Tokyo is one of the best cities in the world for street photography for several reasons. The immensely varied urban landscape is one -- Here you'll find cozy residential areas next to dimly lit bar alleys flanked by spectacular skyscraper districts. The fact that the architectural styles span from traditional Japanese wooden houses to bold architectural landmarks is another factor. And of course, let’s not forget the people. The citizens of Tokyo are also one of the fundamental factors that make shooting here such a joy. You’ll see hordes of uniform salarymen blend with some of the most eccentric hipsters and fashionable youth anywhere on earth. The look of the people also helps giving photos from Tokyo a distinct look that often makes them easily recognizable to someone who hasn’t been to the city, even if the frame lacks any easily recognizable elements such as signboards in Japanese or any architectural landmarks.
This is the first of a series of posts in which I’ll introduce some of the best parts of town for street photography. Sort of a travel guide for street photographers. And I’ll be starting with the most iconic and perhaps also the most shot district of them all:
The reasons as to why Shinjuku is such a well-documented part of Tokyo is several. First of all we have the variation -- Within just a few minutes walk from the station you can find yourself either in the impressive skyscraper district on the west side of the station, where you’ll find many interesting buildings that are mostly populated by salarymen. Thankfully, two major schools are also located around here: Bunka Fashion College and Mode Gakuen. As the name implies, both are both focused on fashion, and hence, the hundreds of students passing through here every day give an interesting splash of color to the monochrome uniforms of the salarymen.
On the west side of Shinjuku, you will also find some of the best camera stores in all of Tokyo, but those will be the subject of a later post.
On the opposite side of the station, you’ll find the impressive boulevards of Shinjuku Dori and Yasukuni Dori. Both are lined with mid-sized buildings wrapped in neon signs that are particularly striking at night but makes for interesting backdrops any hour of the day.
On the east side of the station you will also find what’s often referred to as “the biggest red light district” in Tokyo. Although there’s still plenty of seedy establishments around here, it feels more or less like any other entertainment district in Tokyo. The eclectic mix of people still makes it a great place to go for street photographers though. But remember that this is still considered a somewhat dangerous area by some. I personally feel much safer in Kabukicho than in many major western cities at night. But that being said, I tend to be more mindful about at who I point my camera around here, compared to when roaming the streets in other parts of Tokyo.
Next to Kabukicho you’ll find the narrow drinking alleys of Golden Gai. Once upon a time these were you would find some of the most interesting and charming bars in Tokyo. Unfortunately, the entire district has been somewhat ruined by the mass tourism as of lately, and these days you are more likely to find yourself paying way too much in bars where the rest of the crowd is made up by tourists. But it’s still a very scenic part of town that makes for some great photos, needless to say it looks best at night.
And let’s not forget Shinjuku station, the biggest in the entire world. With millions of people passing through each day, it’s a great place to look for good photo opportunities. The long platforms are very suitable for experimenting with different perspectives. Although I prefer to use wide angles when shooting street photography, I often use longer focal lengths around there.