Japan IV - Street

Somewhere between Kappabashi-dori and Asakusa, Tokyo

Somewhere between Kappabashi-dori and Asakusa, Tokyo

I'm honestly a little conflicted about street photography. When done well it can be amazing, but I really don't hold with the more aggressive form that seems to dominate today. Give the humour and sympathy of the past masters every time. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, what do I like to shoot. Well - it's really more photos of streets rather than people. I like discovering the ordinary and the beauty of the everyday, and then (I hope) sharing that.

Astroboy, Shibuya

Astroboy, Shibuya

Dinosaur, somewhere near Kappabashi-dori, Tokyo

Dinosaur, somewhere near Kappabashi-dori, Tokyo

Occasionally people do sneak in, but they are generally secondary to the little detail I have just spotted. One of the things I love about Japan is the street art reflects the local culture...such as Astroboy...or can be downright odd (and still include dinosaurs - I am assuming this is not Gojira given the pterodactyl).

Elf, somewhere in Japan

Elf, somewhere in Japan

Vehicles play a part in my enjoyment of walking around Japan as well. Due to the narrow streets in many parts of the cities you tend to see small commercial vehicles, but still with some familiarity (after all what van driver doesn't like a swig during the day?). I do enjoy the fact that the vans seem to be beautifully looked after, generally with a lot of chrome.

Taxi, Fukuoka

Taxi, Fukuoka

The uniformity of vehicle is noticeable as well. Pretty much all taxis I have ever seen in Japan stick to the same formula. A Toyota Crown or similar, some kind of antimacassar on the seats, a driver with gloves...the variation comes in the livery (although it is often black) and the wonderful signs on the roofs of the cabs. I have a little photobook called Tokyo Taxi which showcases those signs and the taxis in general.

Somewhere near Takachiho, Kyushu

Somewhere near Takachiho, Kyushu

Somewhere near Takachiho, Kyushu

Somewhere near Takachiho, Kyushu

As we escaped from the cities into the countryside in Kyushu, the landscape of the street changed, I guess not surprisingly. Buildings began to be more utilitarian, and the signs of use became more obvious (as well as the signs of the rain). Some aspects remained familiar, throughout Japan you find that the locals and many tourists use clear umbrellas. In part, this is because they are universally available at convenience stores (at very low cost) but I am not convinced that is the only reason. Rather, I think this is another great example of Japanese culture - the umbrellas are clear so the user can see others and ensure they don't inconvenience them. 

Vending machines, Kyoto

Vending machines, Kyoto

You also see a lot of people wearing traditional dress whilst on the street, which can be a little odd when folks cluster around shops, vending machines and the like. In places like Kyoto, I am pretty convinced that a large proportion of the folk in traditional dress are visitors, trying to evoke the atmosphere of old Kyoto. Regardless, its enjoyable to see folks tottering along in geta (wooden sandals), although personally I wouldn't want to be doing that in the wet.

Kitty-chan keeping us all safe, Fukuoka

Kitty-chan keeping us all safe, Fukuoka

I also very much enjoy seeing the everyday objects transformed into something kawaii. You see dustbins that are shaped like frogs or penguins, and the ever-popular characters used in all sorts of odd places. This phenomenon is known as "Zakka", at least when the object concerned is transformed beyond the utilitarian into something laden with meaning.

Ikebukuro nightscape

Ikebukuro nightscape

Ikebukuro nightscape

Ikebukuro nightscape

Ikebukuro nightscape

Ikebukuro nightscape

Ultimately though, the pleasure of walking the streets is that you can be sure that something both familiar and unusual will be just around the corner. At night, attention is dragged in all sorts of directions by the signs, lights and sounds.

Ueno, somewhere near the station

Ueno, somewhere near the station

Bus stop, Kumamoto

Bus stop, Kumamoto

Whilst during the day you can be distracted by overpasses, or bus stops...

Tokyo Skytree, from somewhere near Asakusa

Tokyo Skytree, from somewhere near Asakusa

...or just the sight of the Tokyo Skytree, looming ominously in the distance.

As always, films were developed and scanned by Canadian Film Lab, and we made with a Leica on Kodak Portra.