12 days, 24 hours: A Tokyo Photo Project

7 min read

Jan. 11, 2024

Guy Taking a Photo in Tokyo

In the fall of 2023 I spent a bit over two months in Japan. The first month was mostly spent traveling Hokkaido and Kyushu (Fukuoka, Kumamoto, etc.) and the last month was entirely spent in Tokyo.

As I thought about my time in Tokyo I knew I wanted to do a photo project of some sort. I have gotten into taking photos again this year and Tokyo is one of the top places in the world for street photography. It also happens to be potentially my favorite city in the world which also added to the motivation.

I knew I wanted to do something that would be across multiple days and would be a challenge. What I ended up settling on was walking between two of the busiest landmarks in Tokyo, the Kabukicho Godzilla and Hachiko at Shibuya Station over the course of 24 hours. Functionally it was walking back and forth between Shinjuku and Shibuya.

I then broke the day up into two hour increments, which was enough to walk between the two and still have time to stop and shoot photos. So every photo walk ended up being 2 hours over the course of 12 days total so I could experience all hours of the day.

Austin selfie

A "selfie" of me taken on one of the many nights I spent walking to find interesting things to shoot. I used the Fuji XT-5 35mm lens the entire time and it never failed me throughout the entire project.

I'm not sure really why I settled on the format of walking between Shinjuku and Shibuya, but looking back I think I was just looking to have a goal to work towards. I also happened to be staying in Shinjuku so it made it easier to get out and shoot when it was time to go.

I was also inspired by photographers like Ed Templeton and people I saw on instagram who go deep on the places they photograph. Ultimately I think it turned out neat as it showcases how drastically different a place can be and who is out and about (or not at all times of the day).

After the project was complete I calculated a few stats which I think speak to how long the project took:

Shots Taken
miles walked

The project ended up being more of a challenge than I had first expected. I thought the challenge sounded simple enough but it turns out walking two hours every single day for 12 days straight is hard, especially when sometimes the two hours is 2-4AM. The compromise I quickly made with myself was that I wouldn't do 12 days straight. This turned out to be both better for my feet and better for the photos as the first 12 days after starting were all good weather and I was hoping for varied weather to shoot photos in.

Looking back I think had some of the best experiences in the dead of night when no one was around, which is rare in Tokyo. One of my favorite memories was crossing Shibuya crossing completely by myself, which typically has hundreds if not thousands of people crossing at the same time. It almost felt like I was in a movie and was the last person in an abandoned city that was once full of life. I will really appreciate memories like that and feel lucky I had ability to stay in Tokyo long enough to do a project like this.

Below I post some of the the notes I took from every day as I walked in italics. Some of them are random or me trying to learn how to shoot better photos along the way, but I will mostly let the photos do the talking.

4-6PM Shibuya -> Shinjuku

  • First day jitters, not really sure how everything will go
  • It's currently rush hour, will try to go shoot at the station as it'll be really busy
  • day 1 and I decided to only shoot with my 35mm lens for the entire project to force myself to move to get the shot
  • Places with a ton of people are harder to shoot, but there's more going on. Need to work on sitting in one spot and trying to let the photos come to me.

6-8PM Shinjuku -> Shibuya

  • I really want to shoot more video (edit: gave up on this) and will use a clip tonight to try and get chest level shots
  • Tonight i'll wait at godzilla in Kabukicho for the smoke to come out of it's mouth
  • Already tired & not wanting to go, but still thankful to be here and able to do it
  • Got lost in Nishi-Shinjuku even with Google Maps
  • Trying to be more brave and walking up to people/things for photos

8-10PM Shibuya -> Shinjuku

  • struggled with keeping things in focus last night, going to try to slow down
  • trying not to make the path repetitive but there's basically one main street between Shinjuku and Shibuya

10PM - 12AM Shinjuku -> Shibuya

no notes tonight

12AM - 2AM Shibuya -> Shinjuku

  • super cold weather tonight, glad to have Steph with me to keep me motivated
  • trying to capture some of these areas that don't have many people at this time of night. Contrast it with areas that are known for partying/being busy

2AM - 4AM Shinjuku -> Shibuya

  • Tonight I realized all the video I've attempted to be shooting is the wrong shutter speed and looks really really bad (stopped doing any video after this)
  • Hoping to get an empty shot of Shibuya crossing if that's a thing
  • Kind of eerie feeling being out when no one else is, but makes for good photos
  • It's a Sunday night, so I wonder if that will contribute to more people not being out this late

4AM - 6AM Shibuya -> Shinjuku

  • Finally a super rainy night, but also really cold
  • Going to try and catch the first train of the day to see who is on it (around 5 am)
  • Might hang around train stations too to see first commuters of the day come in
  • note: This might have been my favorite session and also the most challenging one to shoot. I'm still very new to photography and the weather, lighting, etc. made it a real (but fun) challenge

6AM - 8 AM Shinjuku -> Shibuya

  • Light is perfect today
  • Going to try and get to Meiji Jingu (famous shrine near Harajuku) as it opens
  • Hoping to also catch sunrise and find a decent vantage point for it

8AM - 10AM Shibuya -> Shinjuku

For whatever reason I ended up doing this 2 hour window on my last morning in Tokyo. It is interesting to look at my notes with a couple thoughts about heading back home.

  • Feeling a bit melancholy about having to leave, but also very much ready to go home for the holidays
  • I think I'm ready to not do the same walk over and over
  • Really proud I finished this project even if I skipped around and didn't do everything sequentially

10AM - 12PM Shinjuku -> Shibuya

  • Love seeing a "secret spot" at Shinjuku station where people soak up the sun over their lunch breaks (probably not very secret)
  • Walking the wrong direction for good light, hoping to make it work

12PM - 2PM Shibuya -> Shinjuku

  • Today I might take photos of people who are on their phones, which I have explicitly avoided for the most part otherwise

2PM - 4PM Shibuya -> Shinjuku

In hindsight this may have been my best day of photos. Very happy with how a lot of these turned out.

When I first posted my photos on instagram I honestly felt a bit ambivalent about them. After putting some of my favorites all one page, it makes me appreciate the project more and I'm really happy with how a lot of my shots turned out.

I'd love to do this in another city, maybe in another format but I really enjoyed seeing a place at all times of the day. I'm not sure if i'll make this a "series" but there is likely a lot more to come in the form of photos since I have really been enjoying this new hobby and learning how to best shoot with the Fuji X series.

If you made it this far, thanks for checking out all of the photos and please feel free to reach out to me for any and all questions or comments.