Using a Ricoh GRD III and a Nikon DSLR to photograph streets, people, architecture and anything else that catches my eye.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Electric City

Many people think of Japan as a country in the future. This is partly to do with the fact that Japan has dominated the world of consumer electronics for the last forty years, and maybe partly to do with anime, manga, video games and other techy exports. A visit to a Japanese city can feel like landing in the middle of a scene from the Blade Runner movie.  As I have previously mentioned, Japanese transportation is far in advance of the majority of countries.  There are many things in Japan which are lagging behind other countries; although these are more to do with laws, attitudes and values.  But let's not spoil this post by getting political. (there are many blogs around for ranting).

The world is changing though. The power is shifting slowly from country to country.  China is in the ascent, along with Brazil and a string of other countries.  Of course, these countries are still several decades behind the modern world in human rights and freedom of speech. (oops, there I go again).  Visions of the future are being constructed in Dubai and Beijing, with amazing glass towers; all striving to be the tallest in the world.

This post is about Japan though, and these images are mostly of Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima.  There are none here of Tokyo as I had not been to Tokyo when I used my Olympus C8080. Tokyo is another story for another time.  Osaka is still a very big city. It has a different character to Tokyo. Some say it is a little rougher, louder and more of a party place.  

Osaka is so large that it sprawls out far enough to virtually engulf Kyoto and Kobe. This massive urban area is known as Kansai, with a population of fifteen million. The vast majority of the city comprises of bland concrete buildings, massive concrete roads, steel bridges, huge waterways and railways in every direction.  There are more attractive cities to be found around the world.  At the large centre of Osaka there are some very tall and modern skyscrapers, but Japan doesn't really build anything taller than 1000ft (300m) due to earthquake risk.

The feeling of stepping into the future in Japan is at street level, or below. The streets are ablaze with electronics, a neon madness, a chaos of sound and vision. There seems to be a limitless number of shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, video game venues, pachinco parlours. There are areas in Osaka, with street upon street dedicated to selling just electronic items, from audio and video through to computers and robots.  It is gadget heaven! 

The underground railway system is modern and very convenient.  There is another world below the streets, as many of the stations are linked with vast subterranean shopping walkways.  You can walk for hours under the streets, and quite often get lost down there.  I can only read a very small amount of Japanese, and most directions in Japan are in their incredibly difficult language. I don't think Japan is geared up as a tourist destination. Sometimes I felt like the only western person around; enough even for that knowing nod whenever I saw another European or American.

At night, the city comes to life. There are not many dark places in the center of Osaka. Shops are all generally open to 10pm, and clubs way into the night.  There are many seedy nightclubs, adult shops and hostess bars, all mixed in the same area as the restaraunts and video game centers. Everywhere you look you are surrounded by cartoon heros and cute animals, giant robots and giggling schoolgirls. A mix of flashing neon, a cacophony of sounds, masses of wandering Japanese shoppers....   It all sounds like a crazy vision of hedonism and consumerism; but infact everything works here, and there is virtually no trouble on the streets.  It is an amazingly well behaved place.

Osaka, and the whole Kansai region, is also known as Japan's kitchen, with nearly one hundred thousand places to eat out  (I repeat - 100,000 - no exageration). You can eat anything you want here.  I became quite addicted to the pan fried tako balls (octopus in batter). These were cooked and sold from little stalls, in the same way as hot dogs are.

It is not everyone's kind of city, but I always enjoyed myself there.  I could quite happily walk for hours, taking photographs of all the madness around me.  I have taken many hundreds of shots, and here are quite a few images from insane Kansai and Hiroshima.  This is quite a large post.  I have probably gone on long enough...  here are the pictures.  They are all similar images really...  confused and chaotic.


Michael Gatton said...

From the looks of it and your descriptions it sounds like an amazing place. A little overwhelming even. What about parks and greenery and the like? I think I would go insane without that.

Great pics, though, and nicely written.

Anonymous said...

Well what can i say...
It is like you are being taken into a dream!
Absolutely wonderful!
Funny to see the sign of the man with a hat holding the hand of the child
I thought that was a typical old dutch pedestrian street sign!

Gerry's Blog said...

I love Japan and you have managed to capture the everyday ballet of the cities. Being from NYC I was overwhelmed in Japan I can not imagine someone from a small town going to see such a beautiful country.

Bill Wellham said...

Thanks guys...

It is a mad place, for sure. These really are just snap shots, with no real photographic insight involved. This was the sort of place that started my future interest in street photography.

Mike... There are some parks, but not nearly enough for me. I would slowly go insane in Japan, especially as it is a long drive from the city to the countryside. I think Japanese people seem quite happy without too much greenery. It is strange though. They are heavily limited for space.

Dennis... I reckon you'd love Japan. It is totally insane and quite hilarious too! (Shame it is so far away, and not exactly cheap to get there).

Gerry... Funnily enough it works both ways. It took a while for my wife to get used to living in a small rural town in the English countryside. But I reckon she loves it now.