The Other Side Of Japan’s Sensory Overload

Having been drip-fed a visual narrative of robots, Nintendo and Kill Bill, I intended my forward journey into Japan be something of the opposite deciding that my traditional way of working in photography might be a better method to understand the culture. So that’s what I did, and my first foot forward was to divert from the touristy suffocating walkways of Shibuya (although I must admit it was a spectacle) and Akihabara into the backstreets of Tokyo’s close-knit communities and alleys. There I saw a cluster of revealing attitudes and idiosyncratic traits that I would otherwise not have seen.

Kitty’s Graffiti. Toei

People sat down outside concrete buildings with their children chattering amongst themselves. Small wood laden cafes whose identity strayed far from the cement mixed constructions of the city belonged, and my favourite and unique detail – political posters. Yes, that’s right. Amongst the cartoon faces of Japan’s Nintendo inspired (or is it the other way around?) imagery lay hand-mounted posters of Shinzo Abe and rivals evenly placed on the walls of shops, windows and mostly residential buildings. As a foreigner or ‘gaijin’, the mere sight of these posters stood out to me. Or could it be I am noticing these as a photographer?

Photo credit: Ty Faruki

Neatly and symmetrically placed, these posters stood out from a torrent of anime-inspired advertisements and roadblocks (it’s true, even some roadblocks were pasted with cartoon faces). Cartoon imagery is so dense throughout Japan, even rural areas are fond of them. From medical products to humidifiers, sushi restaurants and animated figures they populate the vast majority of advertisements in the country. Seeing propaganda posters was almost a breath of fresh air. And interestingly, their presence can be found tucked away in the backstreets of each prefecture.

It is an interesting observation. To see them plastered on the back street walls shows a strategic intent to galvanise the population, but to hide it from outsiders. Of course, this could be a subconscious placement or I am overthinking. But they are there. And having encountered an immensity of neon flashing lights, coming into contact with these posters showed another side of Japan. The overloaded side of politics within the country.

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