Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo... Walking the streets with Souichirou and his family. Kabukicho is the red light, food & gambling district of Shinjuku, smack in the middle of Tokyo.
We gather at his office, where he shows me the work of Watanabe Katsumi, a japanese street photographer of this particular district who, for about 40 years, barely making a living, sold his street photographs back to his subjects. Amazing stuff.
I'm surprised that somehow he must have taken the time to research this book and lend it to me to look in. We talk about photography, the schedule that lies ahead of us, and the places he and his family are going to take us to. I am impressed what is in store for us. And excited.
Some of the other family members arrive at the office. Everyone is waiting outside, time to go.
I'm definitely aware of the weird mix of feelings while walking the streets at night with them, in 'their' borough. A mix of respect, fear, clueless-ness, anger and admiration from the people, the hustlers, the shopkeepers, the prostitutes, the restaurants, the tourists, the club owners,...
It's my first night out shooting. We're on a so-called "go-around", where the whole family gathers in fine suits to walk the streets collectively, greeting everyone, being greeted by everyone, in effect unmistakably showing everyone that they are, simply, 'there'.
The message is crystal clear.
Two regular japanese guys walk up to me, smiling and gesturing friendly, apparently wanting to see my pictures.
I see Souichirou in the corner of my eye taking an immediate distance and signaling me, that this is in fact undercover police... The family disperses, like nothing ever happened... Just in time I have the presence of mind to start playing dumb and speak in a way too loud voice "tourist, tourist, picture".... and I take off in another direction.
They don't follow me. Close call.
And thus ends the first shoot.
Anton, april 2009
About the Work
Souichirou is the lead character of the story that i'm starting to tell, about a Yakuza family in Japan. After more than 10 months of preparation, my brother and I have been granted access to start a long-term project to document the visible and hidden life of that particular family. All names used in the account above (and previous and future accounts) are fictional.
Here and on burn magazine, i will regularly provide visual and textual accounts of our adventures.
I hope to be able to publish a book on this story.