Photoessay: Urban jungle, Tokyo

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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.

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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.

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Comments

  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): http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/04/the-psychological-cost-of-boring-buildings.html

    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 😐

  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.

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