Tokyo

November 12, 2023

People squash themselves into the carriages without any angst and without any aggression about their body space. They make way for you even though there is little space in the carriage. Train stations such as Shinjuku are actually cities in their own right.

I didn’t realize how lucky I was that morning to have a window seat. It was my second day in Tokyo and the only time that I had access to a train window. The rest of the time in Tokyo I was standing in the middle of the carriage surrounded by other bodies straining to keep an eye for the various stations that we were coming into so that we didn’t miss our station.

I immediately fell in love with Tokyo. What a dynamic, intense, visual city. There must be a myriad of photographic tours to Tokyo — I’m sure the Leica Academie in Australia have this market well and truly covered. The streets of Tokyo would be traditional Leica snapshot territory as large format would be rather difficult.

I imagined myself traveling the JR Yamanoto loop, the monorail, and the various underground rail systems in order to photograph the city as it is such a visual city — a photographer’s delight or dream. That’s a fantasy really, given the packed subway trains. The 5 days I spent wandering around Shinjuku however did give me a sense of the photographic possibilities since the city is made for walking, not driving.

Tokyo is very much a city of neighborhoods, typically around the rail stations. It’s street network is almost never a grid, it’s a chaotic, organic, thing, rarely following any obvious pattern other than historical happenstance, and this makes walking around it far more interesting. The multiple photographic possibilities it offers could only be realistically explored though ongoing visits to Tokyo made over a number of years. That would require substantive amounts of money.

Sadly, I didn’t visit The Photographers Bar or Place M in Shinjuku. Though I didn’t have the time to research contemporary Japanese urban photographers I did see a copy of Tatsuo Suzuki’s 2019 Friction/Tokyo Street at the TOP Museum bookshop and I did see some of Ishiuchi Miyako’s 1970’s grainy black and white photographs. Both are in the tradition of Daidō Moriyama  photographs of Shinjuku’s shadowy, labyrinthine streets and alleys exemplified in  Golden Gai with its visual grammar of holding the camera at an angle, caused blurring, captured hard contrasts and grainy shots suggesting urban anomie. However, airline luggage limitations meant that I could not buy any photography books.

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