Are you looking for street photography in Japan? I’ve been there half a dozen times and did extensive shooting there. Here are some tips to avoid you getting in trouble and get the best shot you can. Let’s dig right in…
Street Photography In Japan: Inspiration and Tips
1. Go to these streets
Japan is densely populated country in certain key areas, so depending on where you go, there is either a lot of crowds or very little. THE place to go is of course Tokyo, but Osaka has a more relaxed vibe and when in Kyoto, you can get kimonos in your street shots.
If you are in Kyoto, there is an absolutely beautiful Leica store hiding in a traditional Japanese house. Really cool. Also, that doesn’t mean you can’t get great shots where there are no crowds. Look below:
I made this shot as I was walking down a random streets. So it’s not a 100% must to go to crowded areas, but it helps…because I did a lot of walking before shooting the above!
2. Know what your camera represents
Street Photography is generally ok everywhere around the world. It’s not that it’s not ok in Japan, it’s just that they are dealing with a lot of perverts. And your interest in photography can be misunderstood as some creepy pervert trying to photograph girls in school uniform.
So don’t act suspiciously and don’t photograph in a way that could be misinterpreted. For example, while you could try to do a low angle shot like a tip in this article, if could be misinterpreted as you trying to get shot of women’s skirts. So. Be extra cautious and don’t be, act, do like a creep.
3. Go for the crowd
If you go in the areas I suggest, you’ll find plenty of crowds. This type of situation makes it possible to shoot the crowd as the subject. You can either make a shot where nobody in the crowd attracts attention, or a shot where someone stands out from the crowd or lastly you can make a shot where someone is going at the opposite direction of the crowd.
All the images on this page (including the one above) have been processed with these Lightroom presets for street photography).
Also, the crowd-type shots lend themselves really nicely to cinematic street photography like you can see above.
4. Take a higher angle
There are many crossing passages in Japan, go up the stairs and look down. Be patient and look for interesting shapes as the people move throughout the frame like the shot above. Or you could use your higher vantage point to make a point (pun intended) and show the staggering amount of people that are in the streets. The higher point of view really drive home just how many people there are crossing.
5. Japanese businessmen
Japanese businessmen is a common sight in Japan, so they make for easy subjects, especially if you go to the central business areas. You will find them early in the morning going to work or late at night coming from work. There is also lunch time, but at night you can find many hanging at the bars instead of going home. In the shot above the businessman was smoking a cigarette on a break. I photograph this guy live (and hundred more shots in my street photography in Japan course)
6. Japanese grace
Just like in Korea, Japanese women don’t mess around with dressing up, everyone is well dressed and have makeup on. So the subject is inherently photogenic, making your life simpler. Not only that, there are transparent umbrellas in Japan so the creative possibilities are great.
7. Be attentive at train stations
Trains are the preferred mode of transportation of the Japanese, so you will find a lot of images there. Coupled with a gracious looking woman or a guy in a business suit and you have a really dynamic combination that makes for moody images. You will not be able to make images like the above during rush hour if you are in a big city, it’s bedlam around that time.
8. Inside the Subway
Everyone glued to their phones and tablet in the train and subway (like everywhere else, right?) so as an observer of life that gives you the opportunity for outstanding shots. You can explore the theme of being disconnected and the theme of loneliness well inside the cabin. You will however need to remember tip number 2 when you do this. Lots of chikan activity (sexual harassment) happens in the train so don’t do anything that could lead to misinterpretation.
Formality plays a huge role in the Japanese society, that is why there are formal-looking uniforms everywhere: Uniforms at the train station, in stores, taxi drivers, security guards, etc. These provide excellent subjects to photograph. For an added psychological effect make sure to include angular shapes in there to reinforce the feel of formality. (More tips like this revealed in my definitive street photography course).
10. Night stalls
Once night comes, and the workday draws to a close, the nightlight kicks in. You could turn on your flash for flash street photography, or you can use the available light and stick close to the night food stalls and other shops that provide plenty of light for a well exposed image. These are usually well lit, so you don’t even need to go that high in terms of ISO. The image above was shot ISO 800 and it’s pretty darn clean.
There you have it, 10 actionable tips for street photography in Japan. It’s a visually rich country and provides a lot of shot possibilities for those who have an open mind and heart. Since you are reading this, you are interested in street photography, right? Then check out my beginners street photography book, extensive online course and magazine.