This June I’ve been finally back to Japan for an assignment. I organized my trip making sure I could have enough free time to shoot pictures for my Street Photography Portfolio. I took with me justs one camera and one lens.
I have chosen to take with me my Leica M-P and the Summicron-M 35mm f/2.
The Leica Q was not avaiable yet otherwise I would have brought both.
I’ve been to Japan before for other assignments but this was the first time that I was able to shoot on the street of one of my favourite cities in the world. The first day I’ve been shooting nearly all day in studio so there was no possibility to go shoot some street pictures in ambient light cause it was nearly dark when I got the chance to take my M and go for a walk.
Anyway walking without shooting is still a nice way to start to understand what to do the next days. My hotel was in Shinjuku so I spent my first evening in Golden Gai, a small area of Shinjuku that is an architectural wonder and where you can enjoy a very cool nightlife. Hundreds of very little bars and restaurants filled by all kind of different people. Golden Gai is tiny fragment of old Tokyo that has miraculously survived to the second world war.
Few minutes before heading for dinner we felt a quite strong earthquake stroke our 12th floor hotel room. By the time me and my girlfriend and studio partner reached the lobby we were quite in a bit of shock.
But we soon learned that we were the only ones being shocked in the whole Hotel. When we told the woman at the reception “There was an earthquake, the building was first shaking and then moving like crazy” she looked at us with respect and told us with a very calm voice “Yes I know”
That was it. So we learned shaking a bit how japanese are used to it and that an earthquake that in Rome would have been on every mouth for weeks in Tokyo was already forgotten just a few minutes later. Anyway we asked for a room on the first floor. You never know.
The next morning I was ready with my Leica M and my sneakers to start my walk in Tokyo. You cannot approach a Tokyo map without a real sense of scale. What may look “near” in Tokyo could easily be two hours walk away.
This city is so big that what they call a district could easily be a big city in another country. In this huge metropolis millions of people walk on the street mainly focusing on their mobile phones.
I hate to take portraits or candid moments of people using Facebook but in Tokyo is really hard not to. And anyway if you want to portrait another culture probably you cannot avoid to document something that has become more than an habit. Everybody totally unaware of the other people around them. Even people sleeping on the park benches fell asleep with the mobile in their hands.
I really wanted to know the city a bit better so I walked as much as I could between districs trying to avoid the super underground because I wanted to discover a different Tokyo than the most common spot I was used to visit when I came in the past.
The weather was good for nearly the whole week but still there were umbrella’s everywhere. The Japanese unlike the Italians do not like the feeling of the hot sun on their skin. That was cool anyway because while I hate mobile phones in my pictures, I do love very much the umbrellas.
I walked across several zones and districts such as Akihabara (I’m an italian nerd with a strong otaku dna so I could not avoid the hitech, anime, manga, retrogames district), Asakusa, Shibuya, Ginza, Harajuku, Kabukicho, Roppongi, Shiba, Ueno and so on. Trying to concentrate on the pictures was not easy since everywhere in tokyo there is a shop or a coffeshop or a manga shop to look at.
I forced myself not to buy anything until the very last day because I wanted to walk shooting as light as I could. There is no reason to choose a light camera to work with and then fill you bag with Mangas. You may wonder if I can read or speak japanese and the answer is no. But some of the comics I have in Rome translated in their Italian version do not share the same aura of charm of their original japanese versions.
Since I don’t like to keep my camera on the neck for ours I took with me my Black Rapid Classic RS-4. With my Leica M I normally work in zone focus so the camera was always with an f8 aperture with the sensor’s sensibility between 800 and 1600 Iso. The camera was on Aperture or Manual mode depending on how much I felt the camera was able to understand the scene.
But when I wanted to be sure about the exposure I was quite often shooting the sidewalks to evaluate everytime the light was changing. That’s something I do quite often and is my favourite technique to expose the pictures. And since I always keep every image I shot I think I have one of the greatets sidewalks collection on the planet.
Everybody said that Japanese people are very gentle and that Tokyo is an easy city where to take pictures of people. I must admit that didn’t have any problem to take portraits or to ask people for a picture.
What amazed me is that quite often it was an exchange since many people I asked for a portrait took off their bags a small camera or the mobile and asked me the favor back. It was funny to pose for them and who knows, maybe among them is a famous portraitist.
Lunch and dinners were the only avaiable break but also some of the most enjoyable times of the day. Because even if I still think that Italian cousine is still the best, Japanese is strong on my second place.
I tried everything discovering some new and amazing dishes but what I could not live without was a double portions of Ramen. I must admit that I’m a Ramen addict and that there is no cure for my illness. I’ll live with it.
Some photography enthusiasts have stopped me on the street because they recognized my leica M and wanted to chat about it. Some of them were not speaking english but as Street Photography has teached us a couple of smiles and pats on the shoulder helps people get to enjoy the time spent together.
Honestly everytime somebody was pointing my camera I was thinking that maybe was the guy at Tokyo Camera Style but I wasn’t lucky :)
I visited nearly all the cameras shops suggested by Japan Camera Hunter. If you go to Tokyo and you are a camera porn addict those shops are your place. To find all of them, and many more resources, I followed a friend’s suggestion that pointed me to a company that let you rent a mobile wifi router online and find it at your hotel when you check in.
It was very useful because I was able to use my google maps on my phone all the time to find streets and locations very easily. As I said, Tokyo could be overwhelming and being able to check an interactive maps all the way made my walks much easier.
Of course I made a stop at the beautiful Tokyo Leica boutique in Ginza.
Shibuya Crossing was of course one of my destinations. When you take street pics for a while you start to discover patterns in your pictures. People sleeping, people reading, Old people vs Young people, funny dogs, People with interesting faces and many many mores.
One of my long list of patterns are people dressed with stripes crossing the street or just near the crosslines. I wasn’t able to catch any of that and I was a bit frustrated so I decided to take a break and get a Starbuck’s Coffee that has a shop just over the Shibuya Crossing. I could not make a luckiest choice :)
Two days before leaving we were able to have dinner with a very long time italian friend that is now living in Japan since 1996. His name is Roberto Ferrari and he is working as a Character Designer for Square Enix. Together with Tetsuya Nomura he is the main character designer of the Final Fantasy VII remake.
We met him under the Square Enix building and after a fast trip to Square shop (where I bought the Bravely Second Art Book) we went to a special resturant were I had the best dinner in Japan I could remember. I wasn’t aware that prawns could grow so big and when cooked the japanese way so incredibly tasty. That place name is Katsukichi (かつ吉).
Last day we visited the city parks, enjoyed the Rockabilly performing at the Yoyogi Park and then did some shopping. I was able to find a nice computer from the 90s, a glorious Panasonic FS-A1WSX MSX2+ boxed and in good general condition. This will fit very well with retrocomputer collection :)
Shooting in Tokyo was fun. And I feel like that I would love to come back there for more. I think is going to happen sooner or later. Maybe organizing a Street Photography Workshop in Tokyo :)
If you are curious to see all my Tokyo pictures click on this link: Tokyo Street Photography