Unlike many other countries, Japan is pretty liberal when it comes to taking photos on the streets. I have been walking the streets of Tokyo for several years now and so far, I have not run into any trouble with the cops or anyone else. But I did see a news report recently, where a 40 year old Japanese man was arrested for taking a photograph of a lady sitting next to him on the train. While the debate rages on about whether he was at fault or not, my view is that the arrested photographer crossed a line of basic decency when he took the photograph of the lady without her permission. It doesn’t matter that he was not trying to take an “inappropriate” photograph, but the right thing to do is to ask for permission first. In an open street, taking casual shots where people will obviously be part of the frame is usually fine, but in a restricted space like a train, clicking a lady without her permission would be a strict no no anywhere in the world.
Tokyo is a street photographer’s paradise! From the old back lanes of Asakusa to the high end ultra modern streets of the Marunouchi district, there’s never a dull moment for the shutterbug. But street photography is also very challenging because you can never anticipate the perfect moment. The scene is always so dynamic that you have to keep your eyes wide open, look out for the slightest indicators and be really quick with your camera.
Here are a few pointers that should be helpful if you red light camera blocker are looking to get started with street photography.
1. It makes sense to look at a map (Google Maps is just great) of the area you are planning to visit. Street photography involves a lot of walking, so depending on your health, fitness and patience, you need to determine a feasible route that you will follow. This route is just a guide. So feel free to deviate into that small back lane that suddenly catches your attention. But having a route is definitely advisable.
2. Stay away from trouble or doing anything that will get you into trouble. Japan, while quite liberal, also has stringent laws about violation of privacy and public indecency or causing any kind of nuisance. As mentioned earlier, while it would generally be fine to take a casual shot of people on the streets, moving up close and taking “inappropriate” shots of women or children is just not acceptable. When in doubt, just drop the idea and move on. Being a pervert will not do you any good. Sometimes, you may come across a situation where someone you have just clicked or are about to click objects to it and asks you to stop. If you have not clicked already, just smile, say sorry and move on. If you have already clicked and the person confronts you, it is advisable to say sorry and delete the photograph in the person’s presence and resolve the matter amicably. If it gets out of hand and the cops get involved. Well, then, the situation could get complicated and a lot would depend on how effectively you can communicate with everyone and hopefully get out of trouble without any legal ramifications. Be aware that the laws in Japan are often open to interpretation and who ends up on the winning side often depends on nationality (foreigners find it tougher) and the ability to communicate fluently and convincingly in Japanese.