Sundries, wares, liquor, and Kleenex, you can find everything you need for normal everyday happy life on the Irohakai shōtengai (いろは会商店街) in Nihonzutsumi, which used to be known as Sanya.
I wasn’t sure what she was browsing for. She had a jittery way about her, perhaps because some big damn foreigner was pointing a camera at her and taking her picture. For me in Tokyo that’s sometimes an unintended consequence.
But once she composed herself she was cool. And she was generous with both her smile and the peace sign the Japanese love to make when being photographed. Sometimes that peace sign makes me squirm a little, like I’m some American soldier running around Tokyo taking happy snaps during the post-war U.S. occupation.
I’m probably reading too much into my own presence on Tokyo’s streets. But my own discomfort is a price I gladly pay for the enrichment I get from being in this city and among these amazing people.
And I sure as hell hope that after I walked away, this nice woman found what she was shopping for.
(Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo 2015)
Physically handicapped, or afflicted with cancer, or merely very intoxicated, I didn’t have the chance to discretely ask why this man was in this wheelchair on a Tokyo skid row shōtengai. His friends in the background didn’t want me around him, but I shot this photograph anyway with my camera under my armpit while his guardians were briefly distracted. And I left quickly after taking it. Ethically this is a questionable picture, and I’ve never been entirely comfortable that I shot it. I’ve debated myself as to whether this photograph stole some of this man’s dignity, an issue of justifiable importance among photojournalists and street photographers concerning the destitute and the homeless.
I’ve concluded that this man, in the circumstances in which I encountered him, really didn’t have much dignity in the first place. That does not necessarily justify this photograph’s existence, and I still argue with myself about it. But what this picture shows about a dark side of Tokyo life is inherently important, the kind of thing people wish to ignore but need to see. So I may forever have problems with this photograph, and you may really dislike it, but I stand by it.
(Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo, October 2013)
Just a guy, a bit too much in his cups perhaps, that I photographed in Nihonzutsumi in Tokyo. He was next to a vacant lot where a Nodaya liquor store used to stand. I liked him. He was a nice, chemically happy man…
(Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo, November, 2015)