Japan: a year in pictures

by Ben D-T

Scramble Crossing, Shibuya.

I have lived in Japan for slightly more than a year now. Throughout that time, photography has increasingly become my main and most frequent hobby. I started shooting 35mm film a couple of years ago but only since getting to Japan have I taken it sersiously.

A crossing in Shinjuku, some time in early October 2019.

Over the past year it’s been my anchor. Something to focus on and stay consistent during this barely comprehensible year. It’s given me something to learn, something to get me out of the house, and something to spend a significant sum of money on. I now carry a camera with me everywhere I go.

Yakitori Alley, Shinjuku.

This article will serve as something of a mile marker, as a record of my first year in Japan, and as a collection of my favourite and best photos that I’ve taken over the past 12 months.

Taxis in Shibuya.
An inadvertadly blurred photo from Yoyogi Park.
Nighttime traffic, near Harajuku station.
Magome station, the one closest to my home.

The picture below is one I look at sometimes and remember a very specific, yet barely desribable feeling. It’s from the first time I walked down a specific road, only a couple days into being in Japan. Nowhere felt familiar yet, least of all this very long road. It’s strange remembering that now, because despite regularly going to new places with roads I’ve never been down before, there are places in this sprawling metropolis that I know like the back of my hand. It’s a feeling I can remember well, but I don’t often feel it much anymore.

A road, close-ish to Magome.

This building, specifically, has stuck in my mind from the first time I saw it. I believe it’s apartments, but it is complete mystery to me. It sticks out on this road, one I walk down fairly regularly, like the sorest of sore thumbs one could imagine. Every building on the road is grey or brown or black, save for this one very narrow, very yellow, very memorable one.

A building on my way to the gym, Higashimagome.
From atop a bridge just outside my house, Magome.
Akihabara.
A crossing (with a special guest in the background), Shinjuku.

Sometimes I see places I’ve been in a film or a TV show and it makes me pause and weigh up the reality with the depiction. A couple of weeks after taking the photograph below, during a wonderful late-autumn sunset, I saw these two precise buildings in a film at more or less the same perspective.

A memorable sunset, Shinjuku.
From within the Japanese Football Museum.

I cannot overstate how significant convenience stores are to living here. They are everywhere, have more or less everything you could want, and are open all day, everyday.

Lawson, one of the three major convenience store chains.

At the turn of the year, quite literally the first of January, my bestfriend and I took a brief trip to Sapporo in Japan’s most northerly-most island of Hokkaido.

One of the first and only selfie shots I’ve taken.
Mountains in Sapporo, Hokaido.
Waiting at a level crossing in Sapporo.
A man cooking at a new year festival.
A couple stood under a bell, atop a mountain in Sapporo.

Bikes are a big thing in Japan. When I first got here I noticed not many seemed to be locked to anything when left on the street. I’ve seen only a handful of bikes locked up in the past year, the rest all just sit on the side of the pavement or, soemtimes, in buildings.

I bought a role of Lomography Purple film towards the start of the year and it is still one of the most interesting, and most expensive, films I’ve shot. It was around this time I started shooting a lot of shots of those mirrors you see at blind corners.

A mirror, outside one of my favourite cafes.
A very grainy sunset, I walk past this spot twice a day on my way to and from work.
Yet another mirror.
A level crossing, something I enctounter suprisingly often.
A mirror again.
I don’t see fire engines all that often in Tokyo.

This next shot is one I was especially pleased with, I had it as my phone background for a few months.

A very tall block of flats just outisde a train station I use rarely.
From a platform at Yokohama Station.

The next shot is one of the last I took before the pandemic took hold and I had to go into lockdown.

An omonous looking window, very late at night.

It was at this point I bought my second camera. I’d been using my Canon A1 for over a year by this point, but it’s fairly heavy and cumbersome to carry around every day. So I bought a Nikon 35ti at great expense. I carry it every day now and used it exclusively for the first two months or so of owning it.

A police bike stopping an elderly couple in a car.
A roadsign, just outside the shopping mall where my school was.
A 7/11, featuring a woman with an umbrella on an extremely hot and sunny day.
The lights of conveniece stores are always very bright.
Police car lights are red here.
An atmospheric crossroads, very late at night.
A busy street, Harajuku.
A normally busy road, somewhat quitter than usual.

During the summer I started trying to venture out to more places, including Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It’s beautiful there, and it includes this incredible building.

A very old building, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
I spent a lovely afternoon sitting on the grass here, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.
This building has a really big clock on it.

I started taking a lot of pictures of skies around this time. Summer here is extremely hot and humid, and there reaches a point where you think it is never going to end. You see some wondeful blue skies for your trouble though.

A plane in the sky.
A sign in Shinjuku, on a gorgeous summer’s day.
Clouds reflected by a very shiny building.
I went through a phase of framing shots like this.
This is the top of a very old bell tower.
I never get tired of old roofs like these.
An old, unused billboard.

In September this year, I took a four day trip to Nagoya, a city in Central Japan about an hour and a half from Tokyo. It was only the second place I’d been outside of Tokyo while I’ve been here and it was nothing short of wonderful.

Nagoya Castle.
Nagoya Castle, again.

I spent a lot of my time in Nagoya walking around taking photos. I shot three whole rolls of film while I was there.

A worn down building on a quiet street.
A ray of sun between buildings in one of Nagoya’s busier areas.
I stumbled across this wall within an hour of getting to Nagoya Station.
This wall was quite difficult to frame.
Dolphins on a wall, somewhere in Nagoya.
I had to crouch down in the middle of a car park for this shot.

Nagoya has a very tall old television tower that’s nowadays used as a viewing platform to see the city. It was a place people would gather to socialise and relax in the evening. I went back a few times and on my final night went to the top to see the view.

The view from the top of a tower in Nagoya.
People playing table tennis beneath the tower.

And that was my first year in Japan, through my favourite photos I’ve taken. If you made it all the way to the end here I hope you saw at least one photo you liked. See you again in a year’s time.