Best things to do in Tokyo for photography lovers

Want to find some photographic inspiration while you’re in Tokyo? Put these galleries, museum, speciality shops and darkroom on your list. By Darren Gore

東京都写真美術館
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めぐたま
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Zen Foto Gallery
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By Time Out editors |
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You don't need to have seen ‘Lost in Translation’ to know that the lens loves Tokyo. But there’s so much more to the city’s photographic side than neon signs, outdoor art and skyscrapers. The capital’s endlessly stimulating visual landscape has helped generate one of the world’s most vibrant photography scenes, with enthusiasts out shooting the streets every weekend, and a host of galleries and bookshops dedicated to the artform.

While this city’s love affair with all things photographic long predates social media, you can see social media’s influence in recent years, including bars and stores that embrace photography as the lifestyle choice of the hip and Insta-famous. Here are ten must-see spots, some long established, others still under the radar.

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Shopping, Art, craft and hobbies

Doppietta-Tokyo

icon-location-pin Yoyogi-Uehara

This specialist in used digital camera bodies from Leica plays up the luxury cachet of the esteemed German brand by offering its wares in an appointment-only space (English-language reservations possible). Located near Yoyogi-Uehara Station, the shop resembles a spruce, well-appointed apartment. Camera bodies and classic, decades-old lenses are displayed inside glass cases once used in a patisserie. While steep prices make these items more aspirational than practical, leather straps and other accessories, crafted by artisans down in Yokohama, are much more accessibly priced.

Shopping, Art, craft and hobbies

Megutama

icon-location-pin Hiroo

When you’re one of the nation’s foremost photography critics and historians, with a career going back three decades, storing the photobooks you inevitably accumulate is going to present a problem. Kotaro Iizawa’s altruistic solution was to open this unique space in Ebisu, where he welcomes the public to come and browse around 5,000 titles from his vast collection, while enjoying drinks and home-cooked seasonal dishes.

Wooden shelves spanning two entire facing walls are connected by beams that run across the ceiling, giving the impression of sitting within a giant bookcase. Megutama’s collection stretches back to the dawn of photography, and is constantly being added to as important new works are published.

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Art, Galleries

Studio 35 Minutes

icon-location-pin Araiyakushi-mae

When photographer Kota Sake took possession of a closed-down photo-developing shop, he retained the original sign advertising the speed of its service, thus giving a name to this combined ‘night gallery’ and bar, a short walk north of central Nakano. Sake-san (rather brilliantly for a bar owner, his surname uses the same Chinese character as Japan’s most famous alcoholic drink) initially intended to simply hang his own work on the walls, but laying on drinks for visiting friends led to the space evolving into a compact but fully-fledged gallery complete with a counter bar.

With its focus on photography, 35 Minutes hosts exhibitions from emerging local photographers to influential filmmaker-photographers like Jonas Mekas. At the bar, sake, spirits and beer are complemented by simple Japanese food such as oden.

Art, Galleries

Totem Pole Photo Gallery

icon-location-pin Yotsuya-Sanchome

This Yotsuya gallery was founded in 2008 by award-winning photographer Shinya Arimoto, foremost among the many snappers documenting Tokyo street life. It primarily showcases the work of up-and-coming photographers: mostly Japanese, but occasionally from elsewhere in Asia and as far afield as the US.

Highlights include frequent shows by Arimoto himself, as well as from John Sypal, who chronicles Japanese photo culture on his popular @tokyocamerastyle Instagram feed. While you’re there, check out the small selection of self-published books from Totem Pole-affiliated photographers.

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Art

Zen Foto Gallery

icon-location-pin Roppongi

This compact Roppongi exhibition space wields an influence on the Japanese photo art scene that belies its size. Zen Foto Gallery, together with its publishing imprint of the same name, maintains a dual focus upon emerging photographers from Japan and wider Asia, and work from the archives of some legendary veterans.

Standouts in the former camp include Eiji Ohashi’s stunning images of vending machines in desolate snowscapes. Zen has also exhibited and published the works of Japan’s most internationally famous and sexually provocative photographer, Nobuyoshi Araki.

Art

Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

icon-location-pin Ebisu

The TOP Museum, as it’s also known, is the city’s largest museum dedicated to photography. Across four floors, a consistently inspiring programme of solo and group shows, featuring both Japanese and international photographers, looks back at the art form’s established masters, and introduces the work of emerging talents.

The museum also has room for moving images, with state-of-the-art screening facilities, plus an extensive book and magazine library that is free to access. You’ll also find a photo-oriented branch of the specialist art bookshop NADiff, and a café from Daikanyama’s Maison Ichi.

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Paper Pool
Photo: Paper Pool/Facebook
Art, Photography

Paper Pool

icon-location-pin Yutenji

Renewed interest in film photography, particularly among millennials, is prompting new rental darkrooms to spring up across Tokyo. This monochrome-dedicated location in Yutenji is our favourite for the fact that it is attached to a stylish gallery and café-bar. Rental of the well-equipped darkroom costs ¥400 per half-hour plus a ¥500 fee for using the supplied chemicals; paper should be purchased elsewhere. Paper Pool’s similarly well-stocked café-bar offers beer, wine and simple cocktails, together with small dishes costing around ¥1,000 each.

