LOCATION – NONBEI YOKOCHO, TOKYO
Shibuya in Tokyo is home to the world famous ‘busiest pedestrian crossing’, shiny glass and steel high-rise buildings, glamorous shops and department stores and business offices. But, hidden under all of this is one of the remnants of Tokyo’s old towns, the ramshackle street of Nonbei Yokocho or “Dunkards Alley”.
When Chris and I stayed in Tokyo we really wanted to stay in Shibuya, the proximity to the major station making it very easy to travel throughout the sprawling city and the incredible crossing which we knew would be amazing for photos. But researching the area, we came across this tiny little street – and it very much became a nightly favorite of ours before heading back to the hotel.
Best visited between 6pm and midnight, the little alleyways are tightly packed into every spare inch, above and below. If you don’t mind a little neighborly physical contact, many of the bars only seat 4-8 people squeezed onto a small serving bench, yokocho eateries and izakayas are fantastic locations for both great drinks and small bites of good, and of course, photos!
One of the most popular Okasan (‘mother’), is a bare bones joint that’s been serving hungry locals and visitors alike for three generations. This is such a great place to discover the less stuffy side of Japanese culture and people. It’s easy to strike up conversations and make new drinking buddies with business men and the colleges after a long day’s work.
I took a few camera’s here on different nights, both shooting film (Cinestill 800T) and also digital on my Leica M. I found these locations where a high speed lens came into its own. It’s impossible to set up tripods in these tightly packed locations, so fast glass really helps. I used both my 35mm Summilux f/1.4, but enjoyed the 50mm Noctilux f/1.0 even more as I was able to keep the ISO very low and play with the bokeh of the lights and lanterns in the background.
Overall, I found people very willing to be photographed in Japan. Often I would ask first, showing my camera if I wanted something more posed, but even shooting a little more incognito, when caught, a nod a smile always resulted in a friendly exchange. When shooting into the bar entrances, some you will find have no photo signage, which I totally respected.
Make sure to take the time to look up and all around you. There is so much detail, layers and layers of it! The wiring, the signage, the little paper lanterns, bits stuck on top over and overlaid over, it all makes the frame so interesting.
Japan, for me, is one of the best places I have ever visited. The food is amazing, the people are truly wonderful and the photography opportunities are endless (including the great camera stores!). I can’t wait to get back there for another trip.