Japan: another year in photos

by Ben D-T

Shibuya Crossing on Christmas night 2020 (the camera clock was incorrectly set a day ahead)

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote anything for this website: a summary of my favourite photography from my first year in Japan. I’ve just reached the end of my second, and the start of my third, year living in Japan. In that time I’ve taken many more photographs. This is less a list of the best photos, and more a telling of the story of my second year in Japan through the photos I took.

A building in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

One thing I’ve found myself doing a lot in the past year has been taking photographs of circular mirrors. Streets in Japan are full of these, at blind corners and the openings of driveways and car parks. Often I’ll use them to take one of those classic looking-through-the-lense selfies, or more often to capture a bright blue sky on a summer’s day.

One of the first photos I took on my newest camera.
Taken on a street close to where I live.
On a walk towards a beach.
Outside someone’s garage.
The sky was a deep blue this day.
A high up mirror.
A mirror in a convenience store.

The past year has, obiously, been framed by the context of COVID. One of the most memorable and persistent features has been the COVID denialists who occupy a regular spot outside Shibuya station. Anyone who’s been to Shibuya on any night in the past year will likely have seen them. Below is a photo of them on Christmas night last year.

After working Christmas day last year I met friends at Shibuya Crossing.

In December 2020 I moved out of the sharehouse I had lived in since arriving in Japan and into my own appartment. It was my first time living alone, without any other roomates or housemates since leaving home four years earlier. I moved to an area of Tokyo I’d never spent any time in before, so I spent quite some time walking around the nearby streets at first. One of the best things I stumbled across was an alcoholic vending machine barely a minute from my front door.

An acoholic vending machine, dispensing beers, whiskey highballs, vodka tonics, and Japanese sake.

Here’s a few photos from touristy places and things I’ve been to on weekends and holidays over the past year. I have’t been to all the things that I wanted too, COVID played some part in that, personal complacency played another part. But I’ve still seen and been to a great deal of things, and I try my best not forget how many opporunities there are in this incomprehensibly large city I live in.

From the top of Tokyo Skytree.
The visibility wasn’t ideal.
I was lucky enough to go to Kawaii Monster Cafe before it closed.
One of the few decent photos I took at Teamlab Borderless.
I placed a sticker on this globe.
I didn’t place a sticker here, but lots of other people did.
From an aquarium art exhibit, which was equal parts cool and weird.

One thing that’s shown up more in my photos over the past year is people. I’ve been in a relationship for just over 12 months and I have a small but close group of friends.

Taken on New Years Eve (the date was set wrong again) at my apartment.
My memories of this night are similarly blury.
Minutes before midnight.
Naka-Meguro park.

Once again I spent an enormous amount of time, and money, on trains over the last year. I now get four trains to work each way. I’ve taken a lot of photos waiting at train stations, and one or two on empty trains.

Nishi-Ogikubo Station, at golden hour.
Yamanote Line arriving at Shinjuku station.
A rare empty carriage, taken on the way home from work.

Just before my birthday this year I bought a new camera. A friend from work saw it being sold online, two weeks later had a second-hand Canon EOS55 for ¥7000 (approx. £50). The real draw of it came from the two zoom lenses included in the price, a 28-80mm and 75-300mm.

Taken from a bridge.
Two cyclists on a bridge.
In the background is the Olympic Village.
This guy was something like seven floors up.
Taken with the longer 75-300mm lense.

I’ve got a lot better at avoiding common mistakes and pitfalls in film photography. I no longer make the mistake of opening the back of the camera before winding back the film. But every now and again a do something wrong or stupid and ruin some or all of a roll. Here’s two just about salvagable photos from one such roll.

Looking down on Shinjuku station.
I was dissapointed the airplane shots got ruined.

Early in 2021 I went to watch Sumo again. It was my second time attending a day of one of the two week long tournaments that are held several times a year. While COVID made the atmosphere a little more muted this time around (socially distanced seating and a ban on alcohol) it was still excellent fun and something I would reccomend to literally anyone in Japan.

The first floor seats here are very expensive, my wallet could only stretch as far as the upper floor.
I was very jealous of these guys’ big lenses.
One of the best figths of the day.

At the start of this summer I climbed a mountain. During a weekend trip to Chiba I made it to the top of Mount Nokogiri, a tiring but not exhausting climb.

The train station about a fifteen minute walk from the foot of the mountain.
Picking up supplies at a 7-Eleven before heading up the mountain.
Coastal view at the top of the mountain.
On the way back down the mountain, the sun setting with Mount Fuji just about visible below.

Summer in Japan is hot, humid, and far more longer than the summers back in the UK. The days can be relentlessly hot and temperatures can stay high into the twenties well into the evening. Summer has also been the time I’ve taken the most photos over the past two years.

This day was a memorably humid one.
Minami-Machida Grandberry Park, where I used to work before my company moved me to a different school.
I don’t remember where this building was, but I remember it looked imposing with the sun setting behind it.
Taxi drivers outside Koenji Station.
A long side street near my house.
A view from a balcony in sleepy Saitama.
Taken from an elevated train station platform.
Oyamadai Sation level crossing, where I go every day for work.

Right towards the end of summer I took a trip to the beach. I went south to Kamakura, an hour and a half or so from where I live in Tokyo. The beach was very busy and not the cleanest I’ve ever been to, but it was still a good time.

Kamakura Yuigahama beach.
The sun setting the over the water.

I took some of my favourite photos during a trip to Tachikawa Park in Spring. Something about the light that day was just perfect. The sun was bright but low and cast long, reaching shadows and giving the everything a warm glow.

This man was doing maintanace on the vending machine.
The only tree in the middle of a large open space.
Peddalows on the lake.
This was my phone lock screen for a long time.

Some of the best photos I’ve seen other people take in Japan have been overhead shots of people or traffic. It’s something I’ve been trying to emulate when I see a chance.

People crossing a street, seen from a bridge.
Above the traffic lights on the bridge.
Below the bridge.

Tokyo in my mind is a night time city. When I think of it, it exists in a state of never ending midnight with bright lights giving it shape and life and motion. This is admittedly a narrow view of what Tokyo has to offer that misses out swathes of what makes it what it is, but you can’t ignore how this city looks at night.

Outside of a Bic Camera.
A train above an underpass.
A huge Donquijote.

It’s been a tremendously eventful year. Personally and proffessionally a lot has happened. I haven’t taken photos every day, I’ve even gone some weeks at a time where I shot no film at all. But again and again I’ve come back to photography as a way to escape when things are stressful and make stronger memories when I’m having a good time. I’ve learnt a lot of what to do, and a lot more of what not to do, and honestly I think I’ve got a bit better at taking photos. I’d even dare to say that it’s something I’m quite good at now. I’m having a great time taking photos at the moment. I wonder how I’ll feel in a year’s time…I suppose we’ll find out. See you then.

Me.