Photoessay: Urban jungle, Tokyo

_Q116_L1070562 copy

One of the things that I think strikes every visitor to Tokyo is the sheer density of the place: no space is wasted, and every single available nook and cranny fully utilised – and then some. I find this makes for a very chaotic appearance on the surface – and of course a huge number of quasi-abstract photographic opportunities – but with a little more contemplation some underlying semblance of order begins to poke through – you can almost see what they were thinking when they built bits of the city.

_5501543 copy

There are two aspects to this I find notable, though: firstly, little aesthetic consideration is given when new additions are made most of the time; they are assumed to exist in their own world. One would think that if each newest addition was designed to be harmonious with what already exists, we’d get something a little more holistic and harmonious. Secondly, it struck me that the overall effect is not dissimilar to a lot of other Japanese art, which perhaps says something about the underlying psyche of the culture: there’s a surface chaos, but with some order underneath. I notice it in ikebana and Japanese street photography especially: compositions may initially appear very random and haphazard, but if you try to replicate them – you’ll find it very difficult to do so. What is apparently accidental is not, and the consistency of is a testament to that. I’ve attempted to replicate that here: you’ll note the style, scale, angle and quality of light is not consistent between images, and there appears to be no logical flow between them, but I believe they do work together as a whole in a chaotic sort of way 🙂 MT

This series was shot with a Leica Q, Sony A7RII and Nikon D5500 and post processed with a mixture of the Cinematic Workflow from Making Outstanding Images EP.5, and PS Workflow II.

_Q116_L1060809 copy

_Q116_L1070321 copy

_Q116_L1060967 copy

_Q116_L1070054 copy

_7R2_DSC3469 copy

_Q116_L1080467 copy

_Q116_L1070294 copy

_Q116_L1080427 copy

_Q116_L1080528 copy


The Singapore Architectural Masterclass from 1-7 July 2016 is now open for booking. Click here for more details and to book.


Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop and Photoshop Workflow videos and the customized Email School of Photography. You can also support the site by purchasing from B&H and Amazon – thanks!

We are also on Facebook and there is a curated reader Flickr pool.

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Great series. The woman with the umbrella is quintessential Japan. It’s obviously much changed since I lived there late 60s/early 70s, but the subtle beauty one finds in Japan is just mesmerizing! I want to go back!

  2. Reading an article today on the psychological effects of architecture made me think of this post (and much of your urban work more generally):

    Living in a section of Manhattan that I’ve seen massively whitewashed over the last decade with local businesses priced out for endless waves of banks and pharmacies, that kind of chaos and texture sounds sublime.

    • Texture is a very good word to describe it – somehow most new structures/ areas lack that; it’s as though you can’t look too close before things start to fall apart. The same is definitely true in modern parts of Malaysia – finishing and detailing are pretty much absent, and though minimalism appears to be the dominant motif at the macro level – it really falls apart when you look closely.

  3. I’ve lived in Tokyo for more than twenty years and if there is something I’d like to add to the conversation it is this, the piece of land a Japanese owns is theirs and completely theirs, no one will tell them what they can do with it. Well, it is very rare that someone will try. Japan is said to be a homogeneous society as well as a conformist one, with the exception of their homes. Their houses are one of the few things where they are allowed complete freedom of expression. Want a house that looks like a Christmas tree? You can find it in Tokyo. Want a house that sticks out like sore thumb in your neighborhood? It’s no problem in Tokyo. It’s a town where anything goes. I’m not saying whether it is a good thing, or not as it doesn’t worry me. It is just how I see it.

  4. This is a fine set. I would very much like to see more of your Tokyo photos. Never been there, but this is close to how I have imagined the city.

  5. The penultimate photo of tangled cables could have been taken in Taipei. EXIF shows the original picture was taken at 15:15 hr of the day. The lights were all on. A gloomy November afternoon?

  6. Do you have links of interesting ikebana and Japanese street photography to hand? I’m curious to see how this series compares.

  7. Cool photos! The last one of the train’s operating room, is it a real train? the technology looks very old 😐

    • Thanks – yes, it’s a current train…

    • Makoto Smith says:

      >the technology looks very old😐
      Yet, it is the best working train system on Earth. 🙂

      • rjllane says:

        I could not pass by without noting and commending you for capitalizing the letter “E” in Earth. It is the correct way to spell our planet, and something that is rarely observed. Thank-you.

        If old technology is observed to be in everyday use, it is invariably of the highest standard – or it would not have survived so long.

        🙂 … MomentsForZen (Richard)

  8. hello sifu,
    great set as always, you bring out the best in the mundane.
    no 7’s hakutsuru (‘white crane’) billboard caught my attention, their sake is pretty good stuff at affordable prices.
    perhaps ‘waking up to hakutsuru’ a good title for this one? 😉
    question, how did you manage to be in the train’s control room in the last photo?
    happy holidays.
    cheers, ken.

%d bloggers like this: