They Live by Night – Tokyo

 From Dangerous Minds:



Kabukichō is the red light district in Shinjuku, a commercial and administrative ward in central Tokyo. Apparently Kabukichō took its name from plans to build a kabuki theater in the district sometime in 1940s. This never happened. Instead the area became a busy red light world of nightclubs, hostess clubs and love hotels. It’s estimated there are some 3,000 such enterprises operating in Kabukichō today. At night, the busy neon-lit streets thrive with the curious and the criminal—around a thousand yakuza are said to operate in the area. All this relentless activity gave Kabukichō its nickname as the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街).

Among the curious drawn to Kabukichō was photographer Watanabe Katsumi (1941-2006). During the 1960s and 1970s, this seemingly quiet and unassuming character prowled the streets camera in hand offering to take pictures of the sharp-suited yakuza, the pimps, the prostitutes and the drag queens who lived and worked in and among this red light district’s narrow streets. Watanabe thought of Kabukichō as his theater and the men and women who posed for him as his actors.

He approached each of his subjects and offered to take their picture.  He took the pictures quickly. But whatever he said to make each individual sufficiently relaxed worked. His photographs captured something unguarded and utterly spontaneous about his subjects. The next night he would return, deliver three prints of each photograph for 200 yen—roughly around a dollar back then. This was how he made his living.

In 1973, the first volume of Watanabe Katsumi’s photographs The Gangs of Kabukichō was published. This book was reissued in 2006, details here.

























Via American Suburb X and Vintage Everyday.


My time in Japan was introduced by men in pastel pink and turquoise jumpsuits waving at planes at the airport. I had never seen such cute men in such cute jumpsuits before. I realized before I set foot on their soil that cuteness was not just for the Sanrio store, but was a way of life. After living there for a few years as a twenty-something I came to see the dark and the light of things, all washed over with the sweet adorable glaze of Kawaii, that actually made me more angry, but forced me to be more ladylike and care for my nails, to not trust American news sources and to pretend to be having fun when you are really fucking tired.

I was a novelty there which some people viewed as a living doll on a good weird day, or an awkward moment on the days that I got all American again and forgot to shave my legs or forced the kid who very quietly stole my bike to give up the the damn bike, very politely, and I think we even bowed, it just felt right. I was not cute then, but foreign as hell.  But even the bike stealing incident, which happened one might add, after the bike was left outside unlocked for 4 MONTHS, I couldn’t help but think it was cute. The boy with a girl stole the bike, she rode on the handle bars to the grocery store down the street, I was waiting for them when they came out. Might have even let them keep it, that’s what many a polite and adorable person might do, to not cause trouble, but I kind of needed the bike to get somewhere, and was shocked, shocked that they would do it.  People just didn’t steal there. They might place a cute sticker in the basket but that is the most extreme of expectations.