Category Archives: Review

Reviews of photographs, books and other topics of interest

Retreat from Camera Kingdom — Eikoh Hosoe’s Hana Dorobou

Never meet your heroes — or so they say. Those who do live on to tell the tale. About twenty years ago, I remember it being a cold winter’s day as I once more browsed the photography section of the public library in central Frankfurt, Germany. My interest in the medium was just firming, and like all of us I was trying to take in as much as I could, on technique and on the art. I knew little about the ‘masters’, much less about Japan and its contributions. Nonetheless, I found myself strongly attracted to a book by a photographer, whose name I was not even sure how to pronounce; it meant nothing to me at the time and yet for quite a while afterwards, when being asked, I would name him as my favourite photographic artist. The book was called Embrace by Eikoh Hosoe.

Last week Japan Exposures were invited to the launch of a new book by Hosoe titled Hana Dorobou (「花泥棒」, lit. Flower Thief). Of course, given my own first encounter of many years ago, I was delighted to finally meet him all this time later. And, as it turned out, it was not a connection of past and present only for me: even though the book has just been published, the photographs themselves date back over 40 years.

She presented to Hosoe a series of her handmade dolls and told him, ‘Do with them what you want’.

In 1966, Eikoh Hosoe was introduced by his sister-in-law, the photographer Hisae Imai — who passed away earlier this year — to women’s undergarment designer Yoko Kamoi (1925-1991). By that time, Kamoi was well-known in artist and fashion circles for revolutionizing the undergarments Japanese women wore, and was once described as “someone who has advanced the cause of women’s liberation through her underwear designs”. But beyond this, Kamoi was an essayist, an exhibited painter, and — pertinent to this new book — a maker of handmade dolls.

She presented to Hosoe a series of her handmade dolls and told him, “Do with them what you want.” For Hosoe, they were more human than doll, and they seemed to take a life of their own, the scenes he eventually photographed them in seemingly situtations these dolls were getting themselves into — or so Hosoe felt, so strong was their human-like nature.

Hosoe photographed these situations around his studio in Yotsuya, Tokyo, and even took the dolls — more companions than props — on trips to Aomori and Nagano.

Eikoh Hosoe’s Flower ThievesThe photos were eventually used to illustrate a small book of Kamoi’s underwear designs called Miss Petan, but only 300 of these were printed. Hosoe would go on to make Kamaitachi (1968) and Embrace (1971), and promptly forgot about the project until earlier this decade when someone found a copy of this long out-of-print book and reminded Hosoe of the project. Digging up the negatives, he realized he had completely forgotten about this project. Thanks to the perseverance of publisher Tosei-Sha’s Kunihiro Takahashi, the negatives were reprinted and assembled in this book, which Hosoe considers, as he writes in the book’s afterword, a gift to both Imai and Kamoi who have reached heaven before him.

Eikoh Hosoe’s Flower Thieves
Hosoe and Tosei-sha’s Takahashi
Eikoh Hosoe’s Flower Thieves
E. Hosoe and Dirk in conversation

Of course a good opening event should be more than having a few drinks and snacks in a gallery space with the artist present. Hosoe was keen to explain some of his philosophy to the audience, what he is occupied with right now and what is still to be done. As the director of Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts and his role in the Japan Professional Photographers Society, Hosoe was keen to emphasize the importance of nurturing young talent for the photographic arts. He lamented that unlike in other countries, in Japan photography is not part of art education in schools and went on to say that a country not involved in manufacturing photography equipment such as cameras appears to have greater creative potential than one which does. In Japan, the ultimate camera manufacturing super-power of today, there is simply too much emphasis on the technical aspects of photography and not enough attention paid to the creative side. Obviously the endless obsession with equipment is a challenge we are all only too familiar with. He called upon giving up the Kingdom of Cameras and move towards establishing an artistic Kingdom of Photography .Eikoh Hosoe’s Taka-chan and I: a Dog's Journey to Japan

For this to occur, making the younger generation sensitive to the world and role of photography is absolutely key. However, how to go about it? One of the many possible ways to do so are photo books aimed at children, which there are only very few of. In fact, I could only think of a single one: Hosoe’s own Taka-chan and I: a Dog’s Journey to Japan, now long out of print. On the night I asked him whether he is aware of any other photo books aimed at children, and apart from the classic Show Me by Will McBride he also could not think of any and immediately added that he would love to create one.

