It’s easy to think you know Tokyo really well. At least certain parts of it, anyway. But the city has a wonderful habit of conjuring up surprises when you least expect it. Like the lovely old bicycle shop below, which happened to be just round a corner that for some reason or other I’d never taken before.
The vast majority of my photos tend to be taken in the older, eastern areas of Tokyo. Places that in many respects are a world away from the usual image of the city, and yet at the same time they are just as much (if indeed not more) a part of the capital as the bright lights and bustling streets it’s more famous for. The one exception, however, has been Shinjuku. An area that despite its changes and my shifting interests, has remained a firm favourite.
Being a popular entertainment hub, Shinjuku has no shortage of fancy shops and the like, but there’s also so much more. It’s intimate as well as crowded, rough and ready but also refined, plus more than anything, it’s simply interesting, with similarly interesting people. A location that has also been more on my mind of late, as the photobook my friend Giovanni and I recently released (now available to buy here), contains half a dozen photos I took there over the years. Hence this post with those six pictures included.
The book is a visual conversation, so the images were chosen as a response to the previous photo rather than simply picking out some favourites like I’ve done here. The former was often incredibly difficult, but somewhat surprisingly, so was whittling down a set from the many Shinjuku pictures I have. Below then are the ones I settled on. Some inclusions I’ll no doubt question the moment this is posted, along with likely failing to understand why I left one or two others out. But either way, as a whole I still feel they represent a part of Tokyo that has changed enormously, and yet at the same time has barely changed at all.
The stark contrast of a little bar or business that has become a car park is always shocking, but the transition from a home to merely an empty building is no less moving. In fact it probably has even more impact, as it’s the cycle of life made tangible rather than something that’s mostly tucked away in the back of our minds.
Kinugawa Onsen a few hours north of Tokyo is in many ways the perfect symbol of Japan’s numerous old resort towns. Faded, down-at-heel places whose best days are long gone and slow decline is now the harsh and very visible reality.
Coming of age as it were during the mass tourism boom of the 1950s and 60s, the success of those times in many ways led to Kinugawa’s subsequent downfall, as it resulted in more, and ever bigger hotels, culminating in the construction madness of the bubble years. The inevitable bursting of said bubble in the early 90s, however, promptly put an end to such developments, and the area’s visitor numbers peaked around the same time. Since then it’s been a gradual spiral downwards, both in popularity and appearance.
Understandably there’s now a concerted effort to demolish the many hotels that fell foul of changing times and trends, but the damage can’t be so easily undone, as whatever beauty the river and surrounding landscape once possessed has long since been lost. Local businesses have also suffered, with many now no more, as the former white-walled behemoths that dominate the town catered to their customers’ every need, meaning guests didn’t have to leave the premises.
Several decades after its peak then, here are some photos of Kinugawa Onsen at the end of 2022. A fascinating place in so many ways, but none of them are what the money men would have hoped for when they set out about changing it all those years ago.