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2011, Sep 27
Why do Japanese photographers not have websites?

Ari in New Zealand posted this response to my post about Yoshiko Fujita:

What is the deal with so many photographers over there not bothering with internet sites? If I had to take a guess I’d say it’s maybe because of all the small self-run galleries, so photographers can potentially get exposure that way where they couldn’t in other parts of the world. Or is it Jun Abe’s policy? But it does seem kind of weird by today’s standards.

I’ll take a quick stab at answering this question. The short answer, of course, is that “there are a few reasons.” In particular…

Communication. This is a combination of the language barrier, plus a different usage of social networks (which also has to do with the language barrier). More and more Japanese photographers are starting to use Facebook, which will help, especially if they can muster the courage to post with even the most minimal level of English. Some people have websites but you can’t find (let alone read) them. It’s shocking to me how many actually really good websites are out there, and even have an English version, but haven’t made the slightest effort to promote themselves to a foreign audience! Parapera and spacecadet.jp come to mind.

No interest, or awareness of reaching an online audience. A lot can actually be accomplished without a website here, just by meeting people. I don’t think it’s viewed as particularly unprofessional to not have a website, either. Apart from that, I think a lot of people might have never even considered reaching an audience outside of Japan. Whether this is a kind of psychological, self-defeating attitude or just simply not caring, I’m not sure. It’s strange to think of in today’s Tumblrized world, but I don’t know of too many Japanese photo students who have a good website. (I’m starting to look harder.)

The Japanese internet is different than the Western internet. Technically, of course, this is not true, but many people point to the fast development of cell phone technology in Japan as a reason that the terrestrial internet has lagged behind. Basically this story goes that, because Japanese people could surf a miniaturized version of the internet on their cellphones in the mid-90s, the development of the full-screen web experience was stunted. Compare the websites of Japan’s Bic Camera with B&H and you can see this in practice.

I’m sure there are some others, and this is a huge question which I can already see branching out to include other topics like social networks, etc. In any case, it’s definitely not a “policy” of Abe’s, I’m guessing the thought of creating a website has literally never crossed his mind. If I think of more stuff I’ll add it here, if anyone has any other thoughts let me know.

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The photography internet in Japan

Comments (10)


Even before “smartphones”, it did seem as if more people under 40 were accessing the web in their free time via cellphones than via computers. If you’re a photographer, why bother either to create a site that can’t be read by most people or to create one with minuscule graphics? (But now that more and more people are using Iphones or better, this may change.)

Yes, Facebook seems enormous in Japan. (But I wouldn’t know for sure: all its invitations to become this or that customer’s “friend” are now deleted as spam without my ever seeing them.)

Often when a photobook is bilingual, the publisher puts no effort into marketing it outside Japan. This arouses the suspicion that the second language (virtually always English) is not for the benefit of people who can read it more easily than they can read Japanese, but instead for decoration, in order to look good to a certain Japanese demographic. (Consider the wide use of snippets of quasi-English in roman letters within Japanese corporate websites, etc.)

I get the impression that Japanese people, particularly younger Japanese people, have an ever decreasing interest in the outside world, or anyway the world west of China. Vacations in South Korea, Vietnam, etc may still be popular, but north America and west Europe (let alone more exotic destinations) much less so. Much lip-service is paid to “international” this and that, but lip-service is all it is; the content of Japanese teevee and magazines is as relentlessly Japanese as it was decades ago, perhaps more so; a summer vacation is better spent eating, drinking and websurfing within Japan than encountering people who may be unlike you and your friends. How many Japanese photo students want either to see non-Japanese work that hasn’t already been introduced in Japanese, or to show their own work to people outside Japan? Not all that many, I (somewhat impertinently) venture to guess.

I think your last paragraph raises the most interesting question. My outlook is not as bleak as yours, but I certainly won’t be looking to マスコミ (mass communication) for signs of hope. In any case, I’m yet to meet a Japanese photographer who was actively disinterested in looking at foreign work. As for pushing their work abroad, which gets at Ari’s original question, that has more to do with confidence in one’s own abilities and awareness that there is actually an audience waiting out there. I’m not sure, but maybe it’s hard to find people with both. Yowayowa Camera Woman might be a good counterexample.

My final guess, which was very tentative, was perhaps misphrased. Anyway I didn’t mean an active uninterest; I meant a lack of active interest.

Here’s a sketch for an experiment that I’m too busy/lazy to carry out myself right now.

First, define “abroad”. This wouldn’t be legalistic. Sorry, Canadians and US Americans, but popping across that border isn’t really going abroad. Likewise, the Netherlands isn’t really “abroad” for Dutch-speaking Belgians. For that matter, Denmark and Norway aren’t “abroad” for each other (whereas Finland is “abroad” for both). Et cetera.

