Nobuyoshi Araki shows the cultural side of Tokyo in the flesh
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
All major cities will have a seedy side because it appears to be laden within many people and since time and memorial sex simply sells. I have resided in big cities like London, Paris, Manchester, Brno, and many more, however, it is noticeable that Tokyo does provide many places, both seen and unseen, where the sex trade flourishes.
In fact, I would view myself to be prudish when compared with certain subcultures in Tokyo or given the prevalence; then I could add that it is cultural or at least it is tolerated within the culture.
I am no liberal but some things simply amaze me and embarrassment, shame, hiding reality, and so forth; does not enter the equation. Therefore, it is not rare to see a young female leaving a seedy love hotel in the afternoon alongside her elderly client (sometimes the client may not be so old) and things like enjo kosai (compensated dating) are visible.
Not all enjo kosai is based on sex but it often leads to this and just like the complex nature of love hotels, whereby some are used by the sex trade but others are used by lovers; then it is important not to generalize and many Tokyoites will be very conservative.
However, Nobuyoshi Araki goes much further because this famous photographer opens up a Tokyo which is often neglected or not imagined. He also fuses his photography with the landscape of Tokyo amidst naked bodies or ladies being tied up and his imagery is clearly powerful.
Therefore, Nobuyoshi Araki is also focusing on the emptiness of entertainment districts and the sex industry; albeit from an erotic human form and the energy and visual nature of his photography expresses many emotions.
Like any artist; people will see different things within his photography and while some people will gain from his works others may reject him on various grounds. However, if you look deeper into his work then Nobuyoshi Araki is providing a real glimpse into a Tokyo which exists and not only this, he does this by creating a rare energy within simplistic and complex themes.
In the 1980s Nobuyoshi Araki brought to light the reality of Kabukicho to the whole world and this district of Shinjuku did have a genuine seedy side to it. He published a book titled “Tokyo Lucky Hole” and I myself came across this book in a famous bookshop in Manchester, England.
At the time I had never been to Tokyo and the photos that he produced in this book were amazing in my eyes because it was something that I had not expected. It could have been that I was naïve or that traditional Japanese culture was embedded in my head from the images that I had seen on television in England.
However, after looking at religious art in Japan and then viewing his book, “Tokyo Lucky Hole;” then I can certainly say that his photography represents a Tokyo culture which is factual and exists; but the religious art imagery in the other book did not represent the Tokyo that I know.
In American culture Andy Warhol challenged many individuals with both his art and thinking. However, when I think about Nobuyoshi Araki then his work seems much more real and I can learn something because he makes many images seem natural despite the sexual nature of the pose by the individual in the photograph.
Nobuyoshi Araki also provides nostalgia and he commented about this by stating that “In a way, I guess so. People say photography should try to avoid being nostalgic, but I simply say photographs are nostalgic. The meaning of nostalgia for me is not sad memories or something that has disappeared; not just memories. For me nostalgia is like the warmth in a mother’s belly.”
Irrespective of your thinking about his work or if you desire to trivialize Nobuyoshi Araki or lump him with negative statements; I firmly believe that just like the Beatles remind you of the swinging sixties then Nobuyoshi Araki does the same for aspects of Tokyo culture.