Even though Hana Dorobou is not directly aimed at children, the images are magical and not quite of this world. Like in other Hosoe works, reality and the dream world appear to be merging, and in this case in an entirely benign and bright manner. While some of the images could be interpreted by adults as unsettling, I think this says more about the lost innocence of our own minds than the suitability of the photos for children. Or would a comparison to Grimm-style fairy tales be too far off? The dolls in odd spaces such as a broken television set or crammed into a travel bag, floating in the air or hanging in trees, or just the subtle signs of human nudity of the dolls make for good picture book quality that a child would enjoy and should easily be able to deal with, especially when viewed together with an adult. Make no mistake, the qualities of the photos are not naïve or too lighthearted by far. These images carry the typical Hosoe flair we know from so many of his works, but here we can also detect a playfulness that makes them accessible to not just an adult audience.

Hana Dorobou, created 40 years ago, and yet new today. An artist enjoyed by me 20 years ago and met in person last week. The creators of tomorrow being shown a fantasy world conceived by a spirit which has already passed. Photography and time, this eternally bonded pair, with moments that last a fraction of a second, and yet for all time.

Hana Dorobou (「花泥棒」) is available in the Japan Exposures bookstore. Signed copies are available.

Below is a short video during book signing and lecture at Tosei-sha Gallery in Tokyo on November 4, 2009 (lecture in Japanese).

Eikoh Hosoe Book Signing and Talk from Japan Exposures on Vimeo.

A first look at the Yashica EZ F521

A first look at the Yashica EZ F521 from Japan Exposures on Vimeo.

It’s small, light, bears a quality name and there is a lot of plastic involved: welcome to the Yashica EZ Digital F521, a camera released in Japan yesterday with a price tag just around US$100 (click here to purchase).

Don’t let the big name “fool you” though, this is an inexpensive digital camera that has more in common with a cellular phone camera (with a different form factor of course) than state-of-the-art digital, just like toy cameras using 120 film don’t do so to achieve high quality medium format. For this reason, the F521 has already been dubbed “Digital Holga” even before its release.

Limitations and shortcomings in your equipment can be good for creativity and there are plenty of those present here. However, given the targeted audience and market segment it would be unfair to point them out as weaknesses on this quirky snapper. Shutter lag, dynamic range, limited configuration options and viewfinder accuracy (mainly parallax) to name just a few aspects. Nonetheless, there is enough potential to charm you anyway, if you like the idea of a toy camera. There does not seem an actual shutter rather than the exposures done by the sensor. Since the lens assembly is fixed onto the body from the front by several screws, there might be some hacking potential by replacing the lens with something else, if you are so inclined.

Please have a look at the brief video review containing further details and sample images with comments. More images can also be found on Flickr and a Flickr group dedicated to the F521 has also been set up.

An alternative, more detailed review can be found here.

The Yashica EZ Digital F521 is available to order in the Japan Exposures Web Shop, shipments are scheduled for next week.

This video is available as a podcast via iTunes.

Flooding the Mind – Slowly Down The River by Yasuhiro Ogawa

Everyone I showed Slowly Down The River casually over drinks or at a dinner table, when there is no time to read the introduction, immediately assumed that these photos were taken in a war zone, after an earthquake or other catastrophic event. How better to arouse a viewer’s curiosity by taking expectations for a ride? Photographer Yasuhiro Ogawa scores for a comfortable lead before the match has even started — and it will get even better.

