Places

About
Foundation
Partner Schools
Print Archive
Peer Review
Submissions
Donate
Contact


Departments

Critique
Essays
Gallery
Interviews
Multimedia
Partner News
Peer Reviewed
Poetry & Fiction
Projects


Topics

Architecture
Art
Books
Cities + Places
Community
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Film + Video
Food
Geography
Health + Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Infrastructure
Landscape
Photography
Planning
Politics + Policy
Preservation
Public + Private
Reputations
Sustainability
Technology
Transportation
Urbanism
Water



Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact




Gallery: Alan Thomas

Open Secrets: Photographs of Japan


Lunch

Beyond the entertainment districts, the pachinko parlors and the crowded department stores, Japanese cities are uncannily silent. Walking through their stillness, one begins to discern the peculiar geometries of urban Japan. These photographs take the measure of Japan’s spaces where they are most easily overlooked: the vernacular architecture of its backstreets, the layered density of neighborhoods, the ephemeral effects of constant building and rebuilding. I have photographed in Japan since the mid-1980s, but it was not until a third extended visit, in 1997, that I began to recognize a visual logic in Japan’s ordinary city spaces. These photographs are a set of formal solutions to the problem of a traveler’s disorientation, solutions drawn from the everyday structures of cities.




Japanese urban space is famously dense but at the same time astonishingly malleable. The architect Fumihiko Maki, in a book now reviewed on this site, observes that “compared with New York, Tokyo is a disorderly, relaxed city, whose architectural framework offers few constraints. That is precisely why the formation of territory in Tokyo is either very delicate and personal or extremely abstract in nature.” My pictures are concerned with both kinds of territory, but I am especially drawn to the spaces between planned projects. It is in these narrow confines that people and businesses perform the countless small-scale improvisations that give Japanese cities their character. These minor spaces are at once public and oddly intimate, and easily missed — the open secrets of urban Japan.

Share This Story

RELATED POSTS


Beyond Zuccotti Park: Making the Public


Accidents Will Happen: Lessons on Honey, Smoked Pig Fat, Atomic Disaster and the Half-Life of Truth


CicLAvia: Reimagining the Streets of Los Angeles


101 Spring Street


South Africa: From Township to Town



RSSSubscribe to Comment Feed

Comments (3)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

I like that you think. Thank you for share very much.
KINGRPG
03.19.10 at 10:03

wow... interesting information i have come to know from your post.. thanks a lot!
Clipping Path
03.22.10 at 03:36

You have captured well the persistence of privacy and improvisation, the humanity in the midst of It All. Your photographs are very much how I see Tokyo, too.
Booklover888
03.22.10 at 04:33



LOG IN TO POST A COMMENT
Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.

Email


Password




Donate to Places: Your Support Makes Our Work Possible



ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW

A selection of photographs of contemporary Japanese cities, by Alan Thomas.
View Slideshow >>

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alan Thomas is Editorial Director for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago Press and a photographer specializing in urban landscape.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









MORE BY Alan Thomas

06.20.13: Approaching Calcutta
10.25.12: Heartland
09.01.11: The Blue Corvette
03.28.11: Calcutta: Bookland
02.05.10: Chicago Self-Park
More by Alan Thomas >>