Zakura
Photo: Zakura/Facebook
Art

Zakura Photo Concept Shop

icon-location-pin Shibuya

Located south of Shibuya Station, Zakura aims to make purchasing original photographic art as simple as picking a graphic T-shirt off the racks. What looks like a regular gallery is actually a self-described ‘photo concept shop’ run by veteran photographer Katsuo Hanzawa and his wife Mari.

The pair opened the space last year, in response to Japan’s lack of a photographic print-buying culture (despite a wealth of photo galleries), and hope that a customer’s first tentative purchase at Zakura will help sow the seeds of a collector mentality, especially among the Instagram generation. To this end, prints from a diverse roster of photographers are priced from about ¥6,000.

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Shopping, Art, craft and hobbies

Mitsubado Camera

icon-location-pin Nippori

The Mitsubado Camera team are irrepressible evangelists for analogue photo culture, and chose to locate their film camera-only shop in downtown Nippori for the wealth of photo opportunities this historic district provides. Staff lead regular photo walks around the neighbourhood, while film photography newbies are invited to rent one of the shop’s cameras for a trial run.

The store itself, complete with a small gallery, has old-school camera shop charm in spades. Used cameras range from simple point-and-shoot models costing a few thousand yen, through to high-end Hasselblads which could set you back around ¥100,000. Mitsubado will also take care of your developing, printing and film camera repair needs.

Shopping

So Books

icon-location-pin Yoyogi-Hachiman

One of the city’s best-stocked photography bookshops, So Books is nestled on a quiet street in Yoyogi Hachiman, a few minutes’ walk west of Yoyogi Park. Deeply knowledgeable owner Ikuo Ogasawara keeps his compact, sleekly designed store stocked with sought-after titles from both Japanese and Western names.

Tokyo-based photographers are always popping in, and the shop is also a routine stop-off for foreign artists when they’re in town. Such connections enable Ogasawara to secure self-published tomes (many of which are sure to become future collectibles) direct from the photographers themselves.

Photography exhibitions to catch right now

明治に生きた“写真大尽” 鹿島清兵衛
「鶴の背中で笛を吹く女性」明治28-30(1895-1897)年頃 撮影:鹿島清兵衛 鶏卵紙プリントに手彩色 桜堂蔵 ※展示作品は複製
Art

The Story of Seibei Kajima, the ‘Millionaire Photographer’ in the Meiji Period

icon-location-pin Fujifilm Square, Roppongi
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First introduced in the early Meiji era, photography, an entirely foreign technology at the time, quickly achieved popularly in a Japan that was opening up to the world. The many Japanese photographers of the time played a pivotal role in popularising the medium. A special exhibition at the Fujifilm Square traces the career of Seibei Kajima, one of those influential Meiji photographers. With 25 original artefacts, including best-known works of Mount Fuji and kabuki drama actors, the exhibition reveals the great achievement of a man nicknamed the ‘Millionaire Photographer’. Talks on traditional photography by curator Naomi Izakura will be held on June 29, July 20 and August 10.

Christian Boltanski ‘Misterios’, 2017. Collection of the artist © Christian Boltanski / ADAGP, Paris, 2019, Photo:  © Angelika Markul
Art

Christian Boltanski - Lifetime

icon-location-pin The National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT), Nogizaka
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This large-scale exhibition focuses on 50 years of work by one of France’s most prominent contemporary artists, Christian Boltanski. Boltanski is best known for his photographic installations, in which the artist explores with his own memory of life and death. His career began in the 1960s and 1970s, when he took pictures of everyday documents such as passports, newspaper pictures, school pictures and other personal mementos. In the 1980s, Boltanski further explored the depths of this medium by producing installations and utilizing light to create new expressions behind the pictures. By appropriating these mementos, the artist was exploring the power that photography and documentation had in our lives. This earned him international acclaims, and since then, he has been producing and showing his works from around the world.

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Things to do, Exhibitions

Archives: Bauhaus Exhibition

icon-location-pin Muji Ginza, Higashi-Ginza
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The gallery at Muji Ginza now hosts a new exhibition featuring works from the former German art school Bauhaus, established in Weimar after WWI. Before closing in 1933, the school was active for 14 years between the two world wars; today, it still holds a strong influence on designers from around the world. The exhibition focuses on works by the school's outstanding talents, including the experimental photographs and lighting equipment of Mariana Brunt and the works of Wilhelm Wagenfeld.

Art, Photography

Shimada Tadashi: Wild Moments; The World of Beautiful Birds

icon-location-pin Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Ebisu
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Born in 1949, Shimada Tadashi is known for his photographs of wildlife, mainly birds in Oceania and New Guinea. Shimada’s works are reminiscent of the traditional Nihonga-style paintings that promote nature, capturing the very essence of the subject. This solo show for one of the world’s most prominent nature photographers features works spanning forty-years of his career, including photos of the rare wildlife in New Guinea.

More things to do in Tokyo

Things to do, Classes and workshops

Best craft workshops in Tokyo

From origami and jewellery to leather goods and washi paper, try making these Japanese crafts at Tokyo's many artisanal workshops and classes

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