The premature conclusion is not without reason. Images of damaged buildings, people passing or standing on rubble, heavy construction equipment at work, steel enforcement rods in concrete sticking out, streets being cleared of debris, sometimes even smoke rising into the skies. The pictures often ressemble the photographs from Sarajevo or Beirut; is it because photojournalism from these types of events has become so formulaic and predictable making us easily jump at conclusions based on initial visual impressions? A very interesting question, but surely a topic for another discussion.

Yasuhiro Ogawa - Slowly Down The River

The scenes depicted in this superbly edited book are indeed of an event of catastrophic proportions, except that the cause is entirely man-made and intentional. What we see here is evidence of demolition of towns and resettlement of their populations during the process of construction of the Three Gorges Dam that spans the Yangtze River. To create this enormous hydro-electric power generating project of truly epic proportions, a vast area giving home to 1.24 million people and including archaeological and cultural sites was flooded and entire towns demolished and subsequently submerged in water. The controversy around this project was widely reported over the last ten years, but here someone has gone out to record what the effect is on the people affected by it.

The tension rises slowly, very slowly, but its devastating impact will be inevitable.

Looking over the pictures repeatedly, one cannot escape an underlying quiet, deep and discomfortable tension emitting from the photos. This is exercabated by the fact that this not a sudden, big bang event. The tension rises slowly, very slowly, but its devastating impact will be inevitable, just as the continuously rising water levels. There is no battle to fight, no courage to show, no refuge or shelter to seek. It is the most despairing of confrontations, not unlike a cold war with the difference that its outcome is already decided when it starts — undoubtedly an unbearable fate. The consequence is to internalize the conflict, transforming it to a battle of the mind, and here within the mind only, and in this series Ogawa has totally succeeded in turning the invisible into something visual by means of his photographs. Yet one should not expect anything literal. Using a 35mm handheld camera the pictures show a ethereal quality, one could say a dream within a nightmare. These highly pregnant, often grainy and shadowy images flow by the viewer, like the passing of man-made history or of the river itself, continuously swelling. What at times may even appear as a romantic boat journey through China will slowly enter the reader’s mind and become clearer until full comprehension.

After a while I found myself searching for any signs of optimism in the photos. Some flowers perhaps, or children playing. There is nothing of this. The people depicted all seem to have the same the same leaden facial expression. The single laughing face in the book belongs to an old lady, and we don’t know whether it is laughter of joy or the sign of oncoming insanity.

Yasuhiro Ogawa - Slowly Down The River

The work effortlessly transcends the too common classification of photography. Is it art, is it documentary? It just does not seem to matter. Slowly Down The River, which was nominated for the 2006 Leica Oskar Barnack Award, is a very sensitive and personal account of the photographer’s encounter with the land, its people and the immense burden of a larger scale history weighing down on them. History that, we know, just continues to repeating itself.

A marvellous photo book.

Yasuhiro Ogawa was born in 1968 in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan. He started to take pictures at the age of 24, influenced by the work of Sebastiao Salgado. The first exhibition titled “Futashika-na-Chizu” was held at Ginza Kodak Photo-salon,Tokyo, in 1999. In 2000, won the 37th Taiyo award for that work. Since then, his work has appeared in many publications in Japan. In 2009, he won The Photographic Society of Japan Newcomer Award. In 2006 he was nominated for the Leica Oskar Barnack Award.

More images can be found on his website and on Flickr.

Please also see a special gallery of black and white work from Ogawa, as well as our Cover Photo which is taken from Slowly Down the River.

Slowly Down The River can be purchased in the Japan Exposures Book Store.

All images © Yasuhiro Ogawa, used with permission.

Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Aruki (Tokyo Walks)

Text and images by John Sypal for Japan Exposures

Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Aruki (Tokyo Walks)The other night I picked up Araki’s latest book, Tokyo Aruki. It comes in at a modest 160 pages printed at the extremely portable A5 size. Initially I was taken in by the reasonable asking price, but after a couple go-throughs it is plain to see that portability was a major factor in this book’s construction.

