The Look: Traveling Across Japan

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the look

Hiroyuki Ito, a photographer who grew up in Tokyo, wanted to see more of his country. So he spent two months this summer documenting interesting moments.

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Oct. 21, 2017

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Hiroyuki Ito covered a lot of ground this summer: Moji, Dazaifu, Hakata, Yanagawa and Kumamoto on Japan’s Kyushu Island; Kochi-city and Cape Ashizuri in Kochi; Atami in Shizuoka and Omiya, Saitama. 54 cities in 18 prefectures, to be exact.

He was looking to capture the way people live outside of Tokyo — the faces, architecture, even, sometimes, what he sees in a trash can.

“I like to document the small things people do on a daily basis that are not significant enough to be listed in the history books,” he said. “I would like to think that that’s part of history, too, but not in an obvious or romantic way.”

With that in mind, the Mr. Ito got in a car with three of his best friends from elementary school and drove 90 minutes from Tokyo to Atami, a kitschy seaside city that is a popular destination for family vacations. “I think that’s part of Japanese culture, too,” he said of the country’s goofier tourist attractions.

In Atami, the photographer and his friends paid about $9 to get into the Trick Art Museum, where visitors can take photos in trompe l’oeil paintings. Mr. Ito wasn’t fooled by the illusions, but, he said, “it was so silly that we kind of ended up enjoying it.”

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Mr. Ito made another trip with one of his elementary school friends to the island of Shikoku. It required them to spend more than six hours on trains. A recommendation led them to the Sansuien Hotel, where they encountered a couple on their wedding day. They were dressed in traditional wedding attire, complete with the bride’s wataboshi, a hat that protects her hair.

“Under it, she most likely has her hair set in the style called takashimada, the most popular Japanese hairstyle for brides,” Mr. Ito said. “Setting hair in takashimada using your own hair takes a few hours. If you partially use a wig, then it takes less time.”

By coincidence, Mr. Ito’s parents-in-law are from Kochi, so he later asked them if they had heard of Sansuien. “They exclaimed in unison, ‘That’s where we had our wedding 50 years ago!” he said.

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

It is common for businessmen, known as salarymen in Japan, to sleep on the bullet train from Kokura to Kobe. “They’re modern-day samurais,” Mr. Ito said, referring to the long hours and travel they put in before returning home each day.

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Mr. Ito spotted this young woman near Omiya Station in Saitama, a city about 30 minutes outside Tokyo by car. He wasn’t sure whose face she’d chosen as an accessory, but he imagined it was that of a boy-band member.

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Reo King Sanshiro, a pantomimist, was standing outside a Chinese restaurant on a busy street in Kumamoto City. He told Mr. Ito that he has traveled all over the world as a street performer. “There are a lot of street performers that go study in the West, and they come back and sometimes mix in Japanese tradition arts too,” Mr. Ito said.

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

The young women here are dancing Yosakoi, which originated in the 1950s. Unlike other styles of traditional Japanese dance, Yosakoi allows for modern influences. “When I saw these dancers there, I actually didn’t know that it was part of Yosakoi,” Mr. Ito said. “I thought it was a hip-hop scene.”

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Mr. Ito was struck by the way this man was wearing his jacket slouched over his shoulders. It reminded him of Japanese gangster movies in the ’60s. “It’s a way of saying: Don’t mess with me. It’s funny because he was not carrying a gun or a sword — he has a can of coffee.”

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

This photo was taken in Yanagawa, Fukuoka, a town Mr. Ito described as Japan’s Venice because of the many canals. The gondolier pictured is wearing a kasa, or a traditional Japanese straw hat.

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Mr. Ito first met Sachi Matsuoka, above, at the hot springs in Cape Ashizuri in Kochi. “Her friends came over and said, ‘Sachi, our bus is leaving in five minutes, what are you doing? You make new boyfriends everywhere you go,’” Mr. Ito said, laughing. The next day, he went to check out the hot springs in Matsuyama, a three-hour drive away. There, he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Sachi.

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CreditHiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Mr. Ito’s trip ended on a beach in Atami, where someone was setting off fireworks. This kind of show is usually a large production in Japan: Many venues sell tickets in advance, have M.C.s, invite famous entertainers and require people to line up for hours for the best spot.

“We thought that we went to the wrong place because there were no advertisements saying that fireworks are coming,” Mr. Ito said. “And then out of the blue, without any fanfare, it started.”


Hiroyuki Ito will publish a book of photographs called “The Flip Flop Diary” in December. There will be accompanying exhibition at Pearl River Mart Gallery in New York City from January 13 to Feb. 5, 2018.

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