I went to Japan to photograph Tokyo for a few days.
With no camera and no film…
Now let me be clear, I DID have a plan to get a camera and film once I got to Japan, as I mentioned in a previous post. However, I still liked the nervous feeling I had all the way from my apartment, to the airport, onto the plane, off the plane in Japan, to my AirBnb and then finally to the camera store. What if the camera I wanted wasn’t there?
It reminded me of that nervous knot in the gut I get when waiting to get scans home from the darkroom and see if I actually managed to get anything worthwhile.
Finding a Camera
After touching down at Narita airport I was on a mission:
- Get to Tokyo
- Get to my accommodation
- Drop off all my stuff
- Get to Shinjuku and MAP camera and buy my new camera (if they still had it.)
For weeks now I had been checking MAP’s website and making sure that a beautiful black Leica M2 was still available. I had pictures of it on my phone, including the serial number and the item code. Walking into MAP I was going to be prepared.
The first part, getting to Tokyo, was easy enough. Finding the NEX train that goes directly to Shibuya station (where I was staying) was quick thanks to Narita’s fantastic security checks. Fast and efficient. A good start for Japan.
The train was great. Nice comfortable seats, clean, quiet and most importantly, fast. After just over an hour we were in Tokyo.
Next up was my AirBnb. Now I’ve never stayed in an AirBnb before so I was a little unsure of what to expect. But I’ve heard good things and it worked out about 60% cheaper than a hotel. So I decided to stay at a place called Maya’s.
A house converted to have about seven bedrooms, it was cosy, clean and at a five minute walk to Shibuya station, a good base of operations for exploring and shooting Tokyo.
I stayed about thirty minutes or so once I arrived. Just enough time to drop off my bags and get my bearings before heading back out to the station to make for Shinjuku and MAP camera.
This next part I had researched pretty well thanks to Google Street View and other sites, and so once I was out of the station I made a beeline for MAP.
Now I really wish we had a place like this here in Saigon. I stuck to the first basement, where they keep all the second hand Leica gear. And it was heaven.
All the staff were wearing three piece suits and the place had a quiet, respectful air about it. I did feel a little out of place, coming in with tattoos and sweating from a mix of excitement and rushing around to get there before they closed. But I think the guy was happy once I didn’t even look at the cases and instead showed him the exact camera I wanted on my phone, serial number and all.
Thankfully they still had it and after examining it, running through the shutter speeds and such, I knew I was taking it home.
It’s a beautiful 1959 Leica M2 in black with a film advance so smooth I couldn’t stop winding it in the store while waiting for the guy to ring me up.
It did take a little while to get as I was also trading in a Fuji X100T (which MAP gave me a lot more for than I expected them too which was a nice bonus) but soon I was leaving with my M2, a Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 and some other bits and pieces.
Next stop was Yodobashi camera. Now Yodobashi is a different beast altogether. Eight floors and spread across two or three buildings, it was huge.
Having given myself a generous budget for this trip I was like a kid at christmas and picked up everything from film and film cases, a bulk roller, dark bag, strap and soft shutter release for my camera, new smaller Domke bag and all sorts. Also with a passport it was all tax free. Thanks Japan!
It was pretty late by the time I got back to where I was staying and after spending some time looking over everything I headed out, shooting my first two rolls of the trip that night.
Plans out the Window
Before heading for Japan I did have some plans of places to visit, such as Tsukiji Fish Market.But once there I found a lot of these plans ended up being forgotten.
Thanks to the public transport (trains every two minutes? Yes please!) Tokyo is incredibly easy to navigate and explore and I found most days would involve a visit to an attraction or two but generally I just wandered.
Next time however I will bring better shoes. Walking around Tokyo for twelve or more hours a day left me blistered to bits after the six days.
Books not Gear!
During one of these days just wandering, I found a bookstore in Harajuku, BookMarc (part of Marc Jacobs.) They had a great collection of books by some amazing photographers.
I went back the day before I was leaving and bought quite a few books, including this monstrously huge collection of Peter Beard’s work.
An amazingly talented photographer and artist, Peter Beard’s greatest work is certainly his documentation of the elephants starving to death in Tsavo.
This book is massive (I nearly killed a guy on the flight back when I almost dropped my case on his head with this inside) but it really is beautiful and a great way to view Peter’s incredible photographs, as well as read his notes and all the other crazy stuff he does (like collages covered in animal blood.)
On that visit I also picked up some other books, including work by Robert Frank, Wee Gee and of course Cartier-Bresson.
One afternoon I visited the Leica store in Ginza (the first of it’s kind in the world when it first opened) and also got this collection of work by Magnum photographers who have visited Tokyo over the years.
The title for this post came from the feeling I had while walking around Tokyo, day and night, with a new, untested camera. It has also been a long time since I really, seriously shot film. I shot a few rolls in Saigon yes but those were just on tours with my friends who were visiting and more for fun than anything. This trip is something I planned to turn into a book.
I felt blind.
Without having had a chance to shoot and develop any film with the Leica before, I really didn’t know what I was going to get. Although I had a small handheld meter for backup, I still couldn’t be sure of the results. That coupled with being in a new city, a new culture, felt a bit disorienting and was fairly worrisome.
I ended up shooting forty rolls over the six days. What if they were all useless?
The day I got back to Saigon I dropped the forty rolls into the darkroom I have develop and scan for me and began the painful waiting process.
Luckily, and thankfully, it seems to have been a worthwhile trip.
The camera and lens are frankly stunning and while I’ve only gotten twelve rolls back so far, I’m very happy indeed.
Right now I’m in the process of editing and re-editing and once I have all forty back will start to piece together what I hope will be a twenty-six to thirty page book.
You often hear people talk about ‘trips of a lifetime,’ but in all honesty I think this was one of those trips.