Each section is divided between various locations throughout Tokyo, taken over a full year between July 2007 to July 2008. Similar to Aget’s Paris, Tokyo is Araki’s town.

It is worth stepping back for a moment to reiterate that “Tokyo” as you might think is not technically a city in the way that Omaha is considered to be. That said, he kept to a handful of the 23 wards for the photographs which ended up in this book. To be more casually precise (!), the photographic sections have been separated into areas often determined by the name of the local train station.

Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Aruki (Tokyo Walks)

Interspersed through the pages are brief essays on thoughts of his personal meanings for each area. Some of the sections feature the appearance of young women who have flocked (his words) to him to be photographed. I say that jokingly, but I have with my own eyes seen a young woman break down into tears simply upon seeing the man step out of a room. So “flock” it is.

Often his writing goes further into technique and thoughts on the human condition in Tokyo which in Japanese can sound sweet, but putting it into English they are a little corny. For good measure it seems that the editor felt it best to highlight some of the cornier statements in blue or pink and slap them down on top of a perfectly fine photograph. There are unexpected visual treats here, but one has to look a little harder than usual to find them.

For those who only know the more internationally marketable and nude/bondage side of Araki’s work, the fact that he is a street photographer on par with — and often surpassing — the “greats” might come as a surprise. Due to limitations in printing quality and text placement this book isn’t the greatest vehicle to find this out, but at the price it is a good beginning chance to explore this recent softer side of his work.

Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Aruki (Tokyo Walks)

If you are at all ever out with a camera in Tokyo you’ll no doubt recognize the locations of a good half of the pictures, or in some cases, have already photographed there yourself.

Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Aruki (Tokyo Walks)
Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Aruki (Tokyo Walks)

Earlier I mentioned that portability is an essential aspect to this book’s creation. It wasn’t until looking at the last three pages when the realization that Tokyo Aruki is in part, a Tokyo walk-a-bout type travel companion. It’s “Araki does Tokyo” in a way that is different from his other previous (and often more literal) experiences.

Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Aruki (Tokyo Walks)

Since it is indeed a travel guide, each section of the book has it’s very own precise map, complete with Araki’s very route highlighted for those who might want to hit up the same spots. If the recent press is of any indication, Tokyo Camera Walks seemed to have exploded in popularity over the past few years and I’m assuming that due to it’s extremely approachable content matter, this book has several print runs ahead of it.

And for those who might be interested in the cameras which he used, a few pages before the maps are devoted to an informative essay about his camera choice (two Mamiya 7II) and (naturally) pictures of Araki on the street working.

Nobuyoshi Araki: Tokyo Aruki (Tokyo Walks)

John Sypal
John Sypal

John Sypal, born and raised in Nebraska, USA, currently living in Matsudo city (Chiba Pref.).

John has been exhibiting his photographs widely in the US and in Japan. His photographs are frequently featured in Japanese photo magazines.

He is currently a member of Machikata Sampo Shashin Doumei (Walking Photographers Alliance).

John also enjoys meeting people and photographs their cameras for tokyo camera style.

Tokyo Aruki can be purchased in the Japan Exposures Book Store.

Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon

Text and images by Michael G Dougan for Japan Exposures

Let me start by saying that I like folding cameras. In fact, I like them so much that between the 59 cameras I own, there are quite a few folders. When I got curious about film photography one of the first serious cameras I bought was an Agfa Super Isolette, then a Balda and a Certo Six and to round it off a Zeiss Super Ikonta. There is just something about these old mechanical cameras that I love.

So, when Fujifilm/Cosina Voigtländer announced the Bessa 667/GF670 Professional I wanted one badly. I’ve long preferred the square format but have recently been looking for a camera with a different aspect ratio and this camera satisfied my love of all things square while offering an alternative by being able to switch to 6×7 when desired.

