In the first post I talked about photography and living in Japan being the two things I was most capable of talking about. For some reason I never mentioned how intrinsically linked they are.
In my life I’ve had many interests. None of which I ever committed enough to. When I was in primary school I was certain I was going to be goalkeeper for Stoke City FC and England. So certain in fact that I never realised that doing no exercise outside of a kick around in the park (where I stood stoically between the jumpers) every few nights was really going to get in the way of a career in professional sports. This attitude continued through stints as a future musician, writer, French speaker, and professor of literature. Eventually I was 24 years old, with a degree in English Literature, working in a supermarket cafe, doing nothing creative and talking to friends and family about how colossally bummed out I was. Everyone pointed out that having zero interest in what you’re doing every day really can drag you down. I quit my job, spent four weeks learning how to teach English as a foreign language.
Six months after leaving the supermarket I was lost at Narita Airport on a cold January night, wondering how exactly this was supposed to be an improvement over finishing at 8pm and then going home and watching Netflix with once housemate and all time homie Bob. This continued for a couple of months. I mean, I was meeting people, drinking a lot of cheap beer and appreciating the fact that I could buy hot coffee in a can immediately outside my door for ¥100, but I wasn’t really that much happier. I was lonely and I didn’t know what to do with myself. After work I went home, played World of Warcraft on my laptop, slept too late the next day, and then rushed to work.
Fortunately, I’d also started taking shitty iPhone pictures of my daily life to send back home. I took some pictures around that time that I really liked – they weren’t good photographs in hindsight and the only copies that still exist are on my nan’s bookshelf in a book I made her at the end of that first year. But, the more I took these photos the more fun I started having; the more comfortable I was to be out by myself; the more likely I was to leave my minuscule apartment ten minutes early to take photos on the walk to the station. After a couple of months I caved and bought a Fujifilm x20 – I spent hours in the shop picking up different cameras and trying them out. Enjoying the feel of a ‘real’ camera. In the end I basically chose the x20 because of the way it looked and because, the x30 being pretty new, it was cheaper. The next thing I knew I was leaving for work 20 minutes early and going out on my days off just to take pictures. I was going to parts of Tokyo I’d never thought of going to because I wanted to see what I could take photos of. When I went to language exchanges and people asked (you’d be surprised how often they ask) ‘what is your hobby?’ I started saying ‘photography,’ where before I’d always said, ‘playing video games, I guess.’ I started going down the Instagram rabbit hole, finding photographers who interested me and seeing if I could do what they were doing. I couldn’t, but I was having fun trying. I took more and more pictures and I took a lot of pictures of my friends. I stopped doing that for a while but happily I’ve started again this year. I took photos of absolutely everything and loved doing it. I recently completed what was drunkenly dubbed ‘The Big Delete’ and now don’t have a single photo from that first year in my Lightroom library and almost none left anywhere at all. I’m not sad about that. I don’t think the pictures from that first year mattered in the slightest. What mattered was how much fun I had making them.
The moment I actually realised that photography had become my great love was the day that camera died. I was heading out to meet a friend, camera in hand, but when I flicked the on/off switch, nothing happened. I panicked, making a stop off at Bic Camera to pick up a new battery and crossing my fingers that was the answer. ¥4000 later, my camera was still fucked. I went to the Yodobashi Camera repair counter and asked them to help. They told me they could look at it over the next few weeks, maybe fix it, and then charge me an as yet undecided amount of money. I put the camera back in my bag, devastated, and went to hang out with my friends. Yuka (there’s way more about Yuka to come) lent me a camera her mum had won in a competition and never used – a Nikon compact that I just couldn’t get used to using. At that point I still valued the hardware a lot more than what I was using it for. I had a little money saved up and I blew it to buy an x-t10; using vouchers my landlord had given me for convincing a friend to move into one of his buildings to swap the kit lens out for a Fujinon f/2 35mm, determined to stick with one camera, one lens.
Since realising how much I hated not having a camera to hand at all times I’ve left the house without my camera (to go much further than the shop at the bottom of the road or to the station to meet Yuka) precisely once. I didn’t feel like I was missing out that day, but I felt weird. The camera isn’t always in my hand, although I try and keep it there if I’m walking alone. It’s become something I check for in the same way I check for my PASMO (transit pass) or phone. I don’t take photos if I don’t feel like taking them. I also don’t take the risk that if I do, I won’t be able to.
It’s hard to explain how much coming to Japan (and thus photography) changed my life. If I’d never come, I’d never have taken those iPhone photos, never have been invigorated by my x20 and crushed by its demise. I might have gone home at the end of my first year, as was my plan. I’d have gone back to working in the supermarket, going home and watching Netflix (I do still watch a lot of Netflix, mind) and never taken a single photograph I gave a shit about. When people asked me ‘what’s your hobby?’, I’d have said, ‘playing video games, I guess.’
Tokyo, March 2017.