Tokyo, Japan - 

Tokyo, between raw fish and hot girls

Michael Wagener ((Köln) - rewriting Elise Barry - 29 janvier 2016
Tokyo is maybe not the best example for Japanese culture, but in the huge area with around 10 million people in the city and nearly 38 million people in the metropolitan area, you find a universe of life. Which shows more than mangas and crazy toilets.

Early in the morning, you can join guides to see the famous tuna auction in Tsukuji fishmarket. www.mwagener-photo.de

« How was Japan? Did you eat dogs? » In the mind of the most people, Japan is still an old and exotic country with harmonic landscapes, dragons and samurais. The Edo time still have its myth. Of course there is also the disaster of Fukujima and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But if you ask deeper, you realize there is a mixed knowledge about Japan which throws Chinese culture, Southeast Asia experience and facts from movies in one big pot.

I experienced Japan as a high developed place. Sure, during two weeks, it is not possible to discover a whole country, but you could go deeper in one of the most exhausting cities in the world I’ve ever visited.

Exhausting was this city, because you spend hours a day in trains to visit places. The subway system works well, but it is hard to find your way. I was lucky to have my mobil and good apps. And it is still a problem to find people who could speak English. A lot of Japanese people know the language but are ashamed to use it.

"I feel like the fish in the barrels of the Tuskiji fishmarket"

Also there are some really confusing jobs : old people who stand hours in front of the subway doors, to be sure that everyone is in the train. A friend told me about a Japanase word, that she could not remember, but wich shows the Japanese fear about the idea of a dangerous situation.

In the rush hour time, a big man like me felt also like the fish in the barrels of the Tuskiji-Fishmarket. This place, one of the largest fishmarkets in the world and close to seaside of Tokyo, was the only area which shows me the trouble and exotism of Asia, which I knew from other Asian countries. You had to take care of the special market cars, which drive through the halls like ants.

The smell, the trouble and the look of the ladies in small cabines, who sell the fish, were amazing.  Especially when you compare it with a closer look in the total different life of Deborah Ten at the same day.

The young Deborah wanted to be an animator as she moved to Tokyo years ago, but now the tall Malaysian girl works as a beautiful and handsome fashion model. After I visited the Tuskiji Fishmarket, with all the different smells and the dirt of a hard workers life, I had the pleasure to document a photo shoot in the Aoyama Studios.

Hair styled by Teiji Ishizawa, Deborah shows her performance in front of a camera for a hairdresser company. A little bit strange to see nearly ten people arround one model to create the image of a perfect beauty. Like most Japanese people, she also was bound at her mobil. Once I walked  with her through the streets of Tokyo for some test shoots, I felt the eyes of people looking at us.

SS signs, just a nice writing like the kanji 

Foreigners are not a regular view in Japan. They represent only two percent of the 127 million inhabitants of Japan. And when I asked a Japanese friend why the prices of the hotels are so high, he answered that the Japanese do not want  that people stay a long time in Japan. Mostly the Chinese are not welcome in Japan.

And when I heard, back in Germany, that Japan prevents to take care of refugees, I was not wondering about a picture of a Japanese boy, wearing a German uniform with SS signs on it. For them it is just a nice writing like the kanji signs for Europeans.

Lucky as I am, I met on the photographer Kyoji Takahashi in front of a noodle restaurant in Shinjuku, who  invites me to his show together with the photographer Junichi Takahashi. In the Takshimaya Shinjuku Art Gallery the Exhibition Invisible Truth and Visible Lies brings their photography together in one space. Both photographers were born in the early 1960's and spent time living abroad. Both have worked in commercial fields and have produced works, dealing with the theme of “cities and physicality.”

Kyoji shows unsharp pictures, which reduce the sky and the buildings of Tokyo on the colour. Maybe this kind of photography was the trial to find the mysticism in a Tokyo, which is full commercial signs and people who want to make buisness.

Japan, a strange version of Europe

I also stayed a few days in the Kangaroo Hostel in Minowa, a part of Tokyo with less touristic spots. Tired of all the impressions during the day, I loved it to walk at night through Minowa. After 22.00, Tokyo seems to sleep everywhere, except in the party-area of Shibuya.

But also the people in this area show you the hard life in Tokyo. Working very busy all day and at least with a long train trip home (sometimes more than two hours) after work. The night is astonishingly quiet in the big city.

Thats why the temple of the 47 Ronin was one of my favorite places. Quiet and peacefull in the busy. But on the other hand I could not see any kind of religious life, which I loved to see on my other Asia-journeys.

The most Japanese are reduced to life of work with less free time. Maybe thats the reason why Japanese people travel in a strange way to other countries, taking millions of pictures.

Anyway it seems that in their rare free time, they love strange things. So they spend hours in gaming areas. Loud and noisy and full of young people, getting rid of their money.

On my way to the mount Fuji, I also saw  a real pirate boat on the lake; it shows the love of the Japanese for the American culture and of course Walt Disney.

For me, Japan was not the place to be. I did not find the silence and peace I needed this time. But on the other hand, it is still a culture that confuse you. A japanese friend of mine, asked me what I expect as a traveler. I said: « To see something different. » He responded : « Hey, Japan is like Europe, but we eat raw fish. » Now I have to say, it is a strange version of a Europe. Maybe a futuristic one, which I do not really need.

 Michael Wagener pour www.micmag.net

Crédits photos (article et gallerie : www.mwagener-photo.de)


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  • The model Deborah Ten (http://deborah-ten.com), hair styled by Teiji Ishizawa. www.mwagener-photo.d
  • Sumotori put on weight drinking large quantities of beer (like in Germany) before going to sleep.
  • Forbidden in Germany, these SS signs decorate a uniform worn by a young Japanese.
  • The transformation of Deborah (http://deborah-ten.com) into a fashion model.
  • Most Japanese people can’t do without their cell phone.
  • Deborah is also bound to her mobile (http://deborah-ten.com).
  • Junichi Takahasch during the exhibition Invisible Truth and Visible Lies.
  • Kyoji Takahashi, in the Takshimaya Shinjuku Art Gallery.
  • Tuskiji fishmarket is one oft the most spectacular places in Tokyo.

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