We have the Fujifilm GF670 in black in stock for immediate shipping in the Japan Exposures Shop. Limited to 5000 cameras, BLACK Fujifilm version only available in Japan and equipped with the Fuji EBC (Electron Beam Coated) Fujinon lens.

Fujifilm GF670 Professional next to a Rolleiflex and Leica M6
Fujifilm GF670 Professional next to a Rolleiflex and Leica M6
The long wait was agonizing, having first contacted Dirk about the camera back in February to have to wait, suffering multiple delays, until May to finally get my hands on it. I can say though I’m not disappointed at all with the camera and the wait was well worth it.

As advertised the camera weighs in at 1kg but in operation it feels quite a lot less. Though when the camera is folded up it certainly feels like a lump, just not a 1kg lump. Once the lens has been extended the impression is of a very light camera.

In operation I immediately felt very comfortable with this camera, to me it feels very like a Leica to use, the focus is smooth and the aperture ring is easily and quickly adjusted. The built in light meter also takes the guesswork out of the exposures as with the old folders.

Since acquiring the camera I’ve shot it exclusively in 6 by 7 format and I like the opportunities it gives for framing over a square format. The shutter is extremely quiet, quiet enough to use in covertly but carrying a camera like this does attract a lot of inquisitive looks and questions from people.

Vulcanizing {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Love-Kim Verlie {click to enlarge}
The body on the right hand side has a very grippy rubber coating and grip on the front and back of the body. The left hand side is coated with the same rubber on the front of the body only but as I tend to cradle the underside of the body and lens standard with my left hand the grip is only of use for opening the camera. This way my thumb is in the perfect position to operate the focus and aperture rings. Focus and selection of aperture are achieved extremely quickly, this is a big plus for me as I try to quickly capture people before they have time to pose for the camera. The viewfinder is excellent, very bright with a nice contrasty rangefinder patch that allows you to achieve focus quickly.

I’m also extremely pleased with the camera’s image quality. I find it hard to say what it is but the images from the camera have a certain signature from the 80mm Fujinon EBC lens but maybe people more familiar with other Fuji lenses might say that is the signature of such lenses. It’s sharp, contrasty and the fuzzy bits just melt into the background beautifully.

You can see some samples of the type of photos I enjoy taking, which is out on the streets. I am living in the Philippines and it’s currently the monsoon season, which means it’s stinking hot and raining a lot! I was walking for less than an hour in the afternoon sun and the camera never felt heavy or a pain to carry. Here under these tropical conditions even a Leica can become irritating as you soon fatigue in the sun. The camera got extremely hot in the one hour I was out but the focus still had the same feeling of operation. With some my cameras they get a bit sloppy when they overheat, but this GF670 camera has been super smooth all the time, quick and easy to nail the focus, and the viewfinder’s clarity is excellent!

With the GF670 in my hands and several rolls of Neopan 120 in my pocket, it’s a perfect setup for me.

Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Life in a plastic chair {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Break Time {click to enlarge}
Update 28 June 2009: More images below

Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Bigasan {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Dried fish {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Friends forever {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
In the street {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Mega Buko Juice at the Hard Rock Café {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Tommy {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Videoke for rent {click to enlarge}
Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes Monsoon
Four Women and a Boy {click to enlarge}
All black and white images were shot on Fujifilm Neopan 400 Presto, developed in paRodinal 1+50 for 11mins at 20 degrees C. Location: San Miguel, Bulacan, The Philippines

Fujifilm GF670 Professional goes MonsoonMichael Dougan is a 40 years old Scotsman who has been living in the Philippines for over 6 years. He is married to a beautiful Filipina and father to a son. He is currently working on the scientific drillship Chikyu in Japan, but has been in the offshore oil and gas drilling industry for 20 years. He is heavily involved as one of the organizers of Rangefinder Filipinas, keeping the passion for film photography burning in the Philippines.

