As with everything else, Covid-19 did its best to mess up my Tokyo travel plans. I was going there to see the mighty New Order, but they’d cancelled a week previously after Japan banned all public gatherings for two weeks to try to halt the spread of the virus. ‘Regret’ indeed. But I’d booked a non-refundable flight and a hotel with an onsen and so, not being particularly afraid of catching a cold, I decided to go anyway, and following a mostly empty flight from Don Mueang, I found myself at an equally quiet Narita Airport on Saturday morning.
One thing that thankfully wasn’t cancelled was the street photography experience I’d booked with local photographer Yusuke Nagata, founder of Tokyo Street Photography Club. Yusuke started organising tours/workshops for visiting photographers via Airbnb Experiences a few months back and so, as someone who hasn’t done much in the way of ‘pure’ street photography (mostly documentary & street portraits) I was looking forward to the experience.
And so I found myself by the Hachiko statue in Shibuya at 11am on Sunday morning, having negotiated my way around the station which, like most public buildings in Tokyo at the moment, is undergoing a cleanup for the Olympics, even though they may not actually happen. I met up with Yusuke and we headed to a cafe to go through the programme for the day, and for me to hand over some face masks & hand sanitiser which are currently impossible to buy in Tokyo. Nourished by a fresh pot of Earl Grey, we headed off into the crowds of Shibuya to begin the tour.
Yusuke takes a fun, kind of gamified approach to street photography tours, with each 30-minute period holding a different challenge (close-up shooting, shadows & silhouettes, coincidences, reflections etc), and within an hour I was already getting the kind of shots I’ve always wanted but had never quite been able to pull off, thanks to Yusuke’s mental shot list.
Shooting people is easier in Tokyo than in other cities. Whilst people aren’t quite as open and friendly as Bangkokians, noone really objects to being photographed; they either smile or, if they’re not into it, turn their faces away. There’s no hostility, just friendliness at best, stoicism at worse. As Yusuke says, “Japanese people are crazy about photography so people are used to having cameras pointed at them.”
We wandered from Shibuya to Harajuku, an area I’ve never found particularly interesting but which today was suddenly full of photo opportunities I’d previously have missed, and then finished at another cafe to review each other’s shots. I’d say I learned more about photography in these five hours than I had in the previous five months or so and it was well worth the money.
Being Japanese, Yusuke wouldn’t accept a tip, so we headed off to Shinjuku for a few craft beers instead. I wanted to visit a few galleries and exhibitions during my stay so Yusuke made a few recommendations, but when we Googled them every single one of them was closed due to the virus. “There is nothing to do but take photos and drink beer!” Yusuke said. Which, frankly, sounds like the perfect holiday to me.