Japan Is A Photographer’s Paradise.

Tokyo is such a frenetic place, but it’s peppered with parks and temples which offer a quiet meditation from the busy.
Shinagawa Station…What’s the rush?

There’s no place like Tokyo and the city remains one of my favorite places to photograph and just be. The Tokyo/Kyoto workshop had all ten of us passionate photographers enjoying the constant visual opportunities here—a contrast between chaos and calm; the constant sea of humanity 24/7.

Tokyo is such a frenetic place, but it’s peppered with parks and temples which offer a quiet meditation from the busy. My friend and workshop co-teacher Soichi Hayashi says it’s always a fine balance and it’s true, there is order in the chaos.

Shinjuku in multiple exposure

Our meditation is the balance between shooting and critique, where everyday we inspire each other with how different we all see and capture what we encounter, creating completely different images of all the same places we visit.

Our schedule is as non-stop as the city itself, but somehow we all manage to participate in the full itinerary, averaging between 15,000 to over 20,000 brisk steps a day— because we don’t want to miss a minute of this incredible place. 

We survive probably the most crowded train car any of us have ever been in, our 20 minute sardine ride from our base of Shinjuku to maybe the busiest train stop in the world, Shinigawa Station, where we capture the seemingly endless stream of salary men and women on their way to work. It’s kind of like peak rush hour on the New York City F train, only double it. 

In order to fuel our visual energy, we have not had anything that wasn’t spectacular when it comes to food here. Soichi has lived in Tokyo for 25 years and knows all the best spots, from the lightly fried deliciousness of pork filet Katsu to the cheap stand-up Sushi place which beats the best Japanese raw fish regardless of price, anywhere but here. 

There is no doubt our culinary experiences here have ruined us for eating Japanese food back home. (Same with going to the “traditional” Japanese auto-carwash toilet, but that’s another story).

I know that it’s not about the gear, but sue me for also being the camera geek that I am; I and many fellow geeks could not miss popping in to Yodabashi Camera, a skyrise of electronics and camera gear which is replicated all over Tokyo, each store bigger than the last one. B & H feels mom and pop by comparison. The only down side to a Yodabashi visit is it’s theme song, a version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which gets stuck in your head and won’t go away…  

As a Nikon shooter, it’s wonderful to have two Nikon Salons, where I can pop in and have my sensor, camera and lenses cleaned quick and inexpensively. I can also play with the latest Nikon gear and pick up some “only in Japan” Nikon accessories as well as be inspired by its  gallery. Other manufacturers have similar sanctuaries. 

The Relaxation of Speed

It was strange how relaxing traveling at near 300 km per hour can be on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Smooth, modern, bright and comfortable this sleek marvel of engineering condenses a 6 hour drive to only two hours and change. It’s an experience I will no doubt recall next I feel the stress of train travel back home. 

Mount Fuji at 300km per hour in slow motion.

When we arrived in Kyoto, a city of 1.5 million people, I immediately felt my blood pressure go down. It’s not that it’s not crowded, but there’s a definite slow-down from the faster pace of of the 35 million people in greaterTokyo.  It’s a much lower skyline filled with beautiful and traditional architecture. 

Photographer, friend and Kyoto native Fuyu Kashioka, who speaks near perfect English, helped shape our itinerary in Kyoto and offered us a rich history of her hometown with suggestions for making the photographic most of our short time here based on her experience as a local photographer. 

The Gion area, a well know spot where Geishas work and live, has been in the news lately with a photography ban instituted by a local resident group in certain privately owned areas. 

Signs warn you not to photograph or risk a 10,000-yen fine (about $100USD) enforced by police and security cameras in the area. It’s a casualty of rude behavior where too many tourists show up. Passionate photographers pay the visual price for the inconsiderate who came before us. The instagram-at-all-cost mentality is something we are seeing in over touristed areas around the world. Regardless, we were able to respectfully do our thing and get some great shots in the area, heeding the specific requests not to shoot when asked. 

In Japan, there are a few more cultural rules of etiquette for visitors to learn, including no tipping, not trying to open the automatic taxi doors on your own and no eating while walking. Oh, and definitely not bicycling while drunk which is publishable by a million-yen fine ($8000USD) and up to five years in prison. 

But we all showed respect. One of the reason’s it’s so great to visit and shoot in Japan is the feeling of order and security despite the constant crowds. We know Japan is safe and clean but participant Peter Simon’s experience showcased that.

He was photographing in the legal part of Gion when, in his excitement, he took off his hat and placed it on a flat surface to rest a lens while quickly swapping lenses. He then continued his shoot. Well of course,  Peter left the seen without his beloved Tilly hat, which at $170 (CDN) is no cheap head-cover. 

At the end of a long night, when he realized it was missing, we were far from that spot and exhausted after a record number of steps. The next day we had a full schedule and though we kind of felt it might still be there, we continued with our busy itinerary. The workshop wrapped and Peter stayed on. It was three days later when Peter was able to return to the scene of the hat-gone-missing. 

As so often is the case, the picture tells the story better than words. I don’t think anyone was surprised. This is Japan. 

Peter Simon’s hat by Peter Simon

The trip was so amazing I immediately said to Soichi, I want to come back. So we created a new and special Tokyo photobook-making workshop for March 2020. 

The workshop will be Tokyo-based and participants will work on a themed set of images in consultation with us workshop leaders to be included in a high quality, specially designed book. We have hired a photo-book designer and the last day of the workshop is reserved for final edits, sequencing, layout and design. Final printed versions will be shipped. 

With a maximum of 8 participants it will sell out fast, so book early!

Had Peter not gone back to get his hat, I would have gladly retrieved it for him when I’m back in Japan next March.  

Enjoy some of the student work from our recent Tokyo November 2019 Workshop…

More from Steve Simon
The Street Project
We all have a unique vision of the world and photography is...
Read More
Join the Conversation


Leave a reply!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. says: Rick Lewis

    Great post! I’m curious about lens choice for such a distant trip where baggage weight might be a real concern. Did you choose a select set of primes or go for a 24-70 and one fast prime?