We have the Fujifilm GF670 in black in stock for immediate shipping in the Japan Exposures Shop. Limited to 5000 cameras, BLACK Fujifilm version only available in Japan and equipped with the Fuji EBC (Electron Beam Coated) Fujinon lens.

Film Matters — The Choice of Film in a Digital Workflow

Film Matters

Text and images by Christoph Hammann for Japan Exposures

If you‘re using color negative film in a hybrid workflow, does it matter what film you use? Or is it true that you can do everything in post-processing? Essentially, in the digital age, what exactly does your choice of film itself bring to the table?

I had occasion to ponder these questions while testing the new Kodak Ektar 100 against DNP’s Centuria 100 film. While the former is lauded far and wide for it‘s fine grain and color reproduction, the latter is said to be a no-frills, mass-market oriented version of Konica‘s color negative film with high color saturation.

DNP Centuria 100
DNP Centuria 100

For the purpose of this comparison, I took photos of a field of crocuses in Düsseldorf‘s Nordpark at the beginning of February. In most shots, I used a Micro-Nikkor 105 VR and a R1C1 macro flash kit with colored gels.

DNP Centuria 100
DNP Centuria 100

I also used these two films in a studio lighting workshop held by Jens Brüggemann. This proved to be an excellent learning experience! The shot above shows a mixed light situation (daylight from above and the flashes modeling light out of a huge umbrella from front left) rendered by the Dai Nippon Printing film.

The lead image on top shows Kodak Ektar coping with light from two strip softboxes aimed at the model from 90 degrees left and right.

Apart from these single images, how did the test go?

Methodology first: I took care to develop the films the same way, putting one of each in a Jobo 1520 tank and developing them with the Naniwa Color Kit N.

Film Matters

The negatives were scanned with a Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400, using no anti-grain dithering and the same light grain reduction in both films.

DNP Centuria 100 at left, Kodak Ektar at right
DNP Centuria 100 at left, Kodak Ektar at right

Grain did indeed turn out to be a major difference between the two films. The 100% crops in the picture above had their levels adjusted, but were not sharpened or reduced in grain. Kodak‘s claims of extremely fine grain for the Ektar are fully justified.

DNP Centuria 100 on top, Kodak Ektar at the bottom
DNP Centuria 100 on top, Kodak Ektar at the bottom

Color balance was markedly different, too. The prohibition sign in the picture above was photographed with the macro flash (without gel filter, of course!) and white-balanced with a levels layer on the white circle denoting the bike‘s crankset. The sign‘s colors weren‘t nearly as garish as the DNP film makes them look, more faded and muted as in the Ektar version. So, a high saturation color negative film the DNP Centuria 100 surely is!

DNP Centuria 100 on top being color corrected with a color balance and a saturation layer
DNP Centuria 100 on top being color corrected with a color balance and a saturation layer

When I tried cheating and to adapt the color correction of DNP Centuria to match the one of Kodak Ektar with layers in Photoshop, the green parts of the sign quickly fell apart along the film grain. I could neither get the same yellow nor do much about the saturation. They don‘t call it a color balance for nothing!

DNP Centuria 100 at left, Kodak Ektar at right
DNP Centuria 100 at left, Kodak Ektar at right

Skin tones suffer under the DNP film‘s color rendering, while I find Ektar‘s skin tones to be quite natural. Granted, these are two different models with different casts to their skin, but the left one wasn‘t that orange-y. And to be fair, the all-rounder DNP 100 has never claimed to be a portrait film.

If all that sounds like I‘m slamming the DNP Centuria 100 film, making an easy target out of it, I‘m not. In the crocus shots, I actually prefered it‘s saturation and color rendition. I also see a role for it photographing urban environments in their multicolored facets and a kind of grainy hastiness. Kodak‘s new Ektar is more true to life, though — mind you, it‘s colors are saturated enough. It has stunningly small and unobtrusive grain. If you are attracted by peculiar color and light combinations and want to capture them just the way you saw them, this is the film for you.

