Photoessay: A Japanese puzzle

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The precision with which Japanese cities come together has always felt like akin to a puzzle with a thousand architects – though things appear chaotic at first, there is a sense of underlying deliberation and precision probably borne from just how clean each individual element tends to be, and how neatly it slots into place whilst respecting the space of its surrounding neighbours. Perhaps it is a metaphor for Japanese society in a nutshell – which makes sense, given cities are a reflection of their inhabitants (and unfortunately this isn’t always a good thing). I have always been drawn to wimmelbild-type scenes like this in any city as they feel to capture a good sense of the essence and mood of a city without resorting to using distinctive landmarks for identification – if done well, you should know where you are without having to search for street signs… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120VR and processed with Photoshop Workflow III – the images predate the custom presets, though these would have worked fine, too.

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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


  1. Håkan Lindgren says:

    Tokyo … I wish I could go there some day!

    Someone (I don’t remember who) has said, that when you watch Tokyo from the 23rd floor, the city looks like a chaotic mess. The streets are like spaghetti thrown at a wall. On street level, on the other hand, everything is clean, orderly, well-functioning. New York looks like a perfect grid from above, but at street level it’s dirty and chaotic …

  2. Hi Ming, interesting to see that you used the
    D850 instead of the Z7. Are there still advantages
    to shoot the old style?

  3. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Interesting architecture contaminated by a chaos of shop signs – like in many other big cities, except that the architecture is too often much less interesting.

    Unless you picked the highlights? 🙂 .
    But your introduction suggests you didn’t.

    To mix styles well and to avoid boring buildings is (as you know..) not common practice here in “the west”.

    ( If I liked living in towns, I’d probably enjoy living in a place like this, but I prefer to have both town and landscape within easy reach.)
    – – –

    I’m certainly enjoying all your photos,
    and especially the last one,
    which, I guess, is why you put it there!
    Also the last “landscape” one!

    • My Japanese definitely isn’t good enough to let me pick the highlights…! 🙂

      Actually, the inorganic is so chaotic it often feels much like a landscape…

  4. That’s an interesting metapor you’re using with a true wisdom! With that in mind, the photos you’re presenting make me more curious about the inhabitants of the Japanse cities, without seeing them. Well done!

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