Y is for Yoaruki

Japan by day is one thing. But let’s be brutally honest here: when we picture the Land of the Rising Sun, it is often after the sun has set. The image of modern Japan is one that is glowing rainbow neon under a night sky.

It is an incredible sight. The image of thousands of people piling across the famous Shibuya scramble while blazing towers loom overhead is not one to be forgotten. And yet there is another layer to this. You see, while I think we’re all singing from the same hymnbook when it comes to nighttime urban Japan, what happens when the lights go out? When the last train leaves the station, the last customer leaves the izakaya, and the last drunk reveller falls asleep in the capsule hotel? The night goes on.

And that is where my ‘Yoaruki’ comes in. Yoaruki (夜歩き) translates as ‘nightwalking’, and it has been a recent hobby of mine to stick around the streets, deliberately missing the last train home and seeing what happens in Tokyo between midnight and the first train at about 5:00am.

It all started back in the summer of 2010, when my missing of the last train out of Shibuya was anything but deliberate. I was still fairly new to the country, and I was still lacking in language confidence (and money) to put myself up in a hotel for the night, so I just ended up wandering around the Shibuya area for hours, drinking in the sights and people-watching the party-goers who were at the last burn-out ends of their stamina. Fear turned to curiosity, and by the time the first train took me away in the first light of day, I was glad to have seen Tokyo in its darkest, most unseen hours.

I ended up being less scared of missing my last train after that night, and indeed it did happen a couple more times, but I never did a proper ‘Yoaruki’ until September 2015, when I planned a walk between Ikebukuro and Shibuya, taking in the west side of Tokyo on the way. This included student-central Takadanobaba, The Koreantown of Shin Okubo, the mighty Shinjuku, fashionable Harajuku and finally arriving at Shibuya, a total of nearly 9km. I walked through a mix of narrow paths and wide boulevards, places still loud and bright and in a perpetual party, and others silently asleep. All in a light drizzle that gave everything a ghostly glow.

How do I describe what I saw? The words that jump to mind all contradict each other: relaxing yet creepy, colourful yet muted, lonely and yet intimate, silent and yet still full of noise. Perhaps I shouldn’t do the talking. I will let a selection of my photos from that night do that.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

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One comment

  1. I especially am fond of the back streets filled with traditional architecture and neon signs. Most of these are in books from the 1950s and 1960s that I have. I hope somewhere, maybe in Osaka, they’re still there. Love these photos.

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