You have the choice, and that‘s the beauty of using film for color photography. Your results don‘t have to be predetermined by the sensor in your digital camera. Film matters, so take your pick and have fun.


Christoph Hammann is a fine art photographer from Waltershausen, Germany. He works with traditional film and silver halide papers as well as digital post-processing and alternative printing techniques. His website is “Mostly Black & White”.



 We have DNP Centuria 100 film available at very attractive prices in our web shop. Why not treat yourself to an abundant 100 pack for summer?

Home on a Big Road — Gallery KAIDO (街道)

gallery KAIDO utility pole sign
gallery KAIDO utility pole sign -- photo by Tyler Ensrude

Text and images by Tyler Ensrude for Japan Exposures

Have you ever been to a gallery and felt as though the reception almost didn’t want you there or could care less that you entered the room? Even in Japan, a country known for it’s outstanding customer service, some places can still hold their noses in the air a bit when it comes to big art in a small space. Maybe it’s my foreign face that frightens the staff working in some galleries here to go back into the storeroom or look busy? I don’t know.

Actually, I take that back. I have had very friendly experiences in and out of Japan from helpful staff or artists who are very grateful to know their work is appreciated. Especially in parks, cafes, some more local/down-to-earth galleries and people doing joint exhibitions around Tokyo. I even remember a few free alcohol occasions! I think it must be the sterility of some of the bigger name galleries that gets to me sometimes and I think that sterility makes them come off as inhospitable or cold.

So despite my slight frustration at times I love many Tokyo galleries. Many of them are very impressive and open to new artists, but usually come at a hefty price. Young photographers and artists could always use more places to show their work at a price and a location that won’t make them think Ginza is actually made of silver, and fortunately some places have been popping up lately.

Ginza may be known for it’s pricy shops and exclusive, but very attractive, galleries. But if you want to get a good taste of what Tokyo really has to offer, you may be in for quite a hike. Galleries are rather spread out around Tokyo, especially photo galleries. You can wander for ages and it’s hard to hit too many in one day. If you’re a gallery savvy visitor to Tokyo, but you’re not sure where you’re going, this can easily turn a day of casual gallery hopping into a frustrating day of hitting up police boxes fumbling over a tiny map and talking to policemen who think you’re trying to find the nearest place to develop your film.

If you want to take a weekend afternoon to hit one of the best off-the-beaten-path photo spaces while you’re here, one that greets you with a smile, talks with you like you’re an old friend and maybe even stuffs a few extra post cards in your pocket as you’re leaving you should definitely try to find gallery KAIDO.

You keep expecting someone to come walking out of a room wearing a bathrobe and slippers!

I’ll try and give you a little help getting there, for while it’s not the easiest gallery to find, it’s definitely worth the trek. First, take the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line (subway) to Minami-Asagaya station. (You can also take the JR Chuo Line to the area, but the Marunouchi Line is more convenient). It’s only a few minutes from Shinjuku by train or subway. When you get there look for or ask how to find Ome Kaido (Ome Avenue). Gallery KAIDO is only a few minutes walk off the side streets near Ome Kaido. Ome is a busy road that starts from way-out-west Tokyo and ends around Shinjuku and is actually the inspiration behind the gallery’s name itself.

I was surprised I remembered how to get there without the use of a map the second time I visited. The map makes it look somewhat simple, but amongst the many turns, the never ending rows of houses and the narrow paths they call “streets” here, things can look quite similar. I took a few shots of some landmarks along the way to help you find the right corners, along with a scan of the gallery’s flyer map with some translated English.

gallery Kaido English map -- click for larger map and photos along route
gallery Kaido English map -- click for larger map and photos along route

Once you’re in the vicinity, the gate of gallery KAIDO is the next challenge. You’ll see a sign on a utility pole telling you to make a left. But then you’re stuck guessing where to go next, because you’ve turned into a dead end. If you live in Tokyo, it could very well be exactly what your apartment entrance looks like and there isn’t really much more than a small sign on the gate. It’s on the left side, about half why down the dead end. From this point, walk up the steep, steel steps, take off your shoes in the entryway and… it sounds like home already, doesn’t it?

