Tokyo Street Photography: A Brief Tour

Story of the Street street photography collective asked me to guest host their account for the week of October 1, 2016. This article series was originally published on their Instagram account.

Day 1

Hello and welcome to Japan! I'm @jillcorral and thrilled to bring you to Tokyo with me this week. I've been traveling for a few months capturing street life around the world.

In a city that pulses 24 hours a day with millions of flashing colors, why capture it in black and white? Because Tokyo truly comes alive after dark, and the light electrifies the night in tones more vivid than the sun. Street photographers often favor monochrome over color to tell stories through faces and motion, through angles and contrasts and shadows. From the blazing neon of Shinjuku to the alley lanterns of Kabukicho, there is arguably no better place for night photography than Tokyo.

Street photography is so utterly compelling because it captures both people and places, their lives and stories in fleeting moments that will never happen again. As a photographer, to me there is no greater joy than to capture a city and moment in time — to be able see and hear and feel it again in the picture. And this photo does that for me, it is my Tokyo: a bright and endless wonderland.



Day 2

Welcome back for day 2 in Japan with @jillcorral getting lost in the streets of Tokyo with open eyes and a Fujifilm X70.

Tokyo at night in the rain is a street photographer’s dream — the lights, the reflections, and of course the umbrellas. Mornings in city centers are quiet, with street cleaners, early-rising salarymen, and shuffling clubgoers who never made it home. By evening, districts like Shibuya build to a glorious frenzy that lasts well into the night.

And in the center of all that, on a rainy night there are countless stories under the umbrellas, private worlds amidst the chaos.


Day 3

Hello again and thank you for joining me @jillcorral for day 3 in Tokyo, Japan. And now we come to the crossroads of the world (or what feels like it) in iconic Shibuya. No street photography tour of Tokyo would be complete without it.

While it’s generally shown in movies as the madness and masses of rushing bodies that it truly is, what I wanted to capture here was an abstraction of it — more of an illustration than the flesh-and-blood reality. The idea of a place and the everyman in it. It also intentionally evokes the look of a Japanese graphic novel. What visual art forms can influence and energize your street photography?

This is also a terrific example of people and place coming together with perfect timing for a shot: there is a single figure dressed in black and white facing a wall of people in the distance, as well as a the biggest neon billboard in the crossing being completely white and blank in that moment. I love the stillness of it — stillness with the tension and promise of imminent movement: that at any moment that wall of people will come crashing over the scene like a wave.


Day 4

Hello again, storytellers! Ready to join me @jillcorral for a quiet moment on day 4 in Tokyo?

In the teeming crowds of Tokyo, just below the tense faces of rushing workers and busy shoppers there is another world of children’s faces looking up to make sense of it all. As I mostly shoot from hip level and am rather small myself, I find that many of my most vivid photos are of expressive young people. I was thrilled to find this gentle and lovely photo on my camera on a day that I was primarily tuned into street fashion.

As street photographers, we all have different instincts for what catches our gaze and camera shutter in the blink of an eye. What drew me to these subjects was their matching hairstyles, but what stays with me is the look of curiosity in their eyes, looking with all the wonder in the world in the same direction. And the heart earring and words “good day” add to the sweetness and innocence of the mood. What catches my attention on the street in general: multiples of things (like this example), sudden movement or sounds, strong emotions or interactions, simple backgrounds, dramatic personal style, high-contrast visuals. Often what initially draws you to a scene is different than what ends up making a photo remarkable.


Day 5

Often the most interesting scenes are found when one looks away from the crowds or in an unexpected direction — the waiter smoking behind the restaurant, the faces of people watching a parade versus the parade itself. Come, take the side streets with me @jillcorral on day 5 in Tokyo.

Harajuku is the capital of Japanese youth fashion and where you see the finest displays of costumery, from anime cosplay to Victorian Lolitas to wildly original styles. On this day, I was walking behind this girl and her equally stylish friends along the packed Takeshita Street when she suddenly split off from them and headed down a side alley, where some curb diners suddenly became spectators on a runway. I love how she is all in white, part bride and part princess, and walking like royalty into the night, loyal subjects gazing after her.


Day 6

Today is our 6th and final day together in Tokyo. Feel free to ask me anything or share your own work with me @jillcorral — thanks so much for joining me this week. And now, let us gather at the top of the world.

This is taken from the rooftop of Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, the highest outdoor observatory in Tokyo. While street photography of individual faces can be highly moving, the anonymous subject is powerful in its own way. Something I love about silhouettes is the ability to be able to see oneself in the photo. Even Tokyo itself is something of a mystery in this photo. This could be any great world city or even just the idea of a city. The two figures could be you and me, or just represent the idea of lovers and how they feel in the world. This is the story of these very real two people last Tuesday, and it is a timeless story. And while in most photos the great Tokyo looms above humans, here they stand over Tokyo like gods.

What I think makes the photo here, apart from Tokyo’s otherworldly dazzle, is the wind in the hair. Whether underground, on the sidewalk, or in the clouds, the story of the street is in these fleeting moments, small and grand, of our humanity.

Jill Corral