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EXTREME STREET PHOTOGRAPHY - V
Are there places were street photography is impossible? Are there countries easier than others, or harder than others? How is it street shooting like in exotic places, or places you never visited, places that are completely different from what you are used to? I asked a few street photographers around the world to share with us their experiences.
Japan is a fascinating country with an unusual mix of the traditional and modern. It's a magical place filled with anime, cosplayers, samurai, sushi, and all the strangest things imaginable. Wrong! Well, not really, but this is just the cliché, outer covering. When newcomers just scratch the surface of this country, this cliché is all they find. But, in reality, Japan is a place like any other: full of human beings who have normal lives with all their little dramas and idiosyncrasies. To capture the real people of this country, in all of their diversity, it's necessary to keep your eyes and your mind open.
First, the cliché
Since I have spent most of my 5 years in Japan living in the Tokyo metropolis, I will focus on this city. Tokyo is filled with all of the things you expect of Japan, and more! In Shinjuku: go to Kabukicho and see 'cabaret' girls, the robot bar, get wrangled into strip clubs and hostess bars. In Shibuya: explore the cozy red light district, shoot school girls while they buy goofy goods at Don Quixote, cross the busiest intersection in the world. In Harajuku: see the cosplayers posing on the bridge on your way to pay your respects at the Meiji shrine centered in an evergreen forest—the quietest place in the city. These things should all be experienced! But remember that there is more to the city than the cliché.
Bring your good walking shoes!
And the best way to get a great mix of cliché and substance is to walk everywhere! The trains in Japan come with their own charm, and they are the best way to quickly get around the city. But for street shooting, it's a great idea to get to ground level and walk between the central hubs of the city. For example, it's easy connect Shibuya, Harajuku, Omotesando, and Roppongi in a walk filled with greasers, cosplayers, skaters, posh old ladies, hot college chicks and dudes, and every other kind of person imaginable. From a logistic point of view, each of these areas is served by a major train or metro station, and as a result they are all filled with throngs of pedestrians. This can pose difficulties for street shooting, so walking between major stations can provide the shooter with less crowded conditions, as well as an opportunity to find something or someone off the beaten path.
Regarding street photography etiquette
Shooting in Japan comes with some interesting quirks. I can only speak from my experience as an ex-pat, but the main advantage is the camouflage we gain from being a stranger in a strange land. With a camera and a backpack it's easy to look like a tourist, and that renders the street shooter nearly invisible. The Japanese people have a certain respect for travel snapshots, often being seen snapping away on their own vacations to distant lands. This results in a general tolerance of street shooting in this country. People generally don't mind being photographed as long as it's not too invasive. If they do mind, they will simply look away or hide their face. In my time shooting in this city I have never been confronted by an angry subject. But of course, if spotted, it's always good to smile, nod, and say 'thank you' in your most polite Japanese.
Light and discovery are key
Regarding Tokyo, besides the obvious golden hour, the prime time for shooting is the evening. The lights of the city are the source of its charm and unique character. The rich colors and varied light sources can also be enhanced with creative use of white balance. Whether you're hanging out in the smoke-filled tunnels under Shinbashi and Yurakucho stations, snapping photos of drunk business men, or exploring the straight avenues of Ginza 8-chome photographing kimono-clad hostesses, or spying on shisha-smoking college students in Shimo-kitazawa, the night is always your friend in Tokyo!
But the most important thing to keep in mind is that Tokyo is vast, with countless hiding spots and opportunities for incredible shots. Exploration and discovery are key. Good shooting!