We previously published a selection of images from Meg Hewitt’s project Tokyo Is Yours during our 2016 Street Photography Awards. We reached out to Meg a year later to see if she had any news to share, and happily she has just published a book! Below you’ll find an all-new edit of images from her popular series along with information about the recent publication. Enjoy!
Sometimes I feel like I am living in a film that I have imagined. I suppose being in a country like Japan—where I don’t understand most of the language—leads me to question things on a more basic level. Humanity plays out in front of me, and I seek meaning separate from words. I like to pick up the manga at the corner store and flick through, interpreting the story from the pictures alone.
I work mainly by instinct. I walk the streets, and some days nothing much happens; on other days, I connect with people and places regardless of language, and I find things unfolding before me—special moments I want to share. Things that interest me draw me into them. Somehow they reveal meanings. I can suddenly see symbols, metaphors and stories in a flash of a moment, things that are both expected and unexpected. Stereotypes, archetypes.
Often curios jump out at me: absurdities like a fire bucket next to the seashore or a man holding up his screaming cat. I believe there are two Japans: one at night and one during the day. I always felt drawn to the night, when the country finishes work and the populace transforms into their nighttime personas. For this project, I often shot at night and then developed the film in my bathroom at my hotel.
Japan is a place of fantasy; there are all kinds of fetishes and all kinds of places to find pleasure: owl cafes, costume parties, theme bars and anime nightclubs. I especially love the very small bars in Tokyo—some hold only 4-6 people. Inside, everyone forms a bond and chats with the bartender over beer and sake. Many of the people who I eventually photographed I originally met in these bars. They told me about their hopes for the future: to be married, to fall in love, to be an artist or performer or to travel. They also shared their fears: being alone, failing, getting stuck as a cog in the wheel. Many of them also mentioned earthquakes—they are afraid that another disaster like the Great Kanto Earthquake (which killed over 140,000 people in 1923) will come to pass again. During this disaster, most of the city’s old wooden houses burnt down, and the streets melted, engulfing people whole. And yet, the people in Japan are so resilient—they rebuild and move on. Even though there are often sizable tremors, the cracks are filled quickly.
The name of the series and book came from a tag I saw on my first trip to Tokyo—it was spray-painted across the city: “Tokyo Is Yours.” What did it mean? I am still not sure. Is it a nationalistic thought, or is it a reaction to the uncertainty that plagued the city after the great earthquakes and tsunamis? In 2011, the prime minister of Japan said that the country came within a “paper-thin margin” of a complete disaster that would’ve required evacuating the entire capital. Is the phrase a call to reclaim the city or an awareness of its tenuous existence?
Editors’ note: Tokyo Is Yours made its debut at Les Rencontres d’Arles on July 3rd. The book is unique because it can be read from right to left as well as left to right in the Japanese style. The book can be purchased on Hewitt’s website.
Our 2017 Street Photography Awards are now open for entries! Submit your work now for exposure to editors from National Geographic, The Guardian, Time, and more. Learn more about the competition on its Call for Entries.