Un-street Street Photography: Tokyo’s Neglected Ordinary


Like many teenagers, my first introduction to Tokyo was through Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA. I watched and rewatched Tetsuo and Kaneda’s motorbike chase scene through Neo Tokyo’s narrow alleyways and towering skyscrapers. When I finally visited Tokyo for real in 2003, this is the city I wanted to see: dark, mad, futuristic, alive. A place that seemed a million miles from my small hometown in Northern Ireland.

Thirteen years on, however, and the Tokyo that interests me now is very different from the neon fairy tale I once daydreamed about. These days, I spend the majority of my time hanging out in small suburban areas, away from the crowds, away from the skyscrapers. I prefer early morning to late at night. I can count on one hand the amount of times in the last few months I have bothered venturing into densely populated areas such as Shinjuku or Shibuya. I guess this is called getting older? Who knows.

Around three years ago I was very much into documenting Tokyo street art – especially the sticker bombing scene that is still thriving in the city. (I wrote a bit about it for Tokyo Art Beat here.) However, I feel there are just so many people taking pictures of this kind of stuff that it has become somewhat diluted. For me, the ‘cool’ side of Tokyo isn’t in its urban ‘street’ scenes, but in the simple things that we walk past every day: the half-closed shutter; the bicycle that has been left out to rust; the empty sake bottles sitting outside a house. This is what Tokyo means to me.

There’s a nice soundscape blog that I check out from time to time called World Listener – a field recordings site based in Tokyo. It aims to showcase what it refers to as the ‘Neglected Ordinary’, a phrase I love, which sums up what I am talking about. This neglected ordinary is what makes Tokyo what it is, and why I like it so much. These photos I took all around Setagaya-ku.


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  1. Kane

    But oh. These images leave me with such a deep sense of melancholy, as though I’m looking through the last moments of what was once a beautiful relationship.

  2. I can definitely relate to that. Another person on the Ikimasho Facebook feed wrote that “the photos reflect the reality of Japan: wistfully ageing and quietly resilient.” So there is an underlying sense of melancholy for sure.

  3. Beautiful. Japan sort of does have the above mentioned melancholic air about it. I also very much enjoyed the referenced soundscape website. Thanks!

  4. I love these photos. When I visited Japan last year I took so many photos of regular street scenes like this- it’s just what interests me. I guess I did the same when I was living in Beijing too. I just find the “regular’ stuff really interesting, especially in East Asia.

  5. Yes, it’s what keeps me here – the regular day-to-day stuff is what I most enjoy now. I still have not been to China! Did you like it?

  6. Yes, I did. After two years I was ready to leave but I thought it was beautiful and fascinating. The 2nd year we lived in an old hutong house in Beijing which was a a really great experience. I bet you would love wandering round the hutong areas (the old alleyways) taking photos in Beijing. I also really liked travelling in the far, western parts and around the Tibetan areas. I hope you go! It is so different from Japan as well. Much more chaotic!

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