Visual Diary

Beauty in the Ordinary / Osaka and Kyoto, Japan


A few months ago, my family and I took a 5-day vacation in Japan, visiting the prefectures of Osaka and Kyoto. Even before going there, I have always had a strong fondness for the country and it comes from almost everything it has to offer: the temperate weather, the well-mannered culture of the people, the poetic countryside views, and the modern architecture of its big cities. From the blues of the business suits to the bucket hats of tottering Japanese children, Japan provides beautiful sceneries out of its simple routines. Avoiding crowds by taking the longer, quieter routes through the city, I curated my trip, with the goal of satisfying my love for Japanese serenity. I wanted to find the ordinariness of my subjects’ lives, going through their daily routines: of heading to the bus stop, of returning home from school, of watering their plants – anything that would show both the momentary beauty and supposedly loneliness in mundane tasks.

How I went about this task was quite simple: I planned out 3-hour routes around the city. Usually, it was from my lodging to a museum or landmark. I specifically planned my route to cut through residential areas, away from the usual tourist haunts. I also made sure I could quickly get back to my flat on the underground, in case I didn’t have time to make it back on foot.

The Japan I saw fulfilled and surpassed my expectations. I found many little shops that I wouldn’t have discovered had I taken the beaten path. In one of my walks, I discovered a small vintage shop that sold WW2 propaganda pamphlets. One of my more memorable excursions was through a neighborhood in Showacho, Osaka. The community in the early afternoon felt eternally peaceful, only disrupted by distant traffic sounds or the occasional bicycle that passed by. It felt as though I was the only person in the area that Friday afternoon.

The only exception to the zen of the place was this particular garbage truck. From a distance, I could hear a cheerful, distinctively Japanese tune in the background. I began to look around, wondering what was playing it. Then, the tune grew louder and I realized that whatever was playing the tune was fast approaching. Suddenly, a pastel blue garbage truck rounded the corner and it’s peppy song was deafened by the rumbling of the truck’s engine, wrenching me out of my tranquility and threatening to run me over at a terrifying 5km/hour speed. Other than that minute of pure terror, that day in Showacho was quite remarkable.

I spent most of my days in Osaka and Kyoto alone, only meeting my family during the day for meals. This allowed me to take my time to enjoy the cityscape around me, allowing me to linger around in certain districts while breezing by touristy areas. Other than ambling around the two cities, I also managed to successfully achieve my other task, which was completely imperative to my visit in Japan: buy cheap Fuji film. On top of that, I got really lucky and found a beautiful Nikon F4 at a killer price. Japan is really a haven for film and film camera enthusiasts alike.

The photos below are scenes captured on Fujifilm Industrial 400, while I was walking on the streets or riding on the the trains of Japan. They all contain a slice of a romanticized Japan I like to hold dear.

Words & Photos by Ethan Tan