A Japan Street Photo Essay

In May 2019, I set out to do a rather ambitious journey: running across Japan. Not really running across Japan, but rather, several segments of different cities, villages and mountains, while still taking public transportation from major city to major city.

Here’s the deal. Running and photography have historically fuelled my travels for as long as I can remember. It’s no wonder that while running, half of my 10 litre Salomon backpack was composed of camera gear, and the other half water. Put together, that was my survival kit.

These are a few of my favourite shots from the trip, which involved mostly street shooting, getting to know people in coffee shops and libraries, making friends in the most peculiar and uncomfortable situations.

Shinjuku

The first night was spent in Shinjuku, as a way to force myself awake from the horrible jetlag from Montreal. Loud, busy, inescapable, Shinjuku will wake you up with a bang.

And Tokyo’s alleys at night are a delight.

The first couple of days in Tokyo served me well—mostly as a warmup to feel comfortable again, out in the open field, pointing a camera directly at groups or individual people. It was also an opportunity to try my new 9/18mm M4/3, which devoured Tokyo’s cityscape with immense pleasure.

I call this one the female inline Abbey Road.

The running started on day 2, my birthday. Leaving Shinjuku, down the Tama river, to crash the next day at Kawasaki. Eventually I made my way back to Tokyo, where I fell in love with the accidental renaissance that is the Tokyo subway:

One of my favourite pictures from the entire trip

Slightly dystopian.

Another run along the Tama river, this time heading West towards Hino. It was time to—for the time being—say goodbye to Tokyo.

Takayama

Takayama, in the Japanese Alps region, is a tiny little town also known as little Kyoto. Apart from the morning market in the little alleys, there’s no overwhelming crowds, no hustle, no sense of urgency. This was a very welcoming departure from Tokyo; and it gave me a chance to finally engage with the locals. Takayama literally changed the way I approached and dealt with people for the rest of my trip.

Visually remove wires and signs, and this is Japan 300 years ago
Elderly foodies.

After taking a bus down south, I ran alongside the Miyagawa river, up north. As the terrain ascended, just before sunset, I realised I was right in the middle of a surreal and idyllic place; I could see the mountains down below, hear water streams, see no other living soul. A moment to stop, grab the camera off my backpack, and sit in stillness for a little while:

The next day, my legs needed a break in the morning. Walking was difficult, so I did what I love the most: grab a book, find a good café, sit around and read. This time, however, I didn’t get to take my book out of the bag, because I met Chiemi. I grabbed a picture of her right when we met, and eventually took the conversation elsewhere.

It was also in Takayama that I met Mr. Koba, the owner of a local Jazz bar in town. As we were the only two souls in a bar, he kindly kept the vintage sake pouring, and the both of us drunkly chatted about life. While I was still sober enough to work a camera, I snapped his photo, also capturing the joyful state of Mr. Koba that night after a few glasses with me.

Kyoto

From little Kyoto, to big Kyoto.

The unmistakable green taxis
Kyoto is heaven for shadow play.
Nineizaka and Sanneizaka may be touristy, but very, very lovely.
Street life in Kyoto does not disappoint
My impromptu local guide that day. Magical things happen when you stay put for a little while.

Running in Kyoto was also pretty fantastic. The segments I did were all alongside the Katsura River, southbound, to the Fushimi Ward. In one of these runs, I captured one of the most astonishing sunsets I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness, too.

Osaka

Osaka was a quick stop–and an excuse for sidetrips. Running-wise, this is also where things went wrong: right after my run alongside the Yodo River (northbound), my body pretty much collapsed from exhaustion. Long story short, I was forced to bedrest for an entire day, and had to miss most of Osaka. Luckily, I still managed to walk around a little bit at night, where it shines the brightest. And it smells the loveliest, too.

Welcome to Osaka
Getaway to Nara. This was the cutest couple.

Tokyo

Coming back to Tokyo was everything, and more, that I could possible ever want and need. Extremely fatigued and sick, all I could do was meet people and get lost in the crowds. Luckily for me, I was staying in Asakusa, right in the middle of the Sanja Matsuri Festival.

Nights were mostly spent in Ginza, getting used to the incredible, Tron-like atmosphere of the area at night.

The Shusse no Ishidan, Stairway of Success.
Tsukiji market.

So many more places

And photos, that I’d like to put up here. But maybe I’ll save those for a part II, I like the idea of having these as the highlights of street photography during those few weeks while I was taking breaks from all the running.

In the middle of all this, I forgot to take pictures of myself during this epic adventure. One morning in Takayama, I met two other runners who took a very sweaty picture of me and shared it, as we exchanged contacts.

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Ricardo Magalhães

I work for the Internet. By day, a front-end web developer with a passion for typography and design. By night, I’m sleeping.