My photography is about people but often without people – stories in objects and surroundings about their lives and lifestyles.

Japan probably conjures up many thoughts – crowds, temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shinto), Shinkansen, mount Fuji, and more. City workers’, ‘salarymen’ in Japanese, lifestyles are centred around their employment, traditionally at the same company for their entire lives, with a wife and children at home. And make no mistake, Japan is a very traditional society still, with by far the majority of girls giving up their careers on getting married, staying at home, cooking, cleaning, bearing and looking after children. After work husbands continue ‘work’ with their colleagues in a favourite izakaya – the Japanese equivalent of a pub/restaurant in the UK.

While passing time ahead of a booking at my favourite Italian restaurant in Tokyo near Tamachi station, I wandered around a nearby old-fashioned pedestrian area packed with izakaya taking photos. Izakaya tend to be inexpensive and, depending on size (varying from a one man show to larger businesses with four or so chefs and many waiters/waitresses), serving a range of food (often including potato fries as I’m sure you’re concerned to know). Some izakaya specialise – yakitori (grilled chicken), oden (a kind of stew), though sushi and sashimi are best eaten in the more expensive specialist restaurants. Of course the area will contain a few other shops but generally Japanese towns tend to have a general shopping area, a drinking district, but often a separate ‘night-life’ district.

I carried my Leica iiig and 50mm f3.5 (coated) Elmar, a wonderfully compact and lightweight combination with several pluses over any other film camera which I’ll describe further in another article. Portra 400 was new to me having been photographing B&W for several years and, in my colour days, was dedicated to Velvia after the demise of Kodachrome. Now I find Velvia’s colours to be garish and too much in-your-face, rather childish, and I prefer a more neutral representation. I was surprised at the ability of Portra and the Elmar to handle the night lights, colourful and garish in themselves, in such a realistic way.

Drinking district near Tamachi, Tokyo. Leica iiig, Elmar, Portra 400.
“Big Venus” and opposite, a ramen bar, in a quiet side alley.

Drinking district near Tamachi, Tokyo. Leica iiig, Elmar, Portra 400.
“Cheap!!!” Beer 199yen, about €1.50.
Drinking district near Tamachi, Tokyo. Leica iiig, Elmar, Portra 400.
A subdued entrance through ‘Noren’ (curtain entrance) possibly hiding a slightly less crowded, more sophisticated space and better atmosphere. Pictures of dishes and menus on display outside are common features.

Drinking district near Tamachi, Tokyo. Leica iiig, Elmar, Portra 400
 “Mum’s cooking”. Obviously small, probably mostly regular locals but these places are generally welcoming if you are with someone who can read and speak Japanese.

Drinking district near Tamachi, Tokyo. Leica iiig, Elmar, Porta 400.
“Fish shop town” – a confusing name, but open late, and a quick look inside will confirm whether it’s an izakaya or a fish shop.
Drinking area near Tamachi, Tokyo. Leica iiig, Elmar, Portra 400.
“Chicken shop” – again superficially confusing but a common name for teriyaki chicken and chicken specialist shops. The quiet old characterful exterior may be matched by an equally interesting interior …. or maybe not.

Maybe the elephants in the room are and f4 lens and, what!, no tripod??? My thoughts were an f2 or faster lens can be great for portraiture but for a street landscape the depth of field is too shallow, f4 represents an acceptable compromise. And, of course, 35mm is intended to be hand-held plus a tripod would be difficult to set up in a narrow crowded street. Exposure times varied from 1/60th down to 1/15th and post-processing was limited to contrast adjustment and occasionally minor cropping or straightening.

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