Secondly, define “emerging photographer”. The feted and/or famous don’t count. The utterly unfeted don’t either. What I’m getting at here is the person who’s got a self-published book or two out, or who has had a couple of minor exhibitions, etc.

Thirdly, look at the websites or blogs of individual “emerging photographers” for lists of links that include between 5 and 20 links to the sites or blogs of individual photographers.

Get 10 such lists by Japanese photographers and 10 by non-Japanese photographers. For each list, remove all but the “emerging” photographers. Now calculate the percentage of the remaining photographers who are “abroad” (from the perspective of the person who listed them). My guess is that this percentage will be lower for Japanese than for other photographers.

Just had a conversation with one of my local friend here who are aware about Japanese Photography too.

Since he know that I like Japanese Photography. He asked Why there’s lots of Good Photographer in Japan never show or publish their work in overseas especially in Asian market like South East Asia.

The Answer I give is almost similar…
It’s a very Interesting Topic to have because my friend keen to see a few Japanese Photographer really show their work outside of Japan…

Peter, I’m sorry but your experiment makes almost no sense, and I don’t even have to try to untangle steps two and three because (as you say) the idea of “abroad” is not easily definable for people in the West. But it’s easy enough to define for Japan! Abroad = anything not Japan.

Lack of active interest, sure. I think that can change easily, though, it will just take a few people to lead the way so everyone else can follow.

I used to work as an assistant to a commercial photographer in Nagoya. I kept telling her she needed a website but she continued to refuse.

I’m not sure how valid her point was but she said that having a website let the competition know who you were working for so actually put off other customers.

I didn’t agree, but she was the boss.

Yeah that last paragraph of mircocord’s was interesting and your answers as well Dan. I asked the question I suppose because I come from the completely opposite end of the spectrum. In contrast to Japan, there is only 1 dedicated photography gallery in the entire country. Beyond that there is no book press for works of art, photobooks are usually only published when the photographer is really prolific and on their death bed or nearing it. The local online community here is pretty dead too, I think there are 2 photography forums for discussion and arranging for people to meet up, they each have no more than 20 people who regularly use them. There was an artist forum but that hasn’t had any activity now for 6 months.

So, if you want to meet up with people or show them your work here it’s pretty much necessary that you have some sort of online presence to do so. When people in person ask to see my work, what do I tell them? So here it’s not about the international audience primarily but about the local one. I’m interested in this because I’m currently making a site for myself because I feel as if I need one. I don’t want to tell people to check me out on blogger, facebook or flickr because it kinda gives off the wrong vibe. You don’t get taken seriously. So I am interested to know how so many over there get by quite well without them.

That said, there are a number of Japanese photographers promoting their work really well (internationally) through flickr.
But I think a good point was made on that person to person level for marketing which doesn’t happen enough elsewhere. This said, I have discovered quite a lot of photographer’s websites through sites like this one. So thanks ^^

Posted by Charlie Kirk / October 2, 2011 at 1:15 am:

Maybe it’s a combination of the Japanese shyness (non self promotion) and that a website could adversely affect book or print sales (as people might just be happy to see the image on their pc).

I think it’s a shame.

I feel like there’s a lot of truth in what Sean and Charlie are getting at, in other words a basically “wrong” understanding of the internet – from a Western perspective at least.

I was working on a website for a Japanese photographer recently, it took a fair bit of explaining to show this person why it was a good thing not just to display images, but make them downloadable. By and large, what we might consider basic concepts of photography online haven’t been absorbed here. So much work to be done!

Also, there hasn’t been anyone big enough in public really taking the lead with their internet presence.

Posted by Mike / March 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm:

I don’t think it’s just a Japanese thing. Many American and Canadian photographers do not have websites also. Sure, there are tons that do, but I know of several commercial photographers who frankly, don’t NEED websites. They have an agent who may have a few photos up on their website. It’s similar to say, Terry Richardson, who no longer has one either. He has a personal blog on Tumblr of course, but not an actual website. Does he need one? No. My feeling is that once a photographer gets to a certain level, it’s no longer necessaryto have a personal website. Your agent, magazine articles (online), etc. do the work instead. In Japan, many photographers have enough business through word of mouth and enough publicity through the multitude of small galleries that it’s not crucial. As well, while Japanese people are thought of as being so “tech” minded in some ways, they are still old fashioned socially. They are not as eager to adopt online activity like Twitter, Facebook pages, etc. I’m referring to “professionally,” not for personal connections. They don’t take the internet too seriously as far as work related matters. My old boss didn’t even have email.