As I mentioned before, you’ll probably be greeted with a smile and the curiosity of an old style Japanese inn owner welcoming a weary guest. If you’re not the shy type and you show enough interest and have some time, you may even be offered a cup of tea. It seems a bit like you’re walking through someone’s apartment and you keep expecting someone to come walking out of a room wearing a bathrobe and slippers! It feels old, but warm and real. It’s basically two bedrooms of photos with some closed rooms I only assumed were workshop space or possibly a darkroom. One of the rooms, which was apparently the old kitchen, is now the gallery gift shop.

If you come on the right day and happen to know your Japanese photographers, you maybe even get to meet gallery KAIDO’s creator, the renowned photographer Koji Onaka. Onaka-san’s most recent photo book, A Dog In France, is starting to gain Onaka attention overseas and is a great look into his life over 20 years ago. [The Japan Exposures online bookshop has signed copies available. — ed]

Fifteen years ago Onaka-san had a gallery in Nishi-Shinjuku, which he also called KAIDO near the same Ome Avenue. That has since closed. Several years ago, Onaka-san and his wife Yuko, who runs the gallery gift shop, started looking for a new space not so near the bustling Shinjuku area. After a thorough internet apartment search, they came across the current KAIDO in Asagaya which also happened to be near Ome Avenue.

His original intention for the Asagaya gallery KAIDO was unclear for him at first, but he mainly intended to show his work there, and use the extra rooms as darkroom work space and Yuko could even use the space for some of her own interests. But recently, he’s converted it into a full-fledged gallery, welcoming his students to show their own work there for several weeks at a time. His “students” are actually attendees of his weekly workshops he holds at Kaido and random places around Tokyo and Japan. [Japan Exposures Cover Artist Sachiko Kadoi is a past workshop participant. — ed] Each week Onaka offers advice to workshop participants and gives critiques of their work. (Workshop info and exhibition schedules, as well as pictures of past critique sessions, can be seen at the workshop’s blog — Japanese only).

gallery KAIDO exhibition postcards for recent shows
gallery KAIDO exhibition postcards for recent shows

The most recent works on display (from March 20th-29th) in KAIDO’s tiny rooms when I visited were a small series of black and white images by the young Tatsuhiro Nakahara entitled Machi-Nagara (While Waiting), all of which were taken in his hometown of Hiroshima near his father’s farm. In the “PIN-UP Gallery” a playful color series called “empty, but” from Miki Iwaoka of Yokohama residents. Also a set of about 12 images from Onaka-san himself, all printed in Onaka-san’s wonderful signature mundane, smoky-grey style and taken between 1994-1999 in Hakodate, Hokkaido. Some past exhibitions included works by Tomomi Matsutani, Takeshi Dodo, and Shuhei Motoyama.

I found KAIDO a great place to see some straight-forward, down-to-earth images from some photographers who seem to love Japan and aren’t afraid to show it like it is. It’s kind of what I’d expect from a Japanese gallery in some ways after living in Japan for many years myself. It’s not exactly Ginza, but hey, Ginza’s just a dressed-up place made of silver and it’s too crowded anyway.

So, on top of the fact that gallery KAIDO provides that real, or even gritty Japanese art experience in a somewhat surreal Tokyo atmosphere, you also can rest assured that you’ll be welcomed back. KAIDO is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1pm-7pm.

Tyler EnsrudeTyler Ensrude grew up on the plains of rural Wisconsin in the United States and has lived in Tokyo since 2002. He has a degree in photography and graphic design from the University of Wisconsin and is a contributing writer and photographer for several publications in and outside Japan. His current projects include research on foreign photography within Japan as well as Japanese photography, photography books, culture and music. He can be found online at and