Tokyo from the Outside

“Japan: In and Out” examines Japan through two lenses: stories from a local and his family, and stories from a foreigner lost in a crowd. I want to share with you my contribution to this exhibit, stories of distance, isolation, and loneliness.


Tokyo from the Outside

There is no place like Tokyo to remind you that, even in (or especially in) a tightly-packed crowd, one can find solitude. With my contribution to the exhibition “Japan: In and Out”, I explore stories of distance, isolation, and loneliness in Tokyo from the perspective of a Western tourist.

Take it, just take it

Honestly, I don’t care, take it or don’t. This is my job. I hold the candidate’s flyer in front of you, and pull it out of your way at the last minute. You’re not going to take it. No one takes it. You’re too stuck in your own head, you’re too apathetic to participate in this process, you’re in too much of a hurry. Whatever.

Tax free store.

Behold my neon majesty, lighting the streets for fifty years, guiding commuters like you pouring out of the west exit of the station into my warm, fluorescent embrace. Eight floors of quality electronic goods, reasonably priced. You and I both know the only salve is that feeling of buying a new camera.

Celebration on Nakamise-dori.

The crowds have arrived to celebrate the new year, to buy gifts for friends, colleagues, family: soy sauce crackers and rock sugar candy and charms that dangle off your phone. The crowd jostles. The crowd flows. The crowd tries to take me with it. I could allow myself to be swept up, but I must swim to the bank, stand aside, watch.

Two wheels and nowhere to be.

Saturday morning, nice weather, everyone else is out. It started as a head cold, quickly became something more. I am stuck here, again, watching others, living vicarious vignettes of passing strangers.

Lunchtime constitutional.

It is cold today, our bench is just ahead, the bench where we will soon sit and savor the warm broth of our fish cake stew as we talk of the coming weekend, and plan the afternoon’s work, and simply be in the moment, the only people in the world, basking in the scent of sweet radish and spicy mustard.


Done. Shift is over, tired of people, ready to crash. Train station is so far away. Too many people to push through. Haven’t eaten, need something now. Detour for food. Somewhere I can eat alone, slurp some noodles in peace, recharge enough to get me home. Rage walk to ramen.

Standing before power.

Here, the main gate to the imperial palace. Much beyond, a mystery to most. Certainly a mystery to me. Cicadas and the shouts of mock sword fights call out in the distance. I am small here, but that smallness is a comfort, I have a place.


This is chill, watching the steel balls spill through my machine. Chill and also absorbing. Although I have yet to notice, at this hour only I am here, only I still hold a heavy tray laden with stainless steel, there is no need to leave, the electric cacophony is my own personal soundtrack.

Selecting apero.

She doesn’t know. How could she know? Does she know? How clueless can she be? How long has it been since I was where she is now? How long since he walked with me like that? He can’t have changed. Surely. Surely.

Intimate espetada.

The best izakaya have only a few seats arranged around a small grill. Hovering over the smoking charcoal I pass this evening as I pass every evening, in the intimate company of strangers, preparing skewers of chicken, the only fixed point in this small space. I focus on my craft, the perfection of the salt and the char, and let the people drift through like a dream.

Handbags for sale.

Late Thursday evening. The commuter rush through the station-slash-department store is ebbing. Not a single one cares to buy let alone browse our collection of designer bags and shoes. Fuck, I’m bored. But, decorum—not to mention my job description—requires I remain at attention, just in case.

These photos are my contribution to the current exhibit “Japan: In and Out” currently on display at Vintage Dream Cameras in Lisboa Portugal. They were captured on film and optically printed on 40cm x 50cm Ilford glossy silver-gelatin paper. And they are for sale—inquire with Vintage Dream Cameras.

It goes without saying, but the vignette attached to each photo is entirely fictional.

Equipment used: Pentax MX, Pentax ME Super, Mamiya RB67 cameras. Ilford FP4+ and Kodak TMax P3200 films.