This photograph was taken in early 2012 which was a time of experimentation of sorts, as after switching to a Leica, I was thoroughly enjoying the relatively unobtrusive nature of a compact camera system. It was also a time when elevator girls were a regular sight in Tokyo, and elevator girl was the actual job title. It still is in fact, as while considerably less common these days, the role persists — a sign in some respects of Japan’s slow progress when it comes to gender equality. Of course there are exceptions, such as the current governor of Tokyo, Koike Yuriko, but the higher floors remain unattainable for most women, and the roof a rarified realm deemed fit only for old men.
Several years have now passed since I first found it, but this old, dilapidated house with its long-closed shop continues to fascinate me. There’s just so much to marvel at. It has two broken vending machines, the remnants of the shop are there for all to see, and the house itself remains occupied — the unexpected sound of a radio playing upstairs being the giveaway on that initial visit.
Having walked passed many times since, there has always been a sign, or at least a sense, of someone still staying there. However, when wandering by again last week, I noticed that the upstairs windows had been boarded up, and the crumbling balcony covered with blue tarpaulin. Changes that suggested the building was now abandoned, possibly even set for demolition, so it seemed like the perfect time for a peek inside.
Some of the remaining stock was unexpected to say the least, and the old cash register is a real contraption, but the biggest surprise of all was an interruption from outside. Turns out the place is still lived in after all, as the owner had returned with some lunch. A scenario that quite rightly could have been awkward in the extreme, but as soon as he realised I was only taking photos, he was totally fine with it. In fact, he was amused by my very obvious interest, and happily told me the shop has been shut for 30 years or so. What amused him more than anything though was opening up the lone magazine on the ‘teen look’ shelf and declaring that the model must now be about my age.
Bicycles are an integral part of Tokyo life, and as such, there’s no shortage of bike shops. Some of them are large, others are quite fancy, but the vast majority remain old-style outfits run by similarly old men. Small, invariably cluttered places that are all interesting in their own way, but this one in particular reminded me of a quote from one of the best writers on Japan, the great, sadly late Alan Booth: “Isn’t it wonderful? It’s so ordinary.”
The area in the photos below is Tokyo’s Yoshiwara red light district. Well, officially the name isn’t in use anymore, but the same 17th century street layout still exists, as does the adult nature of the services on offer.
Relocated to the current site in 1657, the area has endured earthquakes and fires, plus countless thousands of young women who worked there over the centuries suffered indenture, disease and very often an early death. Many in fact died before they reached their 30s, and the ashes and spirits of a staggering 25,000 former residents are housed in a nearby temple — the vast majority of whom were deemed nothing more than unwanted bodies and unceremoniously dumped outside the gates.
Nowadays, of course, things are different, but while the name and a shocking disregard for human life are in the past, the main line of business is essentially still the same. To sidestep the law, however, it’s nearly all soapland these days. Rather comically named soapland at that. All of which made the sight of an elderly lady walking by with her freshly bought vegetables more than a little incongruous to say the least.
This old, slowly collapsing hairdressers has fascinated me for a long time, and these first two photos were taken just over three years ago.
Then, when passing last week, I was incredibly pleased to see the fella below sat outside having a quick canned coffee break. Photographs that further document the deterioration, as well as proving that excited responses aren’t always reciprocal.
Televisions remain an ever-present feature in the home and hotel room, but just like viewing habits, designs have changed enormously, and the TV sets below are a nice reminder of just how dramatic those changes have been. Taken over the space of 10 years or so, they were all shot in a variety of abandoned buildings, and while some are clearly more modern than others, all of them hark back to an era when millions of people sat, at set times, to watch specific programmes.