I moved to Tokyo a little over six months ago. This seems like a good time to write down my initial thoughts about the local photography scene, especially while I’ve enjoyed things so much. On the whole, things in Tokyo are very stimulating, and while I miss plenty of things about the Bay Area I’m glad I came.
The sheer number of people who are heavily involved in photography is probably the best thing about Tokyo. I’ve had personal interactions with Brian, Fukuyama san, GOM, Patrick, Philip, Jim, John, Jono, Takahashi san and the staff at Tosei sha, Tim, Yamashita san and a bunch of other people. I don’t know very much about photography, and hanging out with these people is a good way for me to learn more. I never felt as close to a other photographers in San Francisco as I do here—although that’s definitely not all SF’s fault. The number of people who shoot film, process it themselves and print it at home is a good indication of the real energy behind photography here.
There are probably around 30 or so galleries dedicated to photography, the majority of which change their shows every week (!). It’s safe to say that during any given month, there are at least 100 photography shows in Tokyo. This is obviously overwhelming, and I’ve long given up on trying to monitor the listings on Tokyo Art Beat in any meaningful way, but the fact that you can see all kinds of photography at any time (usually for free) is a real treat.
Beyond the absurd number of galleries in Tokyo, it’s a great city for looking at photography books. (To be fair, I should say that Japan is a great country for photography book publishing—it’s important to realize that Tokyo does not equal Japan, and Japan does not equal Tokyo.) There are specialized places like Sokyu sha, but any regular chain bookstore will carry a good number of interesting photography titles and magazines as well. In most places in Tokyo, you’re probably never far from a book browsing respite.
This is obvious, no? Being home to many of the most notable camera companies in history, as well as many avid photographers, Japan has a tremendous influx of camera gear. As the most bustling city in Japan, it is probably not a stretch to say that you could find any camera gear imaginable in Tokyo.
Not so good stuff
There had to be a catch somewhere, right? Tokyo is EXPENSIVE. In photography this comes across in the price of books, gear and photo paper. Beyond these explicit costs, though, the overall cost of living makes stuff like rent and transportation much higher than “normal.” A bike definitely helps there, but no one picks up photography (especially film) as a money-saving hobby…
Half frame nonsense
This is just a pet peeve, but so many places have difficulty printing half frame film, let alone making a CD out of it! When I did get prints they costed twice the price I was quoted. This is strange given that in the US, Walgreen’s will do their usual bang-up job for $5 no questions asked.
As a city for photography, I don’t think Tokyo will disappoint you. At least not for the first six months.