Overall I prefer Japanese photo books to any other because there is a pleasure in seeing images of the place you call home through the eyes of others. Photo books of all kinds inspire me to get outside as often as possible with my camera but Japanese books resonate the most.
As a result I have, over many years, built up quite a collection of books covering a number of themes and thought it might be interesting to make a full list of them here. Who knows, maybe some of the books will inspire you, too. Compiling this list will also compel me to go through my bookshelves and revisit books I haven’t looked at in a while.
I buy most, but not all, of my books online from Shashasha (写々者) in Tokyo.
It’ll take me a while to get this list compiled so bear with me. I have split them into two fairly vague categories, Society and Geography which I hope will cover most themes but a lot of the books could be in both. February 25th, 2022.
- Goze – Shoko Hashimoto / 瞽女 – 橋本照嵩. I also have a republished copy of the original magazine by Shoko Hashimoto. Combined they are probably my favourite Japanese photo books at the moment. Hashimoto followed three blind women (Goze) around Niigata prefecture in the 1970s photographing them as they went from village to village playing music and bestowing good fortune on the locals.
- Aomori 1950-1962 – Shoichi Kudo / 青森 1950-1962 – 工藤正市. Shoichi Kudo walked the streets of Aomori with his camera to and from work documenting daily life and then supposedly filed away the negatives and forgot about them. It was only in recent years that his family rediscovered them and made this superb volume of work. I love the simplicity. Just walk to work with your camera and document what you see. Then stash the photos away in a draw and forget about them. Books like these and Goze above make we want to go back to the 1960s and 70s and shoot only grainy black and white film with my Leica M6.
- My Husband – Tokuko Ushioda / マイハズバンド – 潮田登久子. More photos from the 1970s. Ushioda documents her family life from a small room in 1970s Tokyo proving you don’t need to go far at all to do a personal project.
- Tsuru to Kame Roku – Tsuru to Kame / 鶴と亀禄 – 鶴と亀編集部. A fun photo magazine about the lives of the elderly population in Okushinano, northern Nagano. Produced with a modern Tokyo vibe.
- Nippon 2010-2020 – Shuhei Motoyama / 日本 – 2010-2020 本山周平. A similar book to Aomori 1950-1962 above but with photos taken more recently and taken throughout Japan. Motoyama set out to document the changes in Japan over the last twenty years and he has a volume that precedes this that I’m yet to purchase. Mostly photos of street scenes taken at a distance of people interacting within the environment, this is exactly the kind of photography I enjoy the most. Wander, shoot, keep it simple, and add a human element where possible. Cloth bound and a joy to hold.
- Sunlanders – Sean Lotman – Sean is a good friend and I’ve actually been with him when a couple of the photos in this book were taken. Sean takes ordinary Japan, adds a vibrant twist, and always produces something wonderful.
- Citizens – Jun Abe / 市民 – 阿部淳. I first came across Jun Abe in the early 2010s and his black and white street photography dating back to the 1970s is a wonderful example of what you can do with a camera and a good pair of walking shoes. Abe, who has always kept a low profile, is a master of catching everyday instances in the streets of Osaka and beyond. I have the Citizens book but there seems to have been a republication titled Citizens in Society. I don’t know if it’s the same book.
- Black & White Notes 2 – Jun Abe / 黒白ノート3 -阿部淳. See Citizens directly above. I really should purchase the whole set of Black and White Notes.
- Osaka – Jun Abe / 大阪 – 阿部淳. A colour zine of streets photos taken in Osaka. Out of print.
- Zuisha – John Sypal / 随写 – John Sypal. Photographs in a similar style to Jun Abe but with a more contemporary and personal touch.
- Survey: Mountains – Shiho Yoshida / 測量 | 山 – 吉田志穂. It’s great to photograph mountains and landscapes but honestly, landscape photography in general bores. Far too many over-saturated skies, blurry oceans… It’s not for me (anymore). Shiho Yoshida takes a completely different approach to landscape photography combining abstract digital processes with documentary style photos. It’s highly conceptual and I like it.
- Little Faded Trip – Koji Onaka / すこし色あせた旅 – 尾仲浩二. This is similar to Nippon 2010-2020 mentioned above but with a more relaxed feel and structure. Being unable to travel during the pandemic Onaka chose to stay home and work in his darkroom making prints from negatives of past trips. Unlike Nippon 2010-2020 this is in full colour. If I could spend my days just wandering and photographing in the way Onaka does and make a living from it then I would definitely give it a shot. You can see some (all?) images from the book on his website.
- Mt. Fuji – Naoki Ishikawa 石川直樹. Possibly my favourite Japanese photographer/climber. No nonsense photography of Japan’s iconic mountain. Ishikawa comes across more as a climber/adventurer than a photographer and as such his photographs always offer a straightforward view of life.
- Nippon, Hokkaido – Naoki Ishikawa 石川直樹. Just as his Mt. Fuji book does (above) Ishikawa explores Hokkaido in his own unique way that turns everyday snapshots into a daily narrative of life on Japan’s northern island.
- Everest – Naoki Ishikawa 石川直樹. Yet another book by Ishikawa. A similar style to his book on Mt. Fuji, Everest offers a wonderful mix of landscape and portrait photos of Mt. Everest and surroundings.
- Looking for the Mountain – Kyoko Kawano / 山を探す – 川野恭子. Another book about the Japanese mountains that I find inspiration from. I find there’s a tendency for Japanese photographers to look for subtlety and quietness in landscapes as apposed to overindulging the viewer with saturated colours as a lot of other landscape photographers tend to do. This book is also printed in a concertina style which makes it unique.
- Shikawatari – Chieko Shiraishi / 鹿渡り – 白石ちえこ. Shiraishi Chieko follows herds of deer through the harsh Hokkaido winter wilderness. I visited a similar area a few years ago and would love to go back and spend more time there.