The first photograph was taken over 12 months ago. It was quiet then, and it clearly has been for many years — the one-time shopping element of the street having long since gone. Nowadays, it’s almost entirely dated little karaoke bars, and the faint warbling of the generally older men who frequent such establishments can usually be heard. Tokyo’s virus-related and seemingly endless state of emergencies, however, have sadly changed even that, as none of the places were open when I took the second photo just recently. That said, with the number of vaccinated rapidly increasing, and infections seemingly under control, the suitably melancholy sound of enka will hopefully return once again.
Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve been putting together before and after photos of traditional old Tokyo homes, bars and little businesses that have sadly been demolished. Places full of stories that have now gone forever, plus in most cases the end result is like the buildings never even existed at all.
All that said, such changes aren’t unusual, and it’s probably fair to say that one shouldn’t get overly sentimental, but of late, the pace of destruction does seem to have quickened. The photos below, for example, were all taken in just the last few weeks.
Of course, whether deemed good or bad, new structures almost always replace the old ones, but for a short while at least, it’s often possible to see freshly exposed walls and buildings that very likely haven’t seen proper daylight in decades. Like scenes from the past suddenly thrust into a very uncertain future.
A small glimpse of how Tokyo was, and increasingly how so much of it now is. Something I couldn’t help but marvel at — the colours, the corrugated panels, and of course the contrast. Having seen it all and more before, however, the owner of the house was clearly happy to just enjoy the growth of her potted plants rather than worry about the similarly spreading concrete that surrounds them.
This old Tokyo off-license has fascinated me for years. From the signs to the crates to the suitably askew awning — there’s just so much to like and take in. The trouble was, the shutters were almost always down, and even when they weren’t, there was never anybody about. Until last week that is, when the owner finally appeared, and with his retro helmet, traditional apron and trusty Honda Super Cub, it was all suddenly well worth the long wait.
Over the last few years I’ve had the good fortune to photograph several abandoned mountain settlements not that far from Tokyo. There was this surprisingly large collection of houses and buildings, some remarkably intact homes of former forestry workers, and the crumbling structures of a long-empty hamlet.
This latest find doesn’t contain quite as many personal items as the others, but what it lacks in old photos and possessions, it makes up for in atmosphere. The late August heat and humidity meant there was no shortage of greenery, but at the same time the foliage blocked out a lot of the summer sun to create a suitably fitting half-light of sorts.
There are also enough houses and decay to offer intriguing hints about the lives once lived there, and indeed how long it has been since the last resident left. A slowly disappearing time capsule that is very much of a particular period and place, and yet there’s also a distinctly universal element at play as well, evoking as it does those ever-present human preoccupations of impermanence and